Trains in Europe are not really comparable to the trains you may encounter in the United States. For one thing, the trains in Europe are pretty much always on time, they are electrically powered and its possible to get to almost any country in Europe just as fast as by plane. I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly everything went on my own trip from Venice to Salzburg.
Buying Tickets and Picking a Route
For the best prices on train tickets, it’s usually best to buy them in advance. Like air tickets, the further in advance you buy them, the cheaper they are. After doing some preliminary research, I found that the train company that offered the easiest routing would be Austria’s national carrier, OBB (Austrian Rail). If I booked a ticket through OBB, I would only have to buy one ticket. Both trains I would take would be operated by OBB.
From Venice to Salzburg, you also have the option of also using Italy’s national carrier, Trenitalia part of the way. The danger, however, is that you need to buy two separate tickets. Because these companies are based in two different countries, their reservation systems do not speak to one another. It’s a long standing problem between the two carriers.
When I went online, I found my ticket was only 24 Euros as part of an online special! The cheapest option was to do an overnight train that arrived in Salzburg at 4 or 5 in the morning. I personally don’t feel comfortable with getting on a train at 11 pm and getting in so early in the morning as a solo traveler, but in a group I may have had a different answer. It was too much of headache to figure out transportation from the train station and what to do so early.
The next options were to change trains in the town of Villach in Austria or in Undine in Italy. I wasn’t so sure if Villach would be doable with a transfer time between trains of 5 minutes, but at the same time, I wanted to arrive in Salzburg as early as possible. If I took the Undine train, I wouldn’t arrive until 9 pm versus arriving at 4:00 pm. I decided to take a chance.
Lastly, you have the option of buying a seat reservation for 3 Euros. Do it! As I would come to find out, my trains were full of families returning from skiing into the city. My trains were full and because I had a reservation, I had a seat! A lot of people stood the entire train ride.
If you decide to buy a ticket in person when you get to the train station, ensure you at least have an idea of the train company you will use. I found in Venice that the actual ticket window didn’t open until 9 or 10 in the morning on weekends. There are plenty of ticket kiosks and machines for you to use, but you need to know if you want OBB or Trenitalia.
Arriving at the Station
I checked out of my hotel and gave myself about an hour to get to the station. I had plenty of time. I would say you don’t need to get to the station more than 20 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart. When you arrive, you will need to look for the departures board. It may or may not list the stops your train is stopping it. but rather its final destination.
You should know your train number, time and destination. It will make your life a lot easier. The train departures will be listed by time (Europe uses the 24 hour clock). The train station departures board will give you a track number about 10 minutes before your train departs. There is not usually an announcement made. You much make sure you are paying attention!
The train will sit at the track for you to board. The doors may be closed, but if you look at the door, there should be a button for you to pus to open it. The train is able to keep a cool or warm temperature in the cabin this way and keep unwanted bugs out! I stared at the door myself until I knew what to do. The door has the same button in the middle of it to get out of it.
Always keep an eye on your luggage and your personal items in stations! You never know when a pick pocket will take an opportunity to grab and go with your money. This happened twice to people who were not paying attention at the train station in Venice. I was lucky, but there were a few Asian tourists who were too busy taking pictures and left their purses on the floor. A thief ran up and grabbed their bag.
The police are present in Venice and caught one of the theifs, but the second person wasn’t so lucky. I want to mention here that the police did ask random people for their passports and documents at the station and when we reached the border of Austria. They are clearly marked as police and do not mess around. If you aren’t sure, you can ask them for identification. They should show you a badge.
If you have a longer ride, have snacks and food with you before you board. It is expensive on the train. The larger train stations in Europe have a lot of different grab and go items for its travelers. My cup of coffee on board was 4 Euros!
The Train Ride
The train ride itself if very scenic and relaxing. Trains are very quiet and modern! There was free wifi, chargers and ample leg room on board. The train operator will make station stop announcements, however if you don’t speak the language of the country you are in, you may not understand it. Train announcements for me were made in Italian and German. You ticket will let you know when your train is supposed to arrive. Use it as a guide.
If you do not have a seat reservation, seats are usually available anywhere in the second class cabins. A seat will have the station stop lists above a seat if it is reserved. My ticket had the car and seat number in German on it. I had to use google translate to figure out where I was supposed to go. I had no idea what Fenster meant (it means window)!
If you are traveling with luggage, you should be able to fit carry on bags above you. If it’s larger, use the racks at the end of the compartments. Your luggage is usually safe on the train. It’s not like the US! With that being said, keep your purse and valuables on you at all times. It’s the opposite of being in the busy station.
The conductor will come by a few stops into your journey to scan any tickets and validate them. Have them handy. They can ask you at any point for them. You normally don’t buy your tickets on board, but I have been told you can if the smaller train stations do not have ticket kiosks. I thought my own ticket would be enough, but the conductor wanted the seat reservation paper too.
I was a little stressed about the transfer in Villach, but it was great to know that the conductor told each passenger what platform they should head to. The transfer was easy and only took about two minutes. When the train stopped, you needed to be ready to get off though. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your belongings together to get off the train.
I found the train ride was really relaxing and much easier than plane travel. I wish it were more like this in the US! I really was shocked by how fast the train went at times. The trains run in rain or snow and have an amazing network of tunnels to cut through the mountains. I really enjoyed my ride and again want to encourage you to use it too!. Until next time, happy travels!