Why you shouldn’t do it.
One of the many tourist attractions you find in Vienna are the horse-drawn carriages that take up to four or five people through the inner parts of the city for sightseeing reasons.Even though those carriages, in German called “Fiaker”, can look back to a very long tradition they are more than controversial.
The idea of renting horse-drawn carriages to people in order to have a mean of transportation was born in 1645 in Paris. A guy named Nicholas Souvage kept carriage in Paris, at the Hôtel de Saint Fiacre, to be more specific (yes, that’s where the name derives from), and rented them to the inhabitants of the city. Within 20 years he managed to build the first system of public transportation in Paris. It operated citywide and was highly accepted by the French. During the times of the French Revolution (1789) there were more than 800 fiacres (as they wee called in french) operating. By 1860 about 3800 fiacres and 8.000 horses were operating in Paris, all under the supervision of the newly formed Compagnie Impériale des Voitures à Paris (CIV). It was instigated by Napoléon III.
Many European cities adopted the idea of fiacres, Vienna was one of them. At peak times (between 1860 and 1900) there were about 1.000 carriages operating in Austria’s capital, by 2008 that number had dropped to 144. Until nowadays half of them operate on even days, the other half operates on uneven days. Due to other means of public transportation, such as trams, busses and subways, they’re only serving as a tourist attraction now. Today you still can find them in Vienna, Salzburg and some more European cities. The price for a Fiaker trip depends on it’s length and is set by the Viennese government, so no matter which guy you choose, you’ll always pay the same price.
They’ll take you through the inner parts of the city and around the Ringstraße. The street that’s one of the most used ones in Vienna. That is only one (of many) critical points when it comes to Fiakers. They are part of the regular traffic. That means cars, trams, busses and motorcycles are rushing by. As horses are flight animals by nature, you might understand under how much pressure those animals are when having to deal with modern traffic. Another thing that’s often criticised is the way the horses are treated while not “working”. Most of them don’t get enough recreation, they can’t move and run around enough and can’t feed and drink whenever they want – which makes them more likely to get a mortal colic. Everyone who’s seen horses in more natural surroundings know how they should be able to behave. Every summer animal activists demand days off for the horses when temperatures reach more than 30° C (86° F) and the availability of sunshades. Which they don’t have AT ALL. They are standing at Stephansplatz in the burning heat, looking all miserable.
As someone who’s lived in Vienna for a long time now, I can tell you: If you ever come and visit this truly beautiful and historically rich city, be sure to stay away from the Fiakers. It might look tempting to see the sights of the old town center from a romantic carriage, but the truth it: It’s – above all – dangerous (not to speak of the cruelty towards the animals). The last accident happened just a week ago, when a Fiaker was on its way home: The horses panicked cause of a car rushing past. The horses were unstoppable and ran into an intersection at a red light on the traffic lights. They were hit by another car. One of the horses died immediately. Fortunately no people were hurt. But still: Think about it. All you wanted to do is seeing the sights while in a Fiaker, but then the horses bolt… With you, your significant other and your beloved kids in it.
Why don’t you get a guided city walk tour? It’s way cheaper, you can ask questions, stop wherever you want and can enjoy the vibe of the city – and no animals have to be hurt for that. There are a million ways to explore this fantastic city, believe me. Or rent a citybike! Just because it’s a tradition, it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. It’s nothing you “just have to do when once in your lifetime visiting Vienna”. There were some suggestions of animal rights activists to transfer the Fiakers from the crowded parts of the town to the greener surroundings. That would not only be nicer for the animals, but tourists could also explore the very green, nice and underrated countryside a bit outside of Vienna. So far no actions towards that not so bad compromise were taken – so maybe if tourists in the city would wake up and stop using them, it could change something. Be one of them.
1: „AUSTRIA Parlament 3“ von böhringer friedrich – Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 2.5 über Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AUSTRIA_Parlament_3.JPG#/media/File:AUSTRIA_Parlament_3.JPG
2: Fiaker 2015, Wikimedia, no Author provided
3: „Fiaker in traffic“ von Onsemeliot – Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fiaker_in_traffic.jpg#/media/File:Fiaker_in_traffic.jpg