If you want to explore Europe by train, there could hardly be a better place to start than Vienna. As the capital of the Habsburg Empire, the city had been the epicenter of Central and Eastern Europe’s sprawling rail network in the 19th and early 20th century. It was also one of the first and major stops of the storied Orient Express.
The disruptions of World War I put a dent in Vienna’s central position. Then, after World War II, Vienna found itself suddenly located on the edge between the democratic West and communist Central and Eastern Europe. The the Iron Curtain was a mere 70 kilometers from the city borders, turning its once bustling train stations into provincial outposts.
When the Iron Curtain finally fell in 1989, both Vienna and the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) seized the moment like few other places in Europe. While others retrenched, the ÖBB continued to build its network of daytime trains (Railjet or Eurocity) and rejuvenated the continent’s overnight trains (Nightjet).
Now, 30 years later, Vienna is officially Europe’s best-connected city by rail. Only Moscow comes close in the number of connections to other European capitals.
So here are our selected best train trips from Vienna in 2020 – five day trips by rail and five sleeper trains. Bon voyage!
Vienna to Bolzano
A new daily service via Salzburg and Innsbruck connects the Austrian capital to Bolzano (Bozen) the capital of South Tyrol. The mostly German-speaking province of Italy has made a name in eco-tourism and encourages visitors to use the public transport while on holiday. Enjoy the Alpine route over the Brenner pass and arrive in a land of apple trees, crystal-clear rivers, stunning mountains and delicious Italian-inspired food, in a landscape out of an Austrian fairy tale.
Vienna to Prague, Dresden & Berlin
4 / 6 / 8 hours, respectively
Launches May 4, 2020, to Dresden & Berlin
The ÖBB and Cesky drahy together serve the Czech capital Prague extensively – five times a day from Graz, ten times a day from Vienna. Beginning on May 4, 2020, the same trains will go on to the Dresden, the baroque jewel of Saxony, and to the German capital of Berlin. For a little more adventure, consider stepping out in Ústi nad Labem and explore the northern Bohemian region with spa towns Teplice, regional capital Liberec or the wilderness of the Ore Mountains.
Vienna to Kraków
Poland’s second-biggest city can be reached from Vienna in just 7 hours, the same time it takes for a train trip to Austria’s western-most regional capital Bregenz. Kraków is often described as “the secret capital of Poland” and has been center of Polish thought, arts, politics and culture for centuries. On the way there, you’ll see the ancient coal region of Silesia with its sturdy cities of Ostrava and Katowice.
Vienna to Budapest & Satu Mare
3 / 9 hours
The Hungarian capital on the Danube, with its gritty splendor, is less than three hours away by train. After enjoying Budapest’s grand allées and many spas, you can travel on to Satu Mare, regional capital of northern Romania. A royal free city since the 13th century, Satu Mare has been shaped by its multi-ethnic and multi-lingual inhabitants.
Vienna to Nuremberg & Hamburg
4 / 9 hours
From Vienna, the erstwhile seat of the Holy Roman Emperors, to Nuremberg, its ancient capital, it’s only four hours. The unofficial capital of Swabonia is known for its guild houses, operas, galleries and churches. Five hours more onwards and you reach the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest municipality. A center for media, logistics, research and culture, the dramatic city on the Elbe is well worth a visit.
Vienna to Venice
On the night train to Venice you fall asleep heading for the Alps and wake up with the sun rising over the Mediterranean. What better way to start your holidays? Starting from Vienna at 21:27, ÖBB’s Nightjet brings you directly to Venezia Lucia, arriving at 8:24 in the morning. From the station you can walk to all the major sights, dozens of restaurants and cafés and, of course, the sea.
Vienna to Zurich
Switzerland’s biggest city is also just a night train’s ride away. Taking you through the core of the Alps, with the snow-covered mountains pitching skyward just outside your window, the Nightjet departs at 21:27 from Vienna and arrives at 8:20 in Zurich. Enjoy the museums and art galleries, the Swiss cheese and chocolate, and above all, the breathtaking landscape.
Vienna to Florence & Rome
Departing at 19:23 from Vienna, only a night’s sleep stands between you and the land where the oranges bloom. ÖBB’s Nightjet arrives at 6:36 in in the metropole of the Renaissance on the Arno River – Firenze (Florence), where Michaelangelo, Ghiberti or Brunelleschi will greet you as you walk the streets. If you’d rather see the eternal city, just stay on the train until you reach Roma Termini at 9:22.
Vienna to Brussels
Launches January 20, 2020
Announced to great fanfare, the direct connection to Europe’s de-facto capital was long-awaited by eurocrats and their entourages – but also by people who’d just like to visit the (far underestimated) Belgian capital. Departing from Vienna at 20:38, the Nightjet currently still arrives at 10:55 due to the packed schedule of Belgium’s morning commuter traffic. If the connection proves popular, the ÖBB promises better travel times for the following year.
Vienna to Lviv & Kyiv
16 / 23 hours
The ÖBB also has a special treat for the hardened rail travelers. A sleeper train takes you from Vienna to Lviv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine that still has astonishingly deep connections to the Habsburg era and Central Europe. Stroll through the streets, check out the many hipster coffeehouses and explore a town which is just as beautiful but not yet as touristy as many in Western Europe. Or travel on to the fascinating Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which you can reach after a 23 hours direct journey by rail.
A Railway Named Desire
Recently, the ÖBB ordered 13 all-new and futuristic sleeper trains, which are scheduled to enter service in 2022. The overall number of people in Austria taking the train for their summer holidays increased to 690,000 trips, a 35-year-high. And locally, the ÖBB extended its night train service with the Vienna S-Bahn to the weekends and holidays.
Is there a train trip that catches your fancy in 2020? The ÖBB offer attractively priced Sparschiene ticket on almost every route. If you book your train journey well in advance, you may protect your wallet and the environment all in one go.