Prague to Vienna – Two of Europe’s great cities by train
Despite their apparently opposite natures, dark, romantic Prague and regal, grandiose Vienna have been twinned together for centuries: when Mozart felt hurt and unloved in Austria, he relocated to the Czech capital; when Czechs were looking for employment during the Habsburg Era, they often found it in Vienna. Now, almost a century after the Czech Republic declared independence from the old Austrian empire as part of what was then called Czechoslovakia, the many cultural exchanges between Wien (the local name for Vienna) and Praha (the Czech name for Prague) keep going. With a Eurail pass, you can compare two of the most dynamic capitals in central Europe on your own schedule, with several options for how and when to get there, and numerous side-trips and possible stop-offs along the way.
How to get from Prague to Vienna by train
There are two ways to get to Vienna from Prague: via Břeclav, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, or via Linz, an Austrian city west of Vienna. All direct trains go through Břeclav, leaving Prague about every two or three hours, usually eight times a day; one direct overnight train leaves Prague just after midnight. Reservations are not required; the journey usually takes four hours and 45 minutes. (The night train takes just over six hours; a couchette for sleeping requires a reservation.) The second route, via a connection in Linz, is perfect if you want to start out by exploring the many castles of the Czech Republic’s scenic South Bohemia district, or the beautiful Danube hills west of Vienna.
Getting to the right Prague train station
All trains to Vienna leave from Prague’s main train station, Praha hlavní nádraží, often written as “Praha hl. n.” Located in the heart of the Czech capital, about five minutes by foot from the top of Wenceslas Square, Praha hlavní nádraží is easily accessed via public transportation, on the C line (red line) of the Metro, the city’s chief north-south subway route, or by walking. Originating in Berlin, the one direct overnight train to Vienna stops at both Praha hlavní nádraží and Praha Holešovice, a secondary station on Prague’s north side.
Arriving in Vienna
Here’s where things get tricky (though not that tricky): Vienna has several train stations, and unfortunately the completion of the new Hauptbahnhof, or main station, has been delayed, and the station will remain under construction until the end of 2015. For now, most direct trains from Prague are stopping at Wien Simmering station, on the southern side of Vienna, as well as at Wien Meidling, a station southwest of the city center that is temporarily functioning as the main train station. Most trains from Linz terminate at Wien Westbahnhof, a major station west of Vienna’s historic center, or Innere Stadt. Here’s the good news: all Viennese train stations are directly connected to the city’s extensive public transportation network, and your Eurail pass provides free transportation on all S-Bahn train lines in Vienna.
Two great stop offs on the way to Vienna
Nestled in the gently rolling hills along the broad Danube river, the small city of Linz has an oversize cultural footprint: Mozart composed one symphony here, Beethoven another, and the narrow lanes and beautiful historic buildings of the well-preserved Altstadt, or Old Town, host numerous cultural festivals and special events today. Overdose on music at Europe’s newest opera house, which opened here in 2013, then check out the Klimt and Kokoschkas at the stunning Lentos Kunstmuseum, a major contemporary art gallery. Afterwards, track down a world-famous local delicacy at the source: Linzer Torte, a cake made of crunchy, crumbly pastry, filled with an ocean of sweet and sour red-currant jam. The Altstadt is a short walk from Linz’s main train station, Linz Hauptbahnhof.
The Velká Pardubická steeplechase — one of the oldest and toughest on the Continent — has been bringing jockeys, stallions and those who love them to Czech city of Pardubice since 1874. But for even longer, central Europeans have celebrated the city for its renowned perník, or gingerbread, with Austria’s Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa upholding Pardubice’s right to produce its favorite sweet in 1759. Today, you can’t walk two blocks without spotting a gingerbread stand in Pardubice, and even more frequently seeing signs for the local beer, Pernštejn, named after the feudal lords who literally owned the town back in the day. (The brewery’s special dark beer, Pardubický Porter, even tastes like the gingerbread.) Enjoy an afternoon in Pardubice on the perfectly preserved, Renaissance-era main square, or use it as a base for exploring the mountains of east Bohemia.