July 16, 2014

A rail ride from Vienna to Budapest

by Abigail King in Train routes

Simply put, Vienna and Budapest are two of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Bursting with ornate architecture, underground nightlife, extraordinary history and more than their fair share of chocolate treats and coffee, each place deserves an in-depth visit on its own.

Travel by train between the two is a way of making the most of them both  – and the journey forms an essential part of any rail odyssey through central and Eastern Europe. With the slick and comfy RailJet service that connects them, this is pretty much Eurail travel at its best.

RailJet isn’t the only way to go, though. If slow(ish) with lots of stop-offs makes your heart sing then you can really get off the beaten track by taking the regional route with your pass instead.

Going by the fast RailJet service

The easiest, and most comfortable way is to travel direct on the RailJet service between Vienna and Budapest. The journey takes just over three hours and runs several times a day. Reservations are optional and the service has three classes: economy, 1st and business. 1st and business class include a welcome drink served at your seat with a payable table service for meals and other snacks. Economy passengers have access to the restaurant car. Power sockets are fitted to all seats and Wi-Fi is sometimes available too.

Comfy Railjet seats

RailJet leaves from Wien Westbahnhof station in Vienna and arrives at Budapest-Keleti in Hungary. Seats are comfy, clean and just generally a pleasure to travel on!

Soak up more of Hungary with regional trains

However, much as I love RailJet, that isn’t the only route. You can travel on regional trains, changing at Bruck/Leitha, Györ and Komarom to arrive at Budapest-Déli. Without getting out and exploring, that route takes between four and five hours.

City hall in Gyor Györ, a city in northwest Hungary close to the borders with Slovakia and Austria, makes an interesting place for a stopover with its baroque city centre, cobbled streets, churches and museums. The imposing city hall is just across from the station so you can still glimpse it (lit up at night) between connections if you haven’t the time for an overnight stay.

Combine with a trip to Bratislava

Another popular route is to travel “via” Bratislava. Geographically, it’s out of the way, but the services are so fast that it’s easy to wake up in Vienna, spend the day in Bratislava and then finish up in Budapest. The total train time, spread between regional trains and the EuroCity is just over 4 hours.

Getting to Vienna station

Wien Westbahnhof (West Vienna Station) is the one for the direct RailJet service – and indeed many of Vienna’s services. It’s within walking distance of the city centre and well connected by public transport. It’s on the U-bahn lines U3 and U6, the S-bahn line S50 and it’s linked to the airport by bus. Several trams also stop just outside, at Europaplatz. As you might expect of a main station, it has a business lounge, left luggage facilities and tourist information services.

Arriving at Budapest station

Direct services arrive in Budapest Keleti (Budapest East), Hungary’s main international rail hub. Some regional services arrive in Budapest-Déli, so check the signs carefully. The building itself at Budapest Keleti is quite a sight to behold, dating back to the late 1800s and looking resplendent when lit up at night. The station is on the M2 East-West Budapest Metro line and taxis are readily available. Taxi drivers can be quite pushy at times, reaching for your luggage as you disembark the train. Keep your belongings within your reach at all times and check the fare to your accommodation in advance so you know how to barter if required.