Train travel has always been one of my favourite way to travel: it takes obviously longer than planes, but it is less stressful, you can roam around freely in the compartment and it is much more comfortable. Also, you get to see beautiful landscapes passing by as you get to your destination.
I took the overnight train to go to Vienna around Christmas last year and it was definitely an experience I’ll remember!
From Brussels, the only option you currently have to go to Vienna with a night train is taking advantage of what the Austrian railway company (ÖBB) has to offer. The ÖBB Nightjet network reaches a lot of destinations and it is currently one of the most developed in Europe when it comes to night trains.
Featured picture: photo by Lennart Uecker on Unsplash
Brussels – Vienna with the ÖBB Nightjet
The ÖBB recently opened a new connexion with direct overnight trains operating back and forth between Brussels and Vienna, stopping along the way in some Belgian, German and Austrian cities. For me and my friends, this was the perfect way to spend a long week-end in the Austrian capital, without “losing” too much time and saving money as well.
What is the schedule?
The trains run three times a week: they leave Brussels on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at around 19.30, then arrive in Vienna at around 9.30 the next morning.
From Vienna, the train leaves on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, departing from the main station at around 20.00, and arrive in Brussels the next morning, at around 10.00.
What are the seats and compartment options?
You have three different options when it comes to choosing how you want to spend your night on the ÖBB Nightjet, all depending on your budget and how comfortable you want to be.
- Seating carriage: as the name suggests, this means you’ll spend the night sitting, in a compartment of 6 seats. It’s definitely not the most comfortable, but you’ll save a lot of money!
- Couchette: this is the option we picked. You’ll get a sort of bunk bed to sleep in with a pillow and blankets and can chose whether you are in a 4-bed or 6-bed compartment. There is also the option to “privatise” it, which is very convenient if you travel with more people or kids.
- Sleeper cabin: the most comfortable option, with a one, two or three-person compartment as well as other great amenities. This is also, of course, the most expensive one.
If you want more details regarding these different options, be sure to check the ÖBB Nightjet website!
How much does it cost?
Of course this will depend on the options you selected above, on the availabilities and on the date of your trip. The prices vary from around 29 euros for the cheapest option in the seating carriage, to around 245 euros (or more) if you want a private compartment with bed. Then it varies depending on the type of ticket you select or the number of people you want to be with in the compartment.
Is it safe?
Especially if you are a solo female traveller, the question of safety can be very important when you are taking an overnight train. But you might be worried about someone stealing your belongings too. I have travelled with friends and we privatised a compartment as it was the cheapest option for three travellers, but here are the things that I noticed:
- During the night, there is always a conductor awake that you can call if needed.
- The doors of each compartment can be locked from the inside, which is advisable especially at night.
- Next to each bed there is a sort of pouch where you can put your valuables while you sleep (phone, tablet, wallet).
- If you select a “couchette” or “sleeper cabin”, you can chose to be in an all-female compartment, which costs a bit more but can be reassuring.
Can you shower?
Well, the short answer is no. These trains can take a lot of travellers to their destination, and having enough showers for everyone would simply be impossible. The only way to have a shower is if you book Deluxe compartments in the “sleeper cabin” option: then you’ll get your own little bathroom with shower.
For the rest, you have access to the common train toilets and bathrooms, or you can have a private washbasin in your compartment in the “sleeper cabins”. We had to use the common ones and it was okay, except from the fact that the facilities did not work in our wagon on the way back and we had to walk a bit more to access the bathrooms (yes, it was pretty annoying).
Is it comfortable?
Again, this will depend on the option you select. I can only speak for the “couchette” option: it is not actually a bed, so it won’t be the most comfortable night of your life, that’s for sure. Here are different aspects:
- Comfort of the bed: the “mattresses” are very hard, so don’t expect something nice and soft.
- Size of the bed: smaller than a regular bed in width and length. If you’re tall, you probably won’t be able to stretch all the way. I’m 1.75m (or 5’8 I think) and it was fine, but if you’re much taller than this I’m not sure you’ll be able to really extend your legs.
- Temperature: you’ll get a blanket and you can adjust the temperature of the compartment.
- Noise: to put it simply, the walls are paper thin. You will hear the people next to you if they talk, laugh or listen to music, and it all comes down to how respectful they are. On the plus side, the soft sound of the train on its tracks can be very soothing and there won’t be announcements during the night either.
- Light: you can lower the curtains of the window, which is especially useful when you stop at train stations, and the lights in the compartment can be dimmed or turned off.
What about breakfast?
Again, this depends on what you select. In the cheapest “seating carriage”, you have a snack and drink menu you can order from. In the mid-range “couchette” option, the Viennese breakfast is included, with coffe/tea and two bread rolls with jam and butter. Finally, in the most expensive “sleeper cabin” you’ll get a breakfast menu with 6 things included.
Is the train usually late?
Are there going to be delays? This is obviously impossible to predict. However, always make your plans taking into account at least 30 minutes or an hour of possible delay, if not more. It is possible that you’ll arrive right on time, but also that the train will accumulate a few minutes of delay at each stop, amounting to more than one hour in the end…
My experience in the Brussels – Vienna route with the ÖBB Nightjet
As I said here and there, I did this trip with two friends, in early December, as we wanted to see the Christmas markets in Vienna. It is also quite a busy period in both capitals, as they attract many tourists at this time of the year.
I was also very excited to take the overnight train because it is just the type of experiences that I love, and it feels like you are in a movie a bit! In our tickets, it was cheaper to “privatise” a couchette compartment for three than to take three separate tickets, so that’s what we did and it was great!
On the way to go, things went pretty smoothly, if not for a considerable delay at arrival. I didn’t sleep much mainly because it is not that comfortable, but it was fine. On the way back however, things didn’t go so well…
First of all, the bathrooms in our carriage didn’t work, so we had to go to another one to go to the bathroom or brush our teeth. This was especially annoying at night. Second, we had a group of very loud guys next to us that were talking, laughing, drinking (and smoking!! – which is obviously forbidden) as if they were the only people there. And neither our complaints or the words from the controller made them stop. Finally, and to top it off really nicely, we could not turn off the light in our compartment for some reason, and no one could fix it. As you can imagine, we didn’t really sleep that night.
So… is it worth it?
Despite my not-so-pleasant final experience, I would say that taking the overnight train from Brussels to Vienna is really worth it, especially if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands or if you’re on a budget, as it allows you to save basically two nights in a hotel room and to reach your destination during the night without having to check in at the station two hours in advance.
It is also a much more sustainable option than plane travel, which in my opinion is well worth the discomfort. I also feel like the more these options are chosen by travellers, the more railway companies will be encouraged to offer more options in terms of overnight trains, making it more accessible and widening the possible destinations.
And, in the end, most unpleasant experiences become great memories that you can share with others and laugh about after some time – and a few more hours of sleep!
Have you ever taken an overnight train?
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