They call Vienna the Imperial City. The desserts are decadent. The buildings are elaborate with carved marble columns, life size statues and decorative gold inlays. Grand palaces, the royal opera, and imposing Gothic churches decorate the city’s skyline and remind passersby of an impressively regal era gone by. Despite the fall of the monarchy in 1918, Vienna maintains a certain grandeur in its culture and atmosphere that transports you back into a different age.
Over the weekend, I made a spontaneous trip to the Austrian capital and spent two days exploring. Here’s how I would spend the most delightful 24 hours in Vienna!
Wake up and go for a run around the Danube Canal. A trail lines the river (honestly reminds me of a bayou in Houston) and cuts through the middle of the city. The grounds around the Schoenbrunn Palace are also open to the public and a lovely spot to go for a jog.
After you freshen up, grab a quick bite to eat at Joseph’s Bakery. While I didn’t eat here myself, this place came highly recommended to me from blogger Tina of Tinera and there was always a line when I passed by—a sign that you know it’s got to be good.
Next give yourself a walking tour of the city. The Ringstrasse encircles the central part of the old town and is lined with important sites and photo ops like the Royal Opera House, Parliament, and Rathaus. A few blocks away is Karlskirche (Carl’s Church) and St. Steven’s Cathedral. Karlskirche is a lovely building but has an entrance fee to go inside. St. Steven’s is open to the public and is wildly impressive with massive stain glass windows, towering vaulted ceilings and a free tour to the public at 10:30am, if that’s your thing.
“Destinations are only desirable because of the journey in between” – Empress Sisi, ultimate queen of wanderlust
If you’re cold (I was walking around on a blustery March day), make a spontaneous stop at the Butterfly House to warm up. I was obsessed with the antique greenhouse windows. It felt like a secret garden and was a delightful break from the cold.
Next, head to the Hofburg Palace where I spent a good part of my day. I’m pretty particular about what attractions I pay for but the Hofburg Palace was 100% worth the money. It’s three museums in one and located in the former residence of the Hapsburg dynasty–aka ROYALTY. With your ticket, you get a free audio guide that leads you through the court’s silver collection, the Sisi museum, and the royal apartments. The Silver Collection is impressive not only in its volume—think hundreds of sets of plates and cutlery to serve at state banquets—but also in the artistry and sheer decadence of it all. Literal dining sets of gold and silver were on display, accompanied by crazy stories of wealth. King so and so gave Queen so and so a set of 500 pieces of porcelain as a thank you…
The Sisi Museum provides insight into the life of the unwilling empress of Austria, Elisabeth (nicknamed Sisi). She was married at 16 to a loving, doting husband, but hated the lack of freedom in court life, battled anorexia, and was ultimately murdered. Her story was tragic, but seems to be in line with many of the other royals of her day when all the daughters were married off for political reasons—did you know the infamous Marie Antionette came from the court of Vienna?
After hearing her story, the tour continues into the Royal Apartments where you can view the recreated living quarters of the royal family. The three museums, which are all connected, took about 2 hours to go through.
After the museum, grab a bit to eat at either Café Central (I didn’t go because the line was literally out the door) or Café Landtmann. The Viennese people invented coffee shop culture and I’m obsessed. Basically, you can sit at a café, ordering as much or as little as you like, for as long as you like. This hospitality is symbolized by the complimentary glass of water brought with your coffee. No server pressures you to leave by clearing your plates before you’re done or sending a not-so-subtle hint by dropping off the check on the table. Viennese people take their time at meals, and NEVER skip dessert. I don’t even like desserts, but after seeing a Viennese dessert menu, how could I not indulge? At Café Landtmann (which opened in 1873), I had a Nuss Torte (nut cake) and a coffee. Sachertorte, the infamous dessert invented at the Sacher hotel, was also an option on the menu.
Read this fantastic piece on how to navigate a Viennese coffee menu.
After lunch, head to the Schoenbrunn Palace in the south of the city. As the summer home of the royal court, it’s a bit on the outskirts of the city so I took an Uber there (it was raining and I was on a time crunch, no judgement). Inside you can see some really grand rooms with table settings, incredible art, chandeliers, mirrors and gold trim. This palace is where Mozart gave his infamous concert to the Empress at age 6. The guided audio tour took about an hour. If you’re planning on doing both the Hofburg and the Schoenbrunn, be sure to get the combined ticket to save some $$$! Afterwards, wander around the gardens and climb the hill to the Gloriette for a breathtaking view of the city.
If you’re hungry and want to see a more local version of Vienna, I highly recommend stopping off in Hollerei restaurant (and art gallery!) nearby. They serve a delightful vegetarian and vegan menu and have a beautiful, shaded patio outside.
Another Viennese blogger recommendation that I loved was Motte Am Floss. I’d recommend cabbing it here after the museum (it’ll cost about 10 euro). It’s located on the Danube river and is bright, airy and a blogger’s dream! I ordered off the lunch menu (beet burger, thank you!) but they have a great breakfast and brunch menu as well, and I saw many people drinking rosemary lemonade. When you go, make sure to go to the café upstairs, not to be confused with the more formal (and expensive) restaurant on the first floor.
As a lover of art and all things culture, I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see the Royal Opera (the perfect excuse to go back to Vienna right?). Next time, I’ll plan ahead and get ticket for a seat (you can get them for as low as 13 euro). I personally didn’t care to spend 2+ hours waiting in line for a 3 euro standing ticket, but people do it and that’s totally an option (here’s the steps on how!).
Instead, I indulged in some cheaper entertainment and went to the Prater, the Viennese amusement park and rode the infamous Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel. I went around sunset and had some fabulous views of the city at the top of the Ferris wheel at dusk. Given that the park opened in 1897, I was expecting/hoping for it to be a total throwback to the past with Victorian décor and antique carousels—very Series of Unfortunate Events—esque. However, since it was destroyed in WWII, it’s been rebuilt to resemble a standard, modern day amusement park. Interestingly, this was the only reference to Vienna’s role/participation in the World Wars during my entire trip—it’s not something they openly publicize.
Read this interesting NYT article on the history of Vienna through its deserts and selective memory.
After the park, grab a drink on the 18th floor of Hotel Sofitel Vienna. This spot was recommended to me by my Airbnb host—there’s apparently great views of the city! You can also walk across the bridge and see the eclectic Hundterwasser House apartments. For dinner, any café will do (be sure to get your café fix before leaving the city!!), but I highly recommend this little neighborhood Italian restaurant called Frederico. I stumbled upon it by chance and was impressed by the Italian waiters, Italian patrons, and Italian chef who seemed to know everyone. I had homemade pasta, followed by chocolate cake for dessert (I told you, no one skips dessert here!).
Other Vienna city tips:
- Wien = Vienna. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure that out.
- The CAT Train is an easy, direct way to travel from the airport to the city center. It offers free Wifi and discounts on roundtrip tickets. Note: earliest train is at 6:09am, so plan accordingly if you have an early morning flight.
- Dogs are everywhere! I don’t know what the etiquette is but I definitely saw them inside restaurants, stores, and the amusement park!
- All around the city you’ll see people dressed up in costumes selling tickets to shows. Note, they’re sales people so you can def bargain on ticket prices but it isn’t going to be the Royal Opera. When I talked to one man, he was selling tickets to a ballet and opera for 40-65 euros, which I wasn’t too passionate about spending because I didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into.
- Here are more restaurant recommendations that I got from local Vienna bloggers and my Airbnb host that I didn’t have a chance to try: Disco Volante, Restauraunt Steireck, Café Demel, Dots Sushi.
For more travel tips, read my blog post on How to Plan a Trip in 2 Hours or Less (that’s definitely how I planned Vienna, and had a great time!) and check out the It’s Travel section for more city guides!
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