Renowned for its cafe culture, classical music and jaw-dropping landscapes, Austria is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations, particularly in winter. While it’s certainly not off-the-beaten-track, tourists taking their first trip to the country frequently make the same faux-pas. If you’re planning a trip, take a quick look at our top tips on what not to do in Austria to save yourself the awkward silences.
What not to do when visiting Austria
1. Ignore the highway code
So you’re standing at an empty junction, with no sign of cars for miles. You take your foot off the pavement and prepare to stride across the road, even though there’s a red man blinking at you from the traffic lights. You turn around, beckoning your fellow pedestrians to join you, only to be met with a sea of scowls. Lesson: they take the highway code very seriously in Austria. Obey the green man at all times – you’ll face hefty fines for jaywalking if you don’t.
If you’re driving, you should also remember to stay clear of cycling lanes, stop at pedestrian zebra crossings and only ever overtake on the left-hand side.
2. Save your shopping for a Sunday or the evenings
In Southern Europe, shops tend to close for a few hours in the afternoon and re-open in the evening. If you’re in Austria, don’t expect to get any shopping done after 6 pm since most shops shut their doors before dinner. And while it’s usual to find independent and smaller shops shut on a Sunday across Europe, most supermarkets and major shops close on Sundays too, even in its cosmopolitan capital Vienna. Fear not though, most restaurants and cafes operate normal working hours on a Sunday.
3. Expect English-language menus
While English is widely spoken across the country, German is Austria’s official language. Most menus in the capital and larger cities include English translations, but not always. If in doubt, ask your waiter for a translation or whip up Google Translate.
4. Mix up your schnitzels and your strudels
Austria is home to a heart-warming cuisine, but not many people know about its culinary offerings beyond schnitzels and strudels. Yes, order a few during your trip – they’re the best in the world here – but be a little adventurous as well. Try steaming bowls of freshly made dumplings called knödel, hearty bowls of buttery fried potatoes called tiroler gröstl and the world’s best iteration of macaroni cheese, known as käsespätzle.
If you’re looking for street food, don’t turn your nose up at the wiener sausage either. It’s made with parboiled beef and pork, then slowly smoked – and it’s a thousand times better than anything you can pull out of a tin.
(If you’re looking for the best dishes to tuck into in Austria, take a look at Seven Austrian Dishes You Must Try)
5. Buy bottled water
Save your pennies and drink straight from the tap instead. According to Planet Earth, Austria has the best drinking water in the world. Over 95% of the water in Vienna pumps through two pipelines direct from the Alps, so you can guarantee its high quality too.
The only tap water you need to avoid will be labelled kein trinkwasser. You’ll usually only find that on large ornamental water fountains though. In Vienna, there are over 1000 water fountains that offer drinkable water for free.
6. Be late
Austrians are renowned for their punctuality. Do not turn up late for an appointment, even a few minutes delay can seriously offend. Ergo, cancelling a meeting last minute. If it’s unavoidable, ring ahead and explain your situation. Generally speaking, it’s best to turn up five or ten minutes early.
7. Forget to take out cash
In the post-pandemic landscape, it’s easy to assume everywhere has adapted to taking card. Not in Austria. While you’ll be able to pay by card in most major restaurant chains and supermarkets, lots of independent places still prefer cash. Austria is a nation of committed cash users, according to this new study. Around 47 % of Austrians prefer to pay in cash, compared with the European average of 30 %. In 2019, the Austrian People’s Party even proposed that the ‘right to pay in cash’ should be enshrined in the law.