Whenever on vacation, taking some scenic train journeys has always been a popular activity. All around the world, there are numerous scenic train routes around the world, that exist purely as a tourist attraction. What’s special about the Mariazellerbahn is that it’s a train route, that is actively used. Instead of being a scenic route for the tourists, the Mariazellerbahn serves a real purpose as a train connection between Sankt Pölten and Mariazell.
The Mariazell Railway is a narrow-gauge, electrically operated rail line, between the Lower Austrian and Styrian regions of Austria. It’s the longest narrow-gauge line in Austria, which will take you through some beautiful countryside. The train will pass through a total of 21 tunnels and 19 viaducts before reaching it’s final destination in Mariazell.
The brief history of Mariazellerbahn
Mariazell has long been known for its pilgrimage center. Even before mainstream tourism was a thing, the village was one of the most visited places in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the 19th Century.
Considering this, the plans to connect Sankt Pölten with Mariazell has been in development as early as 1858. Original plans included extending the already existing normal-gauge railway through the mountainous countryside to reach the pilgrimage center. However due to the difficult terrain, the original plans could not be pursued, and the decision was made to build a narrow-gauge line between the cities.
Construction work on the line began in 1896 and continued throughout the years until the first passenger service could be completed between Mariazell and St. Pölten in 1907. When the line opened to the public, it was an instant success. It proved to be so popular, that the company operating the railway, didn’t even need to do any advertising!
The Mariazellerbahn quickly started seeing more traffic than it could handle. The performance of steam locomotives was not enough to handle the traffic on the line. Just after five years of opening, in 1911, the Mariazell Railway was electrified. The revolutionary electric railcars proved to be a great improvement and investment by the operating company.
Mariazellerbahn for tourists
When visiting in the area, just riding the Mariazell Railway is a great experience in itself. Especially if you are going to either Mariazell or Sankt Pölten. Both are pleasant destinations, that you can time quality time in.
However, if you are looking to get the most out of the Mariazell, here are some of our tips and interesting stops to check out.
The Trains of Mariazellerbahn
On weekdays, the trains run every hour. If you are looking to just experience the ride as-is, you can get on at any of the stops, and ride back from a different station. However, apart from the regular schedule, the Mariazell Railway operates some special trains and carriages. For tourists, we always recommend trying to catch one of these for an enhanced experience.
Panorama Carriage on the Weekends and Holidays
If you are looking for a comfort and luxurious experience, the first-class Panorama Carriages are for you. With this option, you can enjoy the beautiful countryside from the comfort of your leather seats.
These carriages have huge windows on each side, allowing you to take in the breathtaking scenery from the best angles. Additionally to the comfortable seats and amazing views, you will be able to enjoy catering services and try out some local meals on your train ride.
Find out more on the official page.
The Adventure Train is a perfect option if you are looking for a more authentic and vintage experience. Although not as luxurious as the first-class carriages, we believe that the restored vintage railcars offer the best experience when exploring the Mariazell Railway line.
Even better, the train is pulled by the same type of electric locomotive, that has started operation once the line was electrified. Highly recommended for anyone who likes vintage trains.
These trains are running on Saturdays and Sundays from May to October. Additionally to this, there are also a couple of selected days in November and December. For the full schedule, information, check out this site.
The ultimate authentic experience is the Nostalgia Train offering on the Mariazellerbahn. The nostalgia train consists of restored railway carriages pulled by a steam locomotive. Choosing this option, you can experience the railway line as it was by people in 1907.
This option is perfect for families. The nostalgia train only runs on a couple of selected dates during the year. Check the full schedule here.
The Best Time to Ride the Mariazell Railway
There is no best time to ride the Mariazellerbahn. It is beautiful all year round. What we recommend as best time is only to find a time when once of the special carriages are running.
In winter, once the snow falls, the landscape transforms into a magical valley, starlight out of Disney’s Frozen. The mountainside, the trees, the fields everything covered in snow. It’s a beautiful experience, especially from the warmth and comfort of the first-class panorama carriage.
Spring is the time of year when life starts coming back to the mountains. The flowers will start blooming, the trees will start growing their beautiful green leaves back. When the weather starts getting warmer, you will be able to enjoy the train ride with open windows, and the pleasant spring breeze on your face.
In the summer everything is already green. Everything around you is lush, full of life, and generally breathtaking. Hopping on one of the vintage trains during summertime is a great experience, especially suited for families.
The autumn is all about colours. Trees will start changing from green to yellow, and red. If you can catch the time when some leaves are still green, while others have already turned, you will be presented with a beautiful play of colours along your train ride.
Interesting stops along Mariazellerbahn
If you are looking to get more out of your Mariazell Railway experience, than just riding the train we will cover some of the more interesting stops you can hop off the train and start exploring.
In case you are not already staying in St. Pölten, it is a good destination when riding the Mariazellerbahn. Once off the train, you can start exploring the city on foot. Conveniently, the old town and touristy parts of the city are very close to the railway station. We recommend this to anyone looking to do some urban exploration.
On the other end of the line, we have Mariazell. A small, but beautiful mountain village. Undoubtedly the main attraction is the Mariazell Basilica right in the centre of the village. You can enjoy some pleasant walks and great local food in the restaurants here.
Do keep in mind that the railway station is located some ways out of the village centre, and it will involve a little walking to get into the town.
Rabenstein an der Pielach
In case you only want to spend a couple of hours before heading back, Rabenstein an der Pielach is a great stop to consider. This village in the Pielach Valley offers some easy walking trails and a castle ruin with great views of the surrounding area.
This stop on Mariazellerbahn is for the nature lovers. Just at the railway station is the entrance to Naturparkzentrum Ötscher-Basis. It’s a nature park that offers great walking trails right into the mountain. At the entrance, there is a huge lake you will be able to walk around. You can follow small streams, and explore waterfalls in the park.
Within just 500 meters of the train stop, you can find a ski lift, operating all year round, taking you to the top of the surrounding mountains.
During the winter it operates as a ski and snowboard center. However, during the summer the center is still open. You can take small karts down to the valley from the top, for a quick adrenaline rush.
We think these are some of the best stops for tourists when taking the Mariazellerbahn. However, there are many more interesting points along the way, including numerous hiking trails. If you wish to explore the stops further, we recommend heading to the official site or Mariazellerbahn.
Who is the Mariazell Railway for?
First of all, the train line is for the locals. The main purpose is and has always been to move people between Mariazell and St. Pölten. However, as a tourist, you can take advantage of this railway line.
We especially recommend taking the train if you are planning on travelling between any of the cities. It passes through the picturesque countryside of Austria.
The Mariazell Railway is also a perfect day trip when staying in the area. Especially great for families. Riding the train in the morning will prove exciting for the children. Then you can hop off the train at any stop to start exploring.
Last, but not least importantly, the vintage train offerings are great for any train enthusiastic. If you like trains, we highly recommend riding the Mariazellerbahn.
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