The Alps are long. About 1200 km long. Unfortunately, the mountain range is still not quite long enough, since it stops just short of Vienna.
So you won’t see any snow-capped Alpine giants by staring out of your hotel window. But you can visit the Alps quite easily from Vienna. In fact, it makes a pretty good day trip. Here’s how…
Where are the Alps?
You tend to think of cities like Salzburg and Innsbruck when anyone mentions the Austrian Alps, but the mountains actually stretch across much of the country from the west, petering out before they reach Vienna.
I’ve marked the three typical Alpine destinations the Viennese go to for weekends and day trips (Semmering, Rax, and Schneeberg) on the map below. As you can see, they’re all within 80 km of the city center as the crow flies:
How to get there
Before we continue, a word of warning.
If you’re going into the mountains, be sure to check travel and weather conditions, and adjust your plans and gear accordingly. In particular, ensure you have the right footwear if you’re planning to walk around Alpine terrain. Check with the local tourist offices for advice.
The Schneeberg mountain is the easiest to reach by public transport.
Basically, you catch a train to “Puchberg am Schneeberg” from the Hauptbahnhof (main station) in Vienna. You have to change once in Wiener Neustadt, but the whole journey only takes about 90 minutes.
Helpfully, the rail service that takes you up the actual mountain leaves next door to the station. It’s nicknamed the Salamander Train because of its unique colours and carries you up to 1800m above sea level. There are walking trails up top, as well as a restaurant (!).
The service only operates late April to late October. Check for details, timetables, etc. here.
The town Puchberg am Schneeberg is a little over an hour’s drive from the centre of Vienna (traffic notwithstanding). Check their official tourism website for directions, plus up-to-date info on facilities, costs etc..
This is where Viennese day trippers go skiing.
A mini cable car takes you from the town up into the mountains. It runs every day in the winter season (it’s a proper ski resort with lifts and slopes) and high summer, but has a restricted service at other times. And, yep, there’s a restaurant next to the top station.
Semmering is on the main S6 road that branches off from the A2 Sudautobahn (southern motorway) out of Vienna, again somewhat over an hour’s drive from Vienna.
Trains go direct to the resort’s railway station from the Hauptbahnhof. The train journey is actually slightly shorter than for Schneeberg, but it’s a 25-minute walk or a bus/taxi ride to the cable car station.
In winter, there may be direct bus services from Vienna to Schneeberg (to serve the capital’s skiing community). Again, check the official Semmering tourism website for travel info, facilities, prices, etc..
There’s a daily cable car service up to the Rax mountain hiking area at around 1600m above sea level. Details, price etc. here.
Your target railway station is Payerbach-Reichenau, reachable from the Hauptbahnhof station, with some trains going direct. The journey time varies but can be as little as just over an hour. Then you have to get to the cable car station, which is 6+ km away, so you’ll need to catch a local bus or taxi.
A car journey direct to the cable car station from Vienna is around 75 minutes. Check the official Reichenau an der Rax website for local information.