With a top speed of just 3 km/h, this iconic Ferris wheel in the Prater park is certainly not going to get your adrenaline pumping! But take one of its 15 gondolas and you can enjoy the wonderful views across the rooftops of Vienna.
There’s a great view over the whole city from the top.
You only get to go round once, so there’s no chance to stop and enjoy the view for longer if you want to.
Get yourself a skip-the-line ticket online. (I went on a Wednesday morning during the coronavirus pandemic, and the queue for anyone without a skip-the-line ticket was really long. I can only imagine what it’s like in normal times!)
The Wiener Riesenrad is a bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Eiffel Tower in Paris – no trip is complete without it! Although very different, all three of these iconic attractions make a breathtaking first impression. Yet to fully appreciate them, you really have to go inside, climb to the top or – in the case of the Riesenrad – go for a ride.
When you walk through the main gates of the Prater, you’ll see the entrance to the Riesenrad on the right-hand side. The size of the queue can be a bit off-putting, but hopefully, you’ll manage to get hold of some skip-the-line tickets and avoid at least some of the wait.
With a top speed of just 3 km/h, the ride in one of the 15 gondolas is relatively slow and a far cry from some of the park’s other high-adrenaline roller coasters. Plenty of time, then, to relax and maybe have something to eat and drink on the way round. Some of the gondolas (called ‘gourmet wagons’) are even kitted out like mini restaurants, but you’ll need to book online in advance if you fancy a spot of brunch or dinner in one of these.
From the top of the Riesenrad – around 65 m above the ground – you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view over the rooftops of Vienna, from the Danube Tower on one side to Stephansdom on the other. It’s amazing to see how green the city is and just how big the Prater is, too! The park is divided into two distinct areas: the bustling Wurstelprater with its roller coasters, bumper cars and stalls, and the Grüner Prater, the green parkland where locals come to run, cycle or get together with family and friends.
Entrance to the Prater is free, but there are charges for the individual attractions and rides. Here you will also find Vienna’s famous planetarium and the Liliputbahn miniature railway featuring little steam locomotives that have been puffing through the park since 1928. Plus, for the foodies among you, there’s the internationally renowned Schweizerhaus restaurant, a popular destination for tourists and locals alike that is known for selling the best ‘Stelzen und Bier’ (that’s traditional roasted pork knuckle with a beer) in the city.
Vienna Ferris Wheel A BIT OF HISTORY
The story of Vienna’s Prater park dates back to the 12th century. In 1194, Emperor Friedrich I gave the land (which was then a meadow) to a noble family called ‘de Prato’. During the 14th century, the family changed its name to ‘Prater von Wiesen’, meaning ‘Prater of the meadow’. The land itself became known as the ‘Prater Wiesen’, hence the name Prater which continues to be used to this day.
For many years, the Prater served as a hunting ground accessible only to members of the imperial family, but in 1766 it was opened to the general public for the first time. Soon afterwards, the first attractions were installed, including carousels and cafés, and the popularity of the park soared.
The Riesenrad itself was designed by two English engineers and constructed in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef. It stood the test of time well until 1944 when all but the steel frame was destroyed by fire during the Second World War. It was rebuilt three years later, but the original 30 gondolas were replaced with just 15 for reasons of safety and also cost. The gondolas were renovated again in 2016. During the 20th century, the Riesenrad became a popular attraction for visitors from around the world, helped in no small part by its appearances in three major international films: ‘The Third Man’ (1949), Bond film ‘The Living Daylights’ (1987) and ‘Before Sunrise’ (1995).
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced the Riesenrad to close for the first time in 73 years. When it reopened at the end of May that year, many locals saw it as a sign that Vienna was back on the road to recovery.