Vienna waits for you

Are you’re a Billy Joel fan? Do you know his song “Vienna”?

If you don’t, it is worth a listen. Like his other tunes, it sad and it sweet and you’ll feel like you know it complete.

It’s about being young and ambitious and learning to slow down and pace yourself.

The chorus repeats: “Vienna waits for you”.

Bored with the flatness of the Danube bank, I played games with Vienna’s graffiti

In the beginning of June, I started a new job.

I jumped at this opportunity primarily because it promised to send me around the world on runcations.. uhm.. I mean business trips. The company kept its word and immediately send me to Vienna for a fortnight.

During this time, I had 11 runs scheduled on my Hanson marathon plan. While that lead to a frustrating 11 dirty running shirts and 22 stinky socks, it gave me the chance to plan almost a dozen routes in a foreign city.

Of course, claiming I plotted a dozen routes through an unknown city is vastly exaggerated. I first tried to fill as many runs as possible with races and running events. This meant I could meet other runners and at the same time not worry about ending up between a factory and the highway.

Three weeks of runs in Vienna

In the 12 days I was there, Vienna hosted multiple running events in the city itself and many, many more in the surrounding area.  I joined the Brooks run tour event and entered the universities’ 5 km. I even happily spectated at the Wien 100 km national championships; happily, because I was glad not to be running 2.5 km laps in the Austrian heat myself.

I didn’t plot out all my runs in advance, because I first tried to identify good running areas, and then try to stick to what I learned works. I have jotted down three areas I found for discovering the rich running culture this magnificent city has on offer:

  1. Prater

Prater is all you need to remember if you want to have the time of your running life in Vienna. It is a large park between the Danube and the Danube canal.

It is the heart and soul of running in the city. Brook’s run tour, the 100km championships and the University’s business run where all hosted in Prater.

Not only does is have 4.3 km straight asphalt road with marked distances, forest trails and drinking fountains, it has a 400m running track and beer gardens.

I did a speed session on the track overlooking the stadium. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed on the track, but the bartender in the cafeteria gave me a perplexed: “Why shouldn’t you be able to run on it?”, so I felt I had the needed permission.

The running track in Prater
  1. Run along the river.

Running along the Danube canal is a great runner-up to Prater. If you are staying near the centre and going to Prater is not an option, you can enjoy the traffic and traffic light free bank along the canal. You will certainly encounter hordes of other runners who will do their best to ignore you.

I guess there is some unspoken rule between runners in Vienna: When you see a fellow jogger, look in the other direction while passing them. Under no circumstances should you make eye contact. Verbal greetings seem to be serious faux pas.

In stark contrast to this behaviour, non-runners on the river relate substantially more social as they hang around popup beach bars, drink alcohol and exhale sweet smelling smoke. All of this is set against miles of uninterrupted street art. You are likely to spot artists working on sculptures, mosaics or murals. In the weekend you may pass by poetic speeches or musicians.

Don’t get me wrong, running along the canal is a special experience, but I found it got old. I started getting bored with the graffiti and endless flatness of the banks.

Also, there is a limit as to how far you can go. I did many of my 7 to 8 km runs along the river, but during a 14 km run, the riverbank faded into a gravel path before disappearing unexpectedly and leaving me stuck on a meadow between the highway and the river.

On the bank of the Danube canal
  1. Through the city centre

I ran through the city centre multiple times and loved the stately buildings, statues and fountains. And while I admired the city’s grandeur, so did everyone else. The centre is usually packed with tourists trying to snap selfies and catch rides on carriages. Dodging tourists makes this option difficult running terrain.

One morning I decided to beat the sight-seers to it, and head out at 7 am. I discovered another group that wants to avoid tourists: Delivery vans.

Ever wondered how and when that ‘Austria has no kangaroos’ umbrellas get to the shop shelves or the Spanish riding school gets rid of the manure of dozens of horses? All of this happens in the small window between first light and tourist take-over.

While you might be the only pedestrian around, you will by no means have the city to yourself.

Running while avoiding delivery trucks and trolleys

An alternative is to go on the shaded bike path along the ring road, but you would have to wait at the traffic lights.


Stephansplatz in the centre of the city

Despite all the route-planning perils I face during my stay, Vienna is a stunning city and has so many areas to discover on foot.

Why don’t you plan to go for a run in the capital of Austria? Vienna is waiting for you.

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