Vienna, once the home of the Hapsburg Dynasty, it is now the capital of Austria and a city of incredible classical architecture. Between world-class museums, lavish royal palaces, elegant cafés and an unparalleled passion for music, there’s no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in the enchanting capital of Austria. Vienna is a short distance from Bratislava, Prague and Budapest, making it the perfect place to spend 2-3 days in.
I didn’t know much about Vienna, or Austria for that matter, but my goodness what a pleasant surprise when I finally arrived. From the first few steps, it was one of those type of cities where you stopped what you were doing, looked up, and rotated a few times just to make sure it was real. Just walking the two blocks from the train stop to my hostel, I was amazed by the endless displays of renaissance architecture.
City Facts – Vienna
|My Trip Dates||May 18-20, 2015|
|Airport Transport||9 (10 being easiest)|
|Time Zone||GMT + 1|
Getting In And Around
Vienna is an easy city to navigate. It’s on the smaller side as far as European capitals go and most of the main sights can easily be done on foot. The U-Bahn, or underground train, can be used for the longer journeys.
Transportation Honesty Policy
Like Berlin, Vienna runs on the honesty policy. What do I mean by this? Think about New York’s subway system where you buy a ticket and there’s a gate preventing you from entering without using said ticket. London’s Tube system requires the ticket when exiting the station. In Vienna, there is no security measure preventing you from catching the train. There are places to buy your ticket, and there’s a little box for you to “stamp” your ticket, but there’s no turnstile or gate preventing you from catching the train!
I had to put this to the test and surely enough, nothing happened to me. The locals say there is the occasional train employee that will check tickets but I never saw that once. So am I recommending train surfing in Vienna? No, but if you lost your wallet or something, know that you can still board the train without jumping a turnstile. What do the locals do? Well it seemed to me most of the locals were pretty honest and always paid.
Airport to the City
I flew into Vienna from Berlin via Germanwings, yep the same airline with the crazy pilot that crashed the flight in 2015. I can never praise enough how amazing it is to fly so cheaply within Europe and this flight was no exception, costing me 50 euros. The Vienna International Airport is also one of the nicer airports I’ve seen in the world. From the airport, it is very easy to reach the Hauptebanhof (Central Train Station) via the subway. From the airport, follow the signs to the U-Bahn (trains), and the fare is €4.40 from the airport to the Wien Mitte station (Vienna central). It’s a quick 25 minute ride.
I was very impressed with how easy and efficient the trains are in Vienna. The trains are all differentiated by colors and and numbers, U1, U2…U6. The directions are easy to follow. In fact, I’d say the Vienna transport system was the easiest to pick up. Like everywhere else I’ve been in Europe, the trains are punctual and frequent. Fares are €2.20 for a single ride or €0 if you just don’t feel like paying and willing to risk it!
What To Eat?
A pleasant surprise to me, but Vienna had some damn good food. For those that like meaty, hearty dishes, with some delicious beer and wine, rest assured you will be dining well here. Turns out there’s plenty more to Austrian cuisine than the infamous schnitzel (which they make sure is cooked deliciously in Vienna!)
Austria, like its neighbor to the north, is famous for its beer. The style is similar to Germany but I’m sure the Austrians have plenty to say about that. Just like when I was in Germany, I drank copious amounts of beer here. It’s legal to drink in the open and you can even get beer from street vendors. Ottakringer, Murauer, Gosser, Egger and many others are ones to try. As Ottakringer is brewed in Vienna, I stuck with the local goods the entire time and did not go wrong.
Street vendors sell all these beers as well as giant pretzels and numerous types of wursts (Sausage) which were surprisingly really damn good.
My very first meal in Vienna was to sample what else but the weiner schnitzel. Schnitzel’s are a very authentic and popular dish that is just thing layers of meat battered with breading and served with a garnish of lemon. Although schnitzel is traditionally eaten with veal, it’s quite expensive so pork is a common substitute. I’m sure there are many other better schnitzel places because I’ll be honest, Figlmuller is a tourist hotspot. Nevertheless, not all tourist attraction restaurants are bad and I actually very much enjoyed it. Figlmuller, located in the old town, is famous for its giant pizza sized schnitzels. They are indeed that massive, and actually very tender and tasty as it was served to me overflowing from the plate’s edges. If I had to guess, their schnitzel’s are about 15″ in diameter! Most people eat about half of it but I wolfed the whole thing down and washed it down with some Austrian white wine. Great dinner. Skip the appetizers though as it’s not worth the money!
Another famous Viennese institution is eating Tafelspitz, or boiled beef, at Plachutta. Boiled beef isn’t the most appealing sounding dish out there but rest assured, these guys know how to marinate and cook a damn good boiled beef dish. The beef was very tender, and brimming with flavor from the soup it’s cooked in. Throw some horseradish over it, and being the meat lover that I am, I was very content at that point. The locals all told me this place has huge portions of meat but I was actually let down by the quantity I received, especially for how much I paid. I mean I had my meat hat on that night and could have eaten two portions. Perhaps that is why Europeans are so much slimmer than Americans because their idea of a big portion is normal sized in America.
The Vienna Naschmarkt is a giant food market in the middle of Vienna’s busy Weinzelle road that’s been around since the 1600s. It’s 1.5km long chalk full of street vendors and restaurants. Walking through this place is a cool activity itself and there is some very good food to be had here. There are stalls selling seafood, meats, dessert, kebabs, schnitzel, cheese, cured meats and many other things. The trick here is to make sure you accept anything that’s offered to you as a sample. I ended up getting some local food, goulash with extra large dumpling.
Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel
I’m not the biggest dessert person but this famous piece of chocolate cake was a must do on every blog, list, guide book that I read about Vienna. So what the hell, why not give it a try? The Sacher hotel is an upscale hotel but their cafe serves this delectable piece of chocolate cake called the Sacher Torte. Was it amazing? Yes, definitely. Life changing? Could see it being so for some. It’s €5, yes 5 euros for a piece of cake and what a good business strategy on their part because the cafe had a line down the street for people keen to have a slice. My recommendation if coming with another person, is to order one piece of Sacher torte, and an order of Kaiserschmarnn, an absolutely delicious Austrian dessert that is like a fluffier pancake with prune sauce and powdered sugar.
What To Do?
Vienna has a plethora of history and a seemingly endless amount of beautiful architecture. Its founders specifically wanted to make Vienna the most beautiful city in Europe back in the day and I think they’ve succeeded. Walking through Vienna, I was almost too overwhelmed at the amount of beautiful buildings. It seemed that every corner I turned, there was a huge and beautiful palace/cathedral/museum. There is plenty to do in this city and I think 48 hours is enough to see most things.
This is THE place to visit in Vienna. If you’re only here for less than a day, make sure this is the one place you visit. Constructed in the 1700s, It was the former imperial summer home and now a UNESCO world heritage site. I took the U-Bahn here early in the morning to avoid the rush and wow what a sight it is. It’s absolutely massive! The main palace is 141 rooms and like most other palaces in Europe, you can pay for a self guided audio tour of the palace. Surrounding the palace are the enormous gardens, along with man made labyrinths, a zoo, and numerous water fountains. My favorite part of the palace is the Gloriette, an impressive structure perched atop a 60-meter high hill. The hill offers great views of the palace grounds, as well as all of Vienna. It also houses a café where you can go for a quick snack. As far as palaces go, I’d say this place is only rivaled by the Palace of Versailles in Paris.
Hofburg Palace and surrounding
The Schonbrunn palace were the Habsburg’s summer home, so it is only fitting to see their winter home. What a tough life. Hofburg was the epicenter of the Habsburg Empire, and today visitors can get insight into the life of the monarchy by visiting the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Imperial Silver Collection.
Surrounding the Hofburg palace are numerous other buildings like the Austrian Parliament building, Belvedere Palace, and many other buildings that are all worth the visit.
The Opera House
Vienna is famous for its opera as it was once the thriving musical capital of Europe where the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahm performed. Nowadays, the opera house is still not only a beautiful building to behold, but is home to regular opera shows. Shows are not cheap but there are standing only tickets that can be purchased for cheap (~€20).
Drink some coffee, Viennese style
I’m not a big coffee drinker myself but the Viennese are crazy about it. There are countless coffee houses in Vienna and I decided to try it out at Kleines Cafe in the Franziskanerplatz. It’s an old, famous, and therefore a bit touristy of an establishment. The first thing I noticed here was how no one takes coffee on the go. Whereas in America, where coffee is largely used to fuel our hectic lifestyles, it is quite the opposite in Vienna. People come here at all times of the day, order a coffee, and chill for HOURS. In fact, as long as you order a coffee, you can stay in that cafe as long as you want, and no one will say a word. At traditional cafes, your server will always be a man, dressed in formal attire.
Atmosphere rooftop and bar
For likely the best view of Vienna without heading for the hills, visit the rooftop at the Ritz-Carlton for an extensive and beautiful 360 degree view of this beautiful city. They have a large wine and cocktail menu, expensive of course, but well worth a drink or two just for the views.
Bored of Vienna? You’re in luck. Leave the capital for another capital, for the day! Vienna is located just a 40 minute train ride to Bratislava, Slovakia. Surprisingly, these two cities are not the closest capital cities. That honor goes to Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) and Kinshasa (DRC). I didn’t have enough time for this sadly but if you have 3-4 days in Vienna, would highly recommend this side trip!
Map of all the highlights