The Ring is a wide tree-lined boulevard that encircles the very center of the city. It’s about 6.5km long and possibly has a greater number of historical sights lining its edges than any other road in the world.
- Route mimics the location of the old city walls
- Flanked by many of Vienna’s top sights
- Great for bikes and pedestrians, too
- See also: Ring sightseeing tram
What can you see?
(The Ring temporarily closed to traffic for a parade)
Along the route you’ll find, for example:
- The Rathaus (town hall with its huge square and park)
- The Burgtheater (national theatre)
- The Neue Burg (a palace wing housing, for example, the Weltmuseum)
- Lovely parks, such as the Burggarten, Volksgarten and Stadtpark (with its famous Strauss statue)
- The State Opera House
- Art and natural history museums
- The MAK museum
- The Votivkirche church
- The Ringturm “skyscraper”
- The Danube canal
- The old Stock Exchange, the University, the Academies of Music and Art and more…
All the old buildings, each famous in their own right, were completed between 1869 and 1888. And with them dozens of city residences for the rich and aristocratic.
To see the Ring in all its finery, simply hop on a tour bus or just take the special tourist tram that circles the boulevard. Cycle paths and wide footpaths follow the same route, too.
(The Ring Tram sightseeing service)
You might want to take a turn of the Ring after dusk. Once the sun goes down, the buildings light up, often spectacularly. And at Christmas, you get the added bonus of the seasonal displays and decorations.
So how did this great boulevard and its wealth of historic buildings come about?
Origins of the Ring
As a visitor, you might be forgiven for thinking the city planners designed the Ring as a tourist bus route – to save us all the trouble of getting out and actually walking to see the best that Vienna has to offer.
The reality is a touch different.
The Ring was part of the vast changes to the Viennese cityscape that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century.
After the bloody and brutal end to the 1848 revolution, Vienna quickly entered a period of relative prosperity, reinstated as the administrative and cultural center of the vast Habsburg empire presided over by Emperor Franz Joseph I.
In 1850, the city’s boundaries expanded to include outlying settlements and this threw up an immediate problem. What to do with the huge fortifications that formed the original city limits?
(Some of the old city fortifications)
As the economy blossomed, the business community wanted to replace the walls and trenches with roads and real estate. That didn’t sit well with the military, who wanted to keep the fortifications as a necessary line of defence in case the underclasses got frisky again.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, it was the Emperor himself who finally decreed in 1857 that the city walls be torn down and the trenches filled. In their place, a boulevard to reflect the imperial grandeur of Vienna and its ruling dynasty.
The Emperor charged the authorities with building the roads and various national and municipal buildings. The rest of the area was thrown open to private initiative (the money for all the state buildings came from selling the land).
The first part of the road opened in 1865 and subsequent years saw the completion of numerous buildings of national, indeed international, renown.
(The State Opera house in the late 19th century. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
The scale of this accomplishment is quite extraordinary and could find no equivalent in today’s world. And yet the full plans for the Ring were never implemented in their entirety – the relative decline of Vienna’s power and influence, money issues, and the end of the Habsburgs saw to that.
Today, all the main Ring buildings remain standing and (more or less) in their original uses. Many – like the State Opera House and the Art History Museum – are among the world’s best in their fields. And the original residential buildings often serve as prestigious office space or homes for some of Vienna’s top five-star hotels.
Finally, a bit of trivia for you: the Ring is not one continuous address. It actually consists of a series of Ring streets, the so-called Ringstrassen. These are Stubenring, Parkring, Schubertring, Kärtner Ring, Opernring, Burgring, Dr- Karl-Renner-Ring, Dr- Karl-Lueger-Ring, and Schottenring.
And where the road follows the Danube canal in the northeast, it’s called Franz-Josefs Kai.