Austria Road Trip - Mix Travel and Enchantment
As autumn arrives, and trees start wearing their colorful coat, we can feel an envy of nature. An envy of pure air, of cosy places, of comfort food. You know what gathers all these? Austria!
It’s now mid-October and we just came back from an unforgettable road trip in the country of Mozart, Schubert, and Marie-Antoinette. On our road, we visited Salzburg, Linz, of course the majestic Vienna, got amazed my breathtaking libraries, and relaxed in the beautiful nature offered by Austrian mountains.
Embark with us on this journey. We hope it will make you want discover by yourself this gorgeous country, and that our plan and detailed road map will help you organize your own trip through Austria.
Going to Austria
Even if the most obvious way to reach Austria — from Paris in our case — was to fly directly to Vienna (Salzburg also has an airport but there are not a lot of direct flights landing there), we actually like to take the train. That's what we did for our previous road trip in Scotland. Airports are usually far outside of the main cities, and flights requires to show up way in advance. So in the end you often don’t loose too much time door-to-door.
Train also allows you to discover the countryside across the window, and places you would never have seen otherwise. So whenever the destination is easily accessible by train, especially when traveling in Europe, we consider this option.
Thus, we caught a train from Paris to Stuttgart (3 hours) and then from Stuttgart to Salzburg (4 hours) with an hour of connection in between.
German trains are pretty cool with old school cabins.
The road trip plan presented in this article is a full loop. So if you decide to arrive in Vienna, you can simply re-order the steps.
Day 1 - Visit of Salzburg
Salzburg is the definition of a “cute town”. Lovely colorful buildings, fairy narrow streets and hidden passage directly out of middle-age. It almost feels like Disneyland, but here everything is real.
Salzburg is of course the city of Mozart: where he was born and spent a large part of his life. You can visit his birthplace and his residence. I really liked visiting the house where he was born. His life was far enough in the past (he died in 1791) to feel that it was a totally different era, but it’s still close enough that many of his belongings are still very well preserved. Thus, in his birthplace, you will be able to admire his childhood violin he used when he was only 4 years old (yeah the man was already touring at the age of 5), music sheets written by his hand, and even — weirdly enough — a few of his hairs.
You can also visit the castle that overlook Salzburg at the top of the cliff. A cable car will bring you to it from the city center. I was also amazed by the majestic cathedral of Salzburg.
The best part of Salzburg for me was to wander in his cute streets and admire the architecture of the buildings, and feeling like being transported directly three hundred years ago. You can also wander in the St Sebastian's cemetery where Mozart’s father and wife are buried. Finally the Mirabell Palace is worth seeing, especially for its gorgeous gardens.
We stayed at the Cool Mama hotel, a trendy-style tower with a pretty awesome view over Salzburg and the countryside around. It's located just a dozen of minutes by bus to the town's heart.
Day 2 - From Salzburg to Hallstatt
It's time to leave the enchanting city of Salzburg. One entire day was enough to visit it, but you have to be prepared to walk to appreciate all the gems it has to offer.
We get our rental car directly in the center of Salzburg.
Let's kick-off the real road trip!
120 km - 2 hours on the road
This first day on the road is pretty light. So we decide to make a small detour by the Attersee lake. This lake water is simply translucent. I have never seen such a clear blue color on a lake.
On the road, we discover other jewels, such as this small lake where the water is so calm that the reflection on it is simply perfect.
Even if the name of Hallstatt doesn't ring a bell, you have probably seen photos of it. Its pointy church tower surrounded by charming houses and cutting out the impressive mountains background while reflecting on the clear and calm water of the lake… This view by itself as well as the lake deserve the detour.
Getting lost in the narrow streets of this cute village is an enchanting experience. We grabbed a hand-made sandwich at the small shop in front of the church with delicious local ham and cheese and ate it on a small bench facing the lake behind the church. We use the huge tree above it as shelter from the sprinkled rain.
Our parking just above the village (literally above it, with stairs between) allows to stay only 90 minutes, which is actually more than enough.
I really look forward our next step which should be unforgettable!
A night in the mountains: altitude 2100m
Right next to Hallstatt, on the border of the lake, there is another village called Obertraun. We park our car at the parking of the Dachstein Krippenstein-Seilbahnen, a cable car station. We won't be back until tomorrow morning.
We get on the cable car (the round trip ticket was a bit pricy: 28.70€ per person with the reduction of our hotel in the mountains). Here we go for consecutive rides to go from 513m to 2063m of altitude. And trust me, it's pretty impressive (scary?). Clouds are still here and for our way up, the cable car is sometimes completely immersed in a dense fog.
Even once arrived, we cannot see more than a few feet in front of us. Just enough to find the signs indicating the direction of the hotel. The expected 2-min hike is turning into a 15-min treasure hunt.
We finally find our home for the night. Welcome to the Lodge am Krippenstein.
Everything you could expect from a cosy mountain lodge is here: wood everywhere, warm atmosphere, comfort food. And our room for the night is simply magic.
It's still immersed in the clouds tonight, but our hosts assure us that the sunrise should be pretty epic tomorrow morning.
Oh my... They were right. I don't regret to have woken up 15 minutes before the sunrise. As the first rays of light slowly start to invade the mountains one peak at a time, we keep the window open and simply enjoy the show.
It's already time to leave, but not before a solid mountain breakfast.
Clouds are mostly gone when we leave and the view offered by the cable car descent is breathtaking.
We get back to our car. We will sleep in Linz tonight.
Day 3 - On the road to Linz
200 km - 2hours 30mins on the road
Before to reach Linz, I first want to make a detour by a place I really didn't want to miss.
Admont Abbey Library
I had spotted a photo of the Admont Abbey Library (Stiftsbibliothek Admont) a few months ago in a travel magazine. I then started to look for other unbelievable libraries like this one and found out that three of them were in Austria. Stepping into these monumental places greatly influenced my choices when planning for this road trip.
The library is part of the Admont Abbey which is also the home of a pretty impressive natural history museum with hundreds of animal species exposed.
We were lucky to be the only ones in the library at this time. All these bookshelves, the colors of the walls and frescos, the silence, the weight of the history transcribed in these volumes preserved across centuries… It's like if time stopped. Simply unforgettable.
While hanging out in this majestic library, it feels like time stopped.
Mind-blown by this magic place, we go back on the road in direction of Linz. Tomorrow morning we will visit another incredible library!
Visit Of Linz from its roofs
A bit like in Salzburg, the center of Linz offers a charming pastel-colored architecture and lovely streets. It feels a bit bigger, more a city.
We have only one evening in Linz so we want to make the most out of it. And what's better for that than to visit a city from its roofs?! Let’s go see the sunset from up there. A 10-min walk from the hotel brings us to the Höhenrausch. It's an open-air modern art exhibition with tens of crazy art projects, built around a wander that will bring you at the top of the church tower, and on several roofs that will offer you a view over the whole city and it's surroundings. With the sunset in the back, you won't be disappointed.
We stay at the boutique-hotel Am Dom Plaz which is pretty stylish and looks like a a modern art museum. From our room window we have a view directly on the cathedral which is pretty cool.
Speaking of hotels, we loved the double bed comforter in Austria hotels, one per person, even on king-size beds. I had never seen this before. :)
Day 4 - On the road from Linz to Vienna
200 km - 2 hours 30 mins on the road
I'm still thinking about the sumptuous library we visited yesterday. And today we are going to visit another one.
After only 20 minutes by car from Linz, we arrive at the St. Florian Monastery.
St. Florian Monastery
The abbey by itself deserves the visit. You can enter the library only with a guide, which was perfect since it allowed us to discover the amazing history of the monastery which is still in function.
And its library is, once again, monumental! Different vibe from the previous one we visited. This one feels more like Hogwarts in Harry Potter. The dark wood on the bookshelves and the ladders makes it more cosy. It's definitely smaller but still impressive. I could spend a whole day admiring the details and these bookshelves. Too bad that we cannot actually any of these books open.
The rest of the visit is very interesting and brings us to a sumptuous ballroom, a room full of (very) old religious art treasures from the 15th century, a wonderful basilica, and ends in the catacombs underneath it.
After the tour, we eat at the restaurant inside the abbey that serves delicious schnitzels. You can't properly visit a country without tasting the local specialties!
We go back on the road. Next stop: Vienna!
Day 5 - Visiting Vienna
It's now time to visit the legendary Vienna. It offers so many wonders that you could spend several days there. We will focus only on the unique experience you can do in one day.
We stayed at an Airbnb close to the center which is surrounded by the Ringstrasse (Ring Road).
Morning: Spanish riding school
Every day between 10 and 12am, you can attend the training of the Spanish riding school which takes place in a sumptuous building. Make sure to show up 30 minutes in advance because the line can get pretty long.
Note that the training by itself is not a real show and can get a bit boring after a while, so no need to stay for the two full hours.
Austrian National Library
The Austrian National Library is located right next to the Spanish riding school. We’ll never have enough of these majestic Austrian libraries.
This one gathers the grandiosity of the Admont Abbey Library and the cosiness and warmth of the one in the Saint Florian Abbey.
The best part here is that you get to see actual open books! One the first dictionaries (handwritten!), love letters from famous writers, music sheets, a list of forbidden books from a few centuries ago, and even some kinky writings! Fascinating.
We spend an hour hanging out in this magic place.
Lunch: Pastry break
We can't visit Vienna without tasting a few pastries. There must be a reason why pastries are called “viennoiseries” in French!
We stop at Demel, which is apparently a real institution in Vienna. Instead of sitting in the back room, we prefer to take a seat at the front bar where you can feel even more the unique vibe.
You can actually see the kitchen with an army of confectioners working on impressive tasty artworks. The Café Central is also a renowned location for delicious pastries, cakes, and chocolate.
Afternoon: Visit Vienna Old town
We spend the afternoon wandering in the streets of the old town, discovering superb churches and lovely hidden streets. We end our tour at the beautiful St. Stephen's Cathedral that cannot be missed when visiting Vienna.
Vienna definitely feels (and is) bigger than the other cities we have seen. And again, there is so many things to see, museums to visit, districts to explore, history to discover that you could spend a whole week in Vienna.
Evening: Ballet at the Vienna State Opera
We don't have much time left because we have tickets to go the see a ballet (Giselle) at the Vienna State Opera tonight.
Better be there at 7pm sharp because they close the door on time and if you miss it, you won’t be able to enter until the intermission.
A beautiful moment. The music, the dancers, this majestic place. Unforgettable. If you want to attend a performance, make sure to book your tickets a few months in advance.
Day 6 - On the roads of Carinthia
After this cityscape, we need to end this road trip in nature, and really rest. We drive from Vienna to the region of Carinthia to reach the borders of the Weissensee lake at 1000m of altitude.
We decided to skip the visit of Graz, privilege nature, and chose to take roads that cross mountains and countryside for this day that we will spend mostly in the car.
420 km - 4 hours 30 mins (the longest drive of this road trip)
On the road we stop at the Hochosterwitz castle, which is said to have inspired Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.
Be careful, it closes at 3.30pm, which is oddly early.
As the sun slowly sets, we reach the Weissensee lake borders, where autumn colors painted sumptuous landscapes.
Day 7 - Rest on the border of The Weissensee Lake
Today the program is that there is no program. We will use this day to simply rest and recharge on the borders of the Weissensee lake. We stay at the beautiful Weissenseerhofs Hotel.
After a delicious breakfast, we go on the docks of our hotel to jump into a small barque. I row and row and row until we reach the middle of the lake. We are the only ones at the horizon on this gorgeous lake.
Only a fisher will join us far away a few minutes later on his tiny pedalo.
The morning mist over the lake and mountains creates a surreal scene. The silence is complete. Only the distant sound of a cow bell or a fish jumping on the lake troubles this quietude. We needed calm, nature, and rest. I think we couldn't have dreamed of better place.
The water of the lake is transparent, and its light blue is only sparkled by small fishes and a few trouts coming to say hi. We hope they will stay away from the fisher.
It's now the afternoon and the sun warms up the atmosphere.
I refuse to accept that I had my last bath of the year during my recent road trip in Algarve (Portugal), and I decide to taste the water. It's cold (we are at 1000m of altitude) but it feels so good to swim in this magic place.
Day 8 - Back to Salzburg via the Grossglockner Alpine road
350 km - 4 hours on the road
It's already time to leave our sweet paradise. It was so good to recharge there. Our road trip soon comes to an end but we still have one more day of adventure.
We head North and we reach the small village of Heiligenblut. Lost between two tall mountains, it is the home of the Saint Vincent church. You can't miss its gorgeous sharp architecture. The legend says that there is a flask containing Jesus Christ blood preserved in the church, which makes it a pilgrimage place.
We now pursue our road on the Grossglockner, a mythical road in the Austrian Alps for bikers and road trippers.
The last miles in the mountains are a pleasure to drive on.
We reach Salzburg at the end of the day. Our train back to Paris is tomorrow.
What a beautiful and unforgettable travel. We come back with our heads full of amazing images.