It has almost become a tradition to take birthday escapes in Europe. This time I treated myself with a trip at the capital of classical music, coffee-house culture, and imperial history, the majestic Vienna! Flying with Austrian Airlines is always a positive experience and without noticing that 3 hours have passed I was already at the Austrian capital. It was early in the morning but the airport was lively and busy. I took the City Airport Train (CAT) and after 16 min I emerged in the center of culture and history. I was standing in the center of Vienna!
Why to visit
Vienna is constantly ranked top in various international indices as the city with the best life quality in the world and this can be experienced from the tourist’s eye too. The Austrian capital is a modern, well-organized, and alive city which offers numerous cultural and entertainment options. Nevertheless, it does not lack rich imperial history which is reflected through the city’s architecture. Vienna is the center of classical music and home to some of the most influential classical musicians in Europe. The city radiates culture in every corner and there is an abundance of various museums dedicated to modern arts but also to imperial history. Vienna is one of the safest cities in the world and it is almost a mystery to me how well Vienna combines all the amenities of a modern European city with the aristocratic atmosphere of a previous era.
What to see
From the very first moment that I stepped out from the underground and started walking on the cobblestoned streets around the historic center, I instantly felt the city’s majestic vibe. While I was walking surrounded by imperial architecture and scattered small cute coffee houses, the emblematic St. Stephen’s Cathedral was suddenly revealed in front of me. This magnificent gothic building is the symbol of Vienna and is famous for its astonishing roof tiles forming the Austrian eagle.
Vienna is the heart of classical music and it goes without saying that you must visit one of the many classical concerts taking place in the city all year round. The first night, I attended a concert at Musikverein, a “temple” of classical music in Vienna and home of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The Golden Hall is one of the finest halls in the world with spectacular acoustics and opulent golden décor. Although it is a life experience to enjoy a concert at the Golden Hall, I must confess that I found the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart program, performed by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra, overpriced and a bit touristic.
Live concerts held in various sacred sites across Vienna are a popular and interesting concept that I was eagerly waiting to experience. As a result, I booked a ticket in the front row of the beautiful St. Charles Church in order to enjoy my favorite classical masterpiece “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi. The night has come and the queue was long at the entrance of St. Charles Church but my excitement was growing even more. Eventually, I entered the sacred venue and I couldn’t stop admiring the dome with awe and curiosity. St. Charles Church is one of the most remarkable baroque churches in Vienna. The concert started strictly on time and from the very beginning I felt that it was the perfect place for me to be for that moment; the atmospheric and emblematic catholic interior of the church together with the sounds of the violins, performed by the Ensemble 1756, gave me aesthetic chills that lifted me in another dimension. The countertenor’s performance in between “The Four Seasons” act was so unreal that I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful and high voice could come out from a male performer. As I realized afterward, the countertenor’s name was Nicholas Spanos, a Greek artist living and working in Vienna. Listening Vivaldi in St. Charles Church was one of the most striking experiences from my trip to Vienna. I will be remembering this concert for a long time, if not forever!
Vienna State Opera is one of the pearls of the city in terms of architectural and cultural significance. The opera hosts first class and world-famous productions. Hence, you realize that getting a ticket for such performances is very expensive but also hard to find due to high demand. However, if you are on a budget and dying to enjoy a magnificent act at the Opera, you may get a standing seat ticket which costs a few Euros only. Be prepared though, you need to wait in line for a long time in order to secure such a ticket. Alternatively, if you are interested to admire the luxurious interior of the venue, learn some historical information about the opera, and take a sneak peek at the backstage, you can instead book an organized guided tour.
Vienna is the city of imperial history and magnificent palaces. The second day, I woke up early and planned to explore the Schönbrunn Palace. After a quick breakfast at the modern Café J. Hornig, I hired a bicycle from the nearest Citybike Wien station and I headed towards Schonbrunn Palace. Cycling through the unfamiliar for me, yet enchanting Viennese streets, passing by the crowd and observing every detail my eyes could catch, while the breeze was gently touching my face, made me feel alive! Needless to say, that during the route I stopped multiple times in order to take pictures and enjoy the city’s vibe.
Almost an hour later I was standing in front of the gates of Schönbrunn Palace. Impressive as I expected it to be, the summer palace of Habsburg rulers was waiting for me to discover it. It is indeed a huge monument comprising by the main palace, the vast park, and the gorgeous colorful gardens. One of the highlights of Schönbrunn Palace is The Gloriette, located at the back side of the palace beyond the garden and on top of a beautiful green hill. This architectural masterpiece is well-deserved to be admired, especially during sunset when the golden sun rays pass through the arches of the monument and it is perfectly reflected on the lake. The Palm House, a charming steel and glass greenhouse which hosts tropical plants from around the world, is another special attraction that I would recommend you to visit. Bear in mind that you need almost half a day in order to relish the architectural, cultural, and historical importance of Schönbrunn Palace.
Next morning, was all about the Hofburg Palace and the Sisi Museum, both situated in the center of Vienna. Hofburg used to be the principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty and nowadays is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. If you are fascinated by the myth of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi, then you must visit Sisi museum which displays the real life of the princess from her coronation to her tragic murder in Switzerland.
After spending a couple of hours diving in history and in the magic life of the Empress, I walked out of the museum and instantly returned back to reality. Next on the list was the beautiful Volksgarten, also known as the People’s Garden since it was the first public garden in Vienna. Volksgarten is an amazing green oasis in the center hosting 3000 rose bushes of more than 200 different varieties making it a perfect spot for relaxing. Do you smell the picture?
Riding my bicycle to the majestic Belvedere Palace was challenging and enjoyable at the same time. I had to cycle the uphill street through small and picturesque neighborhoods of Vienna which are not popular among tourists. Belvedere was once the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy and currently hosts Austria’s most famous art collections with the most notable being “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. The upper Belvedere features a beautiful green and colorful area with an artificial lake in the center. Stand on the southern part of the complex facing the palace and admire the panoramic scenery of Belvedere, it is a priceless picture.
Vienna is famous for its coffee house culture. Locals pay long visits at a café to socialize, read, laugh, and enjoy delicious pastries and coffee of course. It is well said that in a Viennese café time and space are consumed but only the coffee is found on the bill! Café concerts are widespread in the city. Attend one and enjoy your afternoon coffee and dessert listening to live performances of classical masterpieces. For all the above reasons I highly recommend you to visit Café Central. It is a trendier version of the traditional Viennese café with aristocratic décor and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Café Central serves delicious desserts, quality coffee, and selected dishes. With a walk-in, only policy, be patient enough to wait in line for a table even during snowing days. After 17:00 Café central provides a unique Viennese coffee house experience together with live piano performance, which is unparalleled to anything you have experienced so far at a coffee shop.
It was my last day in Vienna and I could not miss visiting the famous Prater Amusement Park. The green space was massive and the amusement park was full of life with families and young people enjoying the various games. The whole picture looked like a small version of Disney Land. On the other hand, the so-advertised Giant Ferris Wheel was a disappointment. The ticket costs 12 Euros for a short ride and the view of Vienna from the top was not as promising as I was expecting.
Where to eat
Viennese Cuisine is the only cuisine in the world which is named after a city, and I was looking forward to trying Vienna’s gastronomy. After some time exploring the museum quarter, it was time to take a break for lunch. I chose Glacis Beisl since it is considered one of the best bistros around the Museums Quarter. The path to the entrance of the restaurant has a touch of mystery but the venue itself is very cozy. Due to the fact that I was still under the influence of Robins Sharma book “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”, I decided to restrict myself to the meat-free choices of the menu, but I was not disappointed. The light and tasty parsley root cream soup opened my appetite even more for what it would follow. The ravioli stuffed with curd cheese and potatoes served with roasted onion, sour cream, and green salad, was a new experience for my palate.
Leaving from Schonbrunn Palace and heading back to the city center, I stopped at Steman, a classical Viennese restaurant with a laid back atmosphere. Even though it was weekday the restaurant was full and a reservation was needed, but after 15 minutes of waiting, I finally got a table. It was already my second day in Vienna and I haven’t tried yet the famous Viennese Schnitzel. Without a second thought, I ordered from the menu the fried veal escalope with potato-mayonnaise salad. The meat was delicious but the salad was the one that made the difference and everything combined together with a local beer created a mouth-watering sensation.
Next morning, I passed by Figar 1070, for breakfast, before visiting Hofburg Palace and Sisi Museum. Figar is a petit yet popular brunch spot at the gentrified Neubau district. I was rushing to start my day. I sat on the bar and quickly ordered a cappuccino and a French toast with fruits on top. The toast was tasty but overpriced compared to its size. Nevertheless, with a vibrant atmosphere and urban decoration, Figar is always full of young hipsters.
Strolling around my neighborhood on Saturday morning, I spotted Café 7Stern and thought to give it a try. Café 7Stern is an urban hub combining food and culture, using homemade ingredients and throwing live cultural events. The menu was in German but with the help of the friendly waitress, I managed to order the “Once and for all!” dish which included bergkäs eggs with chives, home-made crusty bread, green butter, small granola with yogurt, homemade plum jam, caramelized grapefruit, and a fresh smoothie. The food was delicious but the grapefruit was not my taste and the smoothie was way bitterer than it should be. All in all, I left from Café 7Stern with good impressions and with a full stomach ready to start my day.
Last day in Vienna and I was running out of time. In between packing my bag and checking out, I managed to have a quick lunch at the Le Burger at Mariahilfer Street. Le Burger is a popular restaurant chain in Vienna serving handmade burgers with fresh ingredients. The restaurant’s interior is modern, full of positive energy with young customers getting in line in front of the open-plan kitchen to order their favorite burger combination. A self-service sauce corner, from where you can get for free your preferred sauces, was a huge plus on the overall experience. The Sauce corner serves some unique flavors such as sweet chili, mango curry, basil mayo, and garlic mayo. Le Burger offers quality food fast; all the rest compared to that place is just fast food.
How to move around
Vienna is famous for being a well-organized modern European city and this is also reflected in the city’s public transportation and infrastructure. From the time I arrived at the airport and took the state-of-the-art City Airport Train, I realized how reliable, comfortable, and safe Vienna’s public transportation is. The metro system is very efficient and helps you reach fast and with ease from one part of Vienna to another. The beautiful red trams are another option to move around, but personally, I chose to discover the city with a bicycle.
I am impressed with Vienna‘s public bike rental system. With 120 bike stations across Vienna, Citybike Wien is an alternative and environmentally friendly public transport which allows you to explore Vienna with your own pace and convenience, at a low cost. During my four days stay in Vienna and while I was extensively using the Citybike for moving around, my visa card was charged only one Euro and that was the registration fee! I am sure that you are wondering how this is possible… The trick is that Citybike Wien offers for free the first hour of the ride. Before the hour passes, you may lock the bike at the nearest station and wait for 15 minutes. Then you are allowed for another one hour of a free ride and so on and so forth. From all the advantages of using the Citybike Wien to explore the city, the most important for me is the priceless feeling of freedom on the wheel. In other words, you actively explore the city and interact with the environment instead of passively watching what is happening out there from the interior of conventional public transport.
Where to stay
Even though most of the sightseeing is located within the Ringstrasse in the Old Town of Vienna, choosing to stay there is always pricey, touristic, and crowded. Therefore, I preferred to book accommodation at the Neubau district. Neubau is currently considered the trendiest spot in the city with plenty of vintage stores, modern cafes, bistros, and bars. Mariahilfer Street, one of Vienna’s most important and lively pedestrian shopping streets, is bordered with Neubau. The district is conveniently connected with the rest of the city by metro, with the closest station being Neubaugasse. Neubau is close enough to the center but away from the massive tourism. Hence, you can experience the day-to-day life of Viennese and at the same time, you have access to the main touristic attractions.
In any case, if you choose to stay outside the Old Town, it is very important to book accommodation close to a metro station so you can easily move around the city.
Vienna is a modern city with an imperial charm and cultural abundance, a combination which will allure you and make you want to visit the city again and again. Vienna is always an enjoyable destination all year round. I regret visiting Vienna, said no one ever!
How to arrive:
Where to stay:
Within the Ringstrasse in the Old Town of Vienna, Neubau district, or close to metro station
What to see:
Where to eat & drink:
What not to miss:
How to move around:
Metro, Citybike Wien
Where to go for shopping:
Mariahilfer Street, Kärntner street