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Where to drive in Austria

There’s much more to Austria than snow-capped mountains and schnitzels. It’s a country where grand palaces stand a stone’s throw from modern art galleries and Baroque coffeehouses share the street with Michelin-starred restaurants; a place where you can ski, sightsee or unwind in hot springs, all while breathing in that fresh Alpine air. With so much to pack in, it makes sense to rent a car to get around. Driving in Austria is generally straightforward, with well-maintained roads and good signposting, not to mention some of the world’s most spectacular scenery.

Most travellers will start their journey at one of the country’s international airports, which include those in the capital, Vienna; in Mozart’s birthplace Salzburg, on the German border; and Tyrolian capital Innsbruck, a popular winter sports destination that’s also become known for its modern architecture.  You’ll definitely want to spend time in each of these destinations.

Vienna, in the east of the country, is renowned for its opera houses, Imperial palaces, and an artistic and intellectual heritage, showcased in its numerous grand museums but also in historic coffeehouses such as the Frauenhuber where Mozart and Beethoven once played. Salzburg, meanwhile, is UNESCO-listed for the Baroque architecture of its Old Town and is one of the best places to see a classical music concert with dozens taking place every week in its revered concert halls and pretty churches. And Innsbruck is the destination for winter sports, offering activities from sledding to tobogganing, snowboarding to hiking. 

When you’re ready to see more, jump on one of the country’s 18 Bundesautobahnens – or highways. The A1 (West Autobahn) runs from Vienna to Walzerberg via the city of Linz – known for its vibrant music scene - and Salzburg, while the A2 (South Autobahn) will take you from Vienna to the Italian border, via the cities of Graz and Klagenfurt.

The A5 (North Autobahn) runs from Vienna to Poysdorf in Lower Austria. Or take the time to enjoy the country’s stunning landscapes by taking a scenic route. The famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road between Salzburg and Carinthia winds through hills and mountains including Austria’s highest, the Grossglockner, hitting altitudes of more than 8,200ft and diving down into the centre of Austria’s largest national park.

The Goldeck Panoramic Road, open mid-May to mid-October, is also an unmissable drive. A 14.5km route starting in Carinthia, it travels through mountain forests before climbing to 6,217ft above sea level where you’ll find some of Austria’s most breathtaking vistas. The Gerlos Alpine Road between Salzburg and Tyrol is another must on any Austrian driving itinerary. Packed with elegant turns, picturesque sights including Europe’s highest waterfalls, the Krimml, and refreshing lakes, it’s sure to be a memorable trip.

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