Lovely views of Vienna from one of the world’s most historic Ferris wheels sounds good. But what’s it actually like up there? And is it worth the ticket?
- Most bucket lists for Vienna have this activity on them, thanks to the Riesenrad’s status as an iconic landmark and movie set
- Views are excellent across the city and you get time and space to enjoy them
- See also: Riesenrad ticket & visitor info
Big wheel, long views
Strangely, floating above Vienna in a 19th-century Ferris wheel has an ethereal feel to it.
I use the word float deliberately: you have all those steel struts, giant screws and wagons turning endlessly…yet no apparent noise. Not a squeak reaches your ears. My bicycle makes more of a racket, so I can only assume an awful lot of grease oils the joints of this huge construction.
But is it really worth taking a trip on Vienna’s famous Riesenrad?
I’m going to give it a “yes” for two reasons.
1. What you see
Once inside a wagon, you begin a climb that takes you around 61m or 200 feet into the air. With glass windows on all four sides and enough space to move around, you can look across more or less the entirety of Vienna.
The views across the Prater entertainment complex that surround the Riesenrad can be quite intriguing, too. Particularly the Prater Turm ride (pictured below), which spins guests around on the end of chains close to 100m up in the air. (So even higher than the Riesenrad.)
The Turm ride terrified me even at a distance and with a solid floor beneath my feet.
If you’re concerned you might not recognise what you see through the wagon’s windows, then long, labelled photographs of the view offer a helping hand. And there’s time to take it all in – I think we were up there for about 15 minutes in total.
2. What you’re part of
The Riesenrad is by no means unique in offering a scenic vista from up high. There are several other ways to get excellent views of Vienna. But few of these provide the same cultural and historical connection you get here.
Stephansdom cathedral may be the most famous landmark in Vienna. But the Riesenrad cannot be far behind (despite being a mere 120 years old) and seems to offer a reassuring presence for the local population. Almost as if its grizzled determination to keep on turning reflects the grumbling stoicism of the Viennese character.
The location also enjoys a Hollywoodesque appeal through memorable acting credits in, for example, The Third Man, Before Sunrise, and Vienna Blood. So it does feel like you’re part of some ongoing tradition.
Your ticket includes a trip round a little exhibition lobby area with walls and eight former wagons illustrating Austrian history and personalities. Each wagon contains a model panorama of some event or epoch, such as Roman times, the Turkish siege of 1683, or WWII damage to the Prater area. (All nice, but not really why you’re here.)
Even in February, the Riesenrad was quite busy. So I’d recommend getting advance tickets* or a relevant sightseeing pass so you at least skip the counter queue, especially in peak seasons like summer.
We only waited a few minutes to get on board, mind you, and part of our wait was due to restaurant staff laying the table in one of the special dining cabins (the Riesenrad offers various in-wagon culinary experiences of this nature).
Have to say it all looked very refined inside that wagon and the idea of candlelit meals up above Vienna had a certain appeal. Happily, the Riesenrad tends to stay open until well after dusk, so you can enjoy a twilight or nighttime experience with a normal ticket, too.
The ride duration depends on how many wagons need to stop to load up or release passengers. But, as I said earlier, you should have enough time to enjoy the views adequately.
If you want a souvenir of your trip, there’s a professional photo booth, but also a large shop you go through to exit the building after your ride. Think t-shirts, fridge magnets and all the usual suspects.
How to get to the Riesenrad
See here for travel tips.
The Riesenrad lives a little away from the usual tourist haunts, so you might want to do a bit more in the area while there. The Prater complex has, for example, heaps of rides and experiences, long walks through the park, plenty of restaurants, a planetarium, and the Vienna branch of Madame Tussaud.