I might have gotten out of going to an amusement park in the Costa Brava in Spain but it was another story in Vienna. Having heard that the rides were a bit on the scary side I went to the oldest amusement park in the world, the Prater in Vienna, with a little hesitation. My kids were thrilled, however, because they are adrenaline junkies. And they are also too young to worry about safety.
History of the Prater in Vienna
The Prater is a public park in Vienna famous for its amusement park. It started out as a hunting ground for the Emperors of Austria until Emperor Josef II decreed the land a public recreation area. What eventually became the amusement park soon followed the establishment of restaurants and cafes. The oldest amusement park in the world, you can convince yourself that a visit to the Prater really counts as cultural sightseeing.
The giant Ferris Wheel at one of the entrances to the amusement park, the Wiener Riesenrad, was built in 1897 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. For about 65 years, this Ferris Wheel was the tallest one in the world and has become of symbol of Vienna.
It’s not all historical. Check out this mermaid which has been made to look like Austrian Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.
The Positives For Prater
This amusement park is the first one I’ve been which is based on your child’s stated age not height. No, there is no proof of age either. My daughter was delighted she could go on many of the big rides because she is very petite. Most people would think she was younger than she is.
There are a lot of rides of varying thrill levels. My kids love roller coasters and I counted at least 8. I saw 2 each of the Ferris Wheels and the haunted houses. You don’t usually get so many in one park.
There are also water rides which came in handy on a hot day like the day we were there.
There are also the usual games and food vendors. There doesn’t seem to be any restriction on bringing food into the park. Presumably they feel gouging you on the ride tickets is enough.
For little children, there is a dedicated small ride area as well as a 75 year old little train that toots around the park. The Prater is also the sight of the local Madame Tussaud’s and Planetarium if you want to avoid rides altogether.
The Negatives for Prater
Can I tell you how much I hate parks that are pay per ride? The little rides are 2-3 Euros each but the bigger rides range from 4-5 euros. With two kids it really adds up. Especially when there are no queues and each kid can just jump on a ride and be fine 2 minutes later.
I also hated this carousel ride which featured real ponies shackled to a cart going around in circles. I can’t believe they have these rides anymore!! I felt so sorry for those poor ponies.
What about the scare factor? Austria’s lack of litigation culture means it has less of a nanny-state culture. Parents definitely need to use their judgment on what rides are appropriate. Some of the rides are scarier than the others. There is one ride called Ejection Seat that looked like a giant rubber band which for 15 Euros will catapult you at 14 meters per second into the stratosphere. I was nauseous just looking at it.
The Praterturm took the otherwise innocuous fairground ride that is a spinning swing and super-sized it. Spinning 110 meters high above Vienna, it is the highest spinning swing in the world.
The Prater Park
In an effort to distract them from the thrill rides I hired a family bike/rickshaw. It was really good value starting at 5 Euros for half an hour. We peddled around the park near the Prater enjoying the sunshine and people watching.
More accurately I peddled and the children fought over who got to ring the bell. Randomly they would also try to steer in the opposite direction and/or pull on the brake. We were not a coordinated family and lurched around the park like drunken sailors on shore leave.
By the end of this hair raising and tiring cycle ride, I was ready to pay for thrill rides again.
Visiting The Prater
The Prater is very easy to reach by public transportation (Praterstern station on either line U1 or U2). It’s open daily from 10AM to midnight all year round. Peak season is from March until October. Individual attraction opening hours may vary. Entry is free to the park itself but you pay individually for rides.
The bike rental has a lot of bikes of varying sizes for children and adults as well as 2-4 people rickshaws to rent.