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Neusiedlersee in winter is not a day trip many travellers or locals consider from Vienna – it’s more famous for the summer sports and sailing, perhaps the thermal baths nearby. This weekend, however, with snow falling and temperatures dipping below -4 Celcius, we explored what the lake had to offer with some winter adventure activities.
The idea of lacing razor sharp blades to my feet and sliding precariously across a gigantic frozen lake (that may or may not crack open and drag me to an icy watery death in seconds) goes against every safety lesson I’ve ever learnt from horror movies and pop culture. But, nowdays I’m married to an Austrian, and in winter they skate, so skating we would try!
Miraculously Neusiedlersee is frozen enough right now to skate on. This weekend was a chance not to be missed, especially as I had listed skating here as one of the fun things to do on the Vienna List Challenge.
But honestly? I was scared shitless.
Neusiedlersee is a summer escape spot for the Viennese, a gloriously big lake area for sailing boats, sitting beside the water, splashing around and enjoying the countryside of Burgenland. We’d been here once or twice before and it’s a lovely little getaway from the city, no matter what time of year.
But covered in snow? This was something so entirely different and beautiful I couldn’t quite believe it.
The pictures can’t do justice to the beautiful eerie silence, the crisp fresh clear air and the terrifyingly clear-as-glass iced lake. Of course, it was only terrifying to someone like me, who grew up on the sand and battling the surf, completely clueless of how to handle myself on frozen bodies of water.
Then I spotted the three-year-old kids surrounding me on the lake… they slid across that ice with easy abandon, spinning, slipping, falling, sliding into their parent’s arms laughingly. None of them cared if they looked ridiculous, or started slow, or made idiots of themselves. They just threw their bodies into the fun, and let their minds take a back seat to their natural instincts.
So I took my cue from them. With the very patient help of my mister, we got out onto the ice. It was wild, but there were enough people (and three-year-olds) already far out onto the middle of the lake to convince us it was safe. Families with hockey sticks, young parents with strollers and plenty of teenagers flirting and showing off with their friends.
But man, it was hard. This was not like skating at the ice rink in the suburbs of Melbourne, or a cute slide around the Wiener Eistraum at Rathaus, this was some uncleared, snow-covered, bumpy AF ice. I lost my nerve within 5 minutes of scrabbling and hopping, breath catching and mind racing a hundred miles an hour.
Skating the way a baby lamb walks – awkward but determined – I gradually found my feet.
And man, am I glad I did – even if I was sweating and swearing half the time we were out there, once I had my feet safely back on land, looking back over the expanse of ice it was thrilling to think – I’d actually done it.
Even four years into living abroad, these little life challenges still catch me out. Living here feels like I’ll never stop learning, never stop pushing my boundaries or overcoming challenges. There will always be something else new, and terrifying and challenging – that everyone else seems to be doing so easily.
I just hope the challenges will always be this picturesque….
Have you tried skating freestyle on a lake like this before? What is your survival advice? Let me know in the comments so I don’t make such a fool of myself next time!
How to get there from Vienna: One direct train from Hauptbahnhof Vienna to Neusiedl am See with the ÖBB Regional Express takes 45 minutes.
From the train station a taxi to the main swimming/skating area (called Neusiedl am See Seebad) is approximately €10 or about a half hour walk
Price: Train tickets cost €11 each way
Eating & Drinking: We packed a picnic lunch and hot tea to enjoy between skating. On the way home we stopped into the adorable Das Stadt Cafe, which had delicious home made cakes and bruschetta so good we couldn’t share. Perfect for some post-winter adventure fun!