Vienna to Salzburg by train: ÖBB vs. Westbahn

For our trip to Salzburg this weekend, we weighed the options, in terms of time and money, and ended up taking the “Westbahn” train from Vienna to Salzburg. This is a relatively new train service, and we’d never taken it before — for travel inside of Austria, we’d only ever used the ÖBB service. Using something new is always a little stressful, especially traveling with the kids — an adult might take a setback or an inconvenience with mild frustration and see it as a lesson learned, but for a little kid, it might create a ton of unhappiness (for everyone). So, armed with a recommendation from a friend, and the consolation that whatever happened, it was at least the cheapest option, we headed off to catch our Westbahn train at the Westbahnhof station in Vienna.

It was fantastic.

In addition to being cheaper (which was actually only true because Jo was traveling with us — Dan and I have ÖBB discount cards which would have reduced our fares), it was actually a lot more functional for our purposes.

The very best part is that the access to the train is at ground level — we just pushed the stroller right on board. On most of the ÖBB trains (except for the Regional Express), there are a few steep stairs. Trying to get the kids and the stroller into the train quickly and safely is always stressful and difficult. Then there was a large luggage rack right inside the door, so once we were on, we stowed all of our bags, folded up the stroller, and made our way up to our reserved seats on the upper deck (being upstairs was fun for the kids and gave us a nice view, too). When we were boarding, we saw a special car along the train that looked to be set up for families — we didn’t know anything about that, but we’ll look into it for our next trip.

Once upstairs, we found our seats and got comfortable. The seats aren’t numbered, so rather than having specific seats reserved, there was an entire table roped off for us. Since we were 5, rather than 4, that meant Jo didn’t get to sit immediately next to us on the way home, but she was guaranteed a seat on the upper deck of the same car (and I’m sure we could have asked people to switch seats if it had been an issue). There wasn’t any room at the seats for luggage (which was the only negative we encountered) but they did have coat hooks. The tables were very functional, with no places for pinched fingers. On the other hand, almost all of the seats are at tables, which might be more awkward for someone traveling alone. The seats were easily adjustable with a tiny bit of recline (standard for what we’ve seen in terms of the angle of reclining, but easier to adjust). And, it was so convenient to have power outlets between the seats for recharging . . . especially because there was also free Wi-Fi on the train! It was great — it was no problem to entertain the kids on the trip. We had access to games, tv, everything, for the entire ride. And the ride itself was relatively short (about 2.5 hours to Salzburg, slightly faster than the ÖBB Railjet).

There was a self-service café located in every-other car, which was great, because although having a full-service café car is nice, it can sometimes be tough (and occasionally impossible) to actually reach it and then get safely back to your seat. This was easy. And, each car has its own attendant, so there’s always someone to ask if a question or an issue comes up.

20130326-163100.jpgThe bathroom signs get extra points for humor. I also found the bathroom clean, and I witnessed the ladies’ room being cleaned mid-journey, which is always a plus.

Overall, we loved it. It was much more functional for our purposes and less expensive. I’m so glad we gave it a try!

12 thoughts on “Vienna to Salzburg by train: ÖBB vs. Westbahn

  1. Thanks for posting this info about your Westbahn experience. I have been following your blog for a few months. We moved to Vienna from Canada for my husband’s work (UN) in January and are planning a weekend in Salzburg in April. We have a 3 year old and 5 year old so this is a very helpful perspective. I was just debating Westbahn vs. ÖBB earlier today.

    • Kim — Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂 How’s your transition to Vienna going so far?

      • Our transition is going well – much better than I expected to be honest. My parents are coming to visit from Canada in just over a week so we’re excited about that!

  2. Thank you very much for your good information. My 2 friends and my family (5 people) who are Thai people and living in Chiangmai Thailand. We actually have plan to travel to Vienna on May 2nd and will go to Salzburg on the next day. I just found your blog, that it is extreamly useful for me . Because it is my job to plan and find out all transportation while we staying in Austria. May I ask you some questions, we all 5 people , could we can sit together and in your opinion , during that time is that many passengers ? Do you have idea how much the ticket cost per person ? If I buy for round trip , does it cheaper than single ticket?

    Thank you very much ( Khob Khun Ka)

    • I’m so glad I’ve been able to help! I’ll do my best to answer your questions . . .

      If you take the OBB train from Vienna to Salzburg, you’ll be able (for 5 additional Euro per person) reserve seats in the same train car, but not neccessarily together. We were able to find seats relatively close together, but you might not all get to sit exactly together. There are tables which seat 4 people. Our tickets were about 25 Euro each person, each way (for the adults — the children were free except for the 5 Euro to reserve a spot). In our case, there was no benefit to buying round-trip tickets, but you should ask when you purchase, in case they have a special deal on.

      Feel free to ask anything else — I’m happy to help if I can!

      Emily 🙂

      • Out of curiosity, how long was the trip from Vienna to Salzburg?
        Was it the same time going back to Vienna?

        I am trying to decide to take th OBB from Munich to Vienna or try to go cheaper and get from Munich to Salzburg and take the Westbahn.

        I was unable to find any timetables for this train service.
        Thanks!

        • There are different types of trains (at different prices) that run that route. We’ve taken the Westbahn (which was about 2.5 hours) and the OBB railjet, which was about 2:45 (I think).

          Yes, I remember we had a hard time finding the timetables for the Westbahn trains, as well. If you go to the Westbahn site, and then select “Reservierungen”, then choose an option (like Sitzplatz, but it doesn’t actually matter) you can see the train times for the date you’re interested in (there’s probably a better way, but not that I saw).

          Good luck!

  3. Thanks very much for the information! I found it very useful and it enabled us to make a happy and comfortable (and cheaper!) trip to Salzburg from Vienna this weekend! The Westbahn staff were very friendly and helpful and it was really a smooth journey! We did not make reservations when we went as we were not able to purchase the tickets online and it seems that most people buy the tickets on the train itself. We managed to get onto the 400 carriage which is for families and handicapped people and had a very comfortable seat. That carriage is extra spacious and has diaper changing facilities in the washroom. On our trip there we asked the staff about making reservations for our way back so that it would be less stressful. He helped us make a reservation for 5 euro per pax, and said children need not have reservations. So for 10 euro we had a table for 4 saved for us in carriage 100 but he was not able to reserve on the family carriage as apparently reservations in this carriage are only available for the disabled. Comparing the two carriages I think the family one is nicer for families with young children but perhaps having a reservation feels more secure though from what I see there were plenty of seats available even on Fridays and Sundays. Hope this information is useful to others reading this too and thanks once again! oh yes, apparently the staff said it’s cheaper to buy the tickets at the tabak shops – we didn’t try this but maybe someone might find this useful!

  4. Thanks for writing this! I’ll be travelling from Wien to Salzburg alone and I will have a large suitcase (usual airline checked-in baggage size) so I was just wondering, do you think the trains (Westbahn or ÖBB) will have sufficient space to store them onboard and do you think it would be difficult for me to get my luggage on and off the train in time? Thanks so much!

    • In terms of storage space, I think you’ll be fine. We’ve travelled with quite a lot of luggage before (2 suitcases plus backpacks and a fold-up stroller). If you have trouble finding a spot, don’t hesitate to ask someone on the train for help.

      In terms of getting the luggage on and off the train, you’ll have absolutely no issue on the Westbahn trains — those trains were ground-level accessible, so you’ll just roll it on. Depending on the type of ÖBB train you get, it might be more of a challenge, BUT . . . if you’re in Austria, someone will help you. Another passenger, or someone working on the train, will definitely assist you if you need it. I wouldn’t be concerned about it.

      Happy travels!

  5. Hello, thanks for the information! I’m just wondering about the journey on the train in terms of the views and most importantly, does the train go underground or through long tunnels (I’m VERY claustrophobic!)? Thanks

    • Yes, the train to Salzburg does go through some long tunnels. Not very many (maybe 3?) but long enough that it might be an issue if you’re claustrophobic. The car might be a better bet!

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