I love Austria (except for the current political climate). I think it’s an underrated travel and vacation destination, especially the countryside. Austria is absolutely stunning, with mountains, lakes, charming little villages, and beautiful cities. The food is delicious, and the people are kind. I spend three weeks this summer backpacking through Austria, exploring different parts and falling in love with the country. So if you are planning a trip to this central European country, congratulations: you’ve picked a winner. But just to make sure that you are well-prepared, here are a few things you should know about Austria before you go:
1. It is not Germany
Calling Austria German is like called Canada American. Austria is very much its own country with its own culture, food and language. In fact, most Germans will have a very hard time trying to understand Austrian, especially the regional dialects like Tyrolean. By the time I had left Austria, my German had been speckled with a new accent, new words, and phrases. There is still some obvious historical sensitivity here and Austrians resent being mistaken for Germans, so make sure to greet them with the appropriate ‘Grüss Gott’ or ‘Servus’ instead of ‘Tschüss’. Don’t worry about a language barrier though: Austrians do understand German and most people speak a bit of English as well. Of course, they do appreciate any effort you make to speak the local language, so memorize these handy phrases:
- “Danke” Thank you
- “Bitte” Please
- “Entschuldigung” Excuse me
- “Ich hätte/möchte gern…” I would like
- “Wo ist der/die/das…” Where is the…
- “Wieviel kostet das?” How much is that?
- “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Do you speak English?
- “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” I don’t speak German
Austrian cuisine is similar to German and has some Czech, Hungarian and Bavarian influences, but plenty of traditional foods such as schnitzel, knödel, and krainer. It might not get the international acclaim that, for instance, French and Italian cuisine do but there are plenty of delicious things to eat in Austria. I personally love the hearty, flavourful Austrian cooking. Here are a few dishes that you should definitely try.
2. Everybody smokes
EU regulations on smoking have had little effect in Austria. Although smoking is technically banned in restaurants, exemptions are made based on size and some have separate smoking sections. The same goes for bars and nightclubs, some of which have smoking rooms and some of which are a non-smokers nightmare. Cigarette advertisements are everywhere, and you’ll see Austrian sucking on their death sticks everywhere you go. I never realised the profound effect the ban on indoor smoking and chigarette ads had in the Netherlands. I’d completely forgotten how disgusting it is to constantly be breathing second-hand smoke. Be prepared to hold your breath…
3. People actually wear dirndls and lederhosen
No, it is not just for show or tourists. Plenty of Austrians still wear their ‘Tracht’. The traditional clothing of dirndls and lederhosen differs in style between regions and originally portrayed details of a person’s heritage, identity, and social standing. They are all beautifully crafted with colourful embroidery, intricate patterns, and high-quality material.
These days, it is mostly worn in smaller towns in the countryside, especially on special occasions. But the people you see walking around in dirndls in the big cities are likely working in the tourism industry.
You should definitely try them on for yourself! Unless you have an unlimited budget, stick to large stores rather than fancy boutiques. You might find some of lesser quality on sale, but otherwise, they are very pricey!
4. Everything is closed on Sundays
Austria is traditionally a Catholic country and some of those religious traditions still remain. Sunday is ‘Ruhetag’ (rest day) when shops are closed, and public transport runs less frequently. In the big cities you may find one or two supermarkets still operational (such as the ones at Praterstern metro station and Westbahnhof train station in Vienna), but otherwise, shopping is out of the question. So prepare accordingly by getting your groceries on Saturday. Even when I lived in Vienna for three months, I was still caught without food every Sunday, so learn from my mistakes!
5. There is more than Vienna and Salzburg
Vienna and Salzburg may be the best-known places in Austria, but there is so much more to see. Austria as a country is made up of several provinces, each with their own character and landscape.
From the crystal clear lakes of Salzkammergut to the vineyards in Wachau and the mountains in Tirol, be sure to explore the Austrian countryside as well as the cities. You will find stunning landscapes and picturesque villages, where you can experience the real Austrian culture. Here is my list of places that you should certainly visit and a guest blog I wrote about the perfect 10-day itinerary.
Did you like this post? Did you learn anything new? Or would you like more specific information about Austria?
Let me know down in the comments and I’ll try to answer any question you may have.