Driving from Vienna to Salzburg – a scenic route through Austria’s countryside

Driving from Vienna to Salzburg is quick and easy. Salzburg is approximately 300 KM to the west of Vienna, and you can easily reach it via the A1 motorway (West Autobahn) in 3 hours – just about the same time it would take a train ride.

But if you’re up for a scenic road trip across Austria’s gorgeous countryside, don’t take the A1. Stretch out your drive from 3 hours to 3 days or more and visit these beautiful stops.

Austria is brimming with beautiful landscapes and charming towns. Visit them in this road trip itinerary from Vienna to Salzburg.

Driving from Vienna to Salzburg – a scenic road trip itinerary

KM 0: Vienna

Our road trip begins in Vienna, the majestic capital of Austria. If it’s your first time visiting, allot at least 3 days to experience Vienna’s most popular landmarks.

This road trip itinerary starts in Vienna, Austria's glorious capital. Take a few days to explore Vienna's museums and monuments, and learn about Austria through its music and art.

Spend a day in the sprawling Schönbrunn Palace, one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes. Make sure to go up the Gloriette for a stunning view of Vienna. If you like zoos, hop over to the adjacent Tiergarten, the world’s oldest operational zoo and one of the best zoos in the world. In the evening, listen to Mozart and Vivaldi’s works at the Mozarthaus, then take an evening walk to Café Sacher to have a slice of sachertorte.

Spend the next few days visiting Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” at the Belvedere museum, Egon Schiele’s rebellious art in the Leopold Museum, and Freud’s and Mozart’s residences in Vienna. Go around the old town and visit the Baroque churches, and if you’re traveling with kids, you can spend an afternoon at the Prater.

Don’t pick up your rental car until it’s time to leave Vienna. The public transportation is incredibly convenient, and parking is seriously a pain. Get a Vienna transportation card instead. Use AnachB to plan your routes, or download the free app (iOS / Google Play).

Essential Information / Tips for your trip to Vienna

Getting to Vienna: Vienna is a major transportation hub. You can arrive by plane (check for flights to Vienna), by train (check for train routes to Vienna), or bus (check for bus routes to Vienna).

Getting around Vienna: I highly suggest you don’t get your rental car until it’s time to leave the city. Go around using the public transportation. You can buy your transportation cards online here.

Where to stay in Vienna: Highly-rated hotels in Vienna include: Austria Trend Hotel (double rooms start at EUR 80), Motel One Wien-Hauptbahnhof (relatively new hotel with a great location; double rooms start at EUR 90), and Arion City Hotel (double rooms start at EUR 80).

For budget hotel options in Vienna, check out: Kaisers Inn (double rooms start at EUR 45) and CH Vienna City Rooms (double rooms start at EUR 45).

Attractions – Book your tickets online: I bought most of my tickets for the popular attractions in Vienna in advance, which definitely saved me the time and hassle of lining up for my tickets. You can get tickets to Schönbrunn Palace here (I suggest getting the Classic Pass if you like palace tours, but check if the weather will permit you to visit the garden and maze), tickets to the Tiergarten zoo here,  and tickets to concerts in Vienna here.

Renting a car in Vienna: It’s good to reserve your cars in advance (check for rates and pick-up locations in Vienna here), especially if you need an automatic transmission car – it is recommended to reserve at least one to three months prior to your trip as AT cars run out fast. When you book online, you can also reserve a GPS unit. The major car rental companies (Avis, Hertz, and Sixt) all have convenient downtown pick-up locations and offer the convenience of returning your car in Salzburg.

KM 24: Kahlenberg

Address: Am Kahlenberg, 1190 Wien

The first stop is Kahlenberg, a 30-minute drive north of Vienna’s center.

30 minutes north of Vienna is Kahlenberg, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city.

Kahlenberg is a mountain 484 meters high in the Vienna woods and affords stunning views of Vienna, especially on clear days.

Emperor Ferdinand II originally gave the Kahlenberg as a gift to the Camaldolese Order in 1628. However, it was the Polish King Sobiesky who made it famous when he marched over the Kahlenberg with his army in 1683 and liberated Vienna from the Turkish occupiers at the very last minute.

At the mountain’s highest point, there is a 22-meter tall viewing tower named Stefaniewarte. This was built in 1887 and named after the Crown Princess Stefanie of Belgium.

At the top, you can enjoy a panoramic terrace, a restaurant, and a café.

30 minutes north of Vienna is Kahlenberg, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city.

Getting to Kahlenberg:

  • From Vienna, drive to Kahlenberg via Grinzing and the Höhenstrasse. (Or input Kahlenberg into your GPS.)
  • You can also hike to Kahlenberg via Vienna’s city hiking trails (takes 4-5 hours) or take a bus from Vienna (line 38A from Heiligenstadt via Grinzing).

KM 68: Burg Liechtenstein

Address: Am Hausberg 2, 2344 Maria Enzersdorf

From Kahlenberg, head south to Burg Liechtenstein (50 minutes).

Burg Liechtenstein is a medieval stone castle in Austria

This is a castle built in the 12th century and the seat of the Liechtenstein dynasty until the end of the 13th century. In the 16th century, it was owned by a succession of royal families until it was reacquired by the Liechtensteins in 1807.

Today, the Burg Liechtenstein is regarded as one of Europe’s very rare, 12th century Romanesque secular buildings still in existence. Its medieval architecture and fortification has certainly stood the test of time.

If you’re hungry, there’s a beautiful inn across the castle where you can have lunch before continuing on.

If the weather is nice and you can add one more activity to your itinerary, the Seegrotte Hinterbruhl is a few minutes’ drive nearby. It’s the largest underground lake in Europe and has a museum and several activities.

KM 154: Melk Abbey

Address: Abt-Berthold-Dietmayr-Straße 1, 3390 Melk

The next stop is Melk Abbey, a one-hour drive from Burg Liechtenstein.

Melk Abbey (or Stift Melk) is an 11th century baroque Benedictine abbey with modern art collections, manicured gardens, and a view of the Danube river.

Melk Abbey (or Stift Melk) is an 11th century baroque Benedictine abbey with modern art collections, manicured gardens, and a view of the Danube river.

Spend some time walking around the city of Melk as well to enjoy the variety of architectural designs.

KM 238: Steyr

One hour from Melk is Steyr, one of the best preserved old towns in Austria. It’s an ancient city founded in the 10th century, which through the centuries played a central role in the industrialization of Austria.

View of Steyr city in Austria

Exploring Steyr can take a half to a whole day, especially if you love architecture and history. Start in the town square, where you can enjoy the picturesque houses on the main square, the 15th century Bummerlhaus (considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Central Europe), and the Sternhaus from 18th century with its rich Rococo decoration. Walk along the banks of the city’s two rivers to enjoy the natural landscape.

To learn more about Steyr’s history and culture, visit Castle Schloss Lamberg, a Baroque castle with arts exhibitions and a park. You can learn more about Steyr’s role in industrialization at the Museum Industrielle Arbeitswelt across the castle.

If you have more than three days to do the drive from Vienna to Salzburg, Steyr is a great city to stay for the first night. Depending on your pace (see below for recommended paces), Steyr is a good city to spend the night, thanks to the historic landmarks and modern amenities. Stay within or near the historic town center, as the outskirts are dominated by industrial buildings.

Steyr - driving from Vienna to Salzburg

Where to stay in Steyr: Highly-rated hotels in the Steyr city center include: Landhotel Mader (double rooms start at EUR 130) and Stadthotel Styria (double rooms start at EUR 130).

Check out also Hotel Christkindlwirt (double rooms start at EUR 140), a relaxing hotel with a view just a short drive from Steyr. For a budget option, check out Gasthof Bauer (double rooms start at EUR 70) just a 15-minute walk from the historic center.

KM 333: Gesäuse National Park

From Steyr, the Gesäuse National Park is a 90-minute drive through zigzag mountain roads and gorgeous views.

The gorgeous view from Gesause National Park, one of the stopovers on a drive from Vienna to Salzburg through Austria's countryside.

Gesäuse National Park is a perfect destination for nature and adventure lovers. Water sports enthusiasts can take part in a variety of water activities, including kayaking, white water rafting, or even just cooling off in the river. There are also hiking and biking trails of various difficulty levels, as well as spots for mountain climbing.

While you can visit Gesäuse National Park as a day trip, you can also stay in one of the nearby lodges if you plan to spend more than a day.

Where to stay near the Gesäuse National Park: Gesause Lodge (double rooms start at EUR 80), Villa Elisabeth (double rooms start at EUR 70), and Hotel Spirodom (double rooms start at EUR 150) are all near Gesause’s main activity centers.

Gorgeous natural landscapes from the Gesause National Park. If you love nature and the great outdoors, stop by Gesause as you drive from Vienna to Salzburg.

KM 422: Hallstatt

It takes 90 minutes to drive from Gesäuse National Park to Hallstatt – but the gorgeous landscapes along the road might compel you to stop multiple times for photo ops!

The sublime city of Hallstatt - one of the best stopovers when driving from Vienna to Salzburg

Depending on your pace and availability, you might need to trim down this road trip itinerary, but if there’s one destination I urge you to retain, it’s Hallstatt. Definitely add this to your Vienna-Salzburg road trip itinerary, and as much as possible, try to spend a whole day here.

Hallstatt is one of Austria’s oldest and most gorgeous villages. It is located in the gorgeous Salzkammergut region, where nature spoils you to views of beautiful lakes and mountains.

Here’s a fun, albeit weird, fact: the Chinese loved Hallstatt so much, they built a full-scale replica of the entire town in Huizhou, Guangdong Province!

Before the rise of tourism in the region, Hallstatt is mostly known for salt production, which its inhabitants have been doing since prehistoric times. While the salt industry may not sound as glamorous now, salt has always been a valuable resource and it has certainly made the region wealthy. You can tour the world’s first known salt mine in Hallstatt and this will definitely give you some context as to why Hallstatt became an important historical region.

Nowadays, Hallstatt’s claim to fame is its absolute natural beauty. The city is sandwiched between a lake and mountains, making it the perfect getaway for nature lovers. It’s small and compact and you can walk from one end to the other in under 30 minutes – that is, of course, if you don’t get distracted by the charming boutique stores that line the boardwalk.

The sublime city of Hallstatt - one of the best stopovers when driving from Vienna to Salzburg.

Note: Hallstatt has become a popular destination for day tour companies coming from Vienna, Salzburg, and even Prague. Expect hordes of tourists by 9 AM. If you want to take pictures of the town, be up and about by 7 AM so you can have it to yourself.

If you have more time, drive to Dachstein’s Five Fingers viewing platform for the best views of the Salzkammergut region.

Together with the neighboring Dachstein, the Hallstatt-Dachstein alpine landscape makes it to UNESCO’s World Heritage list as an “outstanding example of a natural landscape of great beauty and scientific interest.”

The sublime city of Hallstatt - one of the best stopovers when driving from Vienna to Salzburg.

The sublime city of Hallstatt - one of the best stopovers when driving from Vienna to Salzburg.

Where to stay in Hallstatt:

★Travelers’ Pick: For the best experience in Hallstatt, stay at a hotel right by the lake. The best hotel among the lakeside options is Seehotel Grüner Baum. It offers panoramic views of Lake Hallstatt, a historic ambience, as well as spacious rooms and wonderful staff. Don’t worry that it’s right in the middle of car-free Hallstatt – you can park at the P1 parking area outside town and ride the free shuttle to the hotel. Double rooms start at EUR 175.

Other highly-rated hotels in Hallstatt include: Heritage Hotel Hallstatt (double rooms start at EUR 170), Gasthof Pension Hirlatz (double rooms start at EUR 120), and Gasthof Bergfried (double rooms start at EUR 90).

For small groups (3-4 adults), check out W & S Executive Apartments (suites for 4 start at EUR 380).

KM 502: Salzburg

The final destination on this road trip itinerary is Salzburg, which you will reach from Hallstatt in a little over an hour.

Instead of taking the train or driving on the A1, take a scenic route from Vienna to Salzburg to visit Austria's charming towns and villages.

Salzburg is best-known for two things: as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and as the setting for “The Sound of Music.” Music lovers will definitely feel right at home.

Take time also to appreciate the baroque architecture, the historic center, and the scenic Alpine surroundings. Of course, Salzburg has its share of beautiful gardens (notably the Mirabell Palace) and churches. Spend at least a day or two in Salzburg.

Where to stay in Salzburg: Highly-rated hotels in Salzburg include: B&B Villa Verde (double rooms start at EUR 145), Hotel Schloss Monchstein (double rooms start at EUR 400), Hotel Bristol (double rooms start at EUR 270), and Hotel Am Dom (double rooms start at EUR 170).

For budget hotel options in Salzburg, check out: Haus am Moos (double rooms start at EUR 65) and Motel One Salzburg-Sud (double rooms start at EUR 75).

Renting a car in Salzburg: If you’re doing this itinerary from Salzburg to Vienna, you can check for rental car pick-up locations in Salzburg here. As in Vienna, you can get around Salzburg mainly by walking and taking the public transportation. Pick up your rental car just before you leave the city.

The view of Salzburg - the final destination in this scenic road trip itinerary from Vienna to Salzburg.

Map: Road trip itinerary from Vienna to Salzburg

Here’s a Google map to help you plan your road trip:

Recommended pace

Here’s a rough schedule you can follow.

If you have 5 days:

  • Day 1 – Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace complex, Tiergarten; watch a concert or go to the Prater at night
  • Day 2 – Vienna: Old Town tour; choose 1-2 museums to visit
  • Day 3 – Drive from Vienna to Hallstatt
    • 9 – 10 AM: Pick up rental car in Vienna and drive to Burg Liechtenstein for 45-60 minutes.
    • 10 AM – 12 NN: Go around Burg Liechtenstein; have brunch at the nearby restaurant
    • 12 NN – 1 PM: Drive to Melk
    • 1 – 2:30 PM: Go around Melk Abbey and the city
    • 2:30 – 5 PM: Drive from Melk to Hallstatt
    • 5 PM onwards: Spend the night in Hallstatt
  • Day 4 – Explore Hallstatt (morning) and Dachstein (afternoon)
  • Day 5 – Leave Hallstatt in the morning and tour Salzburg

If you have up to 10 days:

Pick up your car on Day 4 in Vienna and return it on Day 8 in Salzburg.

  • Days 1 to 3 – Vienna
  • Day 4 – Drive from Vienna to Steyr
    • 9 – 10 AM: Pick up rental car in Vienna and drive to Kahlenberg
    • 10 – 11 AM: Enjoy the views in Kahlenberg and have brunch
    • 11 AM – 12 NN: Drive to Burg Liechtenstein
    • 12 NN – 1 PM: Go around Burg Liechtenstein
    • 1 – 2 PM: Drive to Melk
    • 2 – 3:30 PM: Go around Melk abbey and the city
    • 3:30 – 4:30 PM: Drive to Steyr
    • 4:30 PM onwards: Go around Steyr old town and spend the night there
  • Day 5 – Drive from Steyr to Hallstatt; spend the day in Gesause
    • 10 – 11 AM: Drive to Gesause National Park
    • 11 AM – 5 PM: Spend the day hiking or swimming in Gesause
    • 5 – 6 PM: Drive to Hallstatt
    • 6 PM: Spend the night in Hallstatt
    • (Alternatively, you can spend the night near Gesause.)
  • Days 6-7 – Go around Hallstatt and Dachstein
  • Days 8-10 – Go around Salzburg

Renting a car and driving in Austria – essential information

Here’s what you need to know when renting a car and driving in Austria.

Requirements for foreign drivers – International driving permit and your local driver’s license. In general, this is a must when driving in a foreign country. You have to get your international driving permit in the same country that issued your driver’s license, so ask your local automobile association how to get an IDP before you leave for your trip.

Rental car companies – Stick to the big international companies (Avis, Hertz, Budget, and Sixt) when renting your car. You can compare all these companies and find the best options and prices here. Make sure to add a GPS and a comprehensive insurance into your reservation.

Austria mainly drives manual transmission cars – For drivers who require a car with automatic transmission, it is recommended to book about three months prior to your trip, as these cars are limited.

Toll stickers – Driving on motorways requires toll stickers. Avis included a sticker in my rental, but verify this as you can be fined for driving through toll roads without a sticker.

Parking – Before leaving your car, look around the parking area to check how many minutes you can park for free. In big cities’ major roads, it’s usually for 15 minutes. Leave a piece of paper on your windshield indicating the time you parked or use a paper clock parking disc (this is usually included in your rental).

Further reading

Love road trips? Start all the way from Prague and explore Czech Republic’s gorgeous storybook towns and countryside scenes before heading to Austria. You’ll also find a super handy road trip guide for the Czech Republic and Austria that you can download here.

Since you’re in the area, why not visit Austria’s neighbor – the Czech Republic? You’ll find more of the historical richness and natural landscapes that abound in Central Europe. For an offbeat experience, check out Czech Republic’s wine region – South Moravia. It’s just an hour’s drive north of Vienna and a great destination for wine and nature lovers.

Learn more about this charming and historic town.

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I hope this helps you plan your road trip from Vienna to Salzburg! If you like it, please pin and bookmark for future use or share with a friend. If you have any questions, you can ask me in the comments or contact me and I’ll see how I can help. Happy travels!

(Photo credits: Vienna by domeckopol, View from Kahlenberg by Arjuna, Kahlenberg by Robert F., Steyr by Josef, Steyr by zeitfaenger.at, Gesause by Szilvia Pal, Gesause by Volker Schnaebele, Salzburg by Richard Taylor, Salzburg by Gaertringen. All Creative Commons.)

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