Austria’s Most Enchanting Train Rides
Located just east of Switzerland, Austria is home to some of the most beautiful train rides in Europe. Offering panoramic views of the soaring Alps, glimmering mountain lakes, rolling vineyards and green valleys, it is an ideal country to travel by train.
Thanks to its rugged setting, Austria is a true playground for active travellers. In winter, you can enjoy some of the world’s best skiing. In summer, you can mountain-bike, climb and hike across absolutely stunning landscapes. A number of options cover Austria, from the One Country Pass to the awesome Global Pass.
1. Austria train route – Vienna to Graz
Located in the country’s southern region, Graz is home to a massive student population. To get there, you will travel on the gorgeous Semmering line, one of the only train routes in the world with its own spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. From Vienna, the journey takes less than 3 hours, which is completely covered by your Global Pass. Reservations are not required, though they can be a good idea in high season.
If you start out early, you can pause for lunch or a half-day on the slope at Zauberberg ski resort. It is located very close to Semmering. Along the way, look for great views to the south (on the left if you are coming from Vienna). You will see mountain tops, forests, and deep valleys, as well as plenty of nature. Yes, that was most likely an eagle.
2. Austria train route – Salzburg to Innsbruck via Bischofshofen
Many Austrian trains travel from Salzburg to Innsbruck by detouring into German territory. But insiders will tell you that the southern route, via the Austrian town of Bischofshofen, is far more scenic. Heading straight up into the Alps and passing right by some of the region’s most scenic sights, you will find ancient covered bridges, emerald rivers, hilltop monasteries, restored castles and picture-postcard towns, such as Zell am See.
The route goes through some of the most-famous destinations in the skiing and climbing world. Reservations are not necessary but are recommended. Few direct trains exist. This route is usually made with a single transfer in the Alpine town of Schwarzach- St. Veit. It generally takes about 3.5 hours ― a bit longer than the 120 minutes of the regular, direct route, but definitely worth it in terms of the views.
Yes, travel writers are supposed to be absolutely objective, but the Rail Jet high speed train gets my vote for the most beautiful train ride in all of Europe. The eye-popping views over the scenic Seefeld Plateau, the northern Tyrolean Alps and the Bavarian Alps are nearly surreal. As is the crowd on this small, regional train, which includes schoolchildren returning home from classes in town, gawking tourists, and groups of skiers who have wisely decided to leave their cars at home.
Open and airy, this local train usually has no need for a reservation, and your Pass for Austria covers the trip up to the Austrian border. A Global Pass is good for the entire route, which should take about 3 hours. From Innsbruck, the left side of the train has the best views. Keep your camera or mobile phone batteries fully charged, because you are going to take lots of pictures.