Wheelchair Travel to Vienna, Austria '07
by Mark & Margaret Edwards © 2007

 

 We have wanted to go to Vienna for years – Lipizzaner horses, museums and art galleries, wall-to-wall opera, cafes, vast quantities of whipped cream with everything, a skyline of statues. Finally, we managed to make our trip in early October – it was still warm enough to eat out of doors at lunchtime, there was no need for a jacket until the evening and every day apart from the last morning had brilliant sunshine. To help us in what we wanted to see and when we used the Time Out guide to Vienna – a series which we’ve found to be very reliable. And you will be relieved to know that most people speak English.

 

Overall, Vienna must rate as one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities which we’ve visited.  Planning was extremely straightforward for once and there was little need to run the usual search through a whole range of internet sites to gather all the access information together – it’s all in one place – the official tourist site at http://www.wien.info/article.asp?IDArticle=10541

 which covers sights, hotels, cafes in a wide range of detail. Just a word of caution, the site will tell you just how accessible a particular location is, not that it is accessible – the 37 or so steps up to to Freud’s apartment is an example in point. In general it can be relied on but it is designed to be a high level document. Hence some of the details which we are sharing in this report.

 

Booking in advance – always a difficult area – I would say that there is no need to book for any of the galleries or museums unless you are going at the height of the tourist season. The busiest places we went to were the Hofburg, Schoenbrunn and Stephansdom – the later was very crowded on a Saturday afternoon. However, if it’s an event, I would book in advance – we booked back in March for the Spanish Riding School and May for the operas. And as a tip, don’t worry about applying well in advance of the advertised booking dates – applications seem to be processed irrespective of the official dates. 

 

As usual, there is something of our traditional emphasis on lavatory accommodation – I make no apologies for this.  The information for disabled travellers on the Vienna website I’ve mentioned above does cover this area but not necessarily all the practical detail – for example, do you need to use a key and where does it come from? We aim for holidays which are as stress-free as possible and this is some of the information which helps.

 

 BACKGROUND

 

I use a manual wheelchair and can walk a little – a folding walking stick comes in very useful. 

 

ACCOMMODATION

 

We stayed at the Hotel Zipser at Langegasse 49 which is just by the Rathaus – the town hall. For us, it was an extremely good choice. The hotel is about 5 minutes from the nearest station on the U2 line one way and about fifteen minutes from U6 the other way. It’s a very quiet neighbourhood with good restaurants and interesting small shops but is close enough to the centre to be a really good deal – we were only 15 minutes easy push from the Hofburg. The Zipser is a very comfortable hotel with friendly, helpful staff and a good breakfast – which we discovered also includes prosecco!  Our room on one of the lower floors looked out over a garden at the back and the doors were wide enough to take my wheelchair. For this we paid €125 per night or about £88. There were cheaper and more expensive rooms but thought this was a good deal. The lift was a little difficult with my husband having to lift and swivel the chair around inside but it (and I) did fit.

 

We also packed a heating element, mug and teabags so I can have a proper drink first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon. It boils a mug of water in under two minutes and has stood us in good stead for many years. It’s probably outlawed by health and safety legislation worldwide but it still does its job. We take it whenever we travel and it’s a useful item to have.

 

I’d also mention specifically that the restaurant “Fromme Helene” just along from the hotel at the junction with Josefstadtstrasse is well deserving of a visit. This is a welcoming and comfortable establishment  in the style of the '70s where you can eat and drink well for a reasonable sum, its walls covered with photographs of the actors and actresses who have frequented over the years. Best to book on 00 43 1 406 91 44. Vienna is still a city where the bars and cafes have smoking areas – so make your preferences known wherever you book.

 

I’d also recommend the large SPAR supermarket on the other side of the street from the restaurant, which has well-stocked shelves for snacking. There are two steps up from the pavement but once inside the shop, it is wheelchair accessible. The supermarket on the opposing corner is much smaller and I couldn’t get past the turnstile.

 

GETTING THERE AND BACK

 

By Austrian Airlines from Terminal 2 at Heathrow – very straightforward.  We made our own way up to the departure gate at Heathrow which enables both shopping and a cup of coffee and was wheeled to the plane door as the first passenger on. The plane parked at a coaching stand and so there were steps down to the tarmac – having said at check-in that I could manage some stairs, I had assistance down to a “personal” bus which had an adjustable floor. If I could not have walked, I would have been taken off the plane by a lift. My husband happened to notice my wheelchair being unloaded onto the tarmac and as a result, I was reunited with it much earlier than expected. Once through immigration and baggage collection, which was all very smooth, we decided to take a taxi rather than the train into Vienna and were helped to a taxi by airport staff.

 

On the return, Austrian Airlines have dedicated special needs check in desks at Vienna airport and again we elected to make our own way to the gate. A small caution here: at Vienna airport you pass through an x-ray security control just before the boarding area. Once past that, there are only drinks machines and standard lavatories – so you’ve been warned. We were both looking forward to a small glass of something to help while away the time until boarding and were disappointed!

 

GETTING AROUND

 

It is remarkably easy – pavement surfaces are good and well maintained, there are limited areas of flattish cobbles to be negotiated and some of the pedestrian crossing lights don’t stay green for very long – there again local drivers are patient and polite enough to wait for you to finish your crossing. You also have to watch out for cycle lanes in what you might otherwise think are just pavement areas. The tram lines are a little awkward to negotiate but are obvious.  Some kerbs have lowered sections to allow a wheelchair to be negotiated into the roadway.

 

The underground is well worth using – nearly all the stations and certainly the most popular stations have lifts – some of these can be a little difficult to find on the surface at times as they may be incorporated into another building but they will be there. Not every entrance to an underground station has a lift –some may have three or four entrances – but there will be an entrance with a lift somewhere. Just look out for “U” signs. And they work and are clean. We used the underground every day and would recommend it as a superb way of getting about. The trains aren’t all that busy outside commuting hours and it does enable you to cover the ground quickly and safely as it’s a smooth ride. The trains do not stop for very long at each station and the doors do not open automatically in all cases. It was very nice that other passengers make space for you and hold back while you’re negotiating your way on and off the train.  All the trains we used had some wheelchair access and storage space even if other parts of the train were made up from older stock which is not so accessible. The service is regular, with rarely more than a couple of minutes between trains during the day, we did not encounter any significant delays and the layout is easy to follow.  A clear map is available for downloading at http://homepage.univie.ac.at/horst.prillinger/metro/m/largemap.html

It’s many years since I travelled on the Tube in London – my husband does regularly and thought that Vienna’s system was far, far superior.

 

We made a fairly eclectic choice of places to go – the city centre is surprisingly compact and widely pedestrianised. It’s also reasonably flat – a relief to my husband after our experiences of the hills of Madrid earlier this year! It also struck as both as being very non-threatening – there were obvious heavy drinkers, especially around the concourse of the Karlsplatz underground station, but compared to the London variety they seemed polite to a fault.

 

Stephansdom

 

A superb gothic edifice at the heart of the city – access is by the main entrance and the floors are level throughout.

 

Volksoper

 

The home of operetta – we took in “Orpheus in the Underworld”, “Countess Maritza” and “Die Fledermaus” – all exceedingly entertaining and excellent productions of old favourites with some spectacular settings in “Orpheus” in particular which made full use of lifts, revolves and other technical effects including explosions! And the seats were priced at €3.50 each for wheelchair users and their companions. That figure is correct – somewhere around £2.00 per seat and the same price applies at the Staatsoper.  That is an excellent deal compared with concessions available in other countries – in the UK, two seats for the price of one is the usual proposition. Details of productions, seating plans etc are at http://www.volksoper.at

 but the site is currently only in German. Try e-mailing in English to tickets@volksoper.at

which is how we made our arrangements.

 

You need to be aware that productions on a Sunday start earlier than usual – in our case at 18.00. This wasn’t completely clear from the website and of course we had no tickets to check the time on. Fortunately, as it was our first visit to the Volksoper we had left plenty of time for getting lost, refreshments etc and discovered that curtain up was in five minutes!

 

If you travel by underground, the theatre is across the road from the nearest station – Wahringerstrasse/Volksoper on line U6.

 

There is a disabled access to the theatre with an intercom on Wahringerstrasse. We found it slightly easier to use the main entrance where there are two steps.

 

Pre booked tickets are available for collection from about an hour before the production from a stand at the lefthand side of the foyer as you enter.

 

There are two wheelchair spaces in the “house” – one at either side towards the rear of the stalls with the companion seat behind – this is a fold down seat and it’s a bit hard but it does have plenty of leg room. Both wheelchair spaces have very good sightlines and are well positioned for sound. The right hand side is marginally better as that is where the disabled lavatory is located – the corridor space running behind the stalls is a little tight and fills up rapidly at intervals with patrons heading for drinks or a cigarette outside so it’s helpful not to have to battle against the flow.

 

You need to watch the slope from the stalls into the corridor – one evening I thought my husband was just behind me ready to grab the handles of the chair – in actual fact I’d forgotten that he had slipped into the seat alongside the wheelchair space and was scrambling over the rail between the two to get after me. I just missed re-configuring a pillar.

 

Subtitles are provided in English – the lyrics are given in full but the connecting conversations are very briefly summarised which gives a sense of what is going on but doesn’t cover the detail. The programmes contain synopses in a number of languages and cost only a few euros – I suspect this is achieved by economically printing a large number for a given production and then slipping in a sheet giving details of that day’s cast.

 

On the refreshments front, a bar is rolled out in the foyer for the intervals and a quarter bottle of sparkling wine goes for €8 – something of a bargain compared to prices in the UK. Although a lift does serve the upper floors, there is no access to the buffet for wheelchairs.

 

For refreshments before and after the performance, I can recommend Café Weimar – a mere three minutes from the theatre at Wahringerstrasse 89 just down the street. Extremely good food, well priced, convivial atmosphere and helpful staff – best to call in advance to make a reservation. It’s open upto midnight which is very helpful and for a 19.30 curtain up, I’d get there for about 18.00 – the Viennese tend to dine earlier than other folk so expect cafes to be busy from this time onward. Contact them on +43 1 3171206

 

Staatsoper

 

This was for an evening of “La Boheme” in a highly traditional production with a spectacular Parisian street setting for Act 2 and a setting for Act 3 which just breathed icy fog and snow.

 

The building is within one minute of the lift to the Karlsplatz underground station which serves lines U1, U2 and U4. You will also pass an establishment called the “Opera Toilet” at the bottom of the lift – I am assured that not only is music played but it is backed by the sound of running water as an encourage to visitors….

 

Details of productions etc can be found in English at http://www.wiener-staatsoper.at/Content.Node2/home/eninfo/2172.php

. We made contact by email at Kartenvertrieb.STAATSOPER.OEBTHV@wiener-staatsoper.at

 

There are some elements of the access here, which we didn’t manage to bottom out – the way we found is through the café (worth stopping off for a snack and a drink which we did to while away the time before the ticket office opened and we could collect our tickets) because a door in the glass wall between the café and the opera house takes you just where you want to go which is to a stair lift up from the corridor to the parkette/stalls area. The lift takes you to the stalls bar – useful – and the disabled lavatory is at the other end of the bar, turn to the left. Go on a little further and you can see the splendid staircase and ceiling around the main foyer.

 

Collecting tickets: the counter you want is inside the foyer and opens about one hour before the performance – don’t worry if you see other members of the public wandering about much earlier and you are unable to get the foyer doors open – these are the standing patrons who have come in through another entry. You will find two counters – you want the counter on the right as you are facing them.

 

This next section is a little clearer if you look at the seating plan on the website. There are four wheelchair spaces in the stalls – two either side at the front and two either side about halfway back. Try to book these latter if you because the both the companion seats for each side of the stalls are located there – this sounds odd and it is but if you’ve booked one of the front seats, your companion will be sitting half way back from you.

 

Subtitles are generally only available from chair backs and there are none over the stage – I didn’t look to see if there were alternative arrangements for my position but my husband reported that the space in front of him was equipped with a device on a cable which gave surtitles in both German and English.

 

Hofburg

 

The main rooms are completely accessible: the entrance is under the dome (Michaelerkuppel) to the ticket office (where there is a disabled lavatory) and once you’ve worked round the treasury and porcelain displays on the lower floor, a member of staff will take you by lift to the upper floor for the state apartments and the exhibits devoted to the Empress Elizabeth. About two thirds of the way round there are a couple of steps but a ramp will be provided for wheel chairs. At the end of the tour, you will be escorted to another lift in what appears to be some government offices will enable you to return to the ground in a side street.

 

Just for information: there are disabled WCs in the courtyard outside the Hofburg where the café is. These charge 50c for entry.

 

Spanish Riding School

 

A must and we had booked well in advance (six months previously) for the Sunday morning display.  We booked through sending an e-mail to 'evamaria.schoebinger@srs.at

or you can call +43 1 533 90 32 or fax +43 1 533 90 32 40. Disabled access seats are in Parreterreloge/Row 6 and cost us €40 each. These seats are the rear row of a box at the end of the school opposite where the horses enter so a good view is guaranteed.

 

The most effective way in is via the entrance to the School around the corner in Josefsplatz (noting that there is a disabled lavatory by the entrance) and you will be escorted through a courtyard to the main entrance to the school. A further disabled lavatory is located at the top of the stairs leading down to the general facilities by the ticket desk and shop in the display area – the key is held at the ticket desk. It comes with a massive lump of metal attached. It is heavy. In fact it is very heavy.  Don’t drop it – my husband dropped it on his foot and said Something.

 

Schmetterling (Butterfy) House

 

A charming though decidedly hot and humid way of spending half an hour – the glasshouse overlooks the Burggarten – there is a café outside where you can recover from the heat inside the glasshouse - and it is easily accessible. Details are at http://www.schmetterlinghaus.at/english1.htm

 

Peterskirche

 

A baroque riot just off the Graben – access is by a ramp to the left of the main entrance and the interior floor is quite flat.

 

Liechenstein Museum

 

A gem of a gallery with a fine collection of Rubens and a little off the beaten track. Completely wheelchair accessible – access is across the front courtyard and there is a ramp at the lefthand side of the building as you face it - it also merits a visit for the attractive restored garden to the rear of the gallery – and it has to be said, the very pleasant café in the front courtyard.

 

Albertina

 

Currently the home of the Batlinger Collection Exhibition of paintings from early Impressionists through to the mid 20th Century.  Access to the main entrance of the gallery is by an external lift at the front of the building at where Augustinerstrasse meets Albertinaplatz and once inside, an internal lift is located to the left of the entrance to the galleries after you’ve bought your ticket. All floors are fully accessible. However, because of the position of the lift in relation to the layout of the galleries, you come in half way through the exhibition which is a little disorientating – best to turn to your right and follow through about half a dozen rooms to the “start” to get the best impression. The second floor is split on two levels – 2A is the lower and smaller and depending on your attitude to Jackson Pollack and his ilk may or may not be worth the visit.

 

On the first floor, however, if you want to visit the Habsburg state rooms, you will find three steps down from the exhibition level to these rooms just outside the entry to the Batlinger Exhibition. Immediately to the right of the steps is what appears to be the access to the disabled lavatory. Indeed it is. It also gives access to a ramp which bypasses the steps, enabling you to enjoy the rest of the floor – and the Durer “Hare” which is in the first of the rooms you enter – without having to negotiate the steps.

 

There is a good shop at this gallery where we loaded up with more catalogues – unfortunately prints of the “Hare” were out of stock. However, as consolation you could purchase a toy Dr Freud which giggles uncontrollably when you prod it.

 

Schoenbrun Palace

 

The underground station is about 10 minutes walk from the entrance to the Palace and the access route is completely on the flat although you do cross a main road. There is a small area of cobbles just before you reach the gate into the grounds.

 

Take a look at the website at http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/site/publicdir

There are choices for tours and we went for the longer. The system does allow you to book in advance but didn’t seem able to cope with disabled applications – for which concessions are available. The Palace does get busy but the system of timed entries keeps the numbers under some control. However, if you’ve got concerns, get there for opening time! We arrived at about 10.00. I doubt that most of the tour groups stay for longer than the tour and the shop but do congregate around their leaders. We simply worked our way ahead of the largest group and that was fine.

 

The gravel over the courtyard in front of the Palace can be a little thick at times but just needs a good push to overcome it. The entrance to the Palace is at the left side of the façade (clearly signposted) with a disabled lavatory immediately on the left hand side once you get inside. Having purchased your ticket, turn to the right and follow through to the queue letter printed on the ticket which will be A,B or C.  You will then be “spotted” by security who will take you by lift to the upper floor. I’d strongly recommend picking up an audio guide – some of the handbooks are a bit sniffy about this but this one does give a very helpful overview of the 40 or so rooms your will pass through if you go for the Grand Tour. My husband disagreed with some of the commentary but when pressed admitted that he was drawing on “The Good Soldier Švejk” which was hardly an objective view of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  At the end of the tour – which surprisingly is in the gift shop – security will collect you again and escort you back to the ground floor.

 

Having toured the Palace, we can recommend the adjacent zoo: this is accessed along a path (signed) from the gardens behind the Palace, just to the right of the massive fountain. There is a disabled lavatory just by the Neptune entrance (key held at the cash window) from the gardens.

 

The zoo is extremely well designed and of the areas which we went into, I’d particularly recommend the big cat area.  Both inside and outside, you are only a sheet of glass away from the animals. The tigers were splashing about in their pond and playing chase and the jaguars engaged with the public by some impressive growling to make people jump back from the (heavy duty) mesh screen which keeps them and the public apart.

 

In addition, there are extemporary pleasures – the zoo is targeted by squirrels who are convinced that every visitor will have something interesting to eat about their persons, begging shamelessly.

 

We ate at the Pavilion in the Zoo – this is an elegant raised building and the wheelchair access is by an extremely steep ramp at the rear of the building. I elected to walk back down.

 

Upper Belvedere

 

The home of a fine collection of 19th and 20th Century art including Klimt’s “Judith” and “The Kiss”. And it’s located in a particularly fine building with the central hallway under the dome on the first floor being well worth a closer look.

 

Best approached from the Suedtiroler Platz station on line U1 which is about ten minutes walk from the gallery. As you come out of the lift from the station you will see an elevated railway directly ahead of you. Keep this on your righthand side and you will be heading in the correct direction. We only noticed signs for the Belvedere when we got to the Sudbahnhof which is what the lines lead into.

 

You will need to pass round the building to its other side to find the entrance – once inside, there is a ramp after the ticket office which takes you up to the corridor where from on your right a lift runs to the first and second floors.

 

The wheelchair accessible lavatory is in the basement – to get to it you need to use another lift from the first or second floors which is located towards the other end of the building from the lift described above. What I’m afraid we failed to sort out is how to get into the shop and café without going up a couple of steps. The café as usual was of a good standard.

 

We didn’t get to include the Lower Belvedere – that will be for next time by when the gardens between the two may have been fully restored. However, we passed by it as we were heading for the Karlsplatz underground station. The pathway down to the Lower Belvedere is fine until you reach almost the bottom where it includes a flight of steps. There is a ramp in the middle of the steps - it is steep and I’d suggest avoiding it in wet or icy weather – the stone is quite rough but even in dry weather it should be treated with care.

 

Kunsthistorisches Museum

 

One of the world’s great collections – the Bruegels being worth a visit on their own. And it’s also worth looking out for the Durer sketches of animals and a charming painting of the Holy Family with a cat sleeping in front of a fire.

 

Access is via the security point on the Burgring (it doubles as a vehicle access into the staff car park in the centre of the building) from where you will be escorted to a lift to the ground floor and then let loose on the building until you need to leave when security will escort you back the same way. The building is very accessible – including the shop on the ground floor which is on two levels – to get down to the lower level, there is a lift – difficult to explain to how find it outside the shop so send your companion down into the shop to explore that end. There is a smaller shop on the gallery floor.

 

One of the most elegant cafes in Vienna is on the first floor – a must to enjoy the incredible colouring and carving over a coffee.

 

There is a disabled lavatory on that floor by the stairs which lead upto the floor above.

 

Ferris Wheel

 

One of the great images of Vienna – “The Third Man”, cuckoo clocks… and giving a great view over the city– the closest underground station for the Prater is at Landstrasse on U3 and U4 and it is about fifteen minutes walk to the Wheel. You can see it immediately you come out of the lift from the station but getting to it is another matter as there are major building works in the area. We came straight out of the lift and went alongside the busy dual carriage way to the first set of traffic lights where we crossed the main road and then picked up signs for the Prater

 

The Wheel is fully accessible with a lift up to the loading platform and a ramp being put in place to allow wheelchair access to the cabin itself. Some of the cabins have wider doors to admit wheelchairs. There is also a disabled lavatory as part of the complex.

i

Forming part of the complex is a café with an outside terrace – the Prater does not look on the surface like the place you would expect a decent well-prepared meal – we put ourselves outside a couple of excellent salads (alright - with chips) and considered it a good investment.

 

Conclusion

 

All around, a pretty stress-free visit. But so much to see and so many places we didn’t have time for – so we’re going to have to go back!
 

Don't miss Mark & Margaret Edward's other journeys to these destinations:

 

Madrid '07
 

Amsterdam '07

 

Bologna '07

Milan '06

 

Venice '06

Granada '08

 

Sicily '08

 

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