Road tripping in Austria is one of the most epic, scenic routes you can take in Europe. But driving in a foreign country presents numerous challenges and worries. This complete guide to driving in Austria is the ultimate resource for insight that will ensure your Austria road trip is a smooth ride.
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At A Glance: Driving in Austria FAQs
Can foreigners drive in Austria?
Anyone over 18 with a valid driver’s license can drive in Austria.
Do you need an international driving permit to drive in Austria?
If you have a non-EU license, then yes you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Austria. The IDP is both a translation of your original license and a license in itself in countries in which a US driver’s license is not recognized. You can apply for your IDP online or by mail.
Pro Tip: As part of your international travel checklist, you should always verify if the country in which you are traveling and will be driving requires an IDP. Make sure to do this several weeks in advance of your trip so you have time to make an appointment in person or receive your permit by mail!
Is driving in Austria difficult?
There are several factors that can make driving in Austria more difficult. For example, the terrain is very mountainous. Austrian roads are very well-maintained but it can still be intimidating weaving through giant peaks and curving along steep valleys. In general, drivers are very respectful and traffic is well-organized.
Do you need a vignette in Austria?
To drive on motorways and highways, you need to purchase a vignette in Austria and stick it to your car’s windshield. Discover more details about the vignette by scrolling down to Driving on motorways in Austria.
Renting a Car in Austria
If you’re looking to rent a car in Austria, check out Auto Europe to compare car rental agencies for the best price.
You must be 18 years old to rent a car in Austria and have had your valid driver’s license for over a year. Car rental companies in Austria also require you have an International Driving Permit.
Good to know: Like most countries, if you are under 25 years old, you will likely have to pay an extra fee to rent a car.
If you are planning on driving the rental car also outside of Austria, you must check with the company first where you are allowed to drive it. There are some strict restrictions regarding certain countries where the car can be driven, as well as regarding what types of rental cars can be driven beyond the border (like luxury vehicles.)
Road Rules in Austria
Austria has both basic and special road regulations drivers must abide by. At the most basic level, driving is on the right and all passengers must wear a seatbelt. Here are other rules to bookmark:
- Passing vehicles: In Austria, you overtake on the left and always use your arrow to indicate you’re passing.
- Headlights: Compulsory to keep on while driving at night, optional during the day. Keep in mind that you’ll likely have to enter tunnels driving when driving through mountainous areas and upon entering, you should put on your headlights.
- Blood Alcohol Level: Austria has a very strict blood alcohol level, 0.05.
- Winter tires: From November 1st to April 15th, your vehicle must be fitted with winter tires.
- Safety items: You must have a reflective safety vest in the car that is to be worn if you have to get out of your vehicle while on the side of the road. It’s also required to have a warning triangle and a first-aid kit. If you’re renting a car, these items should be provided for you.
Pro Tip: If you’re driving a motorcycle in Austria, you must wear a helmet and have headlights on at all times.
Driving on Motorways in Austria
There are two important elements to know about driving on Austrian highways or the autobahn. The first is the speed limit, which is usually 130 km/h or around 80 mph.
Vignette in Austria
The second is the toll system. Instead of having individual toll booths where you pay at each exit and entrance, Austria operates its toll system with a vignette. A vignette is a prepaid sticker that goes on your windshield that allows you to travel on Austrian highways and S roads.
You can now purchase either a physical or digital toll sticker. The physical sticker can be purchased at gas stations on the country’s border (like in Italy, Germany, etc.) or at post offices. The physical sticker needs to be displayed on the inside of the windshield.
To purchase the digital vignette, you can either buy online at the ASFINAG online shop or on the ASFINAG app “Unterwegs”. The price is the same as for the physical sticker, but there is one big difference. The physical sticker is valid immediately after purchase, whereas the digital sticker is valid 18 days after the purchase.
You can also buy the digital version at one of the sales points where the physical version is available and, in this case, it is immediately valid.
Car rental companies should have already supplied the vehicle with a vignette and may charge a small fee per day for use.
There are several different options for purchasing your vignette depending on how much time you need it for. The cheapest option is a vignette valid for 10 days for €9.60. A vignette with a 2-month validity costs €28.20. And the annual vignette costs €93.80.
The fine for not having a vignette is €120 and charged on the spot.
Pro Tip: If you’re driving with a large vehicle, like an RV, motorhome, or caravan, that is more than 3.5 tons, you must purchase the “GO toll” vignette.
Driving in Cities in Austria
Major cities in Austria are the most chaotic that driving will get. But this is not because drivers are disrespectful or do not follow the rules. The major difference is that there is so much going on that it can be an easily confusing environment for anyone who’s driving there for the first time.
The first culprit? Public transportation. Austria has well-developed bus and tram networks and tram tracks, specifically, can cause the streets to look confusing, especially at intersections. I found that the painted lines on the street were either non-existent or could be confused with the tram tracks.
Another challenging element of driving in Austrian cities is people. There are lots of bike lanes and foot traffic, so you must stay attentive at all times.
But this is also why the speed limit in Austrian cities is very low – about 50 km/h, or 30 mph.
Driving on Provincial Roads in Austria
Driving in small towns in Austria is calm. You must go slow (50 km/h, 30 mph) because there are often speed cameras that you don’t see, and that will send you a ticket later in the mail if you exceed the speed limit.
On provincial roads outside of towns, the speed limit is usually 100 km/h, or around 60 mph. A lot of these roads are just one lane, so you may overtake vehicles or be overtaken.
Where it can get intimidating to drive on provincial roads are mountain passes. You will likely have to take one-lane roads curving through the giant peaks of the Austrian Alps and, although there are barriers nearly everywhere, it can still be nerve-wracking – especially because the locals are used to these roads and don’t mind cruising through at the normal speed limit.
Good to know: Driving anywhere in Austria usually means you’ll be surrounded by epic views. This is just a note to be careful and stay focused on the road!
Road Signs in Austria
The most surprising thing about driving in Austria was that the road signs were only written in German. Now, you may think, duh, why would it be any other way, but many other places I’ve traveled to have an English (or at least one other) translation.
This means you need to know some basic German vocabulary to at least understand how the roads work. Here are some of the most useful:
- Ausfahrt/Ausgang – Exit
- Raststation – Service station
- Autobahn – Highway
Getting Gas in Austria
There are a few things to know before you go to when it comes to getting gas in Austria.
For one, gas stations can be few and far between on both highways and provincial roads. I highly recommend not pushing the limit and risking an empty tank.
The second thing to keep in mind is that gas in Europe, in general, is expensive. The average price for gas in Austria in July 2022 was €1.96 per liter, which is about $7 per gallon.
Austria has a variety of types of gas stations. Typically, you will pump the gas first and pay afterward inside. Some do not accept credit or debit cards and are cash-only. Others are self-service and allow you to pay at the pump. My advice? Exchange currency ahead of time to be prepared for anything.
Pro Tip: It’s not uncommon that you pay to use the bathroom at gas stations! A lot of gas stations along the highway have a bathroom attendant to keep them well-maintained, so it can cost (usually) anywhere from €0.50 to €1. Make sure to have some currency on you just in case!
Parking in Austria
There are different types of parking spots in Austria to be aware of so that you don’t get charged a fine.
Along streets, parking is allowed on the right side of the road. You can park for free for a specified amount of time in blue-lined parking spots, but you will need the blue EU parking disc. Place it inside your car in the corner of the windshield with the time that you arrived at the parking spot.
In cities, there are also many parking garages. Some garages can be tight, so look up reviews on Google ahead of time to see pictures/find out if the garage is fit to host large cars if you’re traveling in one. For more information about which spots to avoid (aka resident-only parking spots), the city of Vienna website has a photo of the sign that indicates no public parking.
Parking in cities like Vienna and Innsbruck is often free on the weekends.
Helpful Info & Resources
I hope all of these tips and insights have helped you feel more prepared and excited about your road trip in Austria! Here a few extra resources to help best plan your road trip:
- Emergency Phone Number in Austria: 112
- How to Plan a Road Trip Budget
Let me know what stops are on your Austrian road trip in a comment!
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