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The Joys of Train Travel in Austria Span Everything From Adventure To Art

Climb aboard a high-speed Railjet train to trek from Alpine paradise to historic cities and wellness retreats.

Sit back and enjoy views like the Gastein Valley aboard the ÖBB railway.

Sit back and enjoy views like the Gastein Valley aboard the ÖBB railway.

ÖBB Personenverkehr AG/Harald Eisenberger

There are unforgettable train journeys tucked away in every corner of the Earth, but perhaps the most under-recognized are those with Austrian Federal Railways. Classic melds with the contemporary aboard Austria’s ÖBB, the country’s national railway company, where the romance of train travel meets engineering ingenuity. There’s no easier (or more sustainable) way for you to relax as you enjoy the views zipping from Vienna, the artistic and intellectual capital of the country, into the heart of the countryside where farm-to-fork cuisine beckons, landscapes amaze, and small villages offer hiking, biking, and intimate retreats.

Along the way, those in first and business classes can enjoy spacious leather seats with electrical outlets, Wi-Fi, a welcome drink, meal service at their seat, and digital access to more than 100 publications. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to take your eyes off mountains and castles, however, as ÖBB whisks and wends you across Austria’s most historic and beautiful sights and cities. Here are some highlights to consider.

Start in the capital, Vienna

Of the few urban cities in the world ringed by lush forests and well-marked hiking trails, Vienna is one of them. Trekkers and cyclists can enjoy the view of oak trees and then segue to oak barrels on City Hiking Trail 5, where cozy Heurigen wine taverns await oenophiles who love to sip what’s local and fresh. Regular rules don’t apply here when it comes to aging, and you’ll learn that in Viennese German, the word heuer translates to “this year.” What’s available for sampling is typically produced from a recent harvest.

If coffee is more your speed, then you’ll want to stop in at Cafe Hawelka. The kaffeehaus has been owned by the same family for three generations, and their buchteln sweet rolls are a highlight.

Coffeehouse culture in Vienna is legendary, and for centuries artists, writers, and thinkers have thrived in their bohemian atmosphere. You can check out some of their masterpieces at the MuseumsQuartier or spend a night listening to classical music at the Vienna State Opera. After all, Austria is the birthplace of Mozart, Strauss, Mahler, Schubert, Bruckner, and Schönberg, to name only a few.

Discover Graz’ museums, architecture, and cuisine

Murinsel, a floating, glass-paneled island, is one of Graz’s architectural marvels.

Murinsel, a floating, glass-paneled island, is one of Graz’s architectural marvels.

Graz Tourismus/Harry Schiffer

From Vienna, head directly via Railjet to Graz. It’s Austria’s second-largest city, but for many travelers from outside the country, Graz is a gem waiting to be unearthed. The UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site is also a UNESCO City of Design, and there are just as many modern marvels as historic ones. Check out the juxtaposition at the bubble-shaped Kunsthaus museum in the arts district around Mariahilferstrasse, or grab a cocktail at Murinsel, a floating, glass-paneled island.

Food fans will want to hit up one of two daily farmers markets, since Graz, surrounded by hundreds of farms, is the culinary capital of Austria. Make a picnic from the seasonal treasures at Kaiser Josef Markt or Lendplatz, and grab a souvenir like nutty pumpkin seed oil, Styria’s so-called “green gold.”

Castles, Mozart, and beer in Salzburg

The medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, high above Salzburg

The medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, high above Salzburg

ÖBB Personenverkehr AG/Georg Pölzleitner

All that glitters isn’t simply gold, as you’ll see while admiring the treasures at Hohensalzburg Fortress after a scenic four-hour train ride to Salzburg. The castle watches over the baroque city from high atop Mönchsberg mountain, Mozart’s birthplace and the filming location of The Sound of Music. You can walk in the composer’s footsteps on charming Getreidegasse, a street lined with courtyards and tiny boutiques where chocolate lovers will find tasty Mozartkugel nougat treats.

Or raise a glass to good times and new discoveries at the Stiegl-Brauwelt museum, an institution devoted to the art of making beer. Brewing culture is strong in Salzburg—Austria’s beer capital with 11 breweries— and it’s easy to strike up a chat with locals at one of the communal tables that fill the beer gardens here.

Hot springs, hikes, and other day trips surrounding Salzburg

First Class aboard Austrian Federal Railways

First Class aboard Austrian Federal Railways

Courtesy of ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

The beauty of making Salzburg your home base for a few days includes what’s nearby. The city makes for a convenient jumping-off point for taking trains to nearby villages that aren’t often explored by travelers outside of Europe.

If you’re seeking some R&R, head by rail to the hot thermal springs in the small village of Bad Ischl. The healing salt waters made it a fashionable resort in the early 19th century after doctors recommended Archduchess Sophie receive saline treatments.

If the Middle Ages fascinate you, there are two must-visit attractions in the countryside outside the city of Salzburg. A train to Werfen includes hiking along the Sound of Music trail, and an opportunity to feel the wind whip through the feathers of birds of prey at Hohenwerfen Fortress. The medieval landmark hosts falconry demonstrations in its impressive courtyard gardens, where other period entertainment includes sword fights.

In Kufstein, a little more than an hour west of Salzburg by train, medieval meets multimedia at the Kufstein Fortress, built in the year 1205 C.E. Visitors can wear 3-D glasses to interact with a hologram, a “talking” painting, and 270-degree projections. It’s an impressive way to experience what life was like here a millennium ago.

Jump into Innsbruck’s mountainous history

See views of Innsbruck’s towering mountains from the 360-degree bar, Cafe Lichtblick.

See views of Innsbruck’s towering mountains from the 360-degree bar, Cafe Lichtblick.

Christof Lackner/Innsbruck Tourismus

Reaching great heights is easy in Innsbruck, a train ride that’s just under two hours from Salzburg. Whether you’re more into the arts or athletics, there’s plenty to marvel at Bergisel Ski Jump. The Zaha Hadid-designed architectural masterpiece towers high above the city overlooking the Nordkette mountain range, and you can visit the lift, jump tower, and glass-walled café for stunning panoramas and traditional Tirolean treats like kasspatzln, a traditional Tirolean dish of spätzle (egg noodles) with cheese.

Use Innsbruck [LINK TO: 3 Ways to Experience Innsbruck, Austria’s Imperial Gem] as your hub for other regional adventures, too. In nearby Wattens, Swarovski Crystal Worlds’ intricate topiary awaits, while 17 futuristic Chambers of Wonder exhibits put you in the center of a gleaming jewel box.

Or, in the village of Mutters, admire the wooden balconies and painted facades of farmhouses en route to take the Mutteralm cable car up the mountain for a hike followed by lunch in a cozy mountain hut. Typical dishes include tasty schlutzkrapfen (dumplings stuffed with cheese or spinach,) and hearty Tiroler gröstl, (a dish of potatoes, meat, and vegetables).

Journey to the top of the world in the Arlberg region

The Arlberg Trail connects Arlberg’s five villages and can be enjoyed on individual shorter treks or on one unforgettable 25-mile journey.

The Arlberg Trail connects Arlberg’s five villages and can be enjoyed on individual shorter treks or on one unforgettable 25-mile journey.

DIE WEST Werbeagentur/Arlberg Marketing

Venture even further into Alpine paradise in Arlberg, just a one-hour train ride from Innsbruck. There, five intimate villages all feature hikes for varying abilities winding past pristine lakes, streams, and flower-filled fields. Serious trekkers will want to plan ahead to spend several hours outdoors, while others may choose to take the “easy way” on the Galzig and Valluga cable cars that whisk you up 9,222 feet to the top of Valluga, the region’s tallest mountain.

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