As a recreational area and amusement park, the Prater seems an unlikely place for architectural highlights. And yet it has a few surprises in store, from 18th-century party venues to futuristic urban developments.
- The Lusthaus once entertained Europe’s emperors
- Be sure to take a detour to the University of Economics and Business campus
- See also: The Prater – overview
Vienna in microcosm
People tend to associate Vienna with monumental palaces and museums. A look at the Viennese cityscape, though, reveals plenty of modern architectural action.
The Prater has a similar mix: historical features alongside innovative 21st-century designs. Let me take you through some highlights, which are all marked on this map:
In the park
As you might guess, most of the Prater is either modern rides, restaurants and other such entertainment. Or woods, water and meadows. Nevertheless, one of two older buildings make an appearance. For example…
(An 1897 postcard of the Riesenrad produced by Karl Schwidernoch; note the original design had more wagons than today’s Ferris wheel. Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 305564; reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
Well, there’s no getting past the Riesenrad in any discussion of Prater architecture. The Ferris wheel is a friendly face on just about any Viennese skyline and a notable city landmark.
First opened in 1897, what you see today largely dates back to 1947; the original burnt down during WWII. Think of the Riesenrad as a timeless constant in the never-ending modernisation of entertainment.
Address: Riesenradplatz 1, 1020 Vienna
The first Lusthaus in the Prater appeared in the mid-1500s (!), when the area served as royal hunting grounds. The current building bearing that name dates back to the 1780s, though much of what you see is reconstruction work following extensive WWII damage (there’s a theme developing here).
Lusthaus means a kind of summer house and the building would typically have been used for entertaining and recreation. Various European monarchs (including the Austrian emperor Franz I) celebrated the first anniversary of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig here, for example.
The hospitality tradition continues today through the café-restaurant inside.
Address: Freudenau 254, 1020 Vienna
Kirche Maria Grün
Nestled along the hiking trail that takes you around the Prater is an unobtrusive small Roman Catholic church consecrated in 1924 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The Kirche Maria Grün is notable for its AIDS memorial and hosted, for example, an event during the 2019 Vienna Pride.
Address: midpoint of the Aspernallee, 1020 Vienna
A short walk south of the Riesenrad takes you to a small fenced-in compound containing the self-declared Republic of Kugelmugel with its famous sphere.
The building began life in 1971 as a studio for Edwin Lipburger in Lower Austria. Escalating arguments with the local planning authorities saw Lipburger declare political autonomy, which eventually earned him a jail sentence and then a presidential pardon.
The Kugelmugel continues to serve as an anti-authoritarian symbol of artistic freedom and venue for art events.
Address: Antifaschismusplatz 2, 1020 Vienna
Northern edge of the park
The north side of the Prater beyond the park proper offers an intriguing mix of buildings…
For starters, you have the national stadium, built in 1931 with a current capacity of around 50,000. Colloquially known as the Prater stadium, the official title is the Ernst Happel stadium (named after the famous Vienna-born football trainer who took Holland to the 1978 World Cup final).
This venerable temple of football has hosted numerous notable matches, including the final of the 2008 European Championships and four European Cup / Champions League finals. It also serves as a venue, with appearances by the likes of the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Robbie Williams and even the Pope.
Address: Meiereistraße 7, 1020 Vienna
A little west of the big stadium lies a sporting venue of another kind: the Krieau Trabrennpark. This racing track features harness racing (where a horse pulls a two-wheeled vehicle with a driver).
The track dates back to the popularity of carriage driving in the Prater in the late 1800s, with the Krieau facility opening in 1878.
Address: Krieau 245, 1020 Vienna
Places to learn and live
Now we come to probably the most impressive buildings associated with the Prater, beginning with the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
The university’s new campus, opened in 2013, has become a paradise for photographers thanks to the collection of unique buildings that stretch across around half a kilometer of the edge of the Prater.
It all comes as quite a shock as you emerge from scruffy woodland and snack bars to face something from a futuristic Hollywood Utopia.
Top international architects (including the likes of Zaha Hadid) designed the individual buildings, with the whole complex built on principles of ecological, social and economic sustainability.
Address: Welthandelsplatz 1, 1020 Vienna
The innovative architecture continues in the area to the northeast of the university campus and between the campus and the Krieau racing course.
The mix of commercial towers and apartment blocks hits a striking architectural note, contributing to that sense of time travel.
On one side you have centuries-old history, entertainment for the masses, meadows and playgrounds. On the other, futuristic urban developments: best seen by walking from the Krieau subway station (on the U2) down to the Prater.
For more details on what else this area has to offer in terms of food, entertainment, hiking and cycling, take a peek at the Prater overview.