So as I mentioned in the post where I announced that I was going to Austria, I intended to travel my way through 3 Austrian cities on a budget.
Maybe you’re one of the those who wouldn’t think Austria or Europe and “budget travel” could belong in the same sentence. I certainly thought too that wasn’t possible until I made the trip myself, on a shoestring budget. Here’s what I did to enjoy Austria without breaking the bank.
1. Plan ahead – starting with your international flight from your city of origin to Vienna (or to any point in Austria)
I’ve always wanted to go to Austria since forever and this will be our little secret: I have played a lot on the Expedia app on my phone, entering probable dates, searching when it’s cheaper to go. And after a few trials, I kind of know which dates are relatively cheap. But the basic rule is this: never fly on peak season or holidays. Sad reality, I know for corporate slaves like me who rely on holidays to travel.
However,I found a reasonable ticket around the Eid Al Adha holidays a month before, I swear that was the ultimate sign that I should go. I immediately bought it. It was direct flight via Emirates! I immediately bought it and found out after a few days that the price has doubled (as the holidays neared).
- Plane fares fluctuate a lot and they do get more expensive as the date of flight nears so better lock it in early when you find something reasonable (and within your allocated budget).
So yeah, install that Expedia app and play around with the dates beforehand!
2. Use the Tourist Cards
I was in Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck and the city cards really helped me a lot. All 3 regional cards will give you unlimited access to public transportation. Except for the Vienna card that offer only discounts for entrance to museums and other attractions, the Salzburg and Innsbruck cards offer free. The cards can be bought online or at the Tourist offices in each of the cities.
Here’s a detailed post about each of the cards and my experience using it: The Austrian tourist cards, are they worth it?
3. Book train tickets in advance
I needed long distance tickets from Vienna to Salzburg, Salzburg to Innsbruck and Innsbruck back to Vienna and if you are planning to visit other places in Austria, what better way to explore this beautiful country than using the railway that travels through stunning mountain scenery, lush alpine meadows, historic towns and picturesque villages.
The train journey from Innsbruck to Vienna was about 4 hours and while it’s tempting to sleep, how can you sleep with this view outside?
The Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen or ÖBB) site is very easy to use and you can purchase tickets online way before you travel. Example, if I am to travel from Vienna to Innsbruck (a must visit in Austria, by the way!) and booking a train ticket a week before my travel, the prices will be like this for date of travel: October 14, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015
- The train ticket price for long distance train travel within Austria varies depending on the time. Same distance, different time means different prices.
- If you are travelling on a budget, play around with the time in the OBB site so you can choose a more affordable one and adjust your itinerary accordingly.
However, if I would be travelling from Vienna to Innsbruck TOMORROW and book/purchase my ticket TODAY, these would be the price options for me for date of travel: October 7, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015. Bye bye cheap ticket!!
- Everything is expensive when you purchase train tickets near your travel date!
So, when you book early, you have the option of choosing the cheaper ticket called SparSchiene Österreich.
This type of ticket has limited allocation restricted to a specific train, no exchange, no refund, no cancellation so be sure to plan your itinerary well and stick to your time plan because the discounted tickets cannot be refunded, changed or reimbursed.
I bought this type of ticket and the train compartment was decent, clean and safe. No problems, whatsoever.
BONUS TIP (Travelling from airport to city center):
Unless you are in a hurry, I would suggest traveling to the city center from the airport by normal train. I used the City Airport Train (CAT) from Vienna International Airport to Wien Mitte Landstrasse because my flight arrived at night and didn’t want to wander around too late in the city I am not familiar with yet. It only takes 16 minutes for the CAT to reach the city center. For normal train, around 30 minutes. However, the CAT costs 11 euros while the normal train is only 4.40 Euros.
4. Choose cheap hotels
Real talk: You would likely to spend most of your time exploring the city and will only use the hotel for sleeping. Instead of staying in luxurious and expensive hotels (nothing wrong if it fits your budget!), you could use the money to buy some local food fares or souvenirs to take back home.
The good news is that there are still a lot of cheaper accommodation options in Austria like hostels, AirBnB or basic hotels.
There were cheaper hotel options in Vienna but I chose a hotel with convenient metro access for my accommodation in Vienna because I was arriving late and did not want to get lost in a city I do not know yet. I stayed at Motel One Wien Hauptbahnhof as it was literally just a stone’s throw away from Wien Hauptbahnhof station. The hotel was new, modern and clean. Very basic though but comfortable enough for sleeping. They had a good breakfast spread too.
My accommodation in Salzburg was pretty reasonable too. I stayed in a church guest house Gastehaus im Priestseminar. It’s not too near the main train station and I had to take a bus but I know that Salzburg was smaller and less complicated than Vienna so I took the chance. The bus stop was just right outside the station and the church was a short walk from the bus stop. It’s also only 5 minutes away from Mirabell Palace and Gardens so location is not bad! More detailed review in another post.
From this trip, I learned that there are affordable hotels near the Old Town: Altstadthotel Wiesse Taube. It’s a great base as most of the attractions in Salzburg are around the Old Town.
Booking your Vienna and Salzburg accommodations through the above affiliate links will cost you nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
5. No fancy dining and drinking
For food, you can find inexpensive fare at snack bars all over town that sell pizza, Turkish sandwiches known as “kebaps” and other quick bites. The most popular, called “wurstelstands,” sell Austrian sausages and hot dogs.
Restaurants in the busy central area of Vienna can be expensive, but you can save on eating out by having your main meal at lunchtime. I had my lunch at Naschmarkt, an open air market with many restaurants offer a cheaper mittagsmenü, where you can get a two- or three- course meal from a set menu for under €10.
And if you’re self-catering there are also several Spar supermarkets in the city centre or at train stations.
When I was staying at hotels in Vienna and Salzburg, I chose hotels that offer breakfast. Then for lunch, I buy a sandwich and water from a deli or Spar to power me through all the walking I made. At night, I had very light meal of yoghurt, some fruit and bread again because I am too tired to even eat! (Don’t worry mom, I took my vitamin supplements with me on trips…)
TIP: Never buy water at attractions but buy them at Spar convenient stores at the train stations (0.60 Euros compared to 2 Euros or more at museum stores).