Vienna’s Horse-Drawn Carriages: A Short Trip Into a Specialty of Viennese History

A horse-drawn carriage in Old Town Vienna, Austria.

The Vienna horse-drawn carriages offer a special way for visitors to experience the city's beauty and history. (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

Vienna, the capital of Austria, is in the heart of Europe and is known as the country of music. In this country once lived many famous musicians, such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and many more. Apart from that, Vienna has a rich history and culture, which you can admire in many museums, buildings, and monuments. The people of Vienna are proud of their historic sites and are keen to keep as many traditions alive as possible, including horse-drawn carriages.

The people of Vienna are keen to keep as many traditions alive as possible, including horse-drawn carriages.
The people of Vienna are keen to keep as many traditions alive as possible, including horse-drawn carriages. (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

Horse-drawn carriages are something very unique to Vienna, since they cannot be found in many other countries. It is a special way to experience and see the historic highlights of Vienna, which are nowadays mostly enjoyed by tourists.

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It is quite different from bus tours. Since the carriage ride is slower, it allows people to take in the scenery. The coachman, also known as a Fiaker, acts as a guide, introduces the different attractions, and gives background information. But it is also common for the coachman not to speak in order to let the passengers enjoy their time.

Horse drawn carriages on the streets of Vienna, Austria.
Taking a tour in a horse-drawn carriage gives people a chance to go at a slower pace and take in the scenery. (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

Horse-drawn carriages can be found in the historic center of Vienna, at the Stephansplatz, Michaelerplatz, Albertinaplatz, and, further away from the center, in Schönbrunn.

The price for the ride depends on the route, which takes either 20 minutes (55€, approximately $US59) or 40 minutes (95€, approximately US$101).

The ride includes the Imperial Palace, the Vienna State Opera, Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, and many more spots.

Horse drawn carriage waiting for passengers in Vienna, Austria.
Horse-drawn carriages are easy to find in the historic center of Vienna. (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

The horses and the carriages

Although it doesn’t look like it, most horse-drawn carriages are more than 100 years old. They are constantly restored, especially for the winter season.

All of the horses undergo training to ensure the safety of the people and the horses.

The horses are first trained out of town, then start to work in Schönbrunn. There, they give people rides through the magnificent palace garden. After this stage, they are finally fit to work in Vienna’s Old Town. The total time of the training lasts from five months up to one year.

The horses have one vacation per year, which they spend out of town where they can also enjoy their retirement after a few years of working.

Horses with blankets waiting to pull a carriage in Vienna, Austria.
The horses undergo training that lasts from five months up to one year. (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

History of the horse-drawn carriages for transport, inspired by the French

For a long time, horse-drawn carriages were used in Vienna by people for transport. But because of the price difference between the coaches, the situation was very chaotic.

In 1693, a public transport system was created. The Viennese horse drivers were given their first licenses and the price for a ride was set.

The idea came from Paris, where the horse dealer Nicolas Sauvage, had installed the first station for hiring carriages in Rue de St. Fiacre.

Between 1860 and 1900, more than 1,000 Fiakers were installed in Vienna. These coachmen were well-respected people and some of them were regarded as celebrities because of their brilliant driving skills.

They were also well-known for their entertainment skills, their wry humor, and their songs. The most famous Fiaker was Josef Bratfisch, the coachman of crown prince Rudolf (1858-1889).

The majority of the Fiakers lived in the “Fiakerdörfl,” which is now called Fiakerplatz and can be found in the 3rd district of Vienna. There, you can also find a bronze sculpture called “Der Fiaker.”

Statue of a Fiaker, or horse carriage driver, in Vienna, Austria.
You can find a bronze sculpture in Vienna’s 3rd district called ‘Der Fiaker.’ (Image: Sofie Schandl via Nspirement)

This is not the only memory in Vienna to honor the Fiakers. A traditional coffee specialty, which consists of a shot of coffee (Mocca), lots of sugar, whipped crème, and rum or cognac is served in a mug and called a “Fiaker.” It is said that this drink was very popular among the Fiakers and that they needed the alcohol to keep themselves warm.

Horse-drawn carriages today

Since the last few years, you can also experience the so-called “Horse Riding Dinner,” where you ride through the city center while enjoying food and drinks from famous restaurants and cafés, such as Hotel Sacher and Bitzinger’s Augustinerkeller, but only if you are willing to spend a few hundred euros.

If you ever have the chance to visit Vienna, touring with a horse-drawn carriage can be a nice and relaxing way to see the city. Although it is a little pricey, people of all ages like it because it is at a slow pace so that you can still take in the beautiful view, rest a little, enjoy the company of friends or family, and learn about the culture of Vienna.

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