After leaving Europe for two overseas trips I was happy to be back in the Netherlands. Never have I realised how privileged I am with all these beautiful spots just a few hours drive away from my house. My boyfriend and I both didn’t have any meetings scheduled for at least two weeks and so we hopped in the car for yet another digital nomad trip. We made fun and beautiful stops on our way to Vienna. In most places, we took some time to find a co-working space or a nice coffee bar to get some work done. I will share my favourite stops and all the fun stuff we discovered driving through South Germany, via Niederösterreich straight to Vienna.
While my boyfriend was trying to sleep off his morning hangover I tried to be the best travel girlfriend ever by stuffing the car with road trip basics: a few Spotify roadie playlists, buns with an omelette, sparkling water, chewing gum and all different kinds of candy. Let this road trip begin!
First stop: Heidelberg
This old town is known for its romantic views, it’s iconic bridge and the castle on top of the hill. It’s so funny to be in a totally different world after just a short 4-hour ride from home. When we arrived we checked into our hotel. Since I really wanted to be in the old town, close to the bridge I booked a night at the “Hotel zur Alter Brücke“. I really like it when hotels are in the style of the country that I am visiting. And that’s why I loved spending the night here. Expect German Gemütlichheid; friendly staff that speaks English with a singing German accent, traditional breakfast with semmel (white baked buns), Fleischworst and Emmentaler cheese. For dinner, we had very tasty and typical German dishes (Yay, first Schnitzel with kartoffeln of the trip). The Germans sure know how to cook, but make sure you keep your low-carb diet at home if you want to taste real German cuisine.
The best view in Heidelberg
We walked around in the Alte Stad where all the buildings look pretty – cute balconies filled with rows of flowers, terraces on the squares where you can enjoy beers by the litre and colourful window doors. When you cross the iconic bridge you will find a small street called Slangen Strasse on your left. If you walk this path it will take you right up to the Philosophers Strasse which will give you an impressive view over the river and the old city centre. The street owes its name to the philosophers and university teachers who walked up this way thinking about life and all the questions you might have about it. Having said that: Heidelberg has one of the oldest universities in Germany. Still, a quarter of all people living in this city are students. That means you can find many fun things to do in the weekend. If you are looking for many fun bars to have some beers and hang with your friends, have a stroll through Untere Strasse. The cave is the place to dance. They play a wide range of music but mostly play alternative Indy bands to dance on.
EXTRA TIP – the castle of Heidelberg: there is a castle on the mountain of Heidelberg. If you want to go up and have a look, mind that everyday tourists come to do the same. Most tourists who will visit the castle, are coming from the cruises which have arrived at the port of Mannheim. From there they take a bus to Heidelberg. The buses arrive around 10 am. So if you want to enjoy the castle without hundreds of selfie sticks, you might want to consider getting up early. Around 6 am in summer the bridge and the old city light up beautifully in the early morning glory. Besides an early runner here and there, the whole old town (and bridge) is empty. Besides the traditional breakfast, you’ll have another two good reasons to rise early!
Second stop: Gaming
We left München to drive a fair bit of the” Romantische Strasse” passing through old towns that all look like you have stepped back into time. Every house is painted in a different colour and again all balconies were almost invisible by a number of the flowers that covered them. It didn’t matter how small the city was, they all had most of their wealth invested in the little churches that were covered with old frescos and golden ornaments. Just pick a random place to stop for lunch and it’s guaranteed that you will find yourself wandering the pebble streets and will find hidden courtyards in the middle of the city centre. Something else that can’t be missed is the many ice cream shops, where you can have huge sorbets with at least four scoops of ice, freshly made chocolate or fruit sauce and topped off with a tower of whipped cream. Hello diabetes!
Gaming is not a common stop to make. But my grandpa lives here with his Austrian girl friend. It’s a teeny tiny town surrounded by hills, rivers, lakes and beautiful walks. My grandpa may be old but he is still fit since he walks up those hills at least 3 times a week. He knows where to go and therefore I can share the hidden gems of this part in the lower mountains of Austria.
Do you like a treasure hunt? Well, I’ve got one for you! Der Hoopfen und Malz towards the Bierbronnen. That’s the name of this small hike toward a well filled with beer and lemonde. Let me try to explain this the best way I can: when you arrive in Gaming navigate yourself towards the Kartause, a restaurant in an old monastery. If you want you can treat yourself here to a huge strawberry yoghurt sorbet; because they are to die for. From here walk towards the fire department. In between those two pinpoints, you will find on your right-hand side a yellow sign that seems to lead into the forest. This is true, it does. It’s just a short walk from there (20 minutes) that will go to the top of this hill and there you will find a sign leading you to the top of the hill, where you will find a well with a pulley. If you spin it around, a bucket will be tackled up from a cold hole in the ground. The bucket is filled with lemonade and beer. Just leave some money in the box and enjoy your cold refreshment after this fun and easy walk.
- Swimming in the Erlauf or Lunzer see
The Erlauf is a huge river going through the lower part of Austria. The water is very cold and refreshing since it’s mostly melting water from the mountains. That’s why it’s also clear as crystal. Trouts pass by on the( sometimes) strong current. My favourite place to take a fresh dive into the Erlauf is in the bend near Gaming and is called Urmannsau. You can jump the cliff into the clear water and ride along with the current untill you can stand on the pebbles again to walk out and start all over again. Another fun place to have a swim is in the Lunzer See (the lake close to Lunz). This lake lies in the middle of the low mountains and in summer you will be amazed by the 50 shades of green. This place is so lush! You can also find a small cafe here where they sell Austrian snacks. For the devils there is a platform where you can summersault into the lake.
- Hike through the Grand Canyon of Austria
If you want to make a beautiful hike through the lower mountains of Austria, make sure you don’t miss this route. We started our walk at the parking lot at Eibenboden. From here we walked 20 km passed the Erlauf river, through the mountains. The first part is mainly like a forest. You will even find some hidden houses that are built in the middle of nowhere.
The walk is challenging but definitely doable. The views are amazing and if you leave early and don’t make a lot of noise, you might find otters and mountain deer along the trail. Having said that; the chance of finding otters is getting smaller and smaller since the locals are shooting them to get the fish population up again.
I would definitely walk this route again but I would do one thing very different: I would take my swimming clothes and take time to at least make one swimming stop. There are so many deserted places to chill but also many places where you can jump from the cliffs in the deeper parts of the river. At the end of the canyon, you’ll find a hut where you can have traditional Austrian sandwiches and refuel with cold drinks. It’s called the Jausenstation. It’s only one steep climb from here towards the railway station. We took the train from Erlaufklause (station) to Mariazell, a popular pilgrimage place. Every year the Pope pays a visit to this town. Besides the religious part of this town, Mariazell is known for its lebkuchen. Cookies with honey that are only baked here. I tried this speciality by getting a huge lebkuchen ice-cream. Really good and a must try if you’re into trying local food.
Third stop: Melk
For us, this was just a random stop. We didn’t want to drive that far and we wanted to be close to the Danube river. Based on those two variables we looked at the map (yes, an actual map that you fold out and makes you struggle because 1. the car is too small for this huge paper folding all ways and 2. you have no clue where you are since you kinda miss the blue dot moving along with your real time location). Melk looked like a perfect next stop. We both never heard of this place and so we didn’t know anything about it. Apparently, it’s known for its abbey. When we drove up to Melk, it was the abbey that you could see from miles away; a bright yellow huge castle-like building that stood out against the brisk green hills. Our hotel was not in Melk itself, but it was on the other side of the river. We crossed the Danube bridge to see even more towers and castles on the side of the Danube. When we looked over the river we saw people enjoying their day on the riverside beaches. That’s where we would spend the rest of the day too, but first, we checked in our hotel.
Cottage Number 9 is a guesthouse run by Anna from Vienna. For only 50 euro’s a night you have your own mini apartment with a personal touch. Not only the rooms have a personal touch, Anna will make sure that you will know the hidden local gems in this area. One of those hidden gems are the wineries in the Wachau valley. You would easily drive past all these cellars and restaurants if you didn’t know that you need to be exactly here for jaussen (plates with all kinds of Austrian and German cheese and meat) accompanied by the best local beers and wine.
Fourth stop: Vienna
In one word I could say that Vienna is: surprising. Actually, I have been to Vienna before and I remembered it to be impressive. Filled with great, beautiful and impressive buildings. All the wealth I have seen in the Austrian buildings and churches was multiplied here by at least 10. It is like walking through a huge outdoor museum. This side of Vienna is pretty cool but there is a whole different side of Vienna which I discovered this time!
We have been here for four nights in which we spend a few nights in the coolest area of the city, “Laimgrubbe” in a hotel that went straight into my hotel all-time favourites. The name is “Hotel Altstadt” and I picked this one because I wanted to stay in a hotel that would be in line with the vibes of the city. The mansion has many classic features but it has been decorated by different modern architects. A fun fact is that the owner is an art collector and was thinking about opening his own museum. In the end, he started this hotel and his private collection decorates the rooms and common areas. Thanks to the friendly staff we also got all the ins and outs of local favourites like the bars and restaurants in Lindengasse and Zollergasse (both street names). Personal favourites here were Figar, URLICH, Goldfish (seafood bar), Liebling, Bao Bar and concept store Kauf Dich Glücklich (which means: shop yourself happy). Most of those places were recommended by the hotel and since most of the staff are locals they know where they send you!
The Naschmarket and Leopoldstadt are two other urban parts of the city that will give you a whole different side of Vienna. I am totally in love with Vienna and it’s the perfect city for a varied city trip. If you are planning to visit Vienna click here for a weekend guide of the city.
Road tripping Germany and Austria?
These were our 5 favourite stops driving from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to Vienna in Austria but needless to say, there are many, MANY places that are also worth paying a visit. I am wondering: what are your stops along this way that you totally loved? Let me know! I want to do this road trip again (since it is so close to home) and want to make it with all different stops. So I could use your help!
Also, I want to point out that road tripping is all about making decisions based on gut feelings. The biggest fun of a road trip is that your plan can constantly change. So please read this as an inspiration, but I challenge you to just go and see where you end up. Because that is ALWAYS more fun.
Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments and happy road tripping!