The Vienna sewers offer an unexpected chance to relive a piece of cinematic history. The Third Man Tour lets you follow in the (underground) footsteps of Harry Lime.
- Lovely little tour with anecdotes & humour
- Also learn about modern sewage management
- Run by the municipal sewer authorities themselves
- Very authentic feeling down below
- Only opens seasonally
- See also:
Chasing Harry Lime
(Guess who ran down these steps?)
The movies have given us a fair few iconic sequences. And one of them plays out in the sewers of post-WWII Vienna: Harry Lime’s desperate attempt to avoid his pursuers near the end of The Third Man.
The screen fills with tunnels and tension, distant echoes, dark shadows, and rushing water.
Amazingly, they produced this extended scene using clever editing and just two rather atmospheric locations down in the local sewer system.
Over 70 years later, and you can visit both places on the Third Man tour offered by Vienna’s own Wien Kanal sewer authorities, who manage just under 2,500km of city sewers.
The tour begins at the very same entrance Harry Lime dropped into. At the bottom, the sewer team guide explains some of the work of today’s sewer management.
(Jürgen Czernohorszky, city councillor responsible for climate issues, is taken on the Third Man Tour. The overflow area is instantly recognisable from the Third Man sequence; press photo © PID/VOTAVA)
Very short walks down more steps and along tunnels then take you to the two actual film locations:
- The overflow chamber, where a film projected onto the wall reveals various TV and film productions shot in that very place
You move around the same walkways the actors used, and the location feels unchanged since Harry Lime teetered along the edges of the overflow. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the calls of the police.
- The Wienfluss (River Wien) where it runs underground, home to the wide, open tunnel scenes
This is history made real.
Quite apart from the Third Man connection, you find yourself in a giant broad underground channel and cavern with tall ceilings, the river walled over around 1km in each direction. And all built well over 100 years ago. Little thuds and echoes add a certain frisson to the experience.
(Where the Wienfluss emerges at the Stadtpark; you stand about a kilometer further down the tunnel on the tour)
The tour lasts around 45 minutes and is really quite fun. The sewer team throw out a host of anecdotes laced with plenty of Viennese humour.
Contrary to expectations, the smell is not that bad, either. Not great at times, but the sewers involve plenty of natural water so it’s little worse than a somewhat stale basement. And the Wienfluss channel, for example, is a waterway, so perfectly clean.
You don’t do too much walking: just steps up and down and along short, flat walkway areas and tunnels. These can be a touch damp with one or two darker areas (you wear a hard hat with a lamp, but I didn’t need the latter).
Check the safety precautions and house rules, of course, before taking the tour.
Tickets and tips
(The meeting point is clearly marked)
In 2023, tours take place from May 4th to October 29th, Thursdays to Sundays, with an English-language tour at 3pm.
You buy your ticket at the kiosk near the tour entrance (€10 for an adult at the time of writing and well worth it).
However, you should reserve a place in advance: tour slots fill up, and you may well be disappointed if you try to get in on the day. The official website has an online tool which gets you a reservation number and email you can show at the kiosk.
Vienna provided most of the settings for The Third Man, of course. I have an extensive location guide (with photos) should you wish to see more than the sewers. And we have the lovely Third Man museum, too, with its myriads of memorabilia.
How to get there
The tour start and ticket counter are at the northwest corner of the small Girardi park that adjoins Karlsplatz. Look for the large red “3. Mann Tour” lettering opposite Café Museum (one of Vienna’s traditional coffee houses).
Karlsplatz is easy to reach on the edge of the old town and a quick walk from the State Opera House, for example.
Subway: a stop on the U1, U2 and U4 lines
Tram: the Oper/Karlsplatz tram stop has the D, 1, 2, 71 and 62 tram lines
Address: Girardipark, Karlsplatz, 1010 Vienna