Vienna is green.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before (probably from me), but one of the best things about life in the Austrian capitol is the large number of beautiful parks and its easy accessibility to nature. The city is bordered by the hills leading into the Viennese Woods (Wienerwald) to the west, and expansive fields, hills and marshland to the east.
As always in Vienna, it is easy to reach these areas with the public transport, and so there is really no excuse not to get out and explore!
To help in this exploration, the city has a system of City Hiking Trails or Stadtwanderwege which cover different environments and parts of the city. As the weather starts to cool and the trees begin their colourful transition to winter, it is a great time to take advantage of the 14 trails that snake through different parts of the woods, fields and lake areas that surround the city. They are all extremely well sign-posted and not difficult at all, mostly accommodating families and Sunday-afternoon wanderers.
Below, I have chosen some of my favourite trails to discover, although the full list and details can be found here.
Stadtwanderweg 1 and 1a
The first trail is definitely one of the most beautiful and well-known areas to explore nature by foot in Vienna. Starting in the quaint little area of Nussdorf, the area still feels very much like the small village that it used be before the city expanded to engulf the rural outskirts of the Imperial city. Leading up the hills blanketed with vineyards and beautiful forest paths, the trail eventually crests the hills that surrounds Vienna at Kahlenberg (also conveniently hosting a good cafe and bar for a bit of a break!) , a beautiful spot which overlooks the entire city and affords a great view of the Danube as it sweeps south towards Bratislava.
As the trail is a loop, you can follow the ridge of the hills around Kahlenberg to enjoy the views on both sides of the hills. The 1 trail then descends back to Nussdorf, or you can take the 1A to walk down to the banks of the Danube itself.
Stadtwanderweg 2, 3 and 4
One of my favourite parts of the city are the hills leading up to the Wienerwald from the 18th and 19th city districts. While they lack the vineyards of Nussdorf and Grinzing, the forest accessible from the cute ex-villages of Sievering and Neuwaldegg somehow feels more wild and untouched than other wooded areas adjoining the city. Both the 2 and 3 trails form loops that climb up the hills to the west of the city, finding their mid-point at the crest of the hills before winding down again along mountain biking trails and through forest meadows. The 2 trail ascends to Hermannskogel and Habsburgwarte, two 19th century watchtowers which provide great views of the forest and city.
The 3 trail starts by winding through the large and beautiful area of Schwarzenberg Schlosspark, an ex-hunting retreat for the previous gentry of Imperial Vienna which is one of my favourite entry points to the Vienna woods.
In a similar location is the 4 trail, ascending through the small vineyards on the edge of the bustling and popular district of Ottakring. Rising to the beautiful Wilhelminenberg Palace (a favourite of people wishing to sip a cappuccino or beer from the palace terrace or to visit the extremely small and quaint Christmas Market), the trail also loops past Jubilaumswarte, an impressively tall antennae tower which gives spectacular views of the city and out of the entirety of the Wienerwald.
A highlight of this trail is Steinhof, the pastoral and semi-wild park area that abuts the rear of the Otto-Wagner-Spital, an expansive and interesting hospital complex built by the famous architect Otto Wagner. It is well worth a visit to the beautiful chapel at the rear of the hospital complex, and to stop and watch families flying their kites on the meadows nearby!
(Author’s note: Since the Covid pandemic, some of the areas around the hospital are still inaccessible as the hospital is still a functioning Psychiatric Hospital and so requires testing for entry.)
On the other side of the Danube to the east, the large modern areas of Floridsdorf and Donaustadt can be forgiven for being easily viewed as simply residential and industrial sprawl forever expanding towards the Hungarian border. However, there are some beautiful villages and park areas nestled in amongst the suburbs and agricultural land which are well worth a visit. Specifically, the village of Stammersdorf is a popular destination for people looking to explore outside the city by public transport as the 31 Tram heads directly there from the centre of the city.
Also boasting vineyards and some high, wooded rises with great views, the 5 trail makes a loop out of the centre of the village through fields and over hills to explore a part of Vienna completely un-touched by tourists or the regular city-dweller.
On the complete opposite side of the city to the Southwest lies the Lainzertiergarten, an absolutely huge park and forest area with many trails and places to explore in the woods. The tiergarten (animal park) part of its name comes from the wild boar and deer which live semi-wild throughout the expansive reserve.
Trail 6 starts in the suburb of Liesing (Vienna’s southern-most district) and explores the rearside of the Lainzertiergarten, through the picturesque Dorotheerwald before returning through the rocky valley near Kaltenleutgeben. A hidden gem in a part of Vienna which is rarely visited other than by locals, there are some beautiful locations in the forest near Liesing, including the Steinbruchsee (Quarry Lake, which unsurprisingly is located in the remains of a disused quarry) nestled into the forest providing a quiet and forgotten area for sunbathing and swimming in the summer.
This trail is another favourite for those wishing for an easy escape into the countryside. Starting in the countrified village suburb of Mauerbach, the trail makes a large loop up to the top of the hills looking over the Southern district of Hütteldorf, weaving through tall forests and criss-crossing with popular mountain biking trails. At its zenith, the trail passes through large meadows and fields before reaching the top of the ‘Sophienalpe’, the name of this region of high hills near the city.
As with many other hiking destinations in Austria, the crest of the hills also offers one or two Gasthäuse,
restaurants and taverns catering to the weary walker with local food, coffee and refreshing beer or Radler to gear up for the hike back down.\
The remaining trails are great to explore different parts of the city (the Prater, Oberlaa, Simmering
and Breitenfeld), although they consist more as paths connecting parts of the city and its parks rather than truly ‘natural’ escapes. But for getting out into the fresh golden sunlight of Austrian autumns, I highly recommend the trails described above.
Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.
After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.
See more of Thom’s work here in the Dispatches archive.
You can read more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archives.