Accessing Vienna

Written by Melanie Hawkes – PDA’s WA Associate Director

I had no intention of ever visiting Europe as I hated the cobblestones in the UK. But I wasn’t going to refuse a free trip and was delightfully surprised to discover how accessible Vienna actually is.


I travelled with my support worker Amy, and our airfares were booked and paid for by the Zero Project Conference (ZPC) as part of my prize (read my previous blog about how I won it).

I had the choice of Emirates or Qatar, but one of the organisers recommended flying Emirates. So we did: 11 hours from Perth to Dubai and 6.5 hours to Vienna, with a 3.5 hour transit.

Three days prior to leaving, the ZPC still hadn’t confirmed the hire equipment I needed (a hoist with sling and a shower chair). I was getting worried, so contacted Emirates through their chat feature on their website. They agreed to take mine – both my hoist and shower chair can fold for transport – for free! So we travelled with my hoist, shower chair, power wheelchair and three suitcases between the two of us!

Checking in took ages (especially in Perth as the hoist battery hadn’t been cleared to fly), but everything arrived in one piece. I would definitely recommend Emirates. They were fabulous. Just don’t leave things to the last minute like I did, and always arrive at the airport three hours before your flight.


Our hotel was booked through the Zero Project Conference. I wanted to stay longer than the 4 nights they were paying for, so I agreed to pay an extra 16 nights, so a total of 20 in Vienna.

We stayed in a hotel called Roomz, near an amusement park called Prater. It met all my access needs:
* an elevator (actually they have three!),
* two single beds in one room,
* clearance under the bed for my hoist,
* a handheld shower hose and fully accessible bathroom, and
* near public transport.

[IMAGE: The hotel room]
[IMAGE: The bathroom in our hotel]

For €149 (around $263) per night including a full buffet breakfast, it wasn’t cheap, but was great. And it exceeded my expectations as it has a restaurant on site, had wooden floors (much better than carpet when using a hoist), had free wifi, was down the road from an Aldi (known as Hofer in Austria), and had a cute cafe across the road that served wholesome food and drinks, as well as a burrito place nearby. I would definitely stay here again. Most staff were great and spoke English too. But it would have been great if they’d had a laundry nearby though.

Getting Around


Cycling is common in Vienna so I found the footpaths were pretty good. At large intersections I’d veer towards the cycleway as there was less bumps and kerbs. There were small kerbs at corners that were ok for my wheels, but might have been tricky for a manual chair user. There was lots of tactile paving as well.

[IMAGE: A crosswalk showing a small step for the footpath and flat for the cycle path]


There are many crosswalks, but don’t expect cars to stop for you! Sometimes you just have to walk across and the cars have to stop.

Public Transport

There was a great website on accessing Vienna: info/accessible-vienna/accessible-public-transport-338230

Below is my experience of getting around.

Subway – Weiner Liner

The station was only a short walk away and had a lift to each platform. We could choose the U1 or U2 from that station (yes the subways are multi-level!).

It was like a maze trying to find the lift at the destination station though. Even if we’d been there before, we often got lost. There are signs but with so many levels, it wasn’t easy. They’re like small cities underground, with bakeries, shops and cafes.

It seemed the different lines had different carriages with varied wheelchair access. We used the U1 most of the time, which had carriages with access about every second train. The carriages with access had a red stripe along the side, were noted on the display with a line beside the wait time, and had a small ramp that came out automatically as the doors open. But only on the first or last door.

[IMAGE: The next train in 2 minutes is not accessible, but the one in 6 minutes will be.]
[VIDEO: The train door ramp]

Once inside there were 4 seats that flipped up to create plenty of space. But not all passengers were great at getting out of the priority area. It’s recommended (and there are signs in English) to face rearwards and apply brakes. You want to do this! The trains went very fast and if there’s a fair distance between stations, you wobbled like mad if facing sideways. I likened the movement to getting naughty in the bedroom! They also braked quickly so try and keep your balance.

There were audio announcements for the next stop, but were rarely in English. It’s best to know how many stops you’re travelling and count them as you go. But then there’s the problem of knowing which side of the train to exit. There was an arrow on the display, but there were usually people in the way. Learn German for left (links) and right (rechts). Then listen carefully! It didn’t matter which side button on the door to press as it activated both sides.

Trains – OBB

There were a variety of different carriages on other lines operated by OBB. And not all were accessible. Some were low floor and level with the platform. Another type had a large gap so a station worker had to put a ramp out. We didn’t know where he arrived from, but glad he did.

[IMAGE: The ramp on the OBB train]

Another type of carriage had a hoist at the door to lift my chair and hoist on board. Inside there were seats that flipped up to create plenty of space (even for my hoist). Most of these carriages had large accessible toilets too. And such a smooth ride!

[IMAGE: The hoist on the regional OBB train]

Many of these were regional trains for which you had to have a timed ticket. Unfortunately they didn’t accept the Companion Card.

[IMAGE: Amy with my hoist on the train]

Another day we got on the train in a pram door, but at the station we needed to get off at, there were two steps down! We couldn’t find anyone to help us, so had no option but to stay on and get off at the next stop. Luckily it was level.

If we’d noticed there was no wheelchair symbol on the door, we probably wouldn’t have got on it. Or if we had got in the wheelchair door, there may have been a ramp and a way to call for assistance.

The driver did call over the PA, but it was in German and we couldn’t understand him! We had to get off at the next stop and were able to catch a tram back.


[IMAGE: Me on a tram]

There were some tram carriages that are accessible. These had a ramp that the driver manually put out with a special tool, so you had to get on at the first door. The display screens on the platform showed a wheelchair symbol if an accessible tram was due next. I also think I heard a chime as it approached. Excellent for vision impaired passengers.

Once on board, there’s only the one spot to sit, directly opposite the door. I had just enough space to turn around and exit forwards. But wasn’t easy with the number of people on board. There was also a button to press to alert the driver that you need assistance to get off at the next stop.


I didn’t ride on any buses, but I saw plenty. All looked to be low floor, with a manual ramp at the rear door, not the front.


A one way ticket was €2,40 (within Vienna city on any mode), but you can get a 3- day or 7-day ticket for €17,10. It’s best to get the app as it doesn’t matter what day you buy it. If from a ticket machine or service centre, they’re only valid to the following Monday at 9am only. A waste of money if you bought it on a Thursday, for example.

We actually never saw anyone checking tickets, and there were no gates to pass through. But apparently you can be fined if caught without a ticket. Unfortunately they didn’t accept the Companion Card either.


Accessible toilets were few and far between. Some places had fabulous ones; others had none. The worst “accessible” toilet I used was in an old cafe. It was so small that the door didn’t fully shut. The best one we went to was in the Sacher Cafe.

[IMAGE: The accessible toilet at Sacher Cafe 1]
[IMAGE: The accessible toilet at Sacher Cafe 2 – with a baby change table built in]

It was decorated beautifully and had all the features required without feeling clinical.

One toilet at an exhibition about Mozart had a mirror that you could adjust the angle! Was so cool. All bathrooms had a red string to pull in case of emergency (I think). And some buttons to flush had a sensor, so you didn’t have to press hard.

A few places had locked toilets that could only be opened with a EuroKey. Much like our Changing Places facilities that you need an MLAK for. One such place was a regional train station. Lucky the cleaner had a key and was able to be called to open it for us. I think if I was to go to Vienna again, I would organise to get a key in advance or on arrival.

[IMAGE: The accessible toilet at the Mozart Exhibition, with the white winder to adjust the angle of the mirror]
[IMAGE: The accessible toilet on an OBB train]

Places of Interest and Restaurants

Some places had access and others had none. It was hit and miss. There was a museum we wanted to go to on Vienna’s history, called Time Travel Vienna. We found our way there, and they had a ramp at the door. Only to be told the exhibition was on multiple levels and the lift doesn’t go to all of them.

They suggested we go across the road to Sisi’s Amazing Journey, where there is another exhibition that is accessible. Only to find a step at the door, and no ramp… Very disappointing. We should have called ahead or checked their websites before going.

I was surprised at how many beautiful old buildings actually had access. We went to the Shönbrum Palace, Upper Belvedere (Lower Belvedere isn’t accessible unless you’re brave enough to try the “ramp” in the garden), The Kursalon (music hall) and the Art History Museum. Only at the latter did I have to use an alternative entrance, as the main entrance wasn’t accessible. All had elevators, although at some you needed staff assistance to use them. For buildings built in the 1800s, they were worth seeing.

[IMAGE: The “ramp” at Belvedere]

Some places we went to let Amy in for free, or gave us a discounted ticket (only €4 each at Belvedere)! So it’s definitely worth asking. It happened more often at government-run establishments than private places. I kept a spreadsheet of all Amy’s expenses to claim from NDIS when we got back, including her train tickets, meals, entrance fees and the wrapping of my equipment at the airport.

Famous restaurants and cafes were hit and miss for access too. Although it always paid to ask. Amy would go in and ask if they had a ramp, and we were surprised more than a few times when they said yes!

One memorable restaurant was Palm House. It was a cold, wet day and the queue was out the door. But they got people to move, put the ramps down and I came straight in to a table for two! No waiting in line at all.

In summary

There wasn’t a lot of time between finding out I had won my trip and me going. We didn’t have time to plan much. It was nice getting up each day with no plans and just going wherever we liked. But if I went again, I would definitely plan better. I recommend planning any trip, doing research on the places you want to go, and making the most of the time you have there. And Vienna is definitely a city worth visiting for more than several days.

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