The best way to travel from Vienna to Salzburg is by train

The most convenient way to travel from Vienna to Salzburg is by train. There are two train companies and trains between Vienna and Salzburg run at least every half an hour. The prices are moderate and the journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

In this article, you find everything you need to know about the train journey from Vienna to Salzburg.

The Railway System in Austria

There are two train companies in Austria. Before I tell you which one to choose and how to buy your tickets, let me give you some context.

ÖBB – The Austrian Federal Railways

The biggest Austrian train company is ÖBB, the Austrian federal railways. The ÖBB railways date back to the 19th century and the Habsburg monarchy. ÖBB has 40.000 employees and transports more than a million passengers on buses and trains everyday.

ÖBB Travel Lounge and Ticket Office in Salzburg

The connection between Vienna and Salzburg is the most frequented train route in Austria. That’s also because Vienna is on the way from Eastern Europe to Germany and Western Europe.

But trains in Austria do not only run between big cities. Many small villages in Austria are connected to the ÖBB railway network. ÖBB was the only train company in Austria but on the connection between Vienna and Salzburg that changed in 2012.

Westbahn – the private Austrian Train Company

Westbahn operates trains from Vienna to Salzburg since 2012. Their green and blue trains are the ones you will probably want to go for. In most cases they are cheaper, they are more convenient and nowadays they run every 30 minutes from Wien Westbahnhof.

The differences between ÖBB and Westbahn

If you want you could call ÖBB the more conservative company. You can get on a Westbahn train without pre-buying your ticket and their ticketing system is more suitable for spontaneous travel. ÖBB, on the other hand, runs ticket counters and information centers which Westbahn doesn’t.

How to buy a train ticket from Vienna to Salzburg?

When taking a Westbahn train you can buy your ticket on the train. Get on and the conductor will come to charge you. You can pay cash or by card. When buying the ticket on the train they charge you standard fare which is about half-price of the ÖBB tickets.

You can also buy Westbahn tickets from Austrian tobacco shops (like the one inside the station) or online. These tickets are sometimes discounted but only God knows when. 

To book a Westbahn ticket on their website you click the %Offers button on top of the page. Choose the first offer “Westsuperpreise”. Then you choose the date and when choosing the time you will see prices. The earlier you book the more likely you get a better deal.

There would also be Westspartage where certain days and times are discounted but I wouldn’t bother figuring that out. 

When taking an ÖBB train from Vienna to Salzburg you either book online or buy your ticket at the ticket machine or the ticket office at the station. The way to get a discounted ÖBB ticket is to book a few days in advance which makes it impractical if you don’t want to fix your schedule or to have a yearly discount card which you won’t have if you are a traveler.

The ÖBB ticket website is straightforward and the discounts either apply or they don’t. Depending on how long in advance you purchase your ticket.

I recently (2020) found a better way to buy train tickets online. The platform Trainline offers online booking of tickets for all the train companies in the region. They include the ÖBB and Westbahn trains and it seems like they apply the same discount you would get on the train companies’ website. So you can search and immediately see if there happens to be a discount available for either of the companies. I never used the Trainline Website but it seems legit and very practical.

How much is the train ticket from Vienna to Salzburg?

The standard price for Westbahn tickets is €33,50 (in 2020) while the standard price for ÖBB tickets is at €56,80 (in 2020). The discounted Westbahn tickets then range from €23,99 to €28,99. So no big difference and worth the convenience of just boarding the train to pay onboard without even thinking about discounts. On an ÖBB train, you couldn’t even do that.

The ÖBB ticket from Vienna to Salzburg is really only worth considering, if you get the “Sparschiene” discounted price, if you have a Eurail Pass or if you need a train after 7 pm because even the discounted price for ÖBB tickets is as expensive as Westbahn tickets.

How to take the train from Vienna to Salzburg?

Until a few years ago all the trains in Vienna departed from Westbahnhof. The other directions were closed due to the Soviet Union while the West train station became like the main train station. There is the main train station “Hauptbahnhof” and especially ÖBB runs many trains from the main station while Westbahn only uses Wien Westbahnhof.

So these days you will most likely head to Westbahnhof for Westbahn and to Hauptbahnhof for ÖBB trains. The most convenient way to reach either station will be Metro or tram.

The ÖBB trains by the way often run from the airport in Vienna. If you are planning to come straight from Vienna airport to Salzburg, that option is worth considering. Even if you pay full price you would save the cost of public transport from the airport to the city.

The rest is self-explanatory. If you still need an ÖBB ticket head to the ticket machine or to the counter. If you would like to pre-purchase your Westbahn ticket go to the tobacco shop but it’s not required. Then check the schedule and head to the right tracks.

I promise you will have a comfortable ride. The trains in Austria are in perfect condition and the rides always very smooth. In Salzburg, you arrive at the main train station “Hauptbahnhof”. Actually the only train station in Salzburg. Hauptbahnhof is 15 to 20 minutes from the old town and also close to most hotels and hostels. Depending on the size and the weight of your luggage you can either start walking or check this guide on public transport in Salzburg.

Is there a bus from Vienna to Salzburg?

Due to the frequency of the Westbahn and the ÖBB trains, there is no bus connection between Vienna and Salzburg. If you search for a bus on the Flixbus website you will find a connection but it’s Flixbus selling the Westbahn train tickets.

Is the train the cheapest way from Vienna to Salzburg?

The only cheaper way to travel from Salzburg to Vienna would be hitchhiking, Carsharing or a rental car if you are enough people to fill the car. 

Austrians are not fond of picking up hitchhikers but because of the amount of traffic between Salzburg and Vienna and because many drivers are going all the way, it’s not too difficult.

If you go for Carsharing you can safe about €10,- but. In my opinion it’s only worth the effort, if you are on a really tight budget or if you want the company of your car sharing companions. The trains are just  too convenient.

Renting a car could be cheaper than the train, if you are enough people. Car Rental starts at around €70,-. Therefore, enough people means at least four and you have to consider the size of your luggage. What’s great about a rental car is that you can visit places along the way, if you have time.

Read this article for more information on other ways to get from Vienna to Salzburg.

Is the train ride from Vienna to Salzburg scenic?

It’s not spectacular but nice. First, you see the lower and upper Austrian hills. A lot of green before Gaisberg mountain and the alps appear far in the distance when coming closer to Salzburg after about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

But you travel to Salzburg (or you are coming from Salzburg) and will have much better views in the city or even get a chance to visit places in the surroundings of Salzburg.

To see the mountains in the distance on the journey from Vienna to Salzburg, sit in the left row in the direction of travel and if you want a real scenic train ride, take the train from Salzburg to Innsbruck or look into the most scenic train routes in Austria.

Can you do a Day Trip from Vienna to Salzburg?

It only takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach Salzburg from Vienna. Salzburg is small and you can explore the old town and discover the most important sights walking from the train station in 2 to 6 hours, depending on your velocity and what sights you would like  enter. 

You will have to leave Vienna as early as possible and return from Salzburg as late as possible to also have time for a nice restaurant and to check out some of the best cafes in Salzburg. The last Westbahn train leaves at 18:52 at the moment (2020). If you would like to stay in Salzburg longer, Öbb trains run later than that.

Virgin Maries column on the square in front of the Salzburg Cathedral

And even if a day trip from Vienna to Salzburg is possible, it’s worth spending a night or two, if you have the time. Salzburg can be explored in a few hours but you might as well stay a week and wouldn’t get bored. Check out these accommodation options in Salzburg, if you decide to stay.

Conclusion

The train is the best and nearly the only option to travel to Salzburg from Vienna. The journey takes 2 hours and 30 minutes, trains run every 30 minutes and you don’t have to book them in advance but booking in advance could result in a cheaper ticket. And there are two train companies. Westbahn and ÖBB. In most cases, Westbahn is cheaper and more convenient.

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