Vienna Street Pattern and Trams

A crash history lesson (add corrections to the comments!)

Vienna’s street pattern reflects its history. The city served as an outpost in the Roman Empire called Vindobona. Vindobona was a garrison town reporting to the district capital of Carnuntum, located several miles to the east along the Danube River. You can still see traces of the Roman street pattern in Vienna. There is an open air excavation at Michaelerplatz (across from the Hofburg) and some streets have names based on Roman functions (including the Graben which means ditch in German and was the site of the moat surrounding Roman Vienna).

By the way, Vienna has a small Roman Museum on the Hoher Markt. There is a larger museum in Petronell-Carnuntum (Carnuntum museum) at the site of the main Roman town with a reconstructed neighborhood and a small gladiator arena  (50 minutes by S-Bahn from Vienna). Both museums are great for Roman history fans.

Relief of Vienna 1683 - Painting in Wien Museum by artist Franz Geffels from late 17th Century.
Relief of Vienna 1683 – Painting in Wien Museum by artist Franz Geffels from late 17th Century.

During the Middle Ages Vienna’s street pattern became jumbled as the city’s population and importance grew. Vienna was surrounded by heavy masonry walls which meant that the city was crowded and streets were narrow. Outside the walls there was a broad cleared area designed to prevent attacking soldiers from having places to hide.

Vienna’s walls helped prevent the Turkish troops from occupying the city on two occasions. The picture above is a painting from the Wien Museum showing the Turkish siege of 1683. By the way, the Wien Museum is a must see for city history buffs. It’s an eclectic collection ranging from armour (as in Knights) and art to city models and stained glass. Many of the temporary exhibits feature city planning history. It’s also a manageable size, all in all, one of my favourite museums in Vienna.

Vienna St Ulrich District 1835 - Wien Museum
Plan of Vienna’s St Ulrich District 1835 – Wien Museum.

Many small towns grew outside the city walls. These towns were independent of the city. As time went on they grew together and started to fill in the open land in front of the Vienna city walls. This pattern was similar to many European cities.

The photo above shows one of these suburbs, St Ulrich. The green at the bottom of the plan is the open space in front of Vienna’s main city walls. Note also the jagged line at the top of the plan, this was also a defensive wall, although less impressive than the city’s main walls.

Model of Vienna in 1852 showing city walls - Wien Museum.
Model of Vienna in 1852 showing city walls – Wien Museum.

By the mid-1800s it was clear that heavy masonry walls were not going to be very effective against modern weapons. Even so the Austrian-Hungarian Empire’s military delayed the decision to take down Vienna’s walls for many years.

Eventually Emperor Franz-Josef I decided to remove the walls and to create a broad boulevard with grand buildings where the walls had once stood. This boulevard was called the Ringstrasse.

Vienna Ringstrasse

The Vienna Ringstrasse is one of the most famous streets in the world and a landmark in city planning history. It is a wide multilane street with broad sidewalks and planted areas. Inside the “Ring” is Vienna’s first district – the historic city.

The Ringstrasse itself was built approximately where the wall was, and the clear land outside the original walls was used for public buildings or sold to private builders. Since all this land was made available at one time, most of the buildings along the outside of the Ringstrasse were built in a short period of time (about 1870-1890) and they make up an excellent ensemble of historic structures. Many books have been written about the Ringstrasse.

Two good sources: wikipedia Ringstrasse, and urban planning during the Ringstrasse Period from the city of Vienna (with a great diagram illustrating the Ring, development and the street pattern in the outside suburbs).

Model of Vienna in 1897 showing the Ringstrasse (similar perspective to above photo). Visible are Votive Kirche (bottom), University (centre) and Rathaus (top right). Wien Museum model.
Model of Vienna in 1897 showing the Ringstrasse (similar perspective to above photo). Visible are Votive Kirche (bottom), University (centre) and Rathaus (top right). Wien Museum model.
Vienna Ring Tram
Vienna Ring Tram

You can ride the WienerLinien’s Ring Tram around the Ringstrasse. This tram is designed for tourists and includes a recorded commentary in several languages (including the Viennese dialect which alone makes it worth the price). You can also ride trams 1, 2 and D along certain sections of the Ringstrasse (a less expensive option).

Of course the best to explore the Ringstrasse is on foot so that you can fully experience the monumental buildings and boulevard. The section from Schottentor to Staatsoper is the most scenic. Starting from Schottentor you’ll see the University, City Hall (Rathaus), Burg Theatre, Parliament, Volks Garten, Hofburg, Kunsthistorische Museum (Art History Museum), Natural History Museum, Burg Garten and Staatsoper.

For a real treat continue on to Stubentor where you’ll find Cafe Pruckel, one of the few remaining historic cafes located on the Ringstrasse. (If you don’t want to walk you can catch Tram 2 at the Kärntner Ring/Oper stop in the direction Friedrich-Engels-Platz to Stubentor U-Bahn.)

ULF tram on Ringstrasse, winter 2013.
ULF tram on Ringstrasse, winter 2013.

Also, while the street is generally called the Ringstrasse, or simply The Ring, each section of the street has a different name. For example, Dr Karl Renner Ring, Universitäts Ring, Kärntner Ring, etc.

As you can see in the models, Vienna’s walls had several gates. Roads ran from each of these gates out into the surrounding towns often forming the main streets through the town centres. Many of these streets still exist and follow a generally radial pattern leading out from the Ringstrasse into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Almost all these radial streets are named for the former towns they pass through. So, Hütteldorferstrasse leads out to Hütteldorf and Linzerstrasse runs out towards the city of Linz. Eventually these towns were incorporated into the city of Vienna and formed Vienna’s districts (Bezirks in German). The first number on Vienna street signs is the Bezirk number (1 = historic centre).

Vienna Shottentor Tram Station - underground.
Vienna Shottentor Tram Station – underground.

Important for our story is that most of Vienna’s tram lines follow these main radial streets out from the Ringstrasse. No trams travel through the historic centre city. Many Vienna trams have their terminals on the Ringstrasse and many times several trams stop at the same station. When possible these stations are also linked to Vienna’s metro system (U-Bahn) and bus lines. The main transfer stations on the Ringstrasse are:

  • Schottentor – Trams 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 and U-2 line;
  • Dr Karl Renner Ring – Trams 1, 2, D, 46, 49, Bus 48a and U-3 line;
  • Staatsoper – Kärntner Ring – Trams 1, 2, D, several bus lines and U-1, U-2, U-4 lines;

These stations were built at the same time as Vienna’s U-Bahn to help improve connections. They are very nice structures with clean lines (1970s design), comfortable waiting areas, shops and are very functional. See the individual pages for photos and more information.

Vienna’s settlement structure is generally a historic central district with districts radiating out from this centre. The inner ring of districts are numbered 2-9 and the outer ring are numbered 10-23, although the pattern is not precise. Important for our purposes is that there is a second ring road that runs (generally) on the outside of the inner ring districts. This road is called the Gürtel.

Vienna Gürtel

Margaretengurtel Vienna
The Gürtel is a major street in Vienna (Margaretengürtel January 2010).

The Gürtel is a major roadway that runs (roughly) around the first ring of Vienna neighbourhoods. Similar to the Ringstrasse, there was originally a wall here too, although not as substantial. You can see the wall at the top of the St Ulrich plan shown above. The Gürtel is a divided roadway with a wide median.

Western Gürtel

Tram stopping at Gumpendorfer Strasse U-6 station Vienna.
Tram stopping at Gumpendorfer Strasse U-6 station Vienna.

The U-6 metro line runs in the median (elevated or underground) along the western portion of the Gürtel. The U-6 metro line follows the route planned by Otto Wagner and used for steam trains in the late 1800s until the mid 1900s. Several stations still follow the original station designs by Wagner (including: Nussdorfer Strasse, Wahringer Strasse, Josefstaeter Strasse, Stathalle and Gumpendorfer Strasse).

The Gürtel, due to its heavy traffic serves as a real dividing line in Vienna. Also many of the buildings are used for quite marginal uses (seedy nightclubs etc.). There’s an ongoing effort, partly funded by the European Commission, to help clean-up the Gürtel, but it’s slow going. It’s actually quite sad to see the many very beautiful buildings along the Gürtel essentially ruined by the heavy traffic. I often wonder what would happen if the traffic could be eliminated or significantly reduced.

Wahringer Strasse U-6 Station by Otto Wagner, Vienna.
Wahringer Strasse U-6 Station by Otto Wagner, Vienna.

Important for our story is that the tram lines radiating out from the Ringstrasse all have important interchange points along the Gürtel. Each U-6 station functions as an important hub where people can transfer to the metro, other tram lines and bus routes. The main transfer stations on the Gürtel are:

  • Nussdorfer Strasse – Trams 37, 38;
  • Wahringer Strasse – Trams
  • Josefstaeter Strasse – Trams 2, 33;
  • Burg Strasse – Stadthalle – Urban Loritz Platz – Trams 6, 18, 49;
  • Westbahnhof – Trams 5, 6, 9, 18, 52 and 58, U-3;
  • Gumpendorfer Strasse – Trams 6, 18 and Bus 57A;
U-6 Bridge over Wienfluss designed by Otto Wagner, Vienna.
U-6 Bridge over Wienfluss designed by Otto Wagner, Vienna.

At Gumendorfer Strasse the Gürtel meets the Wienfluss (Vienna River). The Wienfluss was canalised in the late 1800s and part of the Stadtbahn railway was built along its banks (designed by Otto Wagner). The Wienfluss Stadtbahn line has been converted to the U-4 metro line. The U-6 metro line turns west away from the Gurtel here and connects to the U-4 at Längenfeldgasse. From there the U-6 travels on a new line out to Siebenhirten.

U-6 Bridge over Wienfluss, detail.
U-6 Bridge over Wienfluss, detail.

The U-6 bridge over the traffic lanes and river (designed by Otto Wagner) is a fantastic example of late 19th Century engineering and design. It’s worth getting off the U-6 at Gumpendorfer Strasse and walking over to look at it.

Southern Gürtel

Wagner’s original plans called for the Stadtbahn to be continued along the Gürtel south of the Wienfluss and you can see still see how this line would have connected at the Gumpendorfer Strasse U-6 station. However this line was never built and so the Gürtel continues south to the new Hauptbahnhof (formerly Ostbahnhof and Sudbahnhof).

On the first part of this route (the Margaretengürtel) there is a very wide median with mature trees and play areas. The boulevard is lined with several fantastic examples of Vienna’s social housing buildings (1920s and early 1930s). These buildings were constructed as part of the Social Democrat policy and intended to solve a severe housing crisis among the working class (they were part of a comprehensive program often referred to as Red Vienna). This section of the Gürtel was originally referred to as the Ringstrasse of the Proletariat (here’s a tour from in German, but with a good map).

The next section, Wiednergürtel, has no median, it’s a fairly desolate urban roadway with the railway tracks on one side and buildings on the other. Again, one wonders how much more liveable this area could be if we could reduce automobile use.

Strassenbahn TUNNEL brochure published by the city of Vienna (1968).
Strassenbahn TUNNEL brochure published by the city of Vienna (1968).

Interesting for our story is that Vienna built an underground line for trams on this section of the Gurtel (from Eichenstraße to Südtiroler Platz) in 1964-68. The tunnel serves several lines and includes short branches to radial lines on the Wiedner Hauptstrasse and Triester Strasse. Tram lines 1, 6, 18, 62 and the Badner Bahn all run through parts of this tunnel system. The photo on the left illustrates part of a brochure celebrating completion of the Strassenbahn Tunnel (Strassenbahn TUNNEL Wien 1968 brochure, contact me for larger version).

By the way, Vienna also built a tunnel for tram 2 on the street running parallel to the Ringstrasse from Alser Strasse to the Naschmarkt (this street also has different names for each section, and therefore most Viennese refer to it by the name of the former tram line: Zweierlinien which can be translated literally as number 2 line). The tram tunnel was converted for use by the U-2 metro line (which is why some of the stations allow access in only one direction). The number 2 tram was moved to the Ringstrasse and was eventually combined with several radial tram lines to serve longer trips.

There are four underground tram stations along the Gürtel route and one on the Wiednerhauptstrasse:

  • Eichen Strasse – Trams 6, 18 and 62;
  • Matzleinsdorfer Platz – Trams 1, 6, 18, and 62; Badner Bahn, and S-Bahn lines;
  • Kleiber Gasse – Trams 1, 18, and 62; Badner Bahn;
  • Südtiroler Platz – Tram 18 with connections to Tram O on the street level;
  • Laurenzgasse (Wiednerhauptstrasse) – Trams 1, 62 and Badner Bahn.

After Südtiroler Platz trams 18 and O travel on the surface to the Hauptbahnhof. From there, the lines continue on the surface to the Praterstern (Tram O) and Schlachthaus Gasse (18).

Entrance to Eichenstrasse underground tram station, Vienna.
Entrance to Eichenstrasse underground tram station, Vienna.

The underground tram system works pretty well and, in terms of efficiency, is much better than having the trams fight automobile congestion on the surface, but in my opinion underground tram systems never work really well. They generally have limited capacity (compared to a metro), require people to go underground (adding time and inconvenience) and separate people from the street (i.e. views and orientation). Of course we need to protect trams (and buses!) from congestion, but why not put the cars underground and implement programs to limit the number of automobiles in cities? I could go on, but I’ll do that elsewhere.

The Ringstrasse stations, U-6 Gürtel stations and Gürtel underground tram line stations are the key major tram stations in Vienna. However many other tram stations serve as major transfer points. These stations will be described under the descriptions for each line.

Tram Numbers and Letters

Finally, the more observant readers many have noticed that an “O” slipped in to the list of trams at the Südtiroler Platz station. It’s not a typo. In fact, Vienna has an extremely organised system of numbering (and lettering) for their tram lines. And, since buses have replaced some tram lines, the system also applies to many bus lines.

Vienna Tram - Door Button
Vienna Tram – Door Button

First: trams are referred to by simply number or letter; the underground lines are referred to with an “U” before the line number; bus lines are referred to with an “A” after the number; and, night buses are referred to with an “N” before the number.

Second, tram numbers and letters were assigned based on where the tram travelled (note these rules are not perfect):

  • tram numbers from 1 – 19 are generally circumferential lines with lower numbers more towards the centre of the city;
  • tram numbers in the 20s generally serve the northern districts (2, 20, 21 and 22);
  • tram numbers increase in a counterclockwise direction so:
    • numbers in the 30s serve northwest districts (9, 19);
    • numbers in the 40s serve western districts (8, 7, 18, 17, 16, 15);
    • numbers in the 50s serve southwestern districts (6, 5, 15, 14);
    • numbers in the 60s serve southern districts (4, 3, 13, 12, 11, 10).
  • trams with letters traveled on the Ringstrasse but also had a radial component on either or both ends (there are only two of these lines left: the D and the O);

Third, buses generally follow the same rules; in some cases bus lines have the same number as a tram line, often these leave from the tram’s terminal station and serve to extend the route (you can tell the difference because the buses have the “A” after the number).

Work in Progress

This page is a work in progress. I’ll be updating it with information and photos from my walking trips along the tram lines along with any new history I learn. In the meantime please contact me if you have comments or edits! Thanks for reading.

Pin It on Pinterest