Austria is, in case you didn’t know, a small German-speaking country between Germany and Italy. It also has borders with Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, putting it right in the middle of the European continent, and it is well connected to its neighbours.
Over the last four years, I’ve spent a good deal of time in Austria teaching English. I have travelled to all nine of the country’s federal states and as a result, have become intimately familiar with the train network.
Trains are easily my favourite mode of transport, and travelling by train in Austria is a pleasure, and definitely the best way to see the country if you don’t have access to a car or simply don’t want to drive.
The main operator of train services in Austria is ÖBB, a state-owned company, and they serve almost the entire country. There are a few private lines not owned by ÖBB, and its main competitor for the corridor between Vienna and Salzburg (the most densely populated part of the country) is the relatively new company, Westbahn.
Many trains have both first and second class, as well as open planned carriages and cabins containing six seats. In general, second class seats are spacious and comfortable, and you will often find one electrical power point for every two seats, either below the seat or on the wall next to the window.
Trains are clean, there is often a refreshment service and on services between Vienna and Salzburg, there is also free wifi onboard fastest services, and the connection is pretty good.
Services between the five major cities of Austria are frequent and time effective. Here’s an overview of the fastest times of most heavily used routes.
- Vienna to Linz: 1:15 hours
- Vienna to Salzburg: 2:22 hours
- Vienna to Innsbruck: 4:08 hours
- Vienna to Graz: 2:30 hours
- Linz to Salzburg: 1:05 hours
- Linz to Innsbruck: 3:07 hours
- Linz to Graz: 3:28 hours
- Graz to Salzburg: 3:59 hours
- Graz to Innsbruck: 5:50 hours
For more detailed information, the ÖBB website will give train times for the entire country, including services provided by other companies and bus connections to places not served by train.
As far as I could determine, Austria is the only country in Europe where the price of tickets bought on the day of travel are determined solely by distance, rather than by the service taken. This means that the price will always be the same and you can buy a ticket for a given route and take any service that operates along that route, breaking your journey as many times as you like, as long as you complete it within two days of the start date of the ticket.
For example, a second class one way ticket from Vienna to Salzburg is €49.90, regardless of whether you take the fastest service or what time of day or year it is.
However, like in most other European countries, you can also buy tickets in advance (up to three days before the date of travel) for long distance routes and get discounted prices. In doing so, you can find tickets from Vienna to Salzburg for €19 one way, but this will be limited to a specific service and will not be refundable.
It is worth noting, that if turning up to a station and buying your ticket, it is always cheaper to buy from a machine, than from a person at the desk. This strange quirk is only sometimes inconvenient if you don’t have small enough notes for the machines.
If you’re planning to travel in Austria for a longer time, it may be worth investing in a Vorteilscard (discount card). These are available to anyone, Austrian resident or not, and they have different names and prices, depending on your age.
If you are 18-26 years old and will be making several long distance journeys in Austria, the Vorteilscard Jugend is a no-brainer, as it only costs €19 and gives you up to 50% off all regular fares. If you’re aged 26-61, the Vorteilscard Classic will cost you €99, so may not be worth it for such a short visit, but it does give you the flexibility to simply turn up at the station and buy a ticket at a steeply discounted price. If you’re over 61, the Vorteilscard Senior is €29 for the same discounts.
For comparison, with a Vorteilscard (of any kind), our example one way journey from Vienna to Salzburg is just €25.
In general, travelling by train in Austria is an enjoyable, comfortable experience, given how clean, reliable and safe the trains are. It’s of course also a great way to see some of the amazing scenery the country has to offer without having to negotiate unfamiliar road signs and rules.