There are a few quintessentially Viennese activities that everyone should try when visiting the capital of Austria. Grabbing a hot dog with a glass of champagne is a good one, attending a ball may be top of your list and eating a slice of dark Sachertorte is a must. However, taking a carriage ride in the city is one that mustn’t be missed. Join us for a journey across Vienna in this Riding Dinner review.
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Fiaker comes from a French word evolving from the name of a carriage stand in Paris. They dominated the streets in the late 1800s, ferrying the great and the good between their homes and the famous Viennese balls. They were also popular for the odd tryst between secret lovers. Unlike many other places around the world, the popularity of carriages hasn’t dwindled although they are definitely for tourists rather than the average Austrian commuting to work. Bear in mind that not all carriage rides are created equal and the experiences run by Riding Dinner are more than a nose in front of the competition.
Secrets of the Fiaker Riding Dinner Review
The tour begins at the stables in the 11th district of Vienna. When we arrived we saw Marco, the chap who founded Riding Dinner, giving a talk to the large group who were a lot more on time than us. Turns out everyone else was German-speaking so he had to give the talk twice for our benefit. I didn’t mind a jot though as it was so nice to know that the many families there might be local and just curious to see the story behind the fiakers on the streets of Vienna.
Our first glimpse of the horses was two utterly adorable Shetland Ponies. This is a 4th generation business and the Shetlands are given to the children of the family. This helps them learn how to respect and care for horses. They are pint-sized, just like the kids, and so can be managed. The children who were there for their carriage rides were going nuts for them. Honestly, it was too cute!
Then the group moved into one of the main stables to see the gorgeous horses themselves. This is one of the stables owned by this family. There are a few around with around 85 horses. The stable was beautifully clean and clearly well-maintained so you can tell they take amazing care of their charges. Of course, you may have concerns for the horses’ welfare but the horses of Riding Dinner’s stables are so well kept. They have gentlemen whose sole job is to keep them fed, watered clean and cool (or warm if its chilly) during the day as they wait at Michaelerplatz. The Riding Dinner horses are given 3 days off a week and between 5 and 8 weeks of holiday on a big ranch in the countryside. They get more rest than most working Americans… it is the European way! Oh, and they get to retire there too.
The horses were led out and backed themselves into place at the front of each carriage. They stood patiently as the staff busied themselves harnessing them in. The gleaming wooden carriages looked complete. These are all original, revamped carriages and you can really imagine the lords and ladies of years gone by passing in these beauties.
The other carriages that had been prepared were loaded up with families and pulled out. We all waved goodbye excitedly. Then we were presented with our beautiful, black and white coach. It was previously owned by royalty and we can see why. It was so elegant and incredibly restored. the shining laquear and pristine leather spoke of refinement.
Our Bubbly Breakfast
Now, this is not provided as standard on the Secrets of the Fiaker tours. However, as this was the only chance we had to visit, it was combined with the sparkling sightseeing feel by letting us enjoy the wine. Don’t worry, we had a big hostel breakfast with a few courses to ensure we weren’t drinking on an empty stomach. Especially in a rolling carriage, we thought we should be sensible.
The wine was an Austrian sparkling white with a blend of Grüner Veltliner & Welschriesling which wasn’t too dry. It was still reasonably complex though, not just bubbly nothing. So perfect to sip as we trotted into town. I was so excited when we discovered that the table had a built-in wine cooler and the wine glasses slotted in. I am a very clumsy person and even I managed to go the whole way without spilling!
We began our journey into town. The ride was due to take around 45 minutes and so we settled back with our glasses in hand. The journey took us through the quiet suburb of the 11th district. This previously industrial area was sleepy first thing in the morning but it is a lively place by day with lots of new, creative businesses taking up residence here. It was very weird to be on the road in the carriage and those people who spotted us seemed quite surprised to see us. I mean, it took a while for it to seem less strange to us. Stopping at a red light and passing under a large flyover in such a fancy carriage was definitely two worlds colliding.
As we got closer to the older part of the city, the roads became wider, and the buildings grander. We trotted along the side of the road, unbothered by the traffic. The horses do this route everyday so they knew exactly what to expect and where to head.
The carriage was a beautiful vantage point to take in the surroundings. We were above the level of pedestrians and not moving so fast that we didn’t have to take it all in. It was a wonderful way to see the Ringstrasses in particular. Riding Dinner offers sightseeing that goes all the way through the main sights on this iconic road and I bet it is wonderful as the coachman is also a tour guide.
- Our journey was a blend of two experiences. The Secrets of the Fiaker doesn’t normally include a bottle of wine but we were very generously offered one by Riding Dinner. If you want one, book the Sparkling Sightseeing, Culinary Sightseeing or City Sightseeing tours.
- For the full list of their offering (including the iconic three course meal with sparkling wine) check out the Riding Dinner website.
- Riding Dinner can accommodate guests with disabilities so drop them an email to let them know your requirements.
There is something about combining ponies and plonk (or fillies and fizz) that just feels correct. The Secrets of the Fiaker tour was the most incredibly novel way to start the day. It was so amazing to see behind the scenes and we loved the chance to learn all about the horses from the people that are passionate about them.