Austrian train service is excellent: it's fast and, for Western Europe, relatively inexpensive, particularly if you take advantage of discount fares. Trains on the mountainous routes are slow, but no slower than driving, and the scenery is gorgeous. Many of the remote rail routes will give you a look at traditional Austria, complete with Alpine cabins tacked onto mountainsides and a backdrop of snowcapped peaks.
Austrian Federal Railways trains are identifiable by the letters that precede the train number on the timetables and posters. The IC (InterCity) or EC (EuroCity) trains are fastest, and a supplement of about EUR 5 is included in the price of the ticket. EN trains have sleeping facilities. The EC trains usually have a dining car with fairly good food. The trains originating in Budapest have good Hungarian cooking. Otherwise there is usually a fellow with a cart serving snacks and hot and cold drinks. Most trains are equipped with a card telephone in or near the restaurant car.
The difference between erste Klasse (first class), and zweite Klasse (second class) on Austrian trains is mainly a matter of space. First- and second-class sleepers and couchettes (six to a compartment) are available on international runs, as well as on long trips within Austria. Women traveling alone may book special compartments on night trains or long-distance rides (ask for a Damenabteil). If you have a car but would rather watch the scenery than the traffic, you can put your car on a train in Vienna and accompany it to Salzburg, Innsbruck, Feldkirch, or Villach: you relax in a compartment or sleeper for the trip, and the car is unloaded when you arrive.
Allow yourself plenty of time to purchase your ticket before boarding the train—if you purchase your ticket on board, you must pay a surcharge, which is around EUR 3 or more, depending on how far you're going. All tickets are valid without supplement on D (express), E (Eilzug; semi-fast), and local trains. For information, call 05/1717 from anywhere in Austria. Unless you speak German fairly well, it's a good idea to have your hotel call for you. You may also ask for an operator who speaks English. You can reserve a seat for EUR 3 up until four hours before departure. Be sure to do this on the main-line trains (Vienna-Innsbruck, Salzburg-Klagenfurt, Vienna-Graz, for example) at peak holiday times.
For train schedules from the Austrian rail service, the ÖBB, ask at your hotel, stop in at the train station and look for large posters labeled Abfahrt (departures) and Ankunft (arrivals), or log on to their Web site. In the Abfahrt listing you'll find the departure time in the main left-hand block of the listing and, under the train name, details of where it stops en route and the time of each arrival. There is also information about connecting trains and buses, with departure details. Workdays are symbolized by two crossed hammers, which means that the same schedule might not apply on weekends or holidays. A little rocking horse sign means that a special playpen has been set up for children in the train.
There's a wide choice of rail routes to Austria, but check services first; long-distance passenger service across the continent is undergoing considerable reduction. There is regular service from London's Waterloo station to Vienna via Brussels and points south and east. An alternative is to travel via Paris, where you can change to board an overnight train to Salzburg and Vienna. Be sure to leave plenty of time between connections to change stations. First- and second-class sleepers and second-class couchettes are available as far as Innsbruck.
ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) (www.oebb.at.)
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- Austria Experience IExplore
- $499 & up -- Transatlantic Cruises to Europe, Save $100 Norwegian Cruise Line
- Regal Central Europe IExplore
- Regal Central Europe — $9,895 IExplore