Travelling by train in Central Europe is cheap, effective and will connect you to many Urban Adventures cities. Here’s how to travel like a boss and make the most of Central Europe’s extensive and easy train service.
Taking a train, without doubt, is the most effective way of travelling in Poland. Especially if you’re headed to Krakow, which is located in the south. The country’s train lines were mostly constructed under the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and connect Krakow to many destinations, not only regionally, but also to other countries.
With some effort, you can have fresh scrambled eggs for breakfast in Krakow, then after a seven-hour ride, enjoy a delicious Czech lager in Prague. Alternately, head to the capital of Hungary for crispy, Hungarian langos, or sample the best strudel and coffee in Vienna (eight hours from Krakow).
If you don’t have time for such a long journey, it’s worth taking a fast and comfortable Pendolino train to our capital, Warsaw. Or go to the seaside and visit the capital of Polish democracy and solidarity movement, Gdansk. It’s five and a half hours from Krakow, and three hours from Warsaw.
If you only have half a day, it’s possible to go by train to the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Czestochowa, home of the famous Black Madonna and the beautiful renaissance city of Tarnów are also nearby. Generally, train travel is a much cheaper and quicker option than going on an organised tour from Krakow.
Retro train lovers can visit an amazing railway museum in Chabowka, located only 70 kilometres from Krakow. Here you can see an incredible collection of old trains and locomotives, and take a panoramic ride through the Polish mountains on an old steam train.
Some tips before taking the train from Krakow:
- The general rule is that tickets bought in advance are much cheaper than ones purchased at the last minute.
- There is a fast internet connection in many, but not all, trains. Make sure you book a suitable train if you want wi-fi connection.
- If you’re travelling with children, buy a family ticket. You’ll get to ride in the special family wagon, which is usually cheaper and better quality.
- All the information you need is available in English here.
The Czech Republic has one of the densest railway systems in the world. That means you can take the train to all the major destinations, as well as smaller villages. Most of the trains are operated by the national Czech Railway, České dráhy. The whole fleet has undergone gone a rapid modernisation in recent years, so all the trains are clean and comfortable, and some of them even offer beer in their restaurant car!
For one-day trips by train departing from Prague, you can visit:
- Medieval silver-mining town of Kutná Hora – one hour away
- Beer capital city of Plzeň (Pilsen) – 90 minutes away
- Capital of Moravia, Brno – 2.5 hours away
- Panoramic Český Krumlov – 3 hours away
There is also a great rail connection to most major cities in neighbouring countries. On bytrain.net, you can search for connections between Prague and any other major European city. It also generates the best combination of tickets from different national providers. Did you know that you can get by train from Prague to Brussels (11 hours) for as little as EUR 21? To travel to Vienna (4 hours), the prices start at EUR 14, to Budapest (6.5 hours) at EUR 19, and to Krakow (6.5 hours) the cost is EUR 14. Just book your international ticket in advance since the prices tend to rise with the approach of the departure date.
Our favourite way to travel short distance around Europe is definitely by train. Compared to buses, they are simply more comfortable, as you can observe the landscapes and life around the rails, and have a beer, coffee or full meal in the restaurant wagon. While buses are cheaper, they are subject to traffic jams and can be less comfortable.
The best way to travel this part of Europe is to fly to Bratislava, base yourself here for better rates on accommodation and start your adventure. The position of Bratislava is unique for day trips or overnight trips. Nothing can beat the coolest triangle of the capitals in Europe: Vienna-Budapest-Bratislava.
Finding the best connections from and within Slovakia is best done online. However, this site is not in English and we suggest you download the app. (Note: you can not buy tickets in the app, nor on the web — simply arrive to station early enough and get the tickets at the counter).
Vienna is just over an hour away by train. Visiting our Austrian sister city is the most logical step. Once you arrive at the train station, hop on the metro and get off at Stephansplatz right in the heart of it all. Vienna is all about coffee culture, lively markets and all the historical upscale restaurants this lovable city provides.
Budapest is 2.5 hours away by train. Take an early morning train and arrive in Budapest just in time to observe its beauty. Take the historic metro line 1 to the old town and hit the streets of Buda and Pest. We love Budapest for its food and wine.
High Tatras is about 4 hours away. If you’re a nature and mountain lover, you’ll want to visit this Slovakian treasure. High Tatras is a hikers’ paradise, with an atmosphere all of its own. Take a train to Poprad-Tatry station and than change to Tatra Tram, which will bring you into the mountains.
Salzburg is 3.5 hours way. This stunning city is the gateway to the Alps.
To continue from Bratislava, you can head north to Poland. Krakow is almost 6 hours away and Warsaw is just over 7 hours by train. Alternatively, head to the the Czech Republic where you can get to Prague in 4 hours.
Budapest is the perfect place to discover by train. Hungary historically has good railway connections to the surrounding regions, as a big portion of railways were implemented before World War I, when lots of neighbouring territories were still part of the country or the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. As a result, all big central European cities are more easily accessible from Budapest by train than by plane.
There are three main train stations in inner city Budapest, the Nyugati (Western), the Keleti (Eastern) on the Pest side, and the Déli (Southern) on the Buda side. So to hop on a train to Bratislava, Vienna, Krakow, Prague or Zagreb, all you have to do is make sure to have a good book with you, buy some snacks and drinks, and you are ready to leave. The Slovakian and the Austrian capitals are the closest destinations at a 2.5 and 3 hours ride, respectively. But you can also reach Prague and Krakow in 7 hours. If you don’t wish to spend your day on a train, you can always choose a night ride and even upgrade to a coach.
Note that international trains can get full, especially during high season. So it’s better to plan ahead and buy your tickets at least a few days in advance. If you are in Budapest, you can either book tickets at the main stations or at some retailers in the city centre. Check out the map of ticket offices. Remember that it can take up to an hour to purchase your ticket during the high season. You can also buy your tickets online by visiting the Hungarian State Railways and follow the instructions.
It’s not only international travel you can use train travel for. We highly recommend you discover the Hungarian countryside, the beautiful villages, lakes and riversides and the smaller county capitals by train.
Some of the best one-day trips you can take from Budapest include:
- Lake Balaton is probably the number one domestic holiday destination for locals, and you’ll understand why once you get there. Wineries, beaches or more remote areas are all here.
- Eger is one of the capitals for winemaking in the country, plus it’s a lovely old town with heritages from the Ottoman Empire years.
- Debrecen was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 budget travel destinations of 2017. It is the capital of the Great Plain of Hungary.
- Pécs was the European Capital of Culture in 2010 and one of the most important university hubs of the country. A charming city with a Mediterranean vibe.
Bucharest and Brasov
It’s super easy to connect the main cities of Romania by train. The easiest way to purchase a train ticket is to buy it online, in advance. That way you’ll avoid the hassle of big queues at the ticket counter, or maybe a seller who doesn’t speak English. Most of the time purchasing a round-trip ticket online is even cheaper than one purchased from the ticket counter.
The only thing worth mentioning is that you will have to keep an eye out for railway stations as you are passing by, as the next stop is not displayed on the train. You also don’t need to validate the ticket before hopping on the train — you just have to show it to the conductor onboard.