Vienna bike tour. When lived in Vienna, I used to cycle everywhere. No surprise I agreed to test a guided tour on two wheels. Plus I am a fan of urban development, architecture and green space.
Our group used the excellent bike path on shady Ringstrasse boulevard to visit ALL key landmarks. Then we ventured across to unique 20th century Hundertwasserhaus. From there, the tour lead across the Danube Canal and into the green woodlands of Viennese Prater park, views of Giant Ferris Wheel included. Degree of difficulty: moderate.
Vienna City Hall, Burgtheater, Parliament
Our group of 16 started right at Ringstrasse boulevard, where the bike tour company was located. It was a hot July day. Treading asphalt for hours would have been tedious, but being on a saddle was uplifting. Lothar stopped our group at neuralgic points. The first was Vienna City Hall and Burgtheater. They triggered stories about the city’s population, how Vienna had grown and survived two World Wars, how Vienna’s muncipality works and the almost Imperial status of mayor Häupl today. In the photo you see our popular annual food and film festival in front of the City Hall.
Theatre insight helps understand how Viennese tick. (Reviews of premieres at Burgtheater occupy our prime time TV news…) And Burgtheater is the number one German language theatre in the whole of Europe.
The Austrian Parliament was a few hundred metres farther. Lothar mused about the low architecture and Emperor Francis Joseph’s problem with allowing democratic institutions… There was a lot of symbolism in the paintings and statues in front, if you know how to read them.
From democracy to absolutism. The new part of the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was next. Lothar was feeding the group with more insight about the last Emperor, who commissioned most of the Ringstrasse buildings. The vast column-shaped crescent of that part of Hofburg was finished right when Emperor Francis Joseph died, and with him the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Best observation on the side: The incredible statics of bronze-cast Archduke Karl on his horse, and why Prince Eugene of Savoy’s statue is so much more stable.
Vienna Opera House and Baroque Karlskirche
If I had to put one big reference flag onto a Vienna map, it would be at Wiener Staatsoper. This part of Ringstrasse connects various public transport lines. It is the boulevard’s inofficial starting point, a national institution and obvious meeting point.
Lothar pointed out much more about how the opera is run, and the annual Vienna Opera Ball. I didn’t like the suicide story but that was a revealing part of the opera’s history.
Church St. Charles Borromeo (Karlskirche) behind Ringstrasse scored top in terms of classical architecture. Lothar was right when he pointed out why people should visit its interiors later on, and attend one of the classical concerts there.
We were possibly standing right on top of the grave of one of the composers performed there – Antonio Vivaldi, buried in a nameless mass grave just under our feet.
Note: You will pass a drinking water fountain close to Karlskirche. Enjoy.
Vienna’s Soviet Past And Stadtpark
I always find it chilling to pass the Soviet statue. First, I get a spray of water from the large fountain, second I get a flash of insight into Vienna’s potential present as a post-Communist country. The fountain solves half of the mystery behind Vienna’s exceptionally good tap water. The immense statue of the Soviet soldier is a remnant of post World War II Vienna, and a constant reminder that we just narrowly escaped from a Communist system.
At Stadtpark we re-entered Ringstrasse. The park hosts a golden statue of Viennese waltz king Johann Strauss, and the salon where he often performed. Reason enough for Lothar to reveal another part of Vienna’s vast music history.
If you visit Vienna in the summer, make sure you return for picknicks, coffee or even top gourmet dining at Austria’s best restaurant Steirereck im Stadtpark.
Hundertwasserhaus and Prater
Vienna bike tour. Leaving the classic sights behind us, we headed for Hundertwasser-Krawinahaus seven minutes from Ringstrasse. Everyone here knows the blobby and colourful Gaudi-style buildings by hippie artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He clearly detested the straight line, and loved natural curves up to the point of creating uneven floors (look down before you look up). After lots of classical architecture, this 20th century piece opened a door to modern Vienna.
Our group had a good ten minutes to recharge our batteries, and refuel with drinks and snacks.
From Kunsthaus Wien we followed the Danube Canal a few hundred metres until we crossed it. The other side offered a completely different scenery: bustling second district Leopoldstadt, full of old and a little dated townhouses, neighbourhood shops and cafes. We followed the bike path until we arrived at Prater. Vienna’s amusement park boasts lush green woodland and more than four kilometres of tree-lined boulevard (bikers and pedestrians only) cutting through. Where else do you find thick forest at 10 minutes from the historic centre?
We stopped close to the Giant Ferris Wheel, then returned through Prater’s main alley and a new road. The last part of the journey was very 21st century: Cycling along Danube Canal was like passing a street art gallery packed with graffiti, good and bad. The urban bar and beach culture became obvious as well. Best view: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the back.
This tour is the best comprehensive city bike tour in Vienna. What’s on my personal wishlist for it?: a stop at Art Nouveau gem Secession, a few vivid historical anecdotes, and the Giant Ferris Wheel from close up.
My tip: Use this tour as an orientation at the start of your trip, or to venture beyond the centre with a knowledgable guide.
The bike tour takes place in the afternoons on most days between April and October. The green city bikes have well sprung saddles and are easy to handle. Don’t get deterred by the duration of three hours. You make loads of stops, and the tempo is absolutely manageable even for non sporty people.
You will ride on marked bike paths most of the time. In case of rain, you will get a free rain poncho. Find out tour dates and further information.
Note: I was invited by the tour operator. All opinions expressed are explicitly my own.