NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Vienna
Population: 8.2 million
Area: 32,400 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 43
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Euro = $1.36 US Calculate Other Amounts
Austria, a member of the EU, does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a three-month stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
With some notable exceptions—paging Dr. Freud—Austria's literary titans remain largely undiscovered by English-speaking audiences. For a good introduction to the literary, artistic, and political figures of fin de siècle Austria (the country's heyday), pick up Paul Hofmann's The Viennese: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile or Frederic Morton's A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888–1889 and Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914—a brilliant scene-by-scene re-creation of the year leading up to World War I. Or pick up a novel by Elfriede Jelinek, Austria's 2004 Nobel Prize–winning novelist, who is known for her political views. Her The Piano Teacher was made into a movie starring Isabelle Huppert. If you prefer getting your information from movies, the following will give you a head start in understanding the musical and maniacal Austrians: Amadeus, The Sound of Music, The Third Man, and Before Sunrise. Actual Mozart fans—folks looking for more than Tom Hulce's comedic shtick—should check out Anthony Burgess's Mozart and the Wolf Gang, an enjoyable celestial fantasy in which great composers discuss their legendary peer.
Vienna is famous for its mouthwatering, sinful pastries, found in any bakery, and the city wouldn't be the same without its almost round-the-clock Würstelstände (sausage stands). The gut-expanding reputation of traditional Austrian food is not entirely deserved, and Vienna has developed a taste for exotic cuisines, including Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese. Austrian wine has been reaching a wider audience lately; grüner veltliner and riesling are the notable whites (sometimes quite dry), and zweigelt is the leading red.
Austria's traditional clothing—particularly woolens and hats—wear like iron and are worth the investment. Local jewelry designers such as Swarovski and Frey Wille often produce dramatically striking pieces, and they are not always expensive for the quality. Modern applied-arts and interior-design traditions continue in Vienna and often produce stunning, one-of-a-kind results in everything from lamps and rugs to upholstery and napkin rings.
A value-added tax (VAT) of 20 percent is added to most goods and services, but non-EU residents can get refunds. Ask for a form at the point of purchase and file it at the airport's VAT office when you leave the country. Most restaurants and bars do not add a service charge to your bill. A ten-percent tip is customary.
Austrians tend to be polite and rule-abiding, if occasionally grouchy. Just don't litter, keep conversations quiet, stand to the right on escalators, wait at the corner for the light to change (seriously), and you'll fit right in. With the exception of fine-dining establishments, Austrian restaurants generally expect you to seat yourself, and servers will wait for you to ask before bringing the bill—say zahlen bitte (TSAHL-en BIT-uh). Vienna is quite a formal city: People dress well on the streets and even better for restaurants, theater, and the opera.
January: 1, New Year's Day; 6, Epiphany
May: 1, May Day
August: 15, Assumption Day
October: 26, National Day
November: 1, All Saints' Day
December: 8, Immaculate Conception; 25, Christmas Day; 26 St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day
Spring: Easter; day after Easter, Easter Monday; sixth Thursday after Easter, Ascension; eighth Monday after Easter, Pentecost Monday
Summer: Ninth Thursday after Easter, Corpus Christi