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?
- Many bucket lists for Vienna have the Riesenrad on them, thanks to its status as an iconic landmark and movie location
- Excellent views across the city
- …and enough time and space to enjoy them
- See also:
- Book your Riesenrad ticket* online
- Riesenrad visitor info
- The Wurstelprater entertainment area
Big wheel, long views
(Yep, it’s a long way up)
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.
This gives you views of such landmarks as Stephansdom cathedral, the national stadium, the Rathaus, the United Nations complex, the Danube Tower, Spittelau, and the mountains to the west.
The views across the Prater entertainment complex that surround the Riesenrad can be quite intriguing, too. Particularly the Prater Turm ride, 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.
(The Prater Turm ride: even higher up)
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 you have time to take it all in: I think we were in the cabin for about 15-20 minutes in total.
2. What you’re part of
The Riesenrad is by no means unique in offering a scenic vista from up high. Several other locations offer 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 several hundred years younger).
The Ferris wheel 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 its memorable acting credits.
A ride in the Riesenrad lets you follow in the footsteps of The Third Man’s Harry Lime, one of cinema’s most enigmatic villains. Or James Bond. Or Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise.
So it does feel like you’re part of some ongoing tradition.
(Spoiler: the outside shots of the Riesenrad were filmed on location for The Third Man. The bits inside the cabin were a reconstruction.)
(The iconic red wagon)
Your ticket includes more than a ride. You also get to see a little exhibition lobby area, whose walls and cabinets illustrate Austrian history and personalities. Those cabinets are actually former wagons from the wheel itself.
Each wagon in the display 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 on my February visit, 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 rather refined inside that dining wagon and the idea of candlelit meals up above Vienna has a certain appeal (albeit, presumably, along with a certain cost). Which makes it one of my suggestions for a romantic dinner location.
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.
Tickets and visitor tips
See here for tips on tickets, visiting, getting there and more information on the Riesenrad and its history.
The Ferris wheel lives a little away from the usual tourist haunts, so you might want to do a bit more in the area while there.
The surrounding Prater has, for example, heaps of rides and experiences in a huge open-air entertainment complex, long walks (or bike rides) through the park, plenty of restaurants, a planetarium, and the Vienna branch of Madame Tussauds.