It’s an open secret that nothing gives me more joy than discovering new places. While planning our annual holiday this year my sister and I couldn’t figure when we wanted to go. After much consideration we picked Austria and three Austrian cities to explore since neither of us had been before. We knew what to expect with it being a European city and had a vague idea of what our trip would be like but neither of us were prepared for what the country really offers.
It was without a doubt one of our most memorable trips and all three cities, Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck were magical. I had such a wonderful time that I think that my happiness shone through every single social media post and a surprising curiosity grew among people that by popular demand I’m trying to break down each city and the things I did there.
This is my guide to Vienna, our first stop on our holiday and a city we are already planning to re visit next year. Vienna is vibrant. It’s full of museums, culture, royal heritage, funky restaurants, cool cafes, beautiful people and extremely easy to get around. It’s a good city to start with if you’re thinking of travelling through Austria, and this is everything I managed to do in the three days I was there. I am working on a separate post dedicated to food and where I ate but till then I hope you enjoy this one!
The Hofburg Palace – This is the former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty and was the first historic place I visited in Vienna. It’s said to be one of the biggest palace complexes in the world and dates back to nearly the 13th century. Today it’s the seat of the Austrian President, the Congress House, the office of the Royal Spanish Riding school and also many museums. You don’t need a ticket to visit unless you’re going inside the museum but it’s an awe inspiring structure and one that is marvelled by every visitor. Around the complex and in the streets you’ll find many horse driven carriages which is a fun way to experience the city and even the Hofburg grounds but mind you they can be expensive. This was the home of the ruling family right upto the 20th century.
Sisi Museum & Imperial Apartments – One of the most prominent royals that has become a cult like figure in Austria is empress Elisabeth or popularly known as Sisi. At the Hofburg you can visit the Imperial Apartments as well as a museum dedicated to Sisi that talks about her life, her struggles and what the empress was really like. The imperial apartments hold all the ornate belongings of the royal family from cutlery crockery and personal effects. You can visit the Royal chambers of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth, both private and public chambers and get a glimpse of what daily life as a Hapsburg royal was like.
The Schonbrunn Palace – This stunning bright yellow coloured summer palace was the main residence of the Habsburg family in the hotter months. They spent their days here in this grandeur and the vast gardens away from the main city of Vienna. This baroque style palace has over 1400 rooms though only 45 of those are open to public. It’s a world UNESCO heritage site and visitors can spend hours walking about taking pictures and admiring it’s stunning views. Visiting the Palace from the outside and the grounds and gardens are all free but if you’d like to go inside and see the palace interiors there is a ticket you will need. Also remember that you can’t take your bags or backpack inside and will be asked to leave it at their cloak room. Photography inside the palace is also prohibited. The tour inside can take upto an hour or maybe more depending on the crowd and how fast you walk through. Each room has been pristine maintained and you get a thorough insight into what the palace was like nearly 300 years ago.
At the Schonnbrunn Palace grounds is a delightful little spot called Cafe Residenz where you can grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat while you rest your tired feet from walking all over the palace but the highlight here is their Apfelstrudel show that happens through the day. It’s a wonderful show where you learn how to make this popular pastry and can watch the demonstration while enjoying a piece of strudel and perhaps a Viennese Coffee. The show doesn’t have a fixed fee but you have to buy a piece of strudel which is a minimum of six euros. Cheaper than a whole strudel and you get a fun show as well!
St Stephens’s Cathedral – The cathedral is the most important religious structure in the city and is a majestic sight standing tall at 107.2 meters long. The area around the church Stephensplatz is named after the church and considered to be city center full of shops and cafes. There is no charge to enter the church but some parts like getting up close to the alter and going up the tower for a panoramic view of the city, you need to buy a ticket. One part of the roof has colourful tiles and the interiors are grand. It’s a beautiful church and worth a visit to marvel at the architecture and craftsmanship.
City Tour With A Local -One of my favourite things to do specially in European cities is to do a walking tour with a local. You can find dozens of them online but a lot of cities will have free walking tours where they don’t charge you for the tour but you are expected to tip your guide at the end if you’ve enjoyed the tour. I took one with Prime Tours and I think it’s a lovely way to discover slightly offbeat parts of the city, not to mention walk through the coolest shortcuts and discover new places along with popular landmarks. The guide is always helpful and you can ask them for restaurant recommendations or any other questions about your stay.
Cafe Culture – Vienna has what is fondly called Cafe Culture and by that they mean the cafes where locals like to laze over cups of coffee and perhaps cake. It’s a city that loves its sugar fix and there are plenty of little cafes and nooks that serve small meals and lots of coffee and cakes. The most iconic of all the cafes is the Sacher Cafe at the iconic Sacher Hotel that created Vienna’s famous and undoubtedly most popular cake – The Sacher Torte. Be warned, there’s always a line and you can easily find this cake at any cafe in the city but it’s just one of those things you do when you’re in Vienna, a Sacher Torte at the Cafe Sacher.
At some point in your trip I recommend a visit to at least one of these cafes for a meal or just a coffee and slice of a sugary treat. I’ve got a list of places I tried out and will put that up in a separate blogpost soon.
Viennese Food & Beer – Local food is a combination of meat and potatoes with sometimes a side salad and one of the most popular dishes is of course a Viennese Schnitzel. You do get pork or chicken schnitzels which are thin pieces of meat crumb fried but a traditional Viennese Schnitzel has veal and is noticeably more expensive. The best schnitzel I had in Vienna and actually all of Austria during my visit was at the Glacis Beisl restaurant. Mind you it costs almost 20 Euros anywhere but this particular Viennese Schnitzel is perfect.
Naschmarkt– Local food markets are always a big attraction for me and if you enjoy food or want to do a spot of shopping for perhaps cheese, meat or spices then Naschmarkt is ideal. It’s an long street full of restaurants and food shops on either side and I’m told on the weekends the market extends to include more shops. It’s a fun place to experiment with food, they serve traditional dishes as well as Asian or Italian. Lots of local cheesemongers and meat shops and it’s a delight if food interests you.
The Belvedere Palace – The two Belvedere Palace built by Price Eugene of Savoy are two beautiful baroque style landmarks in Vienna that today house some of the finest art collections. The Upper and Lower Belvedere are separated by a stunning garden and home to the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings including his famous paintings Kiss and Judith. It’s got some of Europe’s best artworks and you can dedicate an entire morning admiring paintings and sculptors as well as the garden grounds.
The Places I didn’t Visit – There is so much to Vienna that for me I had to pick and choose but left so much behind. Museum Quarter is an excellent home full of different museums in case you’re interested in any. They’re all at one square which makes it easier to visit. The Prater is Vienna’s own amusement park which I didn’t care much for but if you like rides and want to sit on a giant Ferris wheel then it’s worth a visit specially with children. There’s also the Royal Vienna Opera House which apart from being an impressive structure is home to some excellent concerts and performances. I wanted to watch a show but just didn’t have the time. I do recommend you go for one you can find information online or just go to the theater there are plenty of people dressed up like Mozart waiting to sell you tickets. Yes they can get expensive but I think it’s worth the experience.
How to get there – I flew from Mumbai via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines as I got a very reasonable fare but there are several airlines including Lufthansa, Emirates and Austrian that fly to Vienna depending where you are. If you’re already in Europe I highly recommend a rail trip since the landscape is beautiful. If you book in advance you can get a very affordable ticket price. I paid approx Rs 44,000 for my trip ( I flew Mumbai to Vienna and flew out Munich to Mumbai ) on Turkish Airlines.
Where To Stay – I stayed at a friend’s house so I was in a residential area away from the city center. Easy to get around everywhere but I’d recommend staying in a more central area, maybe close to Naschmarkt, Stephensplatz or Albertina Platz
Should I get the Vienna City Card – A lot of people think that city cards are expensive and I was discouraged against getting one but I completely disagree. In light of full transparency, I was given two city cards that were valid for 72 hours by the tourism board and having used them I can vouch for how useful they were. There are 2 types of cards, one that only allows you unlimited rides on any and every form of public transport and another that gives you a free hop on hop off bus ride but doesn’t include free transportation. While both have their merits and come with nearly 200 different types of discounts that you can avail, I found the transport card to be valuable because I ended up taking the bus, tram and train all over town which saved on a lot specially if you want to do as much sightseeing or cafe hopping as you can. All details for the cards can be found on their website.
When Should I Visit ?
The summer months I’m told are ideal which is really June – September. Winter months November – February can be bitingly cold but you have the advantage of snow and Christmas Markets from Mid November and Vienna boasts of some of the very best in Europe. I went in October when it was cold but enjoyable and had the perfect weather to be able to get out and enjoy the city without freezing in the snow. Sadly I missed the Christmas Market by weeks.
Day Trips From Vienna – It’s easy to get to Salzburg, Munich, Prague and even Bratislava which I had originally planned from Vienna by train and sometimes boat so if you have the time you can easily pop across for a day.
For more stories from Vienna you can check my Instagram highlights labelled Vienna RIGHT HERE
Disclaimer : While this was a personal holiday the Vienna City Cards were sponsored by the Vienna Tourism Board and they were incredibly helpful. For more updates from my trip and my other travel adventures be sure to follow me on social media under my handle – thetinytaster 🙂