One of Vienna’s trademark sights is the Riesenrad or giant Ferris wheel located at the start of the Prater amusement park.
This location comes near the top of the “iconic experience” category for Vienna. Partly because of the impressive giant metal construction and history, but also because of the celebrity status the wheel acquired from its movie appearances.
- 19th-century landmark over 60m high
- Offers great views over the city
- Opens late for nighttime views
- Star of The Third Man, Before Sunrise and other screen delights
- See also:
Ferris wheel history
The original Ferris wheel opened to the public on July 3rd, 1897, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph.
A crowd of thousands watched the official guests take a trip, and newspaper reports spoke warmly of the excellent views and comfortable ride. Though one journalist did mention the pain of queueing. Plus ça change.
Designer Walter Basset (an Englishman) had already honed his engineering skills building a Ferris wheel in London before working on the Viennese version.
Unfortunately, Basset’s remarkable construction failed to escape WWII intact. The Riesenrad burnt down in 1944 but was soon rebuilt and returned to operation in 1947, albeit with fewer wagons.
The whole structure weighs over 430 tonnes and has a diameter of just under 61 meters or exactly 200 feet (a relic of the original English design!). It turns slowly, but surely, at a pace of 2.7 km/h (2 mph).
Vienna has taller places to get a view over the city and the adjacent Wurstelprater entertainment complex offers more thrilling rides. But it’s all about the experience with the Riesenrad, the stamp in your imaginary book of iconic moments, and the knowledge you’re following in the footsteps of history.
The wheel also has a special place in Viennese and visitor hearts thanks to its star turn in various much-loved movies and TV series, most notably The Third Man with Orson Welles and Before Sunrise with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Tickets & visitor tips
If you want to know what to expect from trip on the Riesenrad, check my review of a ride. The exact opening hours depend on the season (it’s often open late so you get good nighttime views of Vienna).
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
For those willing to pay more (often a lot more), the Riesenrad has some special opportunities (see the website below for details). For example:
- Arrange a dinner, coffee, or similar event while you enjoy ever-changing views of Vienna. A candlelit dinner for two in your own wagon feels like a decidedly romantic option, which is why it appears on this list.
- Stand on top of an open-air glass floor, rather than inside a wagon, as it does a turn of the wheel. Harnesses keep you from falling. Check the eligibility requirements for the Platform 9 experience if this sounds interesting.
How to get to the Riesenrad
The Ferris wheel entrance marks one side of the main square leading into the Prater’s entertainments.
The same square also includes Madame Tussauds and other fun locations, while the rest of the area features rides, rollercoasters, restaurants, and all the other entertainments you’d expect in a giant funfair.
All of the above is a mere five minute (if that) hop, skip and jump from the Praterstern subway and train station that sits close to the entrance to the Prater park. Once you exit the station, just look up to spot the Riesenrad.
Subway/trains: U1 and U2 subway lines. The city train lines S1, S2, S3, S4 and S7 (the airport line), also stop at Praterstern
Tram/bus: Tram lines 5 and O, and bus lines 5B, 80A, and 82A, all stop at Praterstern
Address: Wiener Riesenrad, Prater 90, 1020 Vienna | Website