Writing this post, I must first mention that I have a little bit of pressure to say the right thing. Not that I am being graded or in a situation threatening my current state of being, but what is at stake is the pride, dignity, and hometown enthusiasm for a new majority of friends who call Vienna their home. But knowing the kindest, most genuine, and I’ll admit, good-looking of friends, and the chance to check off another city on my travel bucket list, I didn’t need much convincing of how wonderful Vienna is.
The morning after my final exam, I jumped on a plane to arrive in the thriving city center of Vienna. Starting near my hotel in the Leopoldstadt area, I took a nice stroll down the main Hauptallee, which passes past both Prater, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks with Vienna’s iconic ferris wheel, and it’s modern neighbor Vienna University, and takes you through the beautiful Wiener Prater park. Just as wonderful on a crisp winter day, I can only imagine the park’s beauty in warmer weather when trees are in bloom, lush green fills one’s view, and people are out enjoying the vast open space before them.
My first meal was at Motto am Fluss, which is situated right on the Danube Canal for a fantastic view and lunch. I opted for the business lunch, which that day offered a roast beef appetizer and roasted duck leg for a solid price, though I heard their brunch on the weekends is equally as impressive and delicious.
Getting the tourist check list crossed off, I headed over to the Innere Stadt to see the marvelous, medieval St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the centerpiece of Vienna. From there, you can head down Kärntnerstraße, which is full of popular brand and higher-end stores, ending up as a center for shopping, but also for tourists. For more shopping, a few streets west is the main shopping street Mariahilferstraße, which has many major department stores in addition to smaller shops.
Per recommendation by a friend from Vienna, I explored Burggasse, the trendy, hipster area of Vienna lined with cute cafes and local shops. There you can find a mixture of quirky and innovative stores, whether it be retro fashion to international stationary, and is the hotspot for creative/cool anything.
Being it the holiday season, a large percentage of my time was spent at the Christmas markets. About the whole month of December many of Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets, alive with various onlookers excited for the holiday season, twinkling lights stringing from booth to booth, the smell of crepes, toasted nuts, apfelstrudel, gebackene apfelringe (personal favorite), and the warmth of people huddled over friendly conversations and the traditional mug of punsch or gluhwein (another favorite). Though all generally share the same culinary treats and warming drinks, each market has it’s own flair and I am beyond glad I went to Vienna during Christmastime to experience the holiday season to the fullest.
The next day, I took a stroll the other way through Augarten, which contains the city’s oldest Baroque park. Passing by Parliament and the city’s biggest Christmas market in Rathausplatz, I went to Ulrich to grab a bite to eat which has an extensive menu and tasty, fresh food to match; highly recommended for breakfast and/or brunch.
Next on the Vienna Checklist was the Schönbrunn Palace. As one of the city’s most important architectural and historical monuments, this former imperial residence also includes vast gardens, a children’s museum, and the oldest zoo in the world; also not to mention, one of the better Christmas markets (though honestly all of the Christmas markets are a delight).
From my time in Vienna, I noticed the city is very vegetarian/vegan friendly and there are many restaurants that specialize in just that. At Wrenkh, the use of fresh, local ingredients in innovative ways showcases the power of vegetables, along with non-vegetarian options, and is further emphasized in a fantastic price-to-performance ratio. Apart from the the delicious food, it is also a cooking school where you can learn yourself some of the slow food ethos and cooking techniques behind the restaurant. The Styrian Style Lucky Salad with pumpkin seed oil (a velvety, satisfying, culinary speciality from Austria) , I returned there a second time for the same thing.
Off to the birthplace of Mozart and notorious setting of The Sound of Music, the next day I visited the town of Salzburg, only about two and half hours away from Vienna by train. They have direct trains to Salzburg leaving from two main stations in Vienna, I chose the major Wien Westbanhof, but you can also take one from the Vienna Hauptbahnhof train station.
My first stop in Salzburg was the Mirabell Palace, a famous 17th century palace where reminiscent tunes of ‘Do-Re-Mi’ ring through its ornamental gardens. Throughout Salzburg and the surrounding area, you can find the majority of your favorite Sound of Music locations and monuments. Making my way across the lock-covered main bridge, I passed the Mozart Museum, which contains artifacts dedicated to the famous composer’s life, and found myself in the charming and quaint Old Town, which actually houses Mozart’s birthplace as well.
Salzburg is a charming town that with it’s storybook setting, quiet side streets, quaint art scene, classical music concerts, and beautiful surrounding mountains, make it the perfect day trip from Vienna and city to visit in Austria.
For a panoramic view of the city, you can take a quick 15-minute walk or 15-second funicular to the top of the 900-year old Hohensalzburg Castle set atop the Festungsberg hill. Roam the ramparts of the castle to get stunning views of Salzburg and the jaw-dropping skyline surrounding it.
Before leaving Salzburg, make sure to stock up on the original Mozartkugel for your sweets fix. If you can’t manage to make it to the original store, buy them from the supermarket instead as they sell it cheaper than most tourist shops or even markets.
Back to Vienna for my last two days, I stayed at the hospitable Arthotel Ana Prime in Margareten. Nearby, you can walk through the cultural Naschmarkt, which has a wide variety of food/produce from all over the world and international restaurants lining the market. For the art lover, take a visit to one of the largest cultural quarters in the world, the MuseumsQuartier, that houses some of Vienna’s, if not Europe’s, best museums. With incredible collections by famous painters ranging from modern to contemporary art, included but not limited to the Leopold Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Kunsthalle, its also a great place for socializing and very close to the renowned Kunsthistorisches Museum. If you want to enjoy some culture, get your tickets to see a show at the Vienna Opera House, one of the world’s most important opera houses. Apart from Vienna’s awesome metro system, I really recommend walking the city to see all the major sights and lesser-known, hidden treasures.
Waking up to the sight of delicate white snowflakes falling from the sky and the smell of freshly baked bread walking through the doors of Joseph Brot for brunch was the perfect start to my last day in Vienna. Though a little pricey, this stylish bakery serves delicious baked goods, quality customer service, and kills the “fancy toast” game, making it a go-to spot for any morning get together. Also Austrian bread. If you don’t eat carbs, well now’s the time to do so. I don’t even know the names (probably since they are all in German), but literally everything I had was like heaven so just try everything and you can thank me later.
Somehow someway, I snatched some friends that happen to call Vienna home, so I got my own little private tour. Built in the early 18th century by famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrand, Belvedere Palace is a former palatial summer residence and artistic masterpiece now houses one of the greatest collections by Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to present day, including Klimt’s famous the Kiss. After roaming the Belvedere grounds, we sipped on some warm drinks on the top floor of the 25hours Hotel that has a really great view overlooking all of Vienna.
From my five days in Vienna, I’d have to say I covered a lot of ground, but nothing close to how much there actually is. Vienna has so much to offer, whether it be contemporary art to classical opera, from modern design to historical architecture, or just exploring restaurants and bars to socialize the night away, I can see why my friends enjoy being there. There is so much to see, always something to do, and it was revitalizing to speak with friends who truly love their city SO much. Plus, being there during Christmas time made it like a dream and all that much more memorable. Like any trip, I can’t emphasize enough how important the people are. So to my Austrian friends, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for sharing a little piece of your home with me and I hope one day soon I can return the favor.