Warning: Tourist Trap!
10 Things NOT to do in Austria
Other websites will give you endless lists of all the great things you just HAVE to do in Austria - I choose another approach and warn you of some things I recommend you NOT to do.
Note that I don't discourage visitors from coming to Austria in principle - but there is a certain culture of ripping off foreigners that I don't appreciate very much. On the other side, there are certain tourist-specific behaviours that I don't endorse. Thus, the following list.
Tourist traps, shameless rip-offs and other things you′d rather avoid on your vacation. Here we go:
1.) Don′t stick with groups!
Interact with locals. Like all touristy places, Austria has an infrastructure well-prepared for large crowds of tourists. They typically arrive in herds, take pictures, buy souvenirs and move on in a bus. If you travel like this, you will miss out on everything beyond the largely artificial "the hills are alive" label.
Move in small groups and talk to locals - don′t worry about not speaking German, most Austrians speak at least basic English and will be happy to chat with you. Touristy clothing (Hawaii shirts, shorts, sandals, cameras etc) will build unnecessary barriers - Austria is best enjoyed with plain clothing and an open mind!
2.) Don′t spread yourself too much!
In Austria if you travel for a limited amount of time. Unfortunately, some of the top-attractions are far from Vienna (Salzburg works fairly well, but combining both with Innsbruck, the Großglockner and Graz will be difficult). If you want to see a bit of everything in Austria, I think that a minimum amount of time would be two weeks (see also the suggested itineraries). If you stay for less, prioritise areas in order to avoid dull hours on the highways.
3.) Don't waste your time during main season!
Tourism is the biggest industry of the country and the most scenic cities can be pretty crowded especially during the summer months. Many highways lead directly to Italy, which is not quite un-touristy either. Driving to or in Austria can therefore be challenging; keep this in mind when you plan your trip, book ahead between June and September and during advent (the month before Christmas).
4.) Don't pay too much tax!
If you are a non-EU citizen, you will get the value added tax re-imbursed at your departure (typically at an airport). Considering that VAT is an impressive 20 percent in Austria, even medium priced souvenirs justify the hassle with forms.
5.) Don′t order tap water!
I know that′s silly in a country that has extremely high-quality tap water straight from the Alps (probably better than bottled water in other countries), but ordering tap water is generally considered rude in Austria. There were instances in which landlords charged high serving fees for providing tap water - if this is the case, request a look at the menu; by law a price has to be given for every item sold, including tap water (if it is sold). To spare the hassle, order still mineral water ("Mineralwasser ohne Kohlensäure"). Funny enough, traditional cafés will serve coffee always with a glass of tap water - no need to order it here, and no additional charges involved.
6.) Don't by in tourist trap shops!
Especially souvenirs are often exorbitantly expensive in many touristy places such as city centres. For "classic" souvenirs like Mozartkugeln or liquors, supermarkets or duty-free zones are always better than souvenir shops. The same thing applies to Christmas Markets - just ask local people where they get their groceries and you will find the better deal. No Austrian would buy chocolates or booze in a souvenir shop.
7.) Don't accept rude waiters!
Even being Austrian doesn′t protect you from abusive behaviours in some - normally very touristy and crowded - places. I have encountered more problems with rude waiters in Austria than any other country and received e-mails in which international tourists have complained about that, too. The problem is mostly that tourism centres often serve mostly once-in-a-lifetime guests.
If you are a tourist, you will not come back, regardless of whether or not you liked the place and the service. Rude behaviours are generally unusual and Austria is considered to be a hospital place, but if you have problems with waiters, go and see the landlord immediately. If that doesn′t lead anywhere (which is unlikely), complain at the tourism authorities and the trade union (Wirtschaftskammer). Don′t give in!
8.) Don′t spend more than three days in Vienna!
There is a lot to do and to see in Vienna, much more than you could do in three days - however, if you stay for longer, day-trips into the surroundings become feasible and will add the important experience of rural Austria to your portfolio of travel. Vienna accounts for about 20 percent of Austria′s population - there′s 80 percent to discover outside of it!
9.) Don't forget Ötzi!
This is the 5300 year old ice mummy that was found in the 1990ies in the Tyrolean mountains. He died wearing sandals in alpine terrain, which made a comedian speculate if Ötzi could have been German after all. Do you want to end like Ötzi? If you come from a flat place, you might not know about threats in an alpine environment.
Always bring a hiking guide and maps, decent shoes (ideally hiking boots), warm clothing (when the valleys are boiling at 30 degrees Celsius in August, it can still snow in high altitudes), sun blockers (UV light is nasty up there) and a mobile phone. If you go hiking, let people know where you want to go and when you expect to be back. For playing safe, read our hiking gear checklist.
10.) Don't forget the Schengen Agreement!
Austria has signed the Schengen agreement, which means that if you have a right to be in Austria, you also have a right to be in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and - I think - even Slovenia. Visa issued by Austria are valid for the entire Schengen area. That is nice: effectively it means that you can go on day-trips to neighbouring countries if you fancy with no further bureaucracy involved.
Top-destinations are the "Eagle′s Nest" in Berchtesgaden (rip-off, touristy and not worth the hassle) near Salzburg and the towns of Bavaria as well as hiking in the Italian dolomites. Bring your passport, though! You probably won′t be checked, but carrying it with you is required at all times.
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