Driving from Vienna to Salzburg is a quick and easy way to visit two of Austria’s magnificent cities. 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.
But while Vienna and Salzburg both have much to offer, a scenic road trip across Austria’s countryside will give you a more delightful overview of the country. Rolling hills, majestic mountain ranges, sparkling lakes, and storybook towns await in this amazing road trip itinerary from Vienna to Salzburg!
Driving from Vienna to Salzburg – a scenic road trip itinerary
- Overview – itinerary, quick tips and recommendations
- KM 0 – Vienna
- KM 24 – Kahlenberg
- KM 68 – Burg Liechtenstein
- KM 154 – Melk Abbey
- KM 238 – Steyr
- KM 333 – Gesäuse National Park
- KM 422 – Hallstatt
- KM 502 – Salzburg
- Renting a car and driving in Austria – what you need to know
- Alternatives – countryside tours from Vienna
- Read next – planning your travels around Central Europe
- Download the PDF version of this guide
Use this Google map to help you plan your trip.
This road trip itinerary brings you from Vienna to Salzburg, but instead of the quick 3-hour drive via the A1, we’ll stretch it out to 3 days or more.
I included all of the interesting stop-overs in the full itinerary, but here are my quick suggestions for your available travel days.
If it’s your first time visiting Austria, a visit to Vienna is a must! You can spend at least 2-3 days in the capital. It’s a great destination to see baroque and gothic architecture, hear classical music, and appreciate art by the masters. Vienna also has a thriving indie art and music scene, as well as great food and wines. Here’s our travel guide to Vienna, plus a nifty neighborhood guide to help you choose where to stay.
Probably the best reason to do this road trip at all is visiting the storybook town of Hallstatt. It’s the perfect stopover between Vienna and Salzburg, especially for nature-lovers. This small picturesque town is nestled between a mountain range and a gorgeous lake, and will give you a much-needed breath of fresh air and a few relaxing days between exploring the cities. Here’s a comprehensive travel guide to Hallstatt.
Salzburg has its share of majestic historic buildings, beautiful gardens, and the Alps as its background. If you love road trips and nature trips, Salzburg is a great base for exploring Austria’s countryside. Here’s how to plan a 3-day trip to Salzburg and where to stay in the city.
If you have 5 days:
- Days 1-2 – Explore Vienna.
- Day 3 – Drive from Vienna to Hallstatt. Interesting stop-overs include Burg Liechtenstein and the Melk Abbey.
- Day 4 – Explore Hallstatt in the morning and Dachstein in the afternoon.
- Day 5 – Leave Hallstatt in the morning and explore Salzburg for the rest of the day.
If you have up to 10 days:
- Days 1-3 – Explore Vienna.
- Day 4 – Drive from Vienna to Steyr. Stop by Kahlenberg, Burg Liechtenstein, and Melk Abbey.
- Day 5 – Drive from Steyr to Gesause National Park and do some hikes around the park. Spend the night in Gesause or drive to Hallstatt.
- Days 6-7 – Go around Hallstatt and Dachstein.
- Days 8-10 – Explore Salzburg.
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.
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 Kursalon, 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.
Essential Information / Tips for your trip 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. Use AnachB to plan your routes, or download the free app (iOS / Google Play).
Where to stay in Vienna: Here’s a comprehensive guide to Vienna’s districts and best hotels for every budget.
For quick suggestions, stay at: Hotel Sacher Wien for a luxury stay in Vienna’s historic city center; at the Kunsthaus Apartments if you’re traveling with family or a big group; and at Hotel Sans Souci Wien if you’re looking for a chic stay in one of Vienna’s most hip districts.
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 Vienna concerts 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.
Address: Am Kahlenberg, 1190 Wien
The first stop is Kahlenberg, a 30-minute drive north of Vienna’s center.
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.
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).
Address: Am Hausberg 2, 2344 Maria Enzersdorf
From Kahlenberg, head south to Burg Liechtenstein (50 minutes).
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.
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.
Spend some time walking around the city of Melk as well to enjoy the variety of architectural designs.
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.
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.
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.
From Steyr, the Gesäuse National Park is a 90-minute drive through zigzag mountain roads and gorgeous views.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
The final destination on this road trip itinerary is Salzburg, which you will reach from Hallstatt in a little over an hour.
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: The best hotels in Salzburg include: 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).
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 public transportation. Pick up your rental car just before you leave the city.
Tell us: What are you most excited about your trip to Austria?
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. You can purchase a sticker from gas stations and convenience stores.
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).
Stay connected – While you can fully rely on a GPS device to navigate Austria’s roads, it can help to have cellular data or a Wi-Fi device. If you’re traveling for more than a few days, you can pick up a local SIM card. You’ll also be able to use this in other EU countries. If you’re coming from Asia, you can get a SIM card or Wi-Fi device before you leave for your trip.
Want to experience Austria’s beautiful countryside without driving on your own? Here are countryside tours you can join from Vienna.
- Salzburg day tour – This is a full-day trip from Vienna to Salzburg. The best thing about this tour is that it also includes a side trip to the Salzkammergut countryside, which is one of Austria’s most picturesque regions. You’ll also get a guided tour of Salzburg, as well as ample free time to explore on your own.
- Danube Valley day trip – If you want to escape from the city, this day trip from Vienna brings you to the romantic Danube Valley. You’ll enjoy the charming town of Dürnstein, castle ruins, and a tour of the medieval Benedictine abbey at Melk.
- Austria Eurail Pass – If you still want to go DIY sans the car, a Eurail pass may be your most convenient option. You’ll get unlimited train rides within Austria so you can visit your favorite cities comfortably and conveniently. Multi-country Eurail passes are also available.
Couple your Austrian road trip with forays to more amazing destinations in Central Europe!
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.
For first-time visitors, this is a great overview of Austria’s neighbor. It of course stars the enchanting city of Prague, with side trips to lesser-known but equally-dashing gems.
If you’re over the big cities and prefer the countryside, venture to South Moravia, the Czech Republic’s wine region. Just an hour’s drive north of Vienna, this is where you can hike and bike through miles of forests and vineyards and enjoy food and wine in small castle towns and village pubs.
If you’re making the trip to Prague from Salzburg, make sure to stop by the medieval castle town of Cesky Krumlov. While you can easily explore the compact old town in a day, one look at the romantic cobblestoned town built on the banks of a capricious river and you’ll be hoping you planned to stay for a lot longer.
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I hope this helps you plan your road trip from Vienna to Salzburg. Rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and storybook towns await!
If you need more help with your road trip itinerary, get in touch and I’ll do my best to help you out!
First published – March 29, 2017
Last updated – June 12, 2018 – fixed format for easier browsing, added and updated holiday-planning information