Vienna Austria and Budapest Hungary are two of the most popular travel destinations in Central Europe. And rightfully so! They both offer amazing architecture, art, food, and history. These two great European capital cities are located relatively close to each other – separated by only 150 miles. Consequently, many travel itineraries include a visit to both cities. Conveniently, an excellent rail system connects the two. During our recent travels in this part of the world, we traveled by Railjet train between Vienna and Budapest. Let me show you what it’s all about.
Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking one of these links, I may earn a small commission. This does not cost you anything extra and helps support this blog.
Rail Travel in Europe
I think most travelers know that much of Europe is well-connected by train. Whether it be a train connecting cities within a country, or a train that travels through several countries, train travel is an integral part of European public transportation.
And when traveling between adjacent countries in Europe, train travel is so much easier than air travel. No string of check-in counters and gates. No complicated security checks. And no concerns of lost luggage. Just simply show up at your platform (in most cases) and get on. Plus, the train stations are usually centrally located, so you can skip any airport transportation hassles.
I’m a big fan of train travel in Europe and we try to use it as much as we can – whether it be for local day trips (such as these day trips from Seville Spain or this two day trip to Meteora Greece), or for jumping from country to country. On this Central European trip alone, we not only took the train between Vienna and Budapest, but we also traveled by train from Vienna to both Ljubljana Slovenia and Bratislava Slovakia.
(Useful Tip: When it comes to trip planning for any European intercity trips like these, I found the website The Man in Seat 61 to be an invaluable resource for discovering routes and other details about specific journeys.)
Booking the Train between Vienna and Budapest
While you can find websites/apps that help you book just about any train in Europe (Omio & Rail Ninja are examples), I decided to book all of our Vienna-based train travel directly through Austria’s train company ÖBB. I found that both its website and app was easy to use (with an English option), didn’t charge any booking fees, and let me choose my seats.
(Important Note: Even though it costs a few Euros extra to choose and reserve a seat during the booking process, I highly recommend it. I watched plenty of people standing for long distances on various train rides.)
Trains connect Vienna and Budapest hourly throughout the day. The type of trains used for this particular journey alternate between Austrian Railjet trains and Hungarian Eurocity trains. As the Man in Seat 61 explains, Railjet trains are nicer and more modern, though the Eurocity trains are decent too. If you have a strong preference, you can see which train is used for each departure time during the booking process with OBB.
Another company called Regiojet also offers a train service between Vienna and Budapest. It currently runs twice daily. While fares on Regiojet can be less expensive than OBB options, you are limited by the fewer departure times (which I personally found inconvenient for our itinerary).
A late morning departure worked best for us both ways. And in both instances we rode the Austrian Railjet train.
The Train Stations
Vienna Central Station
When traveling from Vienna to Budapest, you’ll board the train at Vienna’s Central Station (Wien Hauptbahnhof). When booking your tickets online or in the app, it’s called Wien Hpt. This train station is huge. It’s a major hub for all of Vienna’s public transportation – with subway, light rail, commuter trains, and bus lines all passing through here. Plus you’ll find lots of casual eateries and some shopping inside. Honestly, it’s a bit of maze and can be difficult to navigate, but the train platforms are pretty easy to find.
Inside, there’s a large arrival and departure board. And just past that, escalators up to individual train platforms.
In my experience over several train journeys from Vienna Central Station (including this day trip to Bratislava), our trains arrived at their assigned platform shortly before their departure time. This is a busy station and trains are always coming and going, seldom sitting still for prolonged periods.
Budapest Keleti Station
Keleti station is the main Budapest base for the train between Vienna and Budapest (except for Regiojet trains which use a smaller station elsewhere in the city). It’s not nearly as large as Vienna’s Central Station, but is still well connected to local public transportation. It has a few small fast food counters inside – pizza, kebabs, sandwiches, bakery goods.
As you enter, you immediately see the arrival/departure board, and the train platforms are directly in front of you.
When we left Budapest back to Vienna, we arrived at Keleti 30 minutes prior to our departure. Our Railjet train was already there and waiting. This gave us plenty of time to board and get situated.
When boarding the Railjet train, the cars are clearly marked. And if you have reserved seats (which again, I strongly recommend), you shouldn’t have any problem determining which car to board.
The Luggage Situation
Whenever I’m contemplating our public transportation options, the luggage situation is always in the forefront of my mind. We generally travel with 5 pieces of luggage (including backpacks), and that sometimes can present a challenge on certain forms of public transportation.
So I’m happy to report that the luggage situation on the Railjet train between Vienna and Budapest is great. Each car has three racks for larger pieces – one on each end and another in the middle.
And then the overhead racks are tall enough to hold typical sized carry-on luggage.
Also there are no restrictions on number of items, size, or weight. Another huge advantage over air travel – especially when compared to the European budget airlines and their usual restrictions.
A Look at the Railjet Train Cars
On our Railjet train between Vienna and Budapest, there were 5 cars both ways. Three were Economy Class cars, one was a First Class car, and one was a Dining car.
Here’s a look at the interior of our Economy Car. It features a mixed seating arrangement. Some of the seats are grouped in fours and face each other with a table in between. Then intermittently, there are a few rows of seats lined up facing the same direction.
The face-to-face seats might be nice if you are traveling in a group. But I personally don’t think there is enough leg room for four sets of legs. Especially if you are sharing with strangers.
Because I reserved (and so was able to choose) our seats ahead of time, I put us in our own row. You can see that the seats are cushioned and fairly comfortable (though I’ve yet to find any sort of seat on any kind of public transportation that has enough lumbar support). And the leg room is much more ample.
Also, I noticed when booking the seats, I had the option to choose seats on a Quiet Zone car. That seemed like a no-brainer.
According the the Quiet Zone car rules (on the OBB website), riders in this car are expected to:
1) Keep your voice down
2) Set your mobile phone to silent
3) Listen to music with headphones at low volume
I did wander the train during our journeys, and can testify that there is definite value in putting yourself in the Quiet Zone. For the most part, everyone on our car was respecting the Quiet, while the other economy cars were louder for sure.
Reserved or Not Reserved
And one more note about seat selection. If you don’t reserve a seat, then you choose any available seat as you board. How do you know which seats are available? There is a small sign above each seat window. If you see two station names next a seat number, then that particular seat is reserved for that particular part of the journey.
96 and 94 were our seats as we returned from Budapest. They were marked as reserved (by us) from Budapest to Wien Hbf (Vienna). Had nothing been listed, then the seats would have been available for anyone to sit in.
The Rest of The Train
So what about First Class? Is it worth the extra cost?
Here’s a picture of the First Class car on the Railjet…
Since there are 3 seats rather than 4 per row, the seats are a little wider. And the seat material is leathery. But there really aren’t any extra amenities and the cost difference can be sizable. I personally don’t think it’s worth it.
Here’s a look at the dining car….
I was a little surprised at how small it was. Only a few booths. We didn’t eat here on either of our Railjet journeys. I checked out the menu though, and it was quite extensive and reasonable priced. You are allowed to take food back to your seat if you wish. And you are also allowed to bring food onto the train (which is what we did).
And then here is what the restroom looks like…
Each car had a couple of these. Unsurprisingly, their cleanliness worsened as the trip progressed.
Misc Tips & Observations
1. Our train journeys between Vienna and Budapest were scheduled for 2 hours and 40 minutes. We arrived on schedule each time. And the train was not direct. We made 5-6 stops along the way.
2. While the Railjet train is touted for its ability to travel at higher speeds, it does not on this route. I was hoping for a taste of some high speed train travel like we experienced while riding the Bullet Trains in Japan. But no such luck.
3. The scenery on this route – flat farmland and the outskirts of various cities – isn’t anything special. Especially compared to our journey from Vienna to Ljubljana which was spectacular for nearly the entire 6 hours.
4. You do not present your ticket anywhere prior to boarding. A conductor passes through at some point after the journey begins, and scans the QR code on your phone (if purchased via the app).
5. Ticket pricing is not set in stone. It varies depending on what I presume to be a multitude of factors, and will definitely become more expensive the closer you get to your travel day. You can usually get the best price by booking farther in advance, and also by booking non-refundable tickets. The OBB ticket booking window generally opens 6 months ahead of time. We paid 24 Euro + the 3 Euro reserved seat fee (per ticket) for our journey from Vienna to Budapest. We paid 32.50 Euro + 3 Euro for the return. I booked them about a month in advance at the non-refundable price.
6. You can also purchase tickets on the Hungarian Railways website. I read that pricing can be different (and sometimes cheaper) than if booking through Austrian OBB. But I found the Austrian site easier to use, and since we were taking multiple train journeys from Vienna, I stuck with OBB for all of them.
As should now be obvious, train travel in Europe can be easy, convenient, and inexpensive. And taking the train between Vienna and Budapest is the ideal way to travel between these two cities. Hopefully this post has helped you better understand what riding the Austrian Railjet train is all about.
If you would like more information about traveling in Budapest then check out my 10 Essential Budapest Travel Tips. I also have a post filled with Vienna Travel Tips. And here’s some additional Budapest information on Touring the Hungarian Parliament and taking an Easy Day from Budapest to colorful Szentendre Hungary.
In certain parts of Europe, ferry travel is the ideal form of public transportation. Here is my look at Riding the Blue Star Ferry in the Greek Islands.
And in other parts of Europe, the train system isn’t as well developed. Here’s a look at the chaotic public bus system in Montenegro, and the best way for getting from Kotor to Dubrovnik.