Given it’s the capital and way, way bigger than any other city in the country, it’s strange to find Vienna nowhere near the centre of Austria.
In fact, Vienna is so far east that the city limits are only about 30 km (17 miles) from the border with Slovakia.
- See also:
Why not in the centre?
Vienna actually lies further east than the capitals of Czechia (Prague) and Croatia (Zagreb). Paris is almost closer to Austria’s western border than Vienna is:
To understand why, you have to go back to Imperial times.
Prior to WWI, the city sat at the head of Austria-Hungary, a huge empire that stretched much further north, east and south than today’s Austria. Vienna was actually in the western part of that empire – see the red dot on this map:
(The location of Vienna in the Austro-Hungarian Empire)
Austria-Hungary broke up post-WWI, leaving Vienna as capital of Austria alone. So the city’s position (and size) is a historical anomaly: almost overnight it shifted from its western position in a large empire to its eastern position in a small republic.
All this also explains why Vienna is so big.
The “Imperial city” attracted a huge population from the empire and beyond: people looking for work, influence, music, culture, etc.. Many stayed after 1918.
Vienna’s population is now just over 1.9 million, which would make it the fifth-biggest city in the USA. The next-largest city in Austria (Graz in the province of Styria) has a population of around 300,000.
The unusual location means a short drive takes you to Slovakia, Czechia and Hungary. Reach any of their respective capitals (Bratislava, Prague and Budapest) in no more than 3-4 hours.
And, although Vienna is not in the Alps, the mountains are nearby, too. The first proper ski resorts begin around an hour’s drive away to the southwest, and the alpine foothills are even closer.