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Itinerary dreams for 2021, need guidance on a mostly Austria itinerary

Hello all! I am looking for advice on a 12-13 night trip.

I would like to include a short stop in Alsace (Strasbourg), an Alpine town or village stop, plus a chance to see a pretty lake / mountains (possibly Salzburg lake region), then Salzburg and Vienna. Or reverse order!

Happy to rent a car for some of it, or not, whatever works.

The Arlberg pass train from Zurich to Innsbruck looks pretty on Seat61 website, which is what started this discussion with my husband for an anniversary trip. We’ve not been to this part of Europe yet, so seeking experienced advice.

Any help appreciated with pacing. Might be a stop too far to squeeze in Alsace? This covid travel ban is giving me “big eyes”!

Posted by
3304 posts

Cut Alsace. Just the travel between destinations will eat up too much of your rather limited time.

Re car rental: I haven’ t been to Salzburg, so can’t advise for there, but you definitely don’t want or need a car in Vienna.

Be sure you don’t short-change Vienna. It’s a fabulous city. We liked it so much that after a 5 day stay, we returned the next year for another week.

Posted by
977 posts

Hi, sform. I don't know that I have advice, but I am cheering you on to include Alsace, a trip across Switzerland, and then the Arlberg pass train. This route, from Alsace onward, figures strongly in my travel planning/fantasies. I imagine landing circa Innsbruck from the Arlberg train and then maybe looking to go south into the Dolomites and Südtirol. The webcam of Innichen/San Candido is something I view daily, so I have a hankering to visit there, especially if it is winter. I have not worked it out yet, especially as Innichen is kinda out of the way, but in my fantasy, I continue via the Brenner train line to Verona and then on to Venice.

Going north or northeast from Innsbruck is also attractive, so since this is a lovely dream at this point, why not take the train north again from Venice to Munich or over to Salzburg? Clearly, I am all for the travel "big eyes".

I look forward to the advice you receive and the plans you make! Enjoy.

PS, my dreams have not yet incorporated the practicalities of time and days allotted, so may not be a fit for your timeframe.

Posted by
16765 posts

Lufthansa has a nonstop from Austin to Frankfurt, which is an easy train or bus to Strasbourg. Return from Vienna is not bad either with a single plane change along the way, or of course the other way. Easy train connections to Switzerland via Basel.

The Railjet connection between Zurich and Salzburg is nice, but not really spectacular. The long Arlberg Tunnel goes under the highest part of the route. For spectacular, you need to take one of the high mountain Swiss trains like the Glacier Express or Bernina Express, or with local trains that run the same tracks. It would not be too big a detour to go from Basel to Brig, then the Glacier Express (or local trains) to Chur. This takes the Oberalp Pass, which as the name implies, is over the Alps, not under them. Then back to the low lands where you can pick up the Railjet and still do the Arlberg route to Salzburg.

PS, Basel to Brig, take the "Loetschberger" which uses an older route that is also mostly over the mountains and the old Loetschberg Tunnel. The new faster route uses the Loetschberg Base Tunnel that goes completely under the mountains.

Posted by
4455 posts

This is a trip we took about five years ago and recommend these locations. We had been to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna previously.

Fly into Munich
Munich - 2 nights
Mittenwald - 2 nights
Salzburg - 4 nights
St. Wolfgang - 2 nights
Melk - 1 night
Vienna - 4 nights
Fly out of Vienna

“ We're back from our trip to Munich & Mittenwald in Germany and Salzburg, St. Wolfgang, Melk & Vienna in Austria. I want to extend a big thank you to the people who recommended Mittenwald - a lovely town, and I even found a chapel by chance while hiking to Lautersee that had been my Christmas laptop screensaver last year! We recommend the cable car, violin museum, Mama Lucia Italian restaurant (ate there twice!) and overall hiking or biking in the area.
I'll share that if you're in Munich, participate in a Mike's Bike Tour - great fun! 4 hours of easy biking (1 hour of it in the beer garden), and we learned & saw a lot in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.
I had found info about St. Wolfgang, Austria a few years ago and had it on our short list. We took a bus to St. Gilgen and then a boat to St. Wolfgang. Such a wonderful, relaxing location at Hotel Cortisen am See on the edge of the village - neither of us wanted to leave! The town experiences the day-trippers from Salzburg, but we were out hiking each day and were back for the quiet town in the evening. St. Wolfgang was #1 of our locations.
Melk - we walked up to the Abbey courtyard the evening we arrived but ended up not going through it the next day. Thanks for the recommendations, Emily; we enjoyed the Wachau valley & boat trip, instead.
4 days in Salzburg & 5 days in Vienna - lovely cities and glad to return to both of them 12 years later. Stayed in the center in both towns - lots of walking & enjoying the atmosphere, gardens & sites. We found the Salzburg Card to be an excellent option, seeing more than we originally planned. The U3/CAT was a seamless option to travel to Vienna's airport from our hotel at Stephansplatz.”

Posted by
794 posts

Here's what I'd do, and I've spent months in Austria. Fly into Vienna, train to Salzburg, train to Innsbruck, rental car to Otztal.

You get the three best big cities, and one of the best alpine regions all in the same trip and never spend more than 2 hours traveling place to place. Fly home from Zurich or Munich.

Otztal is fantastic, it's a skiing paradise for Europeans in the winter, and a hiking place in summer. Lots of trails, alpine lakes, picturesque little towns. And, best of all, very few American, English, or Chinese tourists.

Posted by
1108 posts

I would think about the following:

Fly into Vienna--5 nights

Train to Salzburg--3 nights

Train to Hallstatt--2 night

Train to Munich--3 nights

Fly out of Munich

Posted by
2391 posts

In 2015, we flew into Paris and out of Vienna. We went from Paris to Strasbourg, then from Munich to Vienna, all by train. I really enjoyed our short time in Alsace - unique architecture, great food and drink, interesting sites. We took a small-group tour offered by Ophorus - "The Pearls of Alsace", which gave us a good, if brief, look at the highlights.

The Hotel Hannong in Strasbourg was an amazing value for money.

Posted by
53 posts

Wonderful feedback and ideas everyone! Keep them coming, they are really giving me food for thought!

Posted by
2717 posts

Hi sform,

I’d agree with flying to Munich. Never been to Strasbourg, so I can’t help at all. I’d cut going to Switzerland.

Munich 2 nights.
3 nights. Rent a car and stay in either the Oetzal or Zillertal. We loved our stay in the Zillertal. High alpine peaks and cute villages.
4 nights. Head to Salzburg, but stay in a cute village in the Berchtesgaden area or on the Wolfgangsee at St. Gilgen. Based in either is an easy 30 minute drive to Salzburg. We’ve done this so many times. Gorgeous scenery from either location. We love stating in a village in beautiful alpine scenery and then visiting Salzburg for the day and or evening. We’ve driven to Salzburg many times solely for dinner and a walk around at night. Very easy.
3 or 4 nights. Drop the car in Freilassing, Germany, a town over from Salzburg, and train to Vienna and fly home. Dropping the car here means there’s no drop off fee for renting in one country and dropping in another.

Alsace and Austria are too far from each other. Not sure how stuck you are on seeing the mountains vs Vienna, but please check out the itinerary I did 2 years ago. We flew into Paris, spent 2 days using uber. We rented a car and drove to Giverny. From there we drove to Colman, France for 3 nights and visited the nearby towns. We then drove to Grindlewald, Switzerland for another 3 nights. We spent the last night in Lucerne. Having been to Wengen, Switz I can tell you G’wald is so much nicer. We considered staying in Interlaken. Instead we went for a few hours, waste of time, too touristy.

In your case, maybe consider flying into Paris, drive to the Alsace area (awesome area), spend 3 nights, drive to G’wald, spend 3 nights (a lot do see in the area), then either fly from Zurich to VIE for another 5 nights - spending time in both Salzburg and Vienna. You can fly home from Vienna. G’wald is like no other.

Posted by
534 posts

Definitely skip Alsace on this journey as it is in the opposite direction of Austria (if you plan to fly into Zurich). If you insist on Alsace, consider flying to Stuttgart, then train to Strasbourg and south. No backtracking! Plus you may find airfare via Stuttgart less expensive. Expect to take a full day (7+ hours) to train from Alsace to Innsbruck or Salzburg. Give yourself at least 3 full days (no travel) for Vienna. Once there you may discover you should have stayed for more! No more than 2 full days in Salzburg, unless you decide to use it as a hub for your lakes trip.

Posted by
13 posts

" Rent a car and stay in either the Oetzal or Zillertal. We loved our stay in the Zillertal. High alpine peaks and cute villages.
4 nights. Head to Salzburg, but stay in a cute village in the Berchtesgaden area or on the Wolfgangsee at St. Gilgen. Based in either is an easy 30 minute drive to Salzburg. We’ve done this so many times. Gorgeous scenery from either location. We love stating in a village in beautiful alpine scenery and then visiting Salzburg for the day and or evening. We’ve driven to Salzburg many times solely for dinner and a walk around at night. Very easy.
3 or 4 nights. Drop the car in Freilassing, Germany, a town over from Salzburg, and train to Vienna and fly home. Dropping the car here means there’s no drop off fee for renting in one country and dropping in another."

Paul, I love this idea. We have 1 week in Salzburg before Prague, and 1 in Vienna , after Budapest, and Like the idea of small towns. What was your experience driving in Austria and crossing borders?

Posted by
53 posts

Well, these are such good ideas. I think we will skip the Alsace for this particular trip.

Trip is now 13 nights. Because of frequent flyer miles, need to go into Vienna via Madrid, out of Madrid. So we are thinking:

I need help on where to go after Salzburg and before Munich. Timeframe will be early October. We want to see some alpine beauty, but we aren't hikers, in fact I have to really watch how much I walk in a day due to back issues. What are the ski resort areas like in early October? Lively? Or quiet? Should we just go to a spot in the Salzkammergut? Should we head to Seefeld or Mittenwald? Ötztal? These are the ideas that are floating around.

Vienna - 4 nights Vienna Marriott Hotel (we have points. Seems to be well located).
All the culture stuff we can fit in. Possible day trip to Melk Abbey if there's time on last day.
train to Salzburg
Salzburg - 3 nights. Altstadthotel Wolf. (Just picked as a placeholder. Happy to hear other ideas)
Old town sites full day 1, private guide tour to lake area full day 2
train to ? or rental car
? - 2 nights.
Need help where to go next. This is the area of the trip I can't quite bring into focus.
drop car if we get one in Innsbruck, train to Munich
Munich - 2 nights.
Would like to do a food /beer hall tour
fly to Madrid for 2 nights then home

Posted by
1777 posts

You can fly nonstop from/to the US via Chicago and Washington DC to/from Vienna. If you visit Vienna, Salzburg and the Alsace region, consider flying into one place i.e. Vienna and out the other (say Paris).
A train from Vienna to Salzburg is a direct 2h 45m ride. However, a train from Salzburg to the Alsace region requires two connections. If you choose to rent a car in Salzburg and drive to FR, it will cost a bundle, so I don’t recommend it. Europe has the same rules as the US, it costs a lot more to rent a car in one state and return it in another.
Another option is since you’re so close to Bratislava, why not take a direct train from Vienna to Bratislava (1h). To get the most out of it be sure to purchase RSs Vienna Salzburg & Tirol guidebook which contains a chapter on Bratislava.

Posted by
534 posts

I am a huge fan of the Innsbruck area. Lots to see and do. Easy to get around via train and bus. If taking a car, I suggest starting through Germany, down into Kufstein (for the castle) or to Jenbach for Tratzberg Castle. Less direct but a very pretty drive from Salzburg to Innsbruck is south to St. Johann then work your way west by any route you choose to link back up to E45 or 171 in Jenbach, then through to Innsbruck. You should be able to drop the car at the airport there.

Posted by
534 posts

I don't think your pacing is too hectic on your revise itinerary. If you want to optimize time, take a train to Innsbruck rather than drive. As I posted earlier, there are some great drives but you will have fantastic scenery via train and save a few hours. Should you decide on Innsbruck, when heading to Munich take the train that runs through Seefeld, Mittenwald & G-P. It takes about an hour longer but it is a much more beautiful journey.

Posted by
977 posts

Hello. For your 2 ? nights perhaps in the Innsbruck area in October - keep your eyes peeled (ok, do some google research closer to time) for dates of the local Almabtrieb - cow parade. Put that word into Wikipedia for the typical synonyms. Most seem to be held in September, but if it is of interest, see if there is one going while you are in the area. I joined one in Mutters outside Innsbruck a number of years ago. I think it was near the end of Sept., but keep it in mind for the Tirol, the Allgäu, the entire area you are unsure of. If there happens to be a date, that could help you make up your mind.

Posted by
844 posts

I absolutely love the Salzburg area, so I would add two more nights there. Get a rental car for a few days. Drive to Hallstatt. Another day, drive to Berchtesgaden and go to Eagle’s Nest, Konigsee and do the salt mine (maybe even over 2 days). Another day, drive to Werfen and go to the fortress. Plenty to explore in the area. Spectacular mountains and lakes all around.

Posted by
1 posts

Another option is to go from Salzburg go to the Dachstein area. It’s not as far as Innsbruck (which is beautiful). You can take in the lakes of Salzkammergut on the way, drop into Halstatt then over to Obertrauen, on the other side of the lake to take the cable car up the mountain, which has a Glacier. Do the tour of the ice caves half way up.

Posted by
82 posts

Main thing I'd add is that they get a lot of rain.

Absolutely love places like Hallstatt and Wolfgangsee but I encountered a lot of rain in August.

So maybe research indoor things and plan for an additional day or two at Salzburg for instance, to improve chances of getting one or two clear days.

Vienna, there are plenty of things to do indoors, the palaces and museums (though maybe there could be covid restrictions), even cafes.

October though could be in between summer/fall and the ski season in the mountains around Salzburg and Innsbruck. So cable cars may not be running? Not sure though.

Posted by
850 posts

Schnürlregen (string rain). The Salzkammergut region is famous for it.

Posted by
321 posts

Austria is a great place to visit without trying to tie in Germany. I like to fly in to Vienna, spend three or four days there and then drive towards Salzburg/Innsbruck by way of Kloburg (Klosterneuburg) and Linz. After a day or two in Salzburg we find our way back to Vienna with stops in Lienz, Loeben and Klagenfurt. Loeben is a must for the brewery tour and follow-on goulash at their bar. Plan ahead since they tee off early.
Returning to Vienna, we like to spend a few more days before's one of my favorite cities.
It is tempting to add on stops in Slovenia, Italy, Hungary....Bratislava might be the one to consider.
I have never made a hotel reservation anywhere other than in Vienna and Salzburg (well, not there, we often stay nearby in Grodig). Most of these towns have gasthauses which are quaint, available and fun to stay at. If we find a place we like we stop and take a room.....most of these places have great food and beer and schnapps..the good stuff, high octane fuel made from plums or peaches....
When I go to Southern Germany (Munich) I fly to Frankfurt and rent a car. I usually stay a week or two stay in that region. Two days in Munich (it's big and busy) are plenty but the surrounding region is worthy of it's own trip and planning.

Posted by
53 posts

Thanks for all the replies so far! Still trying to bring the trip into focus. I find the pacing of where to go and for how long the hardest part when planning a Europe trip. Any more advice is very welcome!

Posted by
1777 posts

Hi sform, I would buy Rick Steves’ Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol guidebook sixth edition. You can buy an electronic version from his app. I would make sure I took his two self-guided tours in Vienna which you can do the same day.
If you click on Explore Europe on Rick Steves’ home page > Austria > Vienna > click on the + sign on the same line as At a Glance, you’ll see a list of places that Rick highly recommends seeing: Hofburg Imperial Apartments, Hofburg Treasury, Vienna State Opera, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Kunshistorisches Museum and Schönbrunn Palace.

You can easily see the Hofburg places the same day. I would visit the opera in the evening on one of the days, but not on the day of arrival. Both the cathedral and museum can easily be visited another day. Do allow a full day for Schönbrunn Palace.
I would also add one more day and take a direct train to Bratislava, Slovakia (1h) from Vienna that has a charming old town. Rick Steve’s guidebook will tell you how to do this.

You only need two nights in Salzburg. Instead of exploring more of AT, I would take a direct train to Munich (2h). Personally, I would add more time in Madrid and if possible, include a day-trip to Toledo that’s a 45-minute direct train ride away.
If you’ve already been to Madrid and don’t need to spend more time there, you can add days to Munich and explore the Bavarian Alps region by car.

Posted by
53 posts

Thank you for all your advice! I am still trying to refine the itinerary.

I have been to Madrid before, but we just love it there. I do still need to do the Toledo day trip. We are just bad about planning day trips and then not taking them. I am typically having such a good time where we are!