A ‘Before Sunrise’ Inspired Day in Vienna

After a day of unpleasantness in an Austrian hospital, I was feeling completely and utterly down in the dumps. My feelings towards Vienna were not exactly warm and fuzzy, but I really did try to find something, anything, that I could love about Vienna.

As it happens, one of my favourite movies, Before Sunrise – a nineties romance film by Richard Linklater – was set and filmed in Vienna. I was encouraged to watch this film by a fellow backpacker when I was around 19 years old, and though romantic films were not (and still aren’t) my cup of tea, this one is downright brilliant.


In the film, two strangers, Celine and Jessie (played by Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke) meet on a train headed from Budapest to Paris. Celine is headed home to Paris, and Jessie is headed to Vienna where he has a flight booked back home to the US the following day. The two begin talking on the train as a result of a rather vocal argument happening between a pair of other passengers on their train cart. They get to talking, and when the train arrives in Vienna, Jessie convinces Celine that she should get off the train and spend the evening exploring the city with him.

The film is strange in that not a whole lot happens. It is literally a film where two people walk around Vienna and talk. On paper, it sounds so dull. But it is absolutely, anything but dull.

The film makes what should be boring, utterly enchanting, and showcases a beautiful side of Vienna in the process.

So, I decided if there was any chance of me finding something positive about Vienna, maybe the way to do it was to seek out some of the places that had seemed so magical on film.

My first stop was at the Albertina museum. This museum has a balcony at its entrance which provides some pretty beautiful views of the streets below. Albertina was featured twice in the film, once late at night and once early in the morning as the sun rises and the heart-wrenching ending to the pairs romance becomes inevitable.





This was probably my favourite place in Vienna. It was empty when I visited, it was beautiful, and it was the only place I visited where I could really feel the essence of the film. It is a hard thing to explain, but everywhere else I visited just felt kind of… empty, I guess?

In addition to Albertina, I also visited Maria-Theresien-Platz, Kleines Café, Café Sperl and the Wiener Riesenrad.

View from Maria-Theresien-Platz
Kleines Cafe
Kleines Cafe
Wiener Riesenrad

As much as it was great to see these spots, they just didn’t really do anything for me. However, part of me wasn’t actually all that surprised.

At the end of the film, there is a sequence of shots of all the locations the pair had visited, but these shots are of the following day, the day after the fictional pair had their life-changing encounter.

When I first viewed the film, I think that was one of the most moving parts of the entire movie. I remember wondering how could a city go on as if nothing had ever happened when a great love story had just unfolded hours prior? How could all the places that had appeared magical in the presence of the characters now appear so ordinary? I know it was just a movie, but I can’t help it, I get invested in stories!

It really does seem silly, but that when I viewed that film sequence, it was one of those moments in which I was reminded of how small and insignificant we all are. When something massive happens in our lives, we kinda forget that the rest of the world goes on without skipping a beat. Having those reminders are like little jolts back to reality, and I guess that was the point of having that short sequence included in the film. It was like taking off the mask of romance and seeing a city for what it really was, just another place in the world.

So, when these places didn’t feel as magical as they had looked, and didn’t make me feel much of anything, I was disappointed, but honestly, not all that surprised.

Spending the day Before Sunrise spotting was lovely, but it was not exactly what I’d hoped it to be.

Vienna – I tried to love you, but it just didn’t happen. Maybe next time?


Getting to Vienna: Vienna airport and railway station both have many international connections
Wombats City Hostel: A well located and comfortable hostel, a dorm bunk starts at around $21/night AUD
Before Sunrise: Available to stream on iTunes and also pops up every now and then on Netflix 
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: Just because Vienna didn’t do it for me doesn’t mean it wouldn’t do it for you!

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

56 thoughts on “A ‘Before Sunrise’ Inspired Day in Vienna

  1. I’ve never been to Vienna, never wanted to, but I do like a romantic film so your post has inspired me to try to find a dvd of Before Sunrise 🙂

      1. I found it on ebay not long after I posted my previous comment, in fact it came in a box set with its sequel Before Sunset. I must confess I’ve not got round to watching either of them yet though 🙁

  2. You’ve got an incredible taste in films. For me at least, Before Sunrise is the greatest romance ever! The Notebook and When Harry Meet Sally has nothing on Linklater’s masterpiece. Great post though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

      1. There is simply not enough words in the English language for me to describe what I thought about boyhood haha. Is it possible to be in love with a film?

  3. That was beautifully written again, Ellen. I love your way with words. It took me time to fall in love with Vienna, but fall in love I did. Maybe another time, another frame of mind? It is quite surprising when you revisit places, things, books, people…perspectives change so. And yes, that series is special. They are touched with a bittersweet note.

    1. Yes, I will definitely have to give Vienna another go. I didn’t like Paris when I first visited, but I really enjoyed it the second time around.

      1. I have come to the conclusion that our experiences almost always shape our like/dislike/mixed reactions to a place and that is just human. When I read your stories, I like the honesty in them.

  4. Great post. It’s funny how you say you don’t like romantic movies. That’s probably in the top ten romantic movies of all time. Two strangers meeting in a foreign city and they connect in an amazing way. I like before sunset of the series. It’s more real. I often meet friends again in different cities than where we met.

  5. The only time I spent in Vienna was racing off a plane, loading onto a bus, and going back through security and customs when we had a 35 minute layover between flights. They loaded us back onto a bus and took us back to the same area where they picked us up. My family was really huffing and puffing, and scared we would miss our connection. Not as bad as your treatment by the doctor, but still I have no great memories of Vienna.

      1. Germknödel was probably one of my favourites. It’s a large dumpling with jam in the middle, poppy seed on top and melted butter poured over. Always ask for extra butter! 🙂

  6. Really loved reading your post and seeing the angular photo of Kleines Cafe. We have felt that disconnect between an actual location and how it’s depicted in a film (especially living near Hollywood). You still made Vienna look pretty enticing. Hopefully, your next visit will be more enjoyable!

      1. It actually looks much better in La La Land but in reality it is an urban sprawl with an abundance of tourists.

  7. I used to love that movie and its sequel! (The 3rd one wasn’t that great) Too bad Vienna didn’t charm you, but that’s alright. Not all trips can be perfect. Why were you in the hospital?

    1. See I quite like the third one! It’s depressing but realistic I think – and I just can’t get enough of Jesse and Celine! I was in the hospital due to a knee injury 🙁

  8. Another interesting post. Thank you for sharing. As they say, you either like it or not. Even though you did not like Vienna, you got to achieve what you wanted. That’s all that matters. Great pics by the way. I watched the movie. It just did not grab me.

    1. Really?! That’s a shame. I must admit, it isn’t for everyone – but I think it is the most romantic film I have ever seen!

  9. Excellent post. I loved Vienna, especially the Albertina and that area around it. I didn’t know Vienna when I saw Before Sunrise. Must see it again. Thanks for this post!

  10. loved what you said here ‘I remember wondering how could a city go on as if nothing had ever happened when a great love story had just unfolded hours prior?’. Never really asked myself that but now that you said it… makes me wonder. Really loved that movie as well.

  11. Before Sunrise is one of my favorite movies! Seeing Vienna without the romantic company of a stranger is definitely not as good though. I was hoping to meet a cute guy on the bus for my 6 hour layover in Vienna this summer, no such luck!

    1. Hahaha you sound like me! Every time I get on a train in Europe I hope that my life will turn into a Richard Linklater film… but I am still waiting haha

  12. Vienna is a wonder! An amazing experience! Beautiful post, thanks!
    Vienna is particularly fascinating during winter time I think. I must try and visit before they make it all warm and fuzzy with the Christmas spirit haha.

  13. I love Before Sunrise, and I love the first sequel, Before Sunset, as much. The first time I visited Vienna, I just couldn’t feel a connection to it. I visited years later and fell madly in love with the place. I don’t think Vienna changed, so it must have been me. I am going back to Vienna in May, and you just reminded me to watch Before Sunrise again.

  14. Vienna is one of my favorite European cities! It’s just like Berlin, but a lot more compact. I also love Berlin 😉 There are 2 more movies with the same characters as in Before Sunset, those are also great, you can see how their lives went 🙂

  15. Love this post even though I’m sorry that Vienna didn’t sparkle that light for you. Maybe if a young Ethan Hawke were with you… 🙂

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