Tips for finding a hotel at a station and using one of Europe's largest stations, München Hbf, plus a visit to one of Europe's most unique railways
Back in the mid-19th century when British railway companies opened a major station they typically included a hotel, and the best of these have proved to be remarkably tenacious; from the street the views of Charing Cross, Paddington, St Pancras and Victoria are of the hotels and not the stations.
The notion of a station hotel evidently didn’t take flight to the same extent on continental Europe, because the ability to seamlessly transition from bedroom to train is very much the exception rather than the rule.
Even rarer is for this travel perk to be available at a budget price, but the upper floors of Innsbruck hbf station are occupied by a Hotel Ibis.
Some of you will be shuddering at the thought of staying at a chain-hotel, but for yours truly my top 3 requirements of a hotel room are:
So my stay at the Innsbruck HBf Ibis satisfied these needs, along with somewhere to store my luggage for free until later that day; plus the thrill of not having to step outside in order to catch a train.
This was particularly welcome on a wet morning, but fortunately the forecast was brighter for the two exceptionally scenic journeys I’d be taking in the afternoon.
When heading east from Innsbruck the scenery isn’t crème de la crème standard, but if you take a local, Rex or EuroCity train the sights of the distant mountains are very pleasant
If you take a seat on the right-hand side, for much of the train journey from Innsbruck to Kuftstein you can also see the views over the River Inn; the video was taken from a train travelling in the opposite direction.
Despite being a new-ish line, neither the ICEs, or Railjets, attain a ‘high-speed’ of more than 250 km/h, because in order to speed up the Innsbruck <> Vienna/Wien route, the national rail operator OBB has opted to create a series of diversions from the old route, which makes the journey faster by straightening out the most extreme curves.
Not as transformative as building a high-speed line, but also no doubt much cheaper and more cost-effective overall.
I was diverting off my direct route in order to pay a visit to Munchen Hbf, because it is a main hub of the European international rail network, so the sooner I could experience it for myself, the better.
What I discovered is that the most alluring aspect of the station is the romantic list of destinations that can travelled to from Munich by train, including Bologna, Budapest, Ljubljana, Paris, Vienna, Venice, Verona, Zagreb and Zurich.
The station itself has the aura of a warehouse, though work has now begun to transform into a showcase for 21st century train travel.
So Munchen Hbf is, for the time being, not beautiful, but it is eminently practical, it is a terminus station, which means that when making connections, the only effort required is walking from one train to another, but the one outstanding quality of Munchen Hbf is the choice of food and drink outlets.
There is a lot to love about travelling by train in Germany, but there is one aspect of meeting a traveller’s needs at which German hauptbahnhofs excel and that is that they are great locations in which to buy snacks.
Fresh sandwiches, salads, juices, noodles, sushi, kebabs, roast chicken, falafels, vegan options, curries and seemingly endless types of wurst are typically available at the largest German stations, but in Munchen Hbf there are dozens of counters to choose from.
An aspect of catching a train from Munchen Hbf, which can also be found at some of Europe’s other ginormous stations including Milano Centrale, Roma Termini and Marseille St Charles, is that despite its size, many of the trains which use Munchen Hbf can’t be accommodated in the main train shed.
The long-distance express trains take centre stage and use the gleis (platforms/tracks) which are steps away from the main concourse, but most of the regional (Regio) services use a part of the station that’s some distance away.
The trains which use these more distant platforms/tracks will aim to depart on time, they won’t hang back because you can’t run the 400 metres in under a minute.
So it’s a good idea to be aware of which part of Munchen Hbf your train will be leaving from, at German stations the gleis (platform/track) numbers appear on the departure board as soon as the train is listed, you don’t have to wait for it to be confirmed.
It’s tempting to think ‘There’s six minutes until my departure and that juice bar is right there on the concourse, so I’ve just got time to order a max energy booster’.
But if your train if leaving from gleis 26 or higher, you’ll then be breaking into a run, desperately trying not to spill your drink all over yourself before giving up on it and throwing the cup in a bin, only to be left staring at a departing train, while a mix of cucumber and kale juice drips down your sleeves.
I was able to watch this scene happen to another unfortunate traveller, play out from the Regio train which was taking me back to Innsbruck, on an entirely different route that the ICE had taken earlier.
I wanted to take this other route via Garmisch because the part of it between there and Innsbruck, is singled out by the gurus who compile the European Rail Timetable, as being exceptionally scenic with a star-rating.
It is the only route taken by trains to Innsbruck to receive this accolade and as those other routes tend to rather fabulous, I figured that this route must be jaw-dropping.
And pretty much at the top of my personal bucket-list is to travel along all 22 of these starred routes (only five to go).
However, by the time the train reached Garmisch, the storm was in full effect, but what I got a sense of, trying to peer passed the rain drops on the window, is that what makes this train ride so thrilling are the birds-eye views across the valley.
In better weather these can be enjoyed from seats on the right-hand side of the train when heading south towards Innsbruck.
On returning to Innsbruck I held back from taking the next EuroCity train on to Italy, as the subsequent departure would still be taking the scenic route to Verona by daylight.
So I had two hours to spare in which to explore a railway in Innsbruck, which I had longed to travel on since it had opened.
In the hobbies and interests section on my CV I have listed ‘transport design’ and my favourite architect, the late Zaha Hadid, designed the stations on the Hungerburgbahn.
I didn’t precisely plan my visit to the Hungerburgbahn, so learned a valuable lesson of exploring by train, namely the peril of assumption.
I had assumed that one of Innsbruck’s tram lines would take me to a station on the Hungerburgbah, because the public transport networks in Austrian cities are so well designed.
So I figured I just had to check which tram line I needed, by looking at the map in the bus station, which is in right in front of Innsbruck Hbf.
To my surprise the answer was none of them, and I didn’t have time to risk getting lost by navigating my way on foot to the other side of the city centre.
Eventually I figured out a bus would take me to the station at Lowenhaus, but it wasn’t one of the more frequent city centre routes, so it was stick or gamble; though as you can see, the decision to be brave paid off!
Though when I got back to Innsbruck hbf I had less than 10 minutes to pick up my bags and head for the train.
When travelling over the Italian border the EuroCity trains from Austria to Italy require a reservation, but this a route on which the mandatory reservations for Eurail and InterRail pass users can seemingly lack logic.
Not only are the trains used on this route comparatively basic, but comfortable, they are also provided by the Austrian national rail operator OBB; and it doesn’t apply mandatory reservation fees on journeys within Austria, it’s why they are also optional for national journeys on the state-of-the-art Railjets.
But on the Italian section of the journey, the national rail operator Trenitalia applies reservation fees for travel on these trains, which are now even more expensive than it charges rail pass users to travel on its high speed Frecce trains.
And as rail passes have increased in popularity, so have the charges to use a pass on these trains, but this is the only route on which rail pass reservation fees have significantly risen in recent years, on many routes they have in effect been reduced in price.
So back in Koln Hbf, I’d made the reservation for the EuroCity train on to Verona and my seat was by a window on the left-hand side of the train.
Shortly after departure from Innsbruck my fellow travellers on the opposite side of the train were exclaiming with delight and standing up from their seats to take photos.
There wasn’t room to temporarily join in the fun, all of the window seats on that side of the train were occupied.
So I sat back in the expectation that I too would soon be gasping in wonder at what I was seeing, but that scenario didn’t come to pass.
For on the truly spectacular journey from Innsbruck to Brennero, which lasts for around 35 mins, all of the incredible views can only be seen from the right when heading south.
I had to wait until another day to capture the journey!
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.
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