One of the biggest shocks of planning our trip to Austria was how expensive Austria is… After spending three weeks this past August in Austria, I hope that I can help you better plan your travel in Austria to cut costs. Fifteen tips for budget travel in Austria are included in this article!
Flying into Austria on a budget
There are a number of budget airlines that fly into Vienna as well as Salzburg. I flew with Easyjet and Transavia (a Dutch airline) from Amsterdam for about forty euros per way. I purchased these budget flights about 1-2 months before my trip, which was a steal.
Depending on where you will be visiting in Austria, it might be cheaper to fly into Munich or Prague with taking a budget bus to Austria. An Austrian friend of mine often flies into Prague as it’s significantly cheaper. That said, you still need to pay for transit, but he swears that it’s cheaper to fly into Prague and take the bus to Upper Austria.
Saving money on Austrian hotels
The biggest budget killer when it comes to Austria are the hotels. It’s important to book your hotels far ahead if you intend to visit major Austrian cities like Salzburg or Vienna. Reasonable rooms go rapidly, especially in peak season. Expect to pay at least 100 euros per night for a budget room.
In some countries, you can get a great deal if you book last minute, but this is not the case in most Austrian cities. Most have a fairly compact city center, including Salzburg, so the longer that you wait, the fewer rooms there will be available….and the worse the prices will get. I recommend booking your hotel in Austria as early as possible to get the best prices.
One tip is to consider staying about 15-20 minutes outside of major cities. On my first trip to Austria, we planned our trip too late to find an affordable room in Salzburg and Hallstatt. I ended up finding an affordable room about 20-30 minutes outside of both cities. Instead of paying 150 euros for a hotel in Salzburg, I found a room just 30 minutes of Salzburg for 49 euros per night with a room with space for three.
While in Austria, I met two Australian backpackers who were traveling through Austria with couchsurfing. Couchsurfing in the major cities can be a way to save money, however finding a host can be difficult as they learned. Don’t count on it.
For more affordable accommodations, you can look into campsites where you can pay as little between 20 and 50 euros per night for a place to park your camper or pitch a tent. Similarly, most major Austrian cities have hostels, so if you’re traveling solo, you should be able to find a bunk for a reasonable price.
Avoid going in peak season if possible
Everyone wants to go to Austria in summer and winter (for skiing). As you might imagine, prices will skyrocket for rooms as everyone plans their skiing trips to Austria. Summer is also a popular time. That said, you’ll save a lot if you visit Austria during shoulder season.
Head to smaller cities for reasonable prices and a better experience
Although you can certainly find budget options for food in Vienna and Salzburg, you’ll need to look harder. For a better experience and reasonable prices, consider visiting some of the smaller towns and cities. In particular, I was impressed with Linz, a stunning Austrian city with countless pastel buildings and reasonable restaurants.
Similarly, many people flock to Melk Abbey for their famous library and and elaborate Baroque architecture, however there are numerous monasteries around Austria with fewer crowds where you can admire the same sights. We ended up visiting St. Florian Abbey, which has a library that has been perfectly preserved without any renovations and significantly cheaper prices without the crowds.
Similarly, I skipped Hallstatt on my recent trip in favor of St. Gilgen. Simply, give Austria a chance and you’ll end up saving a lot on hotels/food if you visit some other cities.
Saving money on the Austrian trains
If you’re just visiting the major cities and don’t require a car, you might save money by purchasing Austrian train tickets in advance. The Austrian trains can be pricey if you wait until the last minute, so I hope that these tips help you save money!
Buy a Sparschiene ticket
One of the cheapest ways to travel around Austria is by train, as long as you are able to nab a Sparschiene ticket. Sparschiene tickets are a small set of discounted train tickets offered by national carrier ÖBB. Comparable to an early bird special, these tickets are limited in number and are sold on a first come first serve basis.
They are as cheap as 9€ which can lead to savings of more than 50%. Because they are so affordable, they come with several restrictions which you must be aware of before you travel. Firstly, these tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable. If you are unable to travel, you eat the cost of the ticket.
More importantly, Sparschiene tickets are bound to the routes and connections printed on them. That means if you have booked a departure from Vienna Airport at 17:00 but your flight is delayed by an hour, you cannot simply take a train at 18:00. It also means that if you are booked on a regional train, you cannot take an Intercity train instead.
Often, Sparschiene tickets have unfavorable connections, but it can work out very cheaply if you are flexible. Should you have a transfer and miss it to no fault of your own (i.e. your first train is delayed), you need to seek out an information desk and get a stamp on your ticket to be allowed to travel on a different train.
Sparschiene tickets can be booked in advance on the ÖBB website and are marked ‘Sparschiene’. They are available for journeys of more than 150 km (e.g. Salzburg-Innsbruck). It is worth noting that the ticket does not include a seat reservation. While they are not mandatory, you may want to book a seat on popular routes during high season. Sparschiene tickets are also available for a number of international routes in case you are planning to travel outside Austria. Thanks to Jacqueline for her tip. You can read her tips for exploring Vienna here.
Take the Westbahn
The Westbahn is another train company that operates in Austria. This private company has a limited route, however it passes between Salzburg, Linz, and Vienna. If you will be traveling between Salzburg by train and Vienna, look up the fare on the Westbahn, which has rates as low as 9 euros between some cities. The times are more limited, however I was able to get a very affordable train ticket on a recent trip between Vienna and Linz.
Renting a car: Yay or Nay?
If your goal is to cut costs and do more outdoor activities, having a car can be a huge asset in Austria. On my last trip to Austria, we were able to cut accomodation costs near Salzburg by 66% by simply driving to a nearby town where we could stay for a fraction of the cost. Similarly, Austria has large car-friendly supermarkets and you’ll save a lot if you have access to them. Supermarkets in the city centers tend to have higher prices.
On the down side, most major cities generally do not provide free parking, so if you intend to spend several days in a major Austrian city, expect to pay accordingly. However, if you have a car, staying outside of the city center at a hotel with free parking can be a great option. If you’re planning on only focusing on major cities, I’d recommend utilizing the trains instead.
Finding free parking…
You can generally find street parking in most Austrian cities that is free in the evenings (after 10pm) as well as on Sundays. Check the signs to see the parking situation before you park. Similarly, you might find free parking outside of the center (about a 15 minute walk) from many smaller Austrian cities.
Cutting down on the cost of food in Austria
Although meals in Austria are fairly heavy, prices might surprise you. I believe that it’s fairly realistic to have a food budget of 20-25 euros per day if you’re eating on a budget and eating out for most meals. However, you can bring that number down if you visit the supermarkets.
Austria has a number of main supermarkets that you’ll see while traveling in Austria: Hofer, Billa, Spar, Lidl, and Penny. My favorite supermarket while in Austria was Spar as it had the widest assortment as Hofer, Lidl, and Penny are discount supermarkets with a more limited selection. If you intend to head to the supermarket, carefully check the hours as some in smaller towns will take a lunch break and most will close around dinner time.
Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can cut down on your lunch costs by purchasing meat, cheese, tasty rolls, and granola bars to have while hiking. Similarly, some Spars will sell sandwiches to go as well as cold drinks. To be fair, we didn’t always see a great spot to sit, but it’s easy to walk until you find a scenic view.
My favorite combination of items to snack on while in Austria was the pretzel (brezel) with sweet or spicy mustard. Even for mustard haters, Austrian mustard is something special. It can be cheaply purchased in tube form, so look in the supermarket for senf as well as the bread section pretzels for less than one euro.
Affordable meals in Austria
One of my go-to “cheap” meals while out in Austria was pancake soup (frittatensuppe), especially while at traditional Austrian restaurants/cafes. This delicious soup with leftover pancakes is typically 2-4 euros, so it’s a great light lunch. There are a number of great Austrian soups, so it’s good to check the menu to see the options. Gulasch is also a great affordable option…
If you’re feeling a bit more hungry, it can be fairly economical to purchase some worst, which typically comes with bread or pretzels as a side. I ended up ordering a soft pretzel (brezel) with sweet or spicy mustard a couple times just as a delicious snack. 😉
Where to buy cheaper beer…
Many people don’t realize that the gas stations are a great place to buy beer, especially if you have your own accomodation. We were able to find local craft beer at a number of the gas stations near us. Rather than paying bar prices for each beer, we were able to purchase our delicious beer for a fraction of the cost before enjoying it on the terrace of our lovely Austrian base. The supermarkets are also a great place to pick up affordable beer!
Only pay for half the viewpoint cost
Especially if you’re visiting Austria in summer, you don’t always need to pay for a viewpoint. It’s often possible to hike up (or down) from a ski lift for free, so if you’re looking to save money while enjoying the many gondolas and their viewpoints, bring your hiking gear with you to avoid the pricey round trip fare.
Other attractions on a budget
If you’re wincing at the significant cost of activities in Austria, you’re not alone. Museums often don’t have reduced admission, however many churches are free to enter if you simply want to look around.
If you’re interested in learning about history, I recommend taking a day to remember and learn about the past. I visited the Mauthausen Memorial, one of the most powerful Holocaust memorials in Europe according to many. This memorial stands in the spot of the KZ Mauthausen concentration camp. Although quite heavy, it is free to visit and quite moving.
Free castles in Austria!?
Many people, myself included, did not know about the castle ruins. All across Austria, you’ll find historic castle ruins that are generally free for the public to enjoy. Simply, you just park your car–and head up to explore them. Most are not perfectly maintained, but safe enough that you can explore without worries. (You’ll see a lot of families at them.)
In the Wachau valley, I loved Ruine Dürnstein and Ruine Hinterhaus, which provide scenic views of the vineyards, the Danube, and the charming towns… Near Linz, Burgruine Schaunberg is absolutely stunning. Simply, search for “Ruine” near where you are.
Plan ahead for Sundays
Sundays are a weird day in Austria. Expect a lot of things to be closed in smaller cities although you’ll find more open in major cities. That said, expect most supermarkets to be closed, which leaves your best budget food options on Sundays to be eating out at restaurants or picking up snacks at the gas station. Do like…everyone else and plan ahead.
How to save money on adventure activities
Austria is full of stunning trails and mountains that are easy to navigate without a guide. For a comprehensive guide to free hiking in Austria, I recommend the Walking in Austria: 101 routes – day walks, multi-day treks and classic hut-to-hut tours guide by Cicerone Guides.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, Austria has the highest number of klettersteige of any country. I explain klettersteige in this article about klettersteig. In general, I recommend trying out your first klettersteige with a professional as having proper technique is key.
If you have your own gear (as I do) and you’re experienced with climbing, you can easily hike to the beginning of different klettersteige around Austria and do them independently. You can look up the klettersteige routes online. For an easier klettersteig for intermediate climbers, I really enjoyed the Katrin klettersteige near Bad Ischl.