Traveling from Vienna to Salzburg and the Alps
March 22, 2013 1:05 PM   Subscribe

During our upcoming (and first) trip to Europe, we will be traveling from Vienna to Salzburg, then on to Hallstatt in the Alps. We would like to know whether it makes more sense to rent a car in Vienna and drive to Hallstatt, or take the train to Salzburg, then rent a car. Questions: 1. Which option is less expensive? 2. If we go by car, what are some things to see between Vienna and the Salzburg area (to be visited in the one day of travel)? 3. Do we need to apply for a special permit to rent a car with an American driver's license? 4. and as long as I have your ear, any hotel or pension recommendations for the city of Salzburg or Vienna? We have most of our stay booked already, but there are few nights left to fill.

Thanks so much for your help and suggestions!
posted by Don_K to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm afraid I do not have specific experience with the particular route you are considering but I highly recommend traveling by train assuming that you do not have a pressing need for the car in either, or both, destinations.

You should not need a special permit to drive (I used to get the International Driver's License thing every time I travelled but that doesn't seem to be used anymore and everyone accepts my weird island passport wherever I go).

Enjoy your trip!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're already going to eventually rent the car, then just go ahead and rent it in Vienna and drive rather than taking the train. If you're doing one-or-the-other (train v. car), then a cost analysis makes sense. But since you're going to rent the car anyway, it seems like you might only reduce your rental time by one day or so. My soul wants to tell you to ride the trains and have The European Train Experience. But since it is your first time in Europe, I think maybe you'd be better off renting a car.

You should be fine to rent a car if you have a valid driver license in your home country/state, but it isn't clear where you're writing from and that might matter.
posted by jph at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't done it by car, but by train it's a pleasant and scenic three hours, and says it should be about €50 per adult.
posted by pont at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions so far! I will add that I will be getting 'the train experience' in my travels to and from Budapest, so this is really a question about 'the Austrian experience'! ;)
posted by Don_K at 1:47 PM on March 22, 2013

The abbey at Melk is about halfway between Salzburg and Vienna, and is really lovely. We did the drive in the summer of 2007, and it was really pleasant. Driving in Vienna itself, though, is pretty hairy.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the abbey at Melk as well, it is gorgeous!

If you don't mind being a little outside town, I highly recommend the Hotel Unterberg in Groedig which is very close to Salzburg. It was wayyy nicer and easier to get to by car than the hotel we stayed at in central Salzburg, and it puts you in perfect position to go up the Untersberg gondola for an incredible view, and to go south to the ice caves in Werfen, which I can't recommend highly enough - it was amazing.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:39 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

if the train is going over the alps then it is not to be missed. i took the train from milan into switzerland and going over the alps was something i'll never forget. it's absolutely breathtaking.
posted by wildflower at 2:44 PM on March 22, 2013

Having travelled between Austria and Switzerland both by car and by train this summer, if you want the views, take the train - the motorways and major roads often have baffles at the sides of them that mean you don't get a good view. I was a long way further west than you'll be, and have no idea if this is a local thing or something you'll find all across Austria.
posted by Coobeastie at 4:26 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be aware that you cannot park the car in Hallstatt proper, you have to park in the newer end of town and cab or get your hotel to send a cab or minibus. It's not a huge walk but you wouldn't want to do it with luggage.
posted by biffa at 5:31 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did a similar trip with my wife a few years back, in 2004. We went from Vienna to Salzburg to Halstatt and also to Melk at some point, all using trains. We never felt the need for a car, for what it's worth.
posted by chinston at 8:24 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just this summer we rented a car and drove from Zurich to Salzburg to Vienna. Driving was fine with very good signage, but parking was pretty tough. You only needed a valid US driver's license and we even rented from Hertz. Since Vienna and Salzburg are in the same country you shouldn't have any issues, we had a little bit of a hard time understanding where to get the correct sticker for driving from Switzerland into the EU, but you just picked it up at gas stations.

We also went by Melk and it was gorgeous.

We rented a car because there were four of us, and the older folks had some issues walking on the stony streets while also carrying their luggage which made the car cheaper and easier for us.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:14 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, this has been very helpful.

We decided to take the train from Budapest to Vienna then to Melk, stay overnight, then take the morning train to Salzburg.

At that point, we'll rent a car for our travels around the Alps.

@forkisbetter: We will most likely be driving into Germany to stay for two nights near Berchtesgaden Park. I take it we will need some sort of sticker? I hadn't heard of that, but perhaps the rental company in Salzburg can help us out.

We'll be attending a Mozart concert at the Hohensalzburg Castle, so we'll be driving up to Salzburg from Shonau am Konigsee. Do any of you have any knowledge of the best way to do this? I assume there is a parking lot somewhere where we can then catch a Metro to the Castle?

posted by Don_K at 6:56 AM on March 26, 2013

Salzburg castle is funicular or foot, I recommend the former for the up. Park and walk round. Salzburg is trams and bus, no metro.
posted by biffa at 2:32 PM on March 29, 2013

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