When you imagine a memorable day in Vienna, you probably think of a night at the opera and maybe some fine dining, too. And you should, for Vienna is a classy town! From the elegant horse-drawn carriages meandering down the cobblestones to the open-air concerts in the parks, this is a city that shines with bright lights and hums with fine music. But for all of Vienna's refinement and sophistication, there's still plenty of laid-back, affordable, accessible fun to be had.
Seeing Vienna's classic sights by bike is a wonderful introduction to the city. While you might not think of Vienna as a cycling city (I know I didn't -- I thought that crown was claimed by Amsterdam!), locals have used this healthy, economical, and environmentally friendly mode of transport for decades.
Since knowing what to expect and how to prepare can make all the difference, here are seven tips for a great bike trip through Vienna.
1. Bring Your Camera For Fantastic Photos
So, what is the real Vienna like? What do you discover when you have a chance to explore the side streets and paths? I covered a considerable part of the historic city center on my bike, not to mention nearly all of the Ringstrasse, and concluded that Vienna is just as romantic as advertised!
Our tour began at a leisurely pace. We stopped first at the famed Vienna State Opera before carrying on to the nearby Hofburg Palace complex, pausing to look at some exposed Roman ruins and learn about the nearby riding school. I learned so much about Austrian and Viennese history on this tour, and I felt like I had gained some serious history chops by the end of the night.
As we swirled around Parliament buildings, government offices, and universities, coasted down exclusive shopping streets lined with expensive shops, and whizzed by Saint Stephen's Cathedral, famous hotels, and cafés, I kept thinking how wonderfully perfect and beautiful the city was. Central Vienna really is as clean, charming, and pretty as everyone claims!
Don’t forget to bring your camera to document your bike ride through one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Your guide will make frequent stops for photos and will even point out ideal photo opportunities. I used a simple point-and-shoot camera to keep my pack light and take photos quickly. If you’re carrying more gear, most bikes have baskets to store your equipment, but not all do, so be sure to arrive early to claim one.
2. Brush Up On Your History Before The Tour
Everyone in Vienna is passionate about their city’s history, and that really shows in the city’s bike tours. I found that the tours in Vienna had a slightly more scholarly vibe than other bike tours I’ve been on. That isn't to say that Vienna tours aren’t relaxed and fun -- they’re just a little different from the typical experience, which is often a little on the silly side. To make the most of your bike tour, consider visiting the Hofburg Palace earlier in the day. A visit will provide a great overview of Austrian history and valuable context for your bike tour.
3. Consider Time Of Day
A late-afternoon tour was perfect for me. Not only did I have free time early in the day to brush up on Austrian history, but my late-afternoon tour coincided with slightly cooler temperatures -- always a plus on a summer biking excursion. Plus, we oftentimes found ourselves riding alongside locals making their way home from work. I loved it when one group of older men asked our guide if we were the local “bike gang” (as in a motorcycle gang!). Yes, we were totally tough and ready to claim Vienna as our own!
While I wouldn’t discount a morning departure, I think the afternoon schedule had many more advantages. Morning or midday tours might be a better fit if you have evening theater plans, since you’ll have time to rest up in the afternoon before going out again.
4. Ask Your Guide For Recommendations
One of the things I love best about bike tours is that you inevitably pass a few of the guide's favorite spots, and this tour was no exception. Our guide didn't hesitate to share personal recommendations with us, and on the subject of cake (a topic we were all too eager to discuss), gave us an invaluable piece of advice: Vienna's famous Sacher torte is naturally drier than other cakes, so you should never ask for it without the customary dollop of whipped cream on the side.
Bike tour guides are a fantastic resource for much more than food -- they are happy to provide recommendations for everything from shopping to entertainment. All you need to do is ask!
5. Use The Restroom And Grab A Bite To Eat Beforehand
One of the few downsides of my tour was that it didn’t allow stops for snacks, drinks, or restroom breaks. Fortunately, there were public fountains on the route where we could refill our water bottles, but there were no formal stops. A 20-minute break for coffee or lemonade at the midway point would have been most welcome. But, on the plus side, we covered more of the city than I'd imagined we could, and by the end, I felt like I knew the city better than ever.
Be sure to inquire about whether the tour you plan to take includes stops. If it doesn't, use the restroom and grab a hearty breakfast or lunch beforehand.
6. Bring What You Need For A Comfortable Ride
I tackled a 3-hour, 9.3-mile bike tour with considerable ease. It turns out that Vienna is a great place to go biking, even for those who don’t regularly bike. The tour route is almost entirely flat, and the city is covered in bike lanes. At the beginning, I was worried that the distance would be too much, but it all went so smoothly, and there was nary a hill to suffer through. The bikes were easy to adjust and ride, though not all had rear baskets -- an important thing to keep in mind if you’re bringing a large bag with you.
I brought along a small bag with a refillable water bottle, a granola bar (because, remember, there are no snack breaks!), some extra sunscreen, and a baseball hat. I wore a loose shirt appropriate for the warm summer day, but a light sweater or jacket would be smart for cooler times of year. I personally wore sneakers, but many of my fellow tour participants wore sporty sandals without a problem.
Helmets aren’t customary in Vienna and are not a part of the local bike culture. If wearing a helmet is important to you, be sure to ask whether helmets are available before booking your tour.
7. Consider A Wine-Themed Tour
While my bike tour focused on Vienna’s classic sites, some travelers opt for cycling adventures that take them outside the city center. Numerous tours head out into the Danube Valley to give travelers a sense of the Austrian countryside and its small villages. These tours generally last up to 5 hours and, while they include some city sites, the main focus in on enjoying the countryside.
Ambitious cyclists might be interested in the wine-themed tours that depart from Vienna, head through the Danube Valley, and include stops at two or three of the area’s wineries. These tours generally last about 10 hours or so (but who’s counting when there’s wine involved?). There’s almost always a stop at a local restaurant for a hearty Austrian lunch, too. (Generally, tour participants must pay for this separately.)
Tour And Rental Options
Pedal Power, Yellow Zebra, and Vienna Explorer all offer classic Vienna tours like the one I experienced. In general, these tours last about 3 hours and cover the city’s most popular sites. The cost ranges from 35 to 40 euros. All three companies also offer tours of the Vienna area’s villages and wineries.
If you’d prefer to explore on your own, Pedal Power rents bikes for about 6 euros per hour. The city of Vienna offers a very affordable bike-rental option as well. The one-time registration fee is just $1. After that, the cost for an hour or less of riding is free -- perfect for short trips around town! A second hour costs 2 euros, a third hour costs 3 euros, and so on. You can read more about the program here.
Of course, the best way to celebrate after a fantastic bike ride is to treat yourself, Vienna-style. That means coffee and cake! However, Vienna's most famous coffeehouses don’t always serve the best coffee. If freshly ground beans are important to you, here's where to find spectacular coffee in Vienna.