- When I visited (October/November 2013), the exchange rate was about €1.175 = £1.
- There are ATMs all over the place so it's easy to get cash. I hardly paid for anything by credit card so I can't really comment on how acceptable that is (though I had no indications that it would be a problem).
- Austria seemed cheaper than England in general for most things, though obviously my expenditure there was as a tourist, not a resident. Cost of living surveys by companies such as Mercer seem to put Vienna as only marginally cheaper than New York, so I can only assume that some expenses (rent? utilities?) must be sky-high.
- Tipping of 10% seems to be acceptable - when handing over your money to pay in a restaurant, you should state the total you want to pay inclusive of the tip.
- In general no hassle from anyone and the country felt very safe. However in Vienna several times I was eating inside restaurants (i.e. not out on the street) and had sellers of the local equivalent of the Big Issue come inside to look for custom - they did not always take no for an answer at the first time of asking.
- Though I tried to speak a bit of German where possible, pretty much everyone I interacted with could speak English.
- Beware of cyclists, and note that jaywalking is either illegal or frowned upon or both.
- Supermarkets (and many shops) are closed all Sunday and on public holidays. Shops (and some restaurants) generally aren't open past about 7:30PM even on weekdays.
- You can buy pre-packed sandwiches, or get them freshly made up from your choice of ingredients, at most supermarkets.
- Austria is 1 hour ahead of GMT.
22nd October 2013 €59 Trains from St Pancras to Salzburg. This ticket (the DB Bahn London-Spezial) allows you to go from London to anywhere on the German train network for €59 - for some reason, Salzburg is considered as part of this network even though it's in Austria. To get this ticket, you need to book well in advance (I booked on 17th August) and go through a slightly convoluted procedure as described in Option 3 here. This ticket is excellent value, as normally I don't think you can go from London to just Brussels for less than about €46. The downer is that the entire journey takes the best part of 12.5 hours and the landscape isn't necessarily that riveting, however it's much more comfortable/civilised than a budget airline (apart from the Eurostar leg ...)
In theory, the timetable was as follows: Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels-Midi, leaving at 6:50 and arriving at 10:07 (i.e. journey time of 2 hours 17 minutes, taking the time-zone change into account); ICE 15 from Brussels-Midi to Frankfurt (Main) Hbf, leaving at 10:25 and arriving at 13:25 (i.e. journey time of 3 hours); EC 117 from Frankfurt (Main) Hbf to Salzburg Hbf, leaving at 14:20 and arriving at 20:09 (i.e. journey time of 5 hours 49 minutes).
In practice, the Eurostar leg went according to plan, but for some reason the ICE was changed to leave from Liege instead of Brussels-Midi (note that the ICE would normally pass through Liege anyway). The departure screens helpfully only said that the ICE would leave from "another station" and I had to listen out for an announcement with more detail - the announcement also mentioned which local train should be caught in order to get to Liege to get on the ICE. I don't know if I should have paid for the local train, but the conductor never came round so I never found out. The ICE then left about 35 minutes late from Liege. The delay didn't affect me as I still had a spare 20 minutes for my change at Frankfurt. The train to Salzburg was on schedule.
The London-Spezial ticket includes a seat reservation on the Eurostar. Unless I'm missing something, it's not at all obvious in the Eurostar carriages whether a particular numbered seat is the window or aisle seat - you can only figure it out by looking at the angle the seat lights (which ARE numbered) are pointing at! If you have long legs, you should try for an aisle seat - all the seats are uncomfortable but the window ones have the additional disadvantage of a rubbish bin in your leg space. It appears that the reservation system fills up carriages neighbouring seat by neighbouring seat, so if the carriage is only half-full then you'll have everyone sitting next to each other in half the carriage and the other half completely empty. Unfortunately there's no indication as to which seats are reserved and which aren't, so if you want to move to get a seat to yourself, you have to take pot luck and hope that you aren't going to get turfed out by a boarder at a subsequent station. The Eurostar conductor also didn't seem to have the latest information about the ICE, when he was announcing which platforms connecting passengers should go to (shortly before we arrived in Brussels).
There's supposedly a quicker way to get from the Eurostar to the ICE platforms if you go down an underground passageway about half-way along the Eurostar platform (rather than exiting the Eurostar platform at one end then entering the main station). However this didn't seem to be operational.
A reservation on the ICE costs an additional €5. It's not obligatory but, based on my experience (admittedly a small sample size), the trains run to capacity so if you don't have a reservation then you won't get a seat. Note that the reservation signs above the seats don't come on until about 10 minutes before departure. If you don't have a reservation, then make a beeline for the fold-down disabled seats at the end of each carriage - these aren't reservable so they're first come first served, but obviously you'll have to give yours up if someone with a disability shows up.
I don't know if the EC trains are reservable, but mine never filled up so I was able to get a seat to myself for most of the journey.
- Salzburg is quite compact so you won't have to walk miles wherever you stay.
- I don't think there's a fee to get into any of the churches, though when you enter the Dom (cathedral) you may be asked for a voluntary donation.
- Café Wernbacher on Franz-Josef-Strasse had a good atmosphere for dinner, with helpful waitstaff. Good, relatively inexpensive food.
24th October 2013 €7.8 Entrance to Festung Hohensalzburg. You can get up to the fortress either on foot or via a funicular. The cost includes a guided audio-tour (!) - the guide leads you around but all the information comes from the audio-guide. Only a certain number of people are allowed on each tour, to ensure no logjams in some of the rooms. I didn't find the tour enormously interesting but the views from the top of the fortress were worth the admission. If you go at 10:15AM or so then your tour should finish shortly before the Salzburg Bull organ does its 11AM blast - the guide will hopefully show you this.
25th October 2013 The following costs are for a day trip to Hallstatt.
25th October 2013 €10.1 Bus number 150 from just outside Salzburg train station runs to Bad Ischl once per hour and takes about 1.5 hours. I think you can also pick this up from Mirabellplatz. You can buy the ticket from the driver. Stops are announced in advance (in German) and also appear on a display by the driver, but you shouldn't need to worry about that as the bus terminates at Bad Ischl train station.
25th October 2013 €3.8 Train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt station runs about once an hour and takes about 30 minutes. I bought 2 singles, Bad Ischl->Hallstatt and Hallstatt->Bad Ischl, at Bad Ischl station because I'd read on the web that there's no ticket machine at Hallstatt and you shouldn't board a train without a ticket, but I don't know how true that is (and I didn't actually check if there was a machine at Hallstatt). The station is very small (2 platforms?) so is easy to navigate. Stops are announced in German and the Hallstatt stop was also announced in English.
25th October 2013 €2.4 Ferry from Hallstatt station to Hallstatt town. The ferry runs to fit the train timetable. Simply walk down the path to the ferry (or follow the other passengers).
25th October 2013 €0.5 Public toilet in Hallstatt.
25th October 2013 €0.7 Stamp for postcard within Europe.
25th October 2013 €2.4 Ferry from Hallstatt town to Hallstatt station. See earlier for further info.
25th October 2013 €3.8 Train from Hallstatt station to Bad Ischl. See earlier for further info.
25th October 2013 €10.1 Bus number 150 from Bad Ischl to Salzburg train station. See earlier for further info.
27th October 2013 €25 Westbahn train from Salzburg to Vienna Westbahnhof. These run every hour and take 2 hours 32 minutes. The trains are double-deckers and have comfortable seats and free wifi that's surprisingly decent. You can buy the ticket on the train (or online or from a tabac) - regardless of where/when, the price is €25. I think it's possible to get a €19 ticket on the OBB trains but you would need to book in advance - buying on the day would cost more like €50. So for value and flexibility, the Westbahn trains seem better. Small sample size, but neither of the Westbahn trains I took were more than half full.
- Vienna is pretty walkable in the main, though public transport is extensive if you don't have the inclination to walk. Schönbrunn, the Zentralfriedhof, and the Kirche am Steinhof are a bit too far from the centre to be walkable, though.
- Individual tickets on the U-bahn (subway/tube/metro/etc) cost €2.10 and are valid to/from any destination, including changes. You need to validate the ticket before getting on the train. I didn't take any trams or buses but I think they cost the same. Tickets are cheaper if bought in bulk and there are also unlimited travel tickets available for time periods of 1 day, 2 days, etc.
- It's free to go inside Stefansdom (the cathedral) but there's a fee to go into the nave or up the towers.
- It's free to go inside most churches - the Jesuit church in particular is ludicrously OTT (and hence worth a visit).
- It's free to walk around the grounds at Schönbrunn and it's well worth visiting just for them. The reason I didn't go inside was that, having already seen the Hofburg Palace and Upper Belvedere, I'd had an excess of opulence. There are several sights within the grounds that aren't free (such as the zoo) - you can buy tickets for those at each sight rather than at the front entrance.
- If you're planning on visiting the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery), bear in mind that it's quite a walk from Simmering U-bahn stop so it's probably best to take the tram. Also bear in mind that the cemetery is truly enormous - there is a bus service within, but otherwise be prepared to walk a few kilometres. But you'll be disappointed if you're expecting something like Recoleta.
- Phoenixhof on Neustiftgasse is an excellent restaurant serving Austrian cuisine at decent prices. It's recommended on sites such as Chowhound, but I ate here several times and never had problems getting a table as a walk-in.
- Café Neko on Blumenstockgasse (near Stefansdom) is one of only a handful of cat cafés in Europe. It has 5 cats, including a couple of gorgeous Maine Coons. Though the cats obviously like the owner, they ignore casual customers - none of them showed the slightest interest in even sniffing my hand. In fact, on my 3 visits I didn't see any of them voluntarily interact with any customers. It's relaxing to be around cats, and I had some good riceballs and chocolate cake here, so I would definitely recommend this place - just don't expect to be up to your eyeballs in cats wanting your attention.
27th October 2013 €55.25 (Average) nightly cost for a single ensuite room at Pension Lehrerhaus on Lange Gasse. I booked this a couple of months in advance. The room was good, with heater, TV (CRT not flat-screen), cassette recorder (!), good free wifi and soap. No breakfast, and the decor is rather dated. This is a good place to base yourself, as it's easily walkable to the centre, close to the Rathaus U-bahn stop, and there's a supermarket next door.
27th October 2013 €11.5 Entrance to Hofburg Palace. This ticket allows you to see the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection (including crockery and table settings too). The ticket includes an audio-guide - it took me 2 hours to get through it and I was moving quite quickly too, with part of the problem being that the rooms easily get crowded. Photos allowed in the Imperial Silver Collection but not in the apartments or museum. Note that the ticket does NOT allow you to see the armoury or the treasury (or any other bits of the palace), which have separate tickets. I must admit I found it quite confusing just what was available and which tickets were needed to see what, confusion that my guidebook didn't really help with. If you're going to see the Belvedere, I think this particular Hofburg tour is worth giving a miss.
30th October 2013 €12.5 Entrance to the Upper Belvedere. The main attraction here is the Klimt collection, though note that it's best to get here first thing, as otherwise the place will be swamped with tour groups and you'll struggle to get a good view of paintings like "The Kiss". No photos allowed. The grounds are free to wander around.
31st October 2013 €7 Entrance to State Hall (Prunksaal) at the National Library. This is a truly awesome Baroque library, with an excellent ceiling fresco. Should not be missed. Photos allowed, but no tripods or flash.
1st November 2013 €0.50 Public toilet at Schönbrunn Palace.
2nd November 2013 €6 Entrance to Clock Museum (Uhrenmuseum). Photos allowed.
3rd November 2013 €2 Entrance to Kirche am Steinhof. A glorious church that is a must-visit. Photos allowed.
4th November 2013 €25 Westbahn train from Vienna Westbahnhof to Salzburg. See earlier for further information.
4th November 2013 €65 Nightly cost for a single ensuite room at Hotel Hohenstauffen on Elisabethstrasse. I booked this over 2 months in advance. This is an attractive hotel with nice rooms - the best I stayed in in Austria. It's close to the station. The room was good, with very nice decor, a single bed (with a canopy!), TV, free good wifi, and breakfast (which I didn't have time for because of an early train). The toilet has a shelf, which may or may not appeal. It's about a 20 minute walk from here to the old town, which isn't much but might grate if you were staying for several days. The hotel is completely out of character with the surrounding area (or more likely vice versa, as the hotel presumably came first), with a massive sex shop just across the street and a selection of betting shops.
5th November 2013 €59 Trains from Salzburg to St Pancras. See earlier for more info about this ticket.
In theory, the timetable was as follows: EC 390 from Salzburg Hbf to Frankfurt (Main) Hbf, leaving at 7:51 and arriving at 13:40 (i.e. journey time of 5 hours 49 minutes); ICE 14 from Frankfurt (Main) Hbf to Brussels-Midi, leaving at 14:29 and arriving at 17.35 (i.e. journey time of 3 hours 6 minutes); Eurostar from Brussels-Midi to St Pancras, leaving at 18:56 and arriving at 19:57 (i.e. journey time of 2 hours 1 minute, taking the time-zone change into account).
In practice, the ICE arrived about 30 minutes late into Brussels, but I had more than enough padding in my changeover to accommodate this. Again, the ICE was fully booked so I ended up in a disabled seat.