One of the most beloved romantic films of all time follows Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Céline) as they spend a few stolen hours together in 1990s Vienna. Should you wish to follow in their footsteps, let me take you through the Before Sunrise film locations and add in a bit of local colour.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
- See also:
Film location map
Where was Before Sunrise filmed?
Céline and Jesse’s journey takes them from Westbahnhof train station through a cluster of locations around the centre of Vienna (with one notable exception) and back again. Let us begin…
Trains and stations
Our two protagonists first meet on a train from Budapest after Céline moves seats to avoid an arguing couple. Incidentally, the male half of that couple is reading the Kurier and we also see an old lady reading the Kronen Zeitung. Both Austrian newspapers are still going strong today.
The train eventually pulls into Westbahnhof station, where Céline decides to disembark with Jesse and continue her journey back to Paris the following morning.
Since filming, the station has undergone a complete refit and no longer serves as a main hub for international routes. A 21st-century Céline and Jesse would step off the train at Hauptbahnhof station.
(This is where they walked onto the bridge; the ground no longer has the wooden boarding seen in Before Sunrise)
Once off the train, the couple’s meander through Vienna first takes them to a bridge (the Zollamtssteg) where they chat with two locals.
A second bridge (the Zollamtsbrücke) runs below and carries trains travelling between the Wien Mitte-Landstraße and Schwedenplatz stations on the U4 subway line.
Both bridges are turn-of-the-century, with the railway one designed by Otto Wagner (a father of modern architecture). They take their names from a rather important neighbour at the time of construction: the central customs office (Hauptzollamt), which fell victim to WWII bombing.
Here’s more or less the shot we see of the same location at the end of the movie:
(Zollamtssteg with the Zollamtsbrücke below)
Travel with trams
The next few scenes take Céline and Jesse on a tram ride.
We begin at Schottentor: a split-level tram and subway station with a view across to the neo-gothic Votivkirche church, which we see as the camera follows the progress of tram 43.
(Schottentor station begins on the right with the Votivkirche visible on the left)
The long conversation in the tram actually takes the pair back toward Schottentor along the western side of the famous Ring boulevard. The scene includes one of the more iconic moments in Before Sunrise with Jesse not-quite touching Céline’s hair.
If you want to reproduce that journey, then get on the 1, 71 or D trams at Ring/Volkstheater (the side closest to the city centre) and travel four stops.
(This is the road the tram travels down as Celine and Jesse talk)
The view behind the pair out the tram’s back window reveals pieces of various landmarks, beginning with the late-19th century Palais Epstein.
As the tram continues, you also catch a glimpse of the Burgtheater on the left and the ramp leading up to the main building of the University of Vienna on the right.
The pair eventually disembark at the old Börse (stock exchange) at Schottenring 16, though the tram they get off is not the one they journeyed on (unless it managed to magically shift a couple of tram lines across the road).
LPs and unspoken words
Céline and Jesse now visit a record store (which is nowhere near the Börse and actually back where they just came from).
(The LP store)
The Teuchtler Schallplattenhandlung und Antiquarität still does business at Windmühlgasse 10, selling its vinyl LPs and other music paraphernalia from the ages.
My wife bought all her Beatles LPs here back in the day. The exterior has barely changed since the Before Sunrise shoot.
Music has a long tradition in this part of town. Beethoven worked on his 9th Symphony nearby, for example.
Museums and Maria Theresa
After the store, Céline and Jesse walk through one of Vienna’s more famous squares: Maria-Theresien-Platz.
(The Kunsthistorisches Museum)
As the pair walk though the landscaped area, we see the Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg in the background, then the Kunsthistoriches (art history) museum itself. Close-ups of the statuary on the square follow.
Go directly west of the Maria Theresa monument to find the fountain featured in Before Sunrise (the square has four in total). Stand in front of the art museum and look to the right to find Eros and Psyche as as we see them in the movie:
(The museum façade)
Then we’re back to Schottentor to catch a tram. We see Maria-Theresien-Platz again before our pair leave on a subway train headed out (in the film, at least) to the Friedhof der Namenlosen.
Cemetery of the nameless
In the 19th century, the dynamics of the Danube meant that river detritus and other materials tended to wash up at particular locations.
Sadly, this material included the bodies of various poor souls, many of whom could not be identified. And so they were buried nearby in what became the Friedhof der Namenlosen or “Cemetery of the Nameless”. The last burial here was over 80 years ago.
All the Before Sunrise locations have been relatively central so far. This one, however, is very much not central.
The cemetery is so far out to the east of the city that you’re over halfway to the airport and almost in the neighbouring province of Lower Austria.
This part of town consists largely of river, port facilities and industrial estates. It took us 75 minutes to reach it from our Viennese home on Vienna’s (excellent) public transport network.
To get there, take the U3 to Enkplatz, then the 76A or 76B bus to the last stop at Wien Alberner Hafen. Check the timetables at the bus stop on Krausegasse just outside the subway station as not every bus goes all the way to the final stop.
When you get out at Alberner Hafen, look for the footpath and signs to the cemetery. It’s not a picturesque walk, though the wild verges teemed with bees, butterflies and other insects on our visit.
The Prater and Riesenrad
A change of tone follows, as Céline and Jesse next find themselves in the Prater entertainment complex, which lies a little north and east of central Vienna but the U1 subway takes you there in just a few minutes.
(The Riesenrad Ferris wheel)
Before we see the pair wander through the funfair, we have the first kiss in a cabin of the same Riesenrad Giant Ferris Wheel that starred in The Third Man, the Living Daylights, Vienna Blood and other productions.
A Riesenrad cabin makes my list of romantic dinner locations, partly in honour of its Before Sunrise appearance. You might add a few more from this page to that collection should you wish to emulate Jesse and Céline.
The wider Prater actually includes a much larger recreational park with meadows, woodlands, waterways and an 11km hiking trail.
The next stop on our location tour is Franziskanerplatz, a small square just a short walk from Stephansdom cathedral in the heart of Vienna’s old town.
(The Kleines Café on the left and the monastery behind)
One side of the square has the Franciscan monastery (another Vienna Blood location), hence the monks that pass by in the movie. The building dates back to the early 1600s, and the unusual façade contributes to a lovely historical atmosphere.
The square makes a fine place to drink your beverage of choice and watch the world go by.
Céline and Jesse sit outside and meet the fortune teller at the Kleines Café, one of my favourite haunts in the centre. (Remember, we’re all stardust.)
(View across Franziskanerplatz to the café)
As far as I can tell at the time of writing, Hannes Pöschl still owns the café. You might not recognise the name of this Austrian actor, but you would recognise his face from the opening scene of Before Sunrise: he plays the man arguing with his wife on the train.
Maria am Gestade
A short interlude follows, with a discussion of the Seurat drawing on a poster for a forthcoming exhibition at the Kunst Haus Wien (home to the Hundertwasser Museum and regular photo exhibitions).
(A favourite Hollywood film motif)
Céline and Jesse then climb the steps up toward Maria am Gestade, which is something like 900 years old.
This church used to lie on the shores of the Danube in the days when the river shifted position at the whim of weather and geology. The interior shots must have been filmed elsewhere, though.
(Those steps are no stranger to film, since Holly Martins escapes his pursuers in The Third Man using the same route.)
The next scene has the pair wandering along the banks of the Donaukanal. This splits off from the Danube where the latter enters Vienna, skirts the very centre of the city, and then rejoins the main river further east (close to the Friedhof der Namenlosen).
(The poet sat here)
The part we see is on the bank opposite the Ringturm and Schottenring station. The set of steps where the poet composed his text now has a safety railing.
Céline and Jesse stand alongside (and then walk past) the Schützenhaus at Obere Donaustraße 26. Otto Wagner (mentioned earlier) also designed this building, which should have been a water regulation facility but never entered operation. Now it’s a restaurant:
(The Schützenhaus seen from the opposite bank)
Our American and French pair would have needed to walk a long way along the Donaukanal to eventually get close to the next stop on the location tour.
The graffitti-covered club is in the Arena Wien at Baumgasse 80 (best reached with the U3 subway: get off at Erdberg).
(The complex continues today as a popular venue and centre for alternative culture)
Our starcrossed lovers play pinball inside the bar (with a cameo by Before Sunrise’s director Richard Linklater) while drinking from bottles of Ottakringer beer.
The Ottakringer brewery is Vienna’s biggest and still going strong in the city’s 16th district. You’ll recognise the bottles from the film in today’s supermarkets.
Now we return to the very centre again for a gentle stroll through various historical streets.
(The Mölker Steig)
We begin at the top of some steps and a walk along Mölker Steig down to Schreyvogelgasse (where Beethoven once lived).
This route takes us past Schreyvogelgasse 8, where Harry Lime first appears in The Third Man:
(The Harry Lime doorway on Schreyvogelgasse)
The same historical passage also features in the very first episode of Vienna Blood.
The action then shifts to one of Vienna’s more Bohemian quarters just outside the centre. Bars and restaurants fill Spittelberg’s narrow streets, which play host in winter to a well-known Christmas market.
Céline and Jesse come across a dancer as they walk down Spittelberggasse (at house number 18).
(The view down the street)
(The small paved area where the dancing takes place)
The pair continue afterwards down the Spittelberg Passage, eventually pausing for another meaningful conversation in a small alley:
(The alley connects Gutenberggasse 13 and Kirchberggasse)
Now we move indoors and witness Céline and Jesse acting out telephone conversations in Café Sperl on Gumpendorfer Straße.
(One of Vienna’s oldest cafés)
This popular traditional coffee house opened in the late-19th century and also appeared in Seasons 1 and 2 of Vienna Blood. It remains popular with locals and has distinctive red and white patterned upholstery with an Edwardian feel to the place.
(A top place to stand and photograph the opera)
The Albertina has numerous top-class art exhibitions as well as a set of restored staterooms to view.
The opera house lights up at night, and the spot next to the stone balustrade where Céline and Jesse talk provides an ideal opportunity for photos.
Then we return to the Donaukanal for a candlelit drink on board a ship. Sadly, that particular vessel has long left for other shores.
The Donaukanal still offers similar alternatives, though. For example, converted barges now form the Badeschiff bar, restaurant and swimming pool. And the Motto am Fluss at the main landing stage leans out over the river channel.
Bar and park
We now get a flash of the area around Westbahnhof station again, where the 5 tram passes the U6 Stadtbahn railway line.
Our pair manage to blag a bottle of red wine from a bartender in the Roxy. The club opened in 1991 and remains a nocturnal hotspot.
(Find it at Faulmanngasse 2, not far from the opera house)
Jesse and Céline then retire to a park to enjoy the wine and intense interaction of the “did they or didn’t they?” kind (a topic that also comes up in the Paris-based sequel Before Sunset).
Sadly, recreating that park scene proves more difficult today as the location is the private gardens of Palais Schwarzenberg at Prinz Eugen-Straße 5.
Dawn breaks and we find our pair wandering down an unobtrusive street, where they see a harpsichord player in the basement of a house.
The street (Preßgasse) they walk up looks quite different today thanks to a tragic incident involving a major gas explosion. However, the house with the basement remains more or less as it was in Before Sunrise:
(Look for the grated windows)
Back to the Albertina
As the end of the film nears, we travel back to the Albertina, with Céline and Jesse resting on the steps below the statue of Archduke Albrecht on his horse. I followed this photo with my own attempt to recite the Auden poem, but my wife was remarkably unimpressed.
(Expect to see more tourists than in this snapshot)
And that is pretty much that.
All that remains of Before Sunrise is more Westbahnhof as Céline and Jesse part, then shots of places we visited earlier, now in the sunlight and bereft of young lovers and philosophical conversation.