Absorb some European culture with beautiful art, historic castles, tasty treats and more with visits to picturesque and accessible Vienna & Salzburg.
By Barbara & Jim Twardowski, RN
One of the joys of traveling to Europe is the opportunity to see multiple countries. While planning a trip to Germany, we decided to extend the trip by a few more days and added Austria to the itinerary. Traveling from Munich to Salzburg is approximately two and a half hours. Salzburg to Vienna is a two-hour ride. Dozens of trains run between the two countries daily. With advance preparation, wheelchair travelers can find affordably priced tickets and accessible seating.
Regarded as Europe’s cultural capital, the city of Vienna with its music, museums, theaters, art and cafés should be slowly savored like a perfectly aged glass of wine. Ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world, Vienna is stunning. The capital of Austria is wheelchair-friendly, and the official tourism website (austria.info/us) includes a wealth of information on barrier-free travel.
For the past few years, Vienna has diligently modified its busy train stations, providing even more accessible features. Wheelchair users are required to coordinate their trip with the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) at least 24 hours in advance for travel within the country and 48 hours prior for journeys outside Austria. The mobility service will assist travelers with disabilities with ticketing, as well as arranging for personnel to meet you at a designated time and place to help with boarding. We used the phone number provided on the ÖBB website (oebb.at/en/barriererefreies-reisen/voranmeldung-beim-mobilitaetsservice) and spoke to an English-speaking staff member. Our tickets were mailed to us about a month before our trip. We always arrive early at train stations and stop by the customer service office to remind them we’re boarding with a wheelchair. The doors to some trains are quite high and require the use of a ramp to board. The relaxing train ride from Munich to Vienna took us past the rolling countryside, and we even caught a glimpse of the Alps. Arriving in Vienna, we hopped on a wheelchair-accessible underground metro to reach the center of the city. Vienna’s subway trains and stations are almost completely wheelchair accessible. All of the stations are accessed by either a ramp or elevator. You can check that elevators are operational in real time on the internet (wienerlinien.at/aufzugsinfo).
At our stop, we found an elevator that took us to the heart of the first district. Rising to ground level, the first building we saw is the symbol of the city — St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was married. One of Vienna’s most popular attractions, the Gothic structure construction started in the 12th century and boasts four towers; the tallest is 447 feet. Guided wheelchair-accessible tours are offered daily. The roof and catacombs are not accessible. Our hotel was less than a 10-minute walk through the Golden Quarter, a new upscale shopping experience where fashionably dressed mannequins beckoned from the display windows of internationally recognized brands such as Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The brilliant, blue sky contrasted with the snow-white buildings. The streets and sidewalks were flat, and maneuvering in a wheelchair wasn’t difficult.
You can spend days visiting Vienna’s museums and sights. Many are housed in historic buildings and access varies. We took a quick tour of the Theater Museum, where an escort accompanies guests to an elevator. The puppets from Vienna’s famous marionette days are one of the museum’s highlights. This small facility offers assistance for guests with disabilities. Call +43 1 525 24-5310 to make arrangements.
The massive MuseumsQuartier Wien (mqw.at/en) is one of the largest art complexes in the world. The baroque and modern buildings house a variety of art forms, restaurants and shops. We viewed the modernist art at the Albertina Museum with pieces by Edgar Degas, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. The 20 Habsburg state rooms with Louis XVI decor are lavish and give visitors a glimpse into the lives of royals. Strolling along Vienna’s Ringstrasse, we admired monumental buildings erected between the 1860s and 1890s. We stopped at one of Sigmund Freud’s favorite haunts, Café Landtmann, and ordered hot chocolate laced with rum. Vienna’s coffee culture is one of the most enticing aspects of the city. Throughout our visit, we frequently relaxed in intimate cafés for a coffee and a sweet.
One of the most famous desserts in the world, the sachertorte, was invented in Vienna in 1837. We indulged in the delectable chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam and a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream at Café Sacher, where the original recipe is a guarded secret. After enjoying a torte, take a peek inside the elegant, historic Hotel Sacher attached to the café. Vienna State Opera provides tours in 10 languages. Wheelchair users need to contact the facility in advance of taking a tour. There are 22 wheelchair-accessible seats in the opera house. Bookings begin when the new season is announced in the spring.
Where To Stay
The Park Hyatt Vienna (vienna.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html) sits in the city’s oldest and largest square, Am Hof. A bellman, dressed in a top hat and coat, escorted us into the posh hotel, which was formerly a century-old bank building. Our wheelchair-accessible suite was more than 600-square feet with an enormous roll-in shower. The hotel’s restaurant, The Bank Brasserie & Bar, with 25-foot ceilings, marble walls and soaring columns is as elegant as Vienna.
The budget-friendly Motel One Wien-Staatsoper (motel-one.com/de/hotels/wien/wien-staatsoper) is in the Opera District. Its design was influenced by the proximity to the opera — each guest room has a unique floor plan. Ornate columns and sparkling chandeliers are juxtaposed beside modern furniture. Our cozy, accessible room with a roll-in shower was filled with natural light.
Vienna is a stunningly beautiful city and refreshingly easy to navigate in a wheelchair.
For more information, visit austria.info/us.