After the looong winter we had this year, it seems that in Vienna spring was just bursting at the seams. Right now, just about everything seems to be blooming all at once: forsythias, apple, cherry and pear trees, tulips, the lowly but lovely daisies and dandelions, etc., etc. A veritable #ParadisusVindobonensis! Even the lilac, which normally blossoms in May, is ready to pop. What better time to get out there and enjoy the fantastic nature settings Vienna offers? There are so many parks and recreation areas, you probably would take a year to try to visit them all.
Of course you could just stay in the heart of the city and enjoy Stadtpark, Burggarten, Volksgarten, Belvedere park or, in the 2nd district, Augarten, to name but a few. But it is worth venturing a bit further “afield” to one of the outer districts to enjoy a less crowded and at times more peaceful atmosphere in one of the many green spaces. Some of these recreation areas appear positively bucolic.
A semi-rural idyll
One of my personal favourites are the Steinhofgründe, located just above the Otto Wagner Hospital, between the 14th and 16th districts. The Steinhofgründe are a natural recreational area where people enjoy walking, running, biking and picknicking. You can find marked hiking trails, small ponds and meadows with fruit trees, plus a magnificent view of Vienna.
One caveat: no dogs allowed at Steinhofgründe (unfortunately, as I would love to walk there with my dog).
A hiker´s paradise
To all hiking fans out there (count me in): You do not have to go very far to get to even more extensive hiking paths. The beauty of the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) has been featured in literature, music and paintings – rightly so. Vienna is surrounded by this wonderful green belt, of which the Vienna Woods are a large part. (Actually, only about ten percent of the “Vienna” Woods are located in Vienna proper, the larger portion is in Niederösterreich, but no matter.) There are nine special urban hiking paths throughout Vienna; these “Stadtwanderwege” are well marked, and maps can be downloaded from the city of Vienna website.
Did you know that the Vienna Woods are a biosphere reserve? Biosphere reserves are places where nature is protected for the enjoyment of people. They are meant to integrate biodiversity (“nature” in the broadest sense) protection with the sustainable use of nature and with cultural diversity. The Wienerwald Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 105,645 hectares and extends across 51 communities in Lower Austria and seven municipal districts in Vienna. It has an extraordinary variety of natural and cultural landscapes on the outskirts of the city of Vienna. The aim is to protect nature, where habitats and species need this protection and at the same time to develop the region into a region of good and responsible economic activities – not an easy feat.
A national park right in the city
Vienna even has a national park. If you are looking for what´s been called “blue spaces” (i.e. water bodies), there is more on offer here than the pond at Stadtpark or the Donaukanal. I would advise a visit to the Lobau/Danube National Park. The Danube floodplains are protected and constitute one of the last intact alluvial landscapes in Europe. It features a unique variety of flora and fauna and some diverse landscapes. Part of this fascinating and extensive ecosystem is located within the city limits.
Last summer I had a unique opportunity with Instagramers Austria to paddle down the Danube into the National Park. This is something the National Park offers on a regular basis and a highly recommended and fun experience.
Check out the DanubePark´s ranger-led programme and be inspired to join one of their guided excursions. Or, you could just enjoy the shade of a willow tree and gaze at the water or go swimming if you´re up to it. On a hot day it is really refreshing.
Urban green = quality of life
When I leave my office after work, I usually walk through the woods for a bit with my dog – the stress releave is instantaneous. This may be a subjective feeling, but the benefits of being in nature for our health and wellbeing have been scientifically documented. Being out in nature, whether in green or blue spaces, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, and generally makes people feel happier. (It´s no surprise that as soon as the sun comes out, thousands of Viennese seem to be camping out in parks.)
In 2018, Vienna was once again classified as the city with the highest quality of life in the world. Thus, since 2009, Vienna has consistently been at the top of this ranking.
The numerous cultural and leisure facilities, the good security situation, and the well-structured public transport network are decisive factors in this Mercer ranking. (Zurich takes second place, third place is shared by Munich and the New Zealand city of Auckland.)
So if you´re feeling down or in a bad mood, get out there and enjoy Vienna´s many nature and recreation offerings – it´s good for you!
P.S. – Earth Day is coming up
Since I´m talking about nature in this post: This coming Sunday, 22 April is Earth Day. Earth Day 2018 focuses on ending plastic pollution. Plastic pollution goes beyond the obvious plastic bottles or bags you find at the roadside or in your local pond. It is literally everywhere. Actually, today when walking through Steinhofgründe, I saw a plastic bag stuck up on a tree — even in generally clean Vienna! But it is much more insidious than that. Those fleece sweathers we all love so much? They release small bits of plastic fibres into our water with every wash – and such plastic particles then get carried away into streams and oceans. Aquatic animals and birds eat them, thinking they are food, and often die a slow and painful death – and hey, it´s in the seafood some of us like to eat, too.
4490 pieces of plastic
The artist Daniel Webb decided to do something about all the plastic waste he kept seeing at the beach and elsewhere. He collected waste plastic over a period of a year – 4490 pieces overall – and turned it into a colorful billboard. Amazing idea. At least he made something beautiful out of a scourge.
Help end plastic pollution by finding out how many plastic items you consume every year and make a PLEDGE to reduce the amount.
I have listed only three nature spaces in Vienna here. There are many more. Access to green areas nearby is one of the things that make Vienna so great. Maybe in some future post I´ll tell you about additional places I like to visit.
The website of the city of Vienna offers tips for hiking in and around Vienna (in English).
A list of all official recreation sites in the city can be found here.