Most people have probably heard of the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel (it is one of Vienna’s most famous sights after all), but have you heard of the giant amusement park around it? It has over 150 attractions, from small kids carousels to big roller coasters, drop towers and ghost trains. The Riesenrad is just one of them, although it’s the biggest by far.
The official name of the park is Volksprater, which is never used except in documents. Instead, people call it the Wurstelprater, after the character “Hanswurst”, a buffoon character in rural carnival theaters and touring companies (which were the first attractions set up at this place in the late 18th century), or just Prater for short. This makes it a little confusing because when Viennese people speak about the Prater they can mean two things: either the amusement park or the giant public park which surrounds it.
The atmosphere in the Wurstelprater always reminds me more of a funfair than of other amusement parks I have visited. Although there are a lot of people, especially on sunny days, you never have the feeling of a huge crowd and the lines are not that long at most of the rides (except for Sundays maybe). Since there is no entrance fee to the park itself you don’t get the feeling, that you have to try out as much as possible to make it worth it, and therefore I’m only choosing the things I really am curious about (and some that are my absolute favourites like the houses of mirrors).
The Wurstelprater has so many different rides, that it’s impossible to try out everything. For all the people not that fond of the adrenalin rush from the rides, there are other fun things to do, like houses of mirrors, bumper cars, shooting galleries and arcade games. The Prater is also the location of Vienna’s Madame Tussauds wax museum, where you can take pictures with famous Austrian personalities like Empress Sissi and Mozart or you can lie down on Sigmund Freud’s famous couch.
But the attractions are not the only highlights at the Wurstelprater. There are restaurants, of course, one of which is roller coaster themed (the food comes to the table on tracks in their own little carts) and cafés, but also a lot of food stands selling Langos, gingerbread hearts, and of course the omnipresent cotton candy. There is even a stand for Vienna’s famous Manner Wafers. You can basically get everything that’s not that healthy but so tasty and tempting. There is also the Pratermuseum, which is about the history of the Prater from its origins to today.
And finally, the most famous sight, the Riesenrad: everyone should get on and just enjoy the fantastic view over Vienna at least once. If you want you can also book your private cabin and enjoy the view while having a fantastic breakfast, a romantic candlelight dinner or a family celebration.
If you enjoy nature more than all the bustle, you can visit the park instead. It begins right behind the amusement park and stretches over almost half of the island built by the Danube and the Danube canal. It’s the biggest public park in Vienna and like Schönbrunn it was once a hunting ground for the Habsburg family, which is the reason why it survived the growing of the city through the monarchy. In contrast to many other parks in Vienna, it’s left mostly to itself and there is not that much landscaping involved. The further you go into the park, the more it resembles the forest it once was, and to keep it that way, some parts around former sidearms to the Danube (that are now just ponds) were declared a natural monument at the end of the 20th century. So, if you need a break from the city without going far, this is the perfect place.
Some more information: Both the park and the amusement park are open all year, but all attractions and restaurants have their own opening hours (most from 10 or 11 am to 11 pm or midnight). Most rides are closed over the winter and on rainy days (the Riesenrad is an exception obviously), but there is a Christmas/winter market at the Riesenradplatz from mid-November to the 6th of January, so even during Winter the Prater is worth a visit. You can get there by underground (U1 and U2) or tram (lines 5 and O) to Praterstern (if you want to get to the Riesenrad) or by underground (U2) to Messe-Prater for another entrance to the Wurstelprater. If you want to visit the park instead there are a ton of options depending on where you want to go exactly: you can take the U2 (to Krieau or Stadion), the tram (line 1 to Prater Hauptallee) or the bus (line 77A to Stadionbad or Lusthaus/Aspernallee).