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Most travellers pass right through the town of St Polten on their way between Vienna and Linz. But that’s a shame because this tidy Austrian town is actually the capital of Lower Austria and offers visitors a decent array of historic sights and cultural attractions. Best of all, it’s fully off the beaten tourist track so you can experience urban Austria on a more local level. St Polten is the western terminus of the suburban train line from Vienna, so it is easy to visit. If you have a car rental, simply cruise along the major east-west A1 motorway. Linz is 74 miles (120kms) to the west and Vienna is 37 miles (60kms) east.
Who to Book With
Since St Polten is at the western end of Vienna’s suburban rail line, there are more car hire companies in the city than expected. Several big name chains like Avis and Europcar have branches located in and around St Polten Hauptbahnhof train station since the city makes for an ideal jumping-off point for excursions into the Turnitz Alps and other mountainous areas of Austria. Online booking is recommended here since so many travellers pass through St Polten’s train station in summer and during major local sporting events.
Best Time to Go
St Polten hosts a handful of big events each year, like the ATP tennis tournament in May, which is the unofficial kick-off to the busy summer outdoor season in the surrounding mountains. Daily temperature highs average a pleasant 25ºC between July and September though most of the annual precipitation falls during the summer months. Winters are quite cold, but often white and snowy so be careful when driving. Good deals on hotels are possible at any time of year unless a big event is being held in St Polten.
Need to Know Essentials
To pick up a car rental in St Polten, be sure to bring the following:
- An International Driving Permit or an EU or UK driving licence
- The credit card used in the online reservation
- A second piece of photo ID like a passport
- A print out of the reservation confirmation
St Polten is conveniently located right on the major A1 autobahn that runs east to west and on the S33 Schnellstrasse that heads north before looping around to Vienna. The highway driving in the area is superb; just make sure your rental vehicle has a mandatory toll sticker displayed on its windscreen. Traffic conditions in St Polten are organised and rarely congested. Parking right in the historic core can be tricky but there are several large car parks in the area next to the city’s major attractions.
Our Guide to Austria contains more detailed driving information.
Most visitors to St Polten rent a car to get around since many of the city attractions are scattered around the area. A car is also invaluable for exploring the alpine countryside around St Polten. The city’s public bus system is better suited for residents commuting to work and shopping. But there is a very useful free trolley called the Capital City Express that runs around the historic centre during the warm months of the year.
St Polten’s train station is a major hub for several Austrian rail lines, in particular the popular Western Railway of the OBB than runs from Vienna to Salzburg by way of Linz. The section from Vienna to St Polten costs around £9 one way. The scenic Mariazellerbahn and Leosbersdorfer lines also terminate at St Polten. Within the city itself, a fantastic free trolley called the Capital City Express runs in a loop around the historic landmarks and government districts during the summer months.
There are 11 bus lines that run throughout St Polten though most of them are geared towards local residents instead of tourists and cost just over £1 for a single ride. Long-distance coach service is more commonly used by travellers to reach St Polten as the city lies at the main junction of the Wieselbus lines that run outwards into the different districts of Lower Austria.
There are several taxi companies operating in St Polten that handle most of the visitor transport. Taxis tend to be hard to hail on the streets, but often queue up in front of the train station and other major city landmarks. You can also phone for a pick up at any time of day from a company such as Rittner Taxi. Most trips around the city are quick and cheap, and if you need a cab from Vienna’s airport to St Polten it will set you back around £40.
St Polten is ideally situated for exploring the Turnitz Alps of Lower Austria and the vast Bohemian Massif that stretches from the Czech Republic into northern Austria. But a car is necessary to do anything in the mountains. Having your own wheels can also be very useful for daytrips to Linz or Vienna, both just an hour or two away by car along the A1 motorway.
Turnitz Alps – This lightly visited mountain range is littered with steep, limestone cliffs and forested peaks. There is a web of narrow alpine roads that wind through this region south of St Polten, offering many different looping day drives and several great stopping points like the charming hamlet of Mariazell.
Vienna Loop – If highway cruising is more your speed, there is a fantastic loop that combines the S33, the A21 and the A1 motorways, heading north from St Polten and around Vienna before returning west to St Polten. The scenery is gorgeous and pastoral all the way, and Vienna is right there for a stop or a pass.
Danube Valley – The section of the Danube Valley that passes through Austria is magical. Drivers have several ways to spend the day cruising from St Polten to the city of Linz and back using either the speedy A1 motorway or the smaller Route 3 on the northern side of the river. Better yet, combine the two for a taste of both worlds. Linz is a lovely Austrian city with plenty to see and do on a daytrip.