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Prater

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Vienna's most famous park, the Wiener Prater, is a leafy expanse of 1295 acres in the city's Leopold District. Running between the Wien and Danube rivers to the north-east of Vienna's old town district, locals head to the Prater to stroll down the magisterial Hauptallee, enjoy sports in the large grassy meadows, and take a ride on the park's famous Riesenrad Ferris wheel.

Established as a public open space for the citizens of Vienna as far back as 1766, the land was first put to good use as a hunting ground for Emperor Maximillian II in the 16th century. The park's greatest year was perhaps 1873, when the World Exhibition was held here, with visitors from all over Austria flocking to the Prater to see exhibitions and pavilions from around the world.

The park's main artery, the Hauptallee, is a 5 kilometre long promenade lined with mature chestnut trees, and tourists will enjoy the relaxing walk from one end to the other. Alongside the Hauptallee is the Freudenau horse racing track, where races are held every summer, as well as the Krieau Stadium, purpose-built for harness racing. The most impressive sporting ground within the confines of the Prater is undoubtedly the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, a 49,825 seater stadium home to the Austrian national football team. The stadium famously hosted the final of Euro 2008, while in the off season famous bands come here to play to tens of thousands of fans, with acts such as Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd gracing the stage here down the years.

The most lively corner of this vast urban park is usually the Wurstelprater, an amusement park filled with rides and attractions. Visitors can take thrilling rollercoaster rides, take a trip on a macabre ghost train, tour an outpost of the world-famous Madame Tussaud's waxworks and, of course, enjoy the views from the top of the Riesenrad. This Ferris wheel, perhaps the most famous of its kind anywhere on the planet, dates back to 1897 when Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I gifted the 212 foot high wheel to the city. The Riesenrad has featured in many classic Vienna movies down the years, including Carol Reed's film noir the Third Man and the James Bond hit The Living Daylights. The Ferris Wheel also served as an observation point during the First World War, and did not survive the Second World War unscathed, losing 15 of its 30 original gondolas. The views from the apex of the wheel are stunning, with panoramas right across the city to the Schonbrunn Palace and beyond.

One can also find a few less well-known, and more eccentric, attractions in the Prater, such as the Liliputbahn, a narrow gauge miniature railway popular with children. The most unusual sight here, however, has to be the Kugelmugel, a circular house erected by Viennese artist Edwin Lipburger in 1984. After authorities told Lipburger to demolish the property, he declared Kugelmugel to be an independent nation, and even issued stamps and passports to prospective citizens. Nowadays the house is fenced off, but visitors can still wander past the folly and admire the novel shape and bizarre history of this very Viennese oddity.

 

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