The grand spectacle that is Vienna city is adored by millions of visitors each year. The streets are littered with opulent architecture, quirky coffee houses and surrounded by the clip clopping of horse drawn carriages. The city is not only buzzing with history but with the smells of food vendors serving Bratwurst and other local delicacies. You can bet on one thing: you will be putting on weight.
The cheap and speedy ‘U-Bahn’ underground transport system is the perfect way to get around the city and I would suggest purchasing the €17 EUR weekly ticket in order to cut costs. Since there are a variety of areas to visit, the pass will be your new best friend on evenings when you can’t face walking anymore. As you ascend the underground stairs into the main square of ‘Stephansplatz’, you will be greeted by the spectacular Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s) cathedral towering over the city centre. The cathedral construction dates as far back as 1137 AD. Tours down into the catacombs or up into the North/ South towers can be grievously queued up for, or simply enter the main part of the cathedral for free and bask in its overwhelming interior structure.
A short walk away is the Spanish Riding School. This is inside the stunning Hofburg Palace and tickets can be purchased to see the famous Lippizaner stallions. You can also see the horses being groomed as you wander along the cobbled street, underneath the grand palace entrance and through to the other side. You can truly appreciate how much style the former Emperors had when gazing at this building. Each of the rulers continued to build upon this magnificent structure and made it the dramatic display that can be seen today. The most popular and a big name around town was Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth, better known as ‘Sissi.’
A further 15 minute walk from the Hofburg is the ‘Rathaus’ translated as ‘city hall’. The Rathaus is another fine example of Vienna’s charming architectural design and is a common location to celebrate holiday events such as Easter markets, Silvester (New Year’s Eve) and of course, the ‘Christkindlmarkt’. Here, you can sample endless traditional nibbles such as kasespätzle (cheesy dumplings), Rindergulasch (beef goulash) and leberkäse semmel (a simple yet tasty meat loaf roll – undeniably my favourite sandwich of all time!) You will also never be short of a local tipple such as plum Schnapps or Glühwein.
A short 15 minute walk from the Rathaus is a collection of different museums to enjoy. Since Vienna is such a cultural hub, it would feel unjust to decline a €12 visit to either the Naturhistorisches museum (Natural History) which houses giant skeletons, excavated fossils and recovered crystals. Or, the Kunsthistorisches museum (Art History) which contains one of the largest picture galleries in the world. Artwork originating from Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Gustav Klimt are lined along these hallways, for the reasonable ticket price of €16. Speaking of Klimt, he’s certainly a popular fella in his home city. His artwork can also be viewed at the Belvedere Palace – another remarkable construction, built in 1717 and around a 30 minute walk from the central Stephansdom.
Amongst the many famous artists of Vienna, is Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He designed the Hundertwasserhaus in the Landstrasse district of the city; a 25 minute walk from the cathedral. The apartment block is of a striking composition and is complemented by equally quirky shops and cafes in the surrounding area. Its uniqueness is enough to make the social media savvy generation envious of the occupants, until they realise their morning shower is usually greeted by a tourist’s snapping camera each day.
Mozart is arguably the most renowned composer associated with Vienna. (Let’s not forget Beethoven and Strauss!) His face is plastered pretty much everywhere. For music lovers, Mozarthaus is the only present surviving location where Mozart lived and tours can be taken daily for around €11. Don’t forget to try one of the Mozartkugel chocolates filled with pistachio flavoured marzipan and nougat – they taste rather vile but when in Vienna!
Something that tastes much nicer and yes, again I’m going on about food, is Sachertorte. This luxuriously rich chocolate cake was originally crafted by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Clemens Lothar Wensel Metternich (more of a mouthful than the cake) and can be enjoyed today at the extremely fancy Hotel Sacher. We were left feeling rather sheepish after we traipsed in wearing jeans and sneakers to the top floor of the hotel and most expensive looking coffee house in the world. Customers can also sip on a classic Viennese coffee here.
I previously mentioned Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Sissi; the sweethearts of the city. Another popular destination for your list would be their summer residence when in power; Schönbrunn Palace. The elegant building is a brief, couple of tube rides away from the centre and is surrounded by seemingly endless, green gardens and lavish water fountains, perfect for a peaceful stroll around the area. The Tiergarten (zoo) is also on the grounds for families with young children and prices begin from €22 for adults.
Since there is no shortage of sights to see in Vienna and to avoid me from barking on, other places that I would recommend to put on your list include: The Johann Strauss Monument, Katholische Kirche St. Peter, the Judisches Museum and the Wiener Staatsoper (Opera house) where tickets always seem to be booked up far in advance! Might be worth jumping on their website now…
Coming back to my favourite subject of food, I could forever harp on about the choices in this country or city alone! The Naschmarkt is an alluring, local food market where you can sit in and dine amongst the other market dwellers and stall owners selling their selections of spices, sweets or Schnitzel. Even if you don’t get the chance to make it here, you can rest assured that on every street corner there is a vendor selling some sort of meaty or carby snack option for when you get peckish mid-way through your shopping trip or guided city tour. The shopping here is like any major city, it has its high street favourites but is also home to some high fashion brands such as Chanel and Gucci. However, you will be awkwardly stared down by the security guards that linger outside as you window shop.
For a more, modern development, you can visit the Donauturm (Danube Tower). This revolving tower takes you 252 metres upwards for panoramic views of the beautiful city. For the cost of €14.50, you can overlook the picturesque Danube river with a coffee in hand. Alternatively, the neighbouring DC Tower has a familiar Hilton Hotel ‘Cloud 23’ style, with a swanky bar at the top and overpriced, underwhelming food compared with the rest of the city’s assortments.
Finally, the ‘Prater‘ is a fun fair in the 2nd district (3 stops from the Stephansdom platform). Here, you can enjoy the amusement rides and even the bizarre ‘ROLLERCOASTER RESTAURANT’ which delivers your food and drink down a spiralling track, directly to your table (not sure how we ended up in that one). You can then finish off your day on the grand ferris wheel which overlooks the city centre. Differing from the rest of the cultural theme of your trip, the Prater is suitable for young families or if you want to take a gamble on potentially throwing up your third Apfelstrudel of the day on the ‘Black Mamba’.
Vienna is a beautiful city and it would be a crime if you didn’t visit at least once in your lifetime. With so many aspects to it, you can have an educational trip whilst also glugging down a stein of Bier in the evenings. One thing’s for sure; you won’t feel short of culture as you wander round the city, sausage in hand.