The One Thing To Do in Vienna — Ride the Riesenrad

Vienna is the kind of city that grabs you the second you emerge from the metro onto the Mariahilfer Strasse. The energy from the crowd and the historic buildings lining the street is memorable. It’s tradition, old world charm and romance wrapped up in a nice Austrian bow.

The city takes pride in those traditions — whether it be the Christmas markets, the centuries old cafes, the classical concert halls or the wiener schnitzel. The best place to honor those traditions, and maybe start one of your own, is to ride the 120-year old ferris wheel, the Riesenrad.

Not only is it one of the oldest and, at one time, tallest ferris wheels in the world, it features prominently in two classic movies, The Third Man and Before Sunrise.

As a student of film, The Third Man is one of my favorite movies of all time. It captured the spy world quality of post-World War II Vienna with its dark shadows, mysterious men and bombed out buildings. The eventual meeting between Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton on the Riesenrad underscores the themes of the movie — there’s new world where money can be made. You can’t help but to look down onto the Prater amusement park as Welles did. Hopefully, you don’t think what he thought.

Before Sunrise tapped into the Riesenrad’s romantic nature as a chance meeting between two college students turns into a day-long love affair. Unlike Welles and Cotton, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke admire the view of Vienna and kiss.

My experience was a bit of both — admiring the view, appreciating the history of the attraction that dates back to the 1890s and thinking that this would be a great place to do some spy work and recon. The carriage creaks, squeaks and sways as you rise above the city at about 212 feet.

It’s reassuring that millions of other visitors have had the same experience. Local families bring their kids as their parents did when they are young. First time visitors as myself vow to come back if I ever find myself back in Vienna.

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