Driving from Vienna to Salzburg on my first ever trip to Europe was one of my most adventurous – and most memorable – travel experiences.
I remember the thrill of planning, mapping out my route, and adding all the beautiful places I otherwise wouldn’t have time to visit if I decided to go by train or by bus.
I remember the anxiety of picking up my first ever rental car and doing practice laps around the parking lot to calm my nerves before heading out to Vienna’s busy downtown.
But the thing that’s most etched in my mind was the feeling of total awe as I drove past rolling emerald hills, majestic mountain ranges, and curvy mountain roads overlooking gleaming lakes. It was such an incredible feeling of freedom and carefreeness – and it definitely had me hooked to road trip holidays for life.
If you’re looking to explore beyond Austria two’s most popular cities and see more of the beautiful countryside and the charming little towns, this scenic road trip from Vienna to Salzburg is for you.
Driving from Vienna to Salzburg – road trip itinerary and travel guide
- How to plan your road trip from Vienna to Salzburg
- Map – essential landmarks and best stopovers
- Road trip itinerary – driving from Vienna to Salzburg
- Planning your road trip in Austria
- Where to go next – adventures and road trips in Central Europe
- Download the PDF guide
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 instead of the quick 3-hour drive via the A1, stretch it out to 3 days or more and visit some of the country’s most charming towns and cities, historic sites, and postcard-perfect viewpoints.
I included all the exciting stopovers in the full itinerary, but here are my quick suggestions.
Days 1-2 – Vienna
If you’re visiting Austria for the first time, 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 the 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.
Day 3 – Drive from Vienna to Hallstatt
Break up your drive from Vienna to Hallstatt with stops in Burg Liechtenstein, Melk Abbey, and Steyr.
If you have more travel days, you can stay in Steyr for a night or two. There are lots to do in the old town, and it’s a lovely, relaxing city to stay for a while.
Days 4-5 – Hallstatt and Dachstein
Visiting the storybook town of Hallstatt is probably the best reason to go on this road trip at all!
It’s the perfect stopover between Vienna and Salzburg, especially if you love nature. Hallstatt 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 bigger cities. Here’s a comprehensive travel guide to Hallstatt.
The town is compact and can be explored in a day, but you can stay an additional 1-2 nights to bike and hike around Dachstein and Obertraun.
Day 6 – Drive from Hallstatt to Salzburg
It takes just over an hour to drive from Hallstatt to Salzburg, but I highly recommend starting your drive early so you can visit a couple of towns in the Salzkammergut region. St. Wolfgang, St. Gilgen, and Mondsee are all beautiful and historic lakeside towns worth a short stop.
If you have extra travel days, consider staying at St. Gilgen or Mondsee. It’s an excellent base for biking and hiking in the Salzkammergut area.
From Mondsee, you can then take the A1 and be in Salzburg in half an hour.
Days 7-8 – Salzburg
This road trip itinerary ends in Salzburg, a charming and cultural city best known for its baroque old town, as Mozart’s birthplace, and, of course, as the setting of the “Sound of Music.”
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Use this Google map to plan your road trip from Vienna to Salzburg. I added all my top recommended sights, restaurants, and hotels, as well as parking spaces for short stopovers.
I also added Waze driving directions to the PDF guide – simply open the guide on your phone, then look for the Waze box for each destination (scroll down to the “Where to go” section). Click on the link to navigate to a specific location. You should have the Waze app and an internet connection.
KM 0 – Vienna
Our road trip began in Vienna, the beautiful capital of Austria. But before we picked up our rental car, we stayed for a couple of days to explore the city.
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 stunning views 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, go to a Mozart and Strauss concert 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. (A Vienna Pass would be handy if you plan to visit these museums.)
Go around the old town and visit the Baroque churches, eat local and international cuisine at the Naschmarkt, and 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 city card instead.
On your last day in Vienna, pick up your rental car and began your drive.
KM 29 – Burg Liechtenstein
Less than an hour’s drive from Vienna, we arrived at our first stop.
Burg Liechtenstein is a 12th-century stone castle standing on the southern edge of the Vienna Woods. It’s one of Europe’s rare Romanesque secular buildings still existing.
You can take a tour of the castle and get a nice of the surrounding countryside. The inn just across the castle is great for a quick Austrian brunch.
KM 107 – Melk Abbey
Just a little after noontime, we reached the city of Melk, home to the Stift Melk, an 11th-century Benedictine abbey. This is one of the biggest European baroque complexes, and its beautiful architecture earned it a place among UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
We spent a couple of hours in the abbey’s extensive museum and gardens, enjoyed the view of the Danube river, and walked a little around Melk.
KM 191 – Steyr
From Melk, our next stop was Steyr, a city with one of the best-preserved old towns in Austria.
It was the perfect place to stop for an early dinner (we enjoyed our meal at the Hotel Restaurant Minichmayr) and a short stroll along the banks of the city’s two rivers.
If you have an extra day, Steyr is a great place to stop for the night as you drive from Vienna to the Salzkammergut region. You can spend a day exploring the medieval town square, the 15th-century Bummerlhaus (considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Central Europe), and the Sternhaus.
You can also spend some time at the Castle Schloss Lamberg, a Baroque castle with art exhibitions and a park. Steyr’s significant role in Austria’s industrialization is celebrated at the Museum Industrielle Arbeitswelt across the castle.
If you decide to stay the night in Steyr, stay within or near the historic town center, as the outskirts are dominated by industrial buildings. Landhotel Mader and Stadthotel Styria are great options.
KM 318 – Hallstatt
From Steyr, we continued our drive to Hallstatt.
Though the drive from Steyr to Hallstatt took a little over two hours, the gorgeous landscapes along the road had us captivated the whole way.
Driving through the Salzkammergut region was like entering a dreamland – we passed through serene villages, cows grazing contentedly on emerald pastures, and narrow mountain roads overlooking a glistening lake.
We finally caught a glimpse of Hallstatt as we rounded a curve – and it was exactly as enchanting as Instagram paints it to be. There it was, hundreds of meters below us, lying snugly between the majestic mountains and a serene lake.
Plan to spend a couple of days in Hallstatt. While the city itself is compact and can be explored in a day, there’s much to see and do in the area, especially for nature-lovers.
If you’re particularly wary of Hallstatt’s reputation as an ultra-touristy place (sadly, it’s true), here’s how you can enjoy the city’s charms without having to contend with the crowds: Wake up early and explore the town before the day-trippers arrive – if you can be up and about by sunrise, you’ll get to capture really beautiful pictures of Hallstatt in the early morning light.
Walk along the lake from the north viewpoint (see map) to the south viewpoint. This can take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace. Stop by the cemetery and the market square along the way.
From the south viewpoint, make your way to the funicular and ride up to the salt mine (you can get tickets online in advance here). Plan to spend around 3 hours exploring the salt mine and the Sky Walk.
By noon, you can say goodbye to the Hallstatt crowds. Drive to Obertraun for a quiet afternoon by the lake or to Dachstein for amazing views from the Five Fingers platform. Dachstein is also an excellent base for hiking and winter sports, so you might even end up staying longer.
Here’s a comprehensive travel guide to Hallstatt. For the best experience, stay in a lakeside hotel like Seehotel Grüner Baum. You can also stay at Obetraun, which is a short, 10-minute drive from Hallstatt and is a much calmer town – Haus Salzkammergut is a lovely inn.
KM 355 – St. Wolfgang
After a couple of days enjoying the natural landscapes in and around Hallstatt, it’s time to continue your drive to Salzburg.
While the drive from Hallstatt to Salzburg will only take a little over an hour, the route is dotted by pretty lakeside towns that are worth a couple of short stops.
From Hallstatt, drive towards Bad Ischl and then to St. Wolfgang. Walk around the city’s streets past the colorful wooden houses and make your way to the 14th-century church filled with precious artworks. There’s also a market square that especially comes alive during the Christmas season.
If the weather is beautiful and you have more time, you can go up the mountain on board the Schafbergbahn.
KM 372 – St. Gilgen
Across Lake Wolfgangsee from St. Wolfgang is St. Gilgen, another beautiful lakeside town.
It’s a beautiful place to stop for lunch, go for a swim during warm months, or shop and stroll along the lake. You can also hike up the Zwölferhorn or go by cable car.
KM 387 – Mondsee
The last stop before Salzburg is Mondsee.
This one is particularly famous and part of tours that visit the set locations of “The Sound of Music,” so if you’re planning to join a tour once in Salzburg, you can skip this on your drive.
If you love watersports, though, consider staying for a day or two in Mondsee. You can go sailing, kitesurfing, and swimming here during the summer months, as well as hiking and biking around the area.
KM 416 – Salzburg
This scenic road trip ends in Salzburg, a beautiful baroque city near the border with Germany. You can return your rental car once you reach Salzburg, as the city’s historic center is compact and walkable.
Spend at least 3 days in Salzburg – walk around the old town, hike up the viewpoints around the city, learn about Mozart’s life and art, and go on a “Sound of Music” tour. Take time to appreciate the city’s baroque architecture, the scenic Alpine surroundings, and its beautiful gardens and churches.
Here’s what you need to know when renting a car and driving in Austria as a tourist.
Requirements for foreign drivers – If you’re a foreigner driving in Austria, it is recommended to get an International Driving Permit (IDP). You’ll also need to bring your local driver’s license, your passport, and a credit card.
Renting a car – Reserve your car online in advance. You can set your pick-up location in Vienna and your drop-off location in Salzburg (or vice versa). Take note that Europe mainly drives manual transmission cars, so if you need an automatic transmission car, make sure to reserve at least a month in advance.
Collision damage waiver and theft protection are usually included in car rentals in Austria, but you can also avail of a personal car hire insurance to cover for the excess.
Austrian toll vignette – To use the Austrian motorways/autobahn, you need to have a valid highway toll sticker or vignette displayed on the inside of the windshield of your vehicle. Most rental car companies within Austria will provide this automatically with your rental car, but verify this to be sure. If not, you can get it from post offices, newsagents, and petrol stations. A vignette valid for 10 days costs EUR 9. There are also options to get a 2-month (EUR 26.20) or one-year (EUR 87.30) toll sticker.
Add these fantastic Central European destinations to your Austrian road trip.
Top tip: you can find rental car companies here which would allow you to pick up your car in one country and drop it off in another (example: pick it up in Prague, drop it off in Vienna). Tick the “drop car off at a different location” and enter your trip details.
If you have a couple of weeks to explore Central Europe, start in Prague and explore the Czech Republic’s gorgeous castle towns and countryside before heading to Austria. Here’s a handy PDF guide for that amazing road trip.
If you’re visiting the Czech Republic for the first-time, here’s how to see the best destinations in the country. It, of course, starts in the beautiful city of Prague, with side trips to lesser-known but equally amazing gems.
If you’re looking to relax in the countryside for a couple of days, 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 looking for more exciting city scenes and adventures, though, Budapest should be your next destination. From magnificent architecture, quirky ruin bars, and breathtaking night scenes, there’s a lot to discover in this vibrant city.
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I hope this travel guide helps you plan your road trip from Vienna to Salzburg. Rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and amazingly beautiful cities and towns await!
If you’re traveling soon, make sure to download the PDF guide and use the resources and websites I list there to help you plan your trip. And if you need more help with your road trip itinerary, get in touch, and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Thanks for reading and have a fun trip to Austria!
First published – 29 March 2017
Last updated – 9 November 2019 – fixed itinerary, added new stopovers, added and updated travel-planning information, and updated the PDF guide