As we enter our hotel I feel like as I’ve stepped into a time machine. We are welcomed inside by a piccolo while we take in the interior of hotel Astoria. Wooden doors, carpeted stairs, tiny boxes of elevators with a push door, gold coloured lamps and other details alike. The hotel that opened its doors in 1912 shows Viennese flair, somewhere between classy and kitsch – perfectly fitting the ‘old romance’ image I have of Vienna.
We find the same setting at hotel Sacher, the hotel that has received the rights to use the name ‘original Sacher torte’ and attracts many tourists to their cafe to taste Vienna’s most famous piece of pastry. Although many cafe tables are empty, we have to wait in line outside with other tourists to be seated. The waiter is an old grey man who most probably already works at hotel Sacher for over 40 years and his working pace is not affected by the waiting line at all. He is taking his time, swiping his employee card numerous times through his order and cash machine. Although I’m not the most patient person – certainly not to wait in line while there’s plenty of seats available – this man is a joy to watch. The famous and tasty Sacher Torte ticked off, it’s time to explore the city.
From the pomp and ceremony of famous Schloss Schönbrunn to the Saturday flea market: Vienna has it all. Enjoy a stroll over the Naschmarkt with stalls full of spices, cheeses, olives and (dried) fruits and sit down for a kebab or fish meal and then have yourself caught by surprise by the odds and ends on offer at the flea market. Make sure to wander off into side streets to find a nice vinothek, or bakery to try out Apfelstrudel and Mozart torte somewhere on the way. Walk along the Danube to see graffiti artists at work and enjoy a cocktail on its river banks. And of course, take in the grandeur of the city that’s dominated by impressive imperial buildings.
Taking a tram ride circling around the centre is a great way to get a first feel of the city. You can buy yourself a ticket for the touristic Ring Tram providing audio commentary as you slide through town, or you make the circle yourself using tram line 1 and 2 like we did.
Vienna’s grandeur is best visible walking from The Hofburg to the Museum Quarter. The Hofburg was built as a fortified castle but now houses the Austrian parliament and the hidden gems inside the palace can be visited through the many museums. The Museum District offers a plethora of museums such as the refined Kunsthistorisches Museum housed inside a neoclassical building that is as sumptuous as the art is contains, and the Naturhistorisches Museum displaying meteorites and dinosaurs. Leaving behind billion years of national history, you will suddenly find yourself in artsy 21st century in the MuseumsQuartier – a hotspot full of contemporary art, cafes, shops and performing arts venues. When we arrive at the beginning of the evening the square is full of artsy types, all with a beer in their hand, some with dreadlocks in their hair. A band is playing metal, the singer’s voice raw and hoarse. Three man make a circle – one of them is showing his best dance moves, the other two carefully watching his steps. After a couple of minutes they change roles, and then again. After each short show they provide each other feedback, or ask the dancer questions about specific moves. The other public just enjoys their drink, moving their head to the beat of the music.
It’s a fascinating scene, but not really our style we continue our way towards the Rathaus. We hear music coming from the square as we come closer. Food stalls line the square and we are greeted by the smell of bratwurst and schnitzel. Pick nick tables and benches that are set up in the middle of ‘platz’ are chockfull of food, and the people enjoying it with friends and family. We’ve walked into the Vienna Film Festival, where during 36 days movies are displayed on a huge screen placed in front of the Rathaus. Benches and a tribune provide free spots for this open air cinema. Tonight, the world-famous New Year’s concert will be screened. We treat ourselves to a schnitzel and Austrian beer, and then sit down for a moment of relaxation after a long day of walking through the city. The classical music filling the square on a summer evening is an amazing and relaxed experience, and we almost start applauding for the Vienna Philharmonic and genius conductor as if enjoying the live performance in the Wiener Musikverein.
On another weekend evening our applause is thankfully received by the orchestra, ballet dancers and opera singers on stage in front of us. It is a joy to listen to the refined tones of famous composers Mozart and Strauss in the classic chandelier setting of Kursalon Vienna. We take in the vibrations of the violin, piano, cello and other instruments virtuously played by the Salonorchestra Alt Wien, and the clear voice of the aria and baritone. The ball room is filled with grey haired tourists and the concert master who directs the orchestra from the position of first violin, makes silly jokes in between compositions to please them, but it all adds up with Vienna: grandeur, old romance and tourists. The performance concludes with the traditional encore of the famous New Year’s Concert: Straus’ Radetzky March, and as the audience starts to clap along I laugh out loud. I’m enjoying so much since I remember my sister and I singing along funny Dutch lyrics to this composition, and at the same time feel like as if my husband and I are flashed forward to the future finding ourselves on a cruise ship with other elderly people enjoying their pension. As we exit the building we meet a wall of tour guides holding up signs with directions to the bus and we feel incredibly privileged to walk past them into the freedom and possibilities of a Vienna summer evening.
About half an hour later, this freedom has led us to a completely different setting below ground level, where we are welcomed by the warm and playful tones of the Red Hot Pods. Vienna’s oldest jazz club is based in a former wine cellar, and the small space is crammed with tables and chairs to accommodate easy listening and beer drinking. The band, the first ever to play here 40 years ago, consists of five cheerful man. They visibly enjoy playing music and performing for the audience that warmly receives every solo with applause. Every now and then they need some seconds to help each other remember the rhythm of the next song to play, which only adds to the relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a relaxed setting that allows chatting the night away you might want to try the rooftop bar at the top floor of department store Steffl. The Sky Bar has an outside terrace from which you can enjoy a lovely view over the city, and the Stephansdom in particular, while sipping on one of the many cocktails on offer.
The gothic Stephansdom in the middle of Vienna’s historic centre has a glorious roof. The colourful tiles form dazzling patterns that ask for an up close look. You can whisk up the Cathedral Pummerin (North Tower) with a small elevator and find yourself at eye height with the roof and the tiled emblem of the Austrian empire – an eagle. If you’re in for more height, you can walk up the 343 stairs of the South Tower and take in breathing views over the city.
The main shopping streets around the Stephansdom throw Austrian painter Klimt at you every other store, as his famous ‘The Kiss’ is printed on souvenirs of all kinds and sizes. Seeing ‘The Kiss’ in Schloss Belvedere fortunately does not resemble any of the merchandise – it’s a romantic and unique piece of art you definitely do not want to miss out on. Just like the heavily decorated rooms of the Schloss itself. Having that said, I have to admit it’s difficult to decide where to go in Vienna if you’re time is limited to a long weekend, as there are so many impressive schlosses and museums on offer.
In addition to Schloss Belvedere we chose Schloss Schönbrunn – the biggest of all, once home to Emperor Franz Josef I and his wife Elisabeth (Sisi). The imposing estate includes a carefully maintained flower garden, hilly grass fields, the beautiful glass Gloriette looking out over the Schloss and city, an orangery, maze and even a Zoo. You can buy tickets of all sorts and prizes, and I would definitely recommend you to decide and book in advance. It’s not just the waiting line to buy a ticket that will cost you time, once you’re up you will most probably find out that the waiting time for the first available guided tour (no free walking around inside the Schloss, you have to choose either an audio guide or actual tour guide) is in three hours. Though if the weather is nice, this is not something to dread as the grass hill offers wonderful views over the city and the Gloriette cafe serves a nice cold beer. For us, it turned out to be perfect timing as it gave us time to carry out our crazy idea to make 1st year wedding anniversary pictures in our wedding attire. (See ‘A travel story dedicated to love’ ). New romance in old romance setting.
If you’re in for a completely different experience after all those museum visits and would like either a day of relaxation or an adrenalin boost, then Prater is your answer. Unterer Prater is a woodland park that’s perfect for picnics and easy bike rides, while Wurstelprater is a fun fair with 250 attractions. Savouring curry worst with beer or a crepe with iced coffee while watching children and adults alike taking a ride in one of the attractions is almost just as fun as being in one yourself. The Riensrad is particularly famous but I definitely recommend you to consider a flight in the 117 meter high Prater Turm (giant’s stride) instead. As we are lifted from the ground I again feel like as if I’ve stepped into a time machine. Floating through the air I feel excited like an eight your old while I take in the beautiful city vistas.
Want to say yes to music and sweet treats yourself?
Enjoy Vienna’s classy/kitsch flair @ Trend Hotel Astoria
Indulge in The original Sacher torte @ Hotel Sacher: Philharmoniker Str. 4
Listen to energising music tones and enjoy the amazing atmosphere @ Jazzland, Vienna’s oldest jazz club based is a former wine cellar. Franz-Josefs-Kai 29.
Enjoy the golden hour over the Danube river @ restaurant Motto am Fluss. Franz-Josefs-Kai 2
Take in city views while sipping a cocktails @ Sky Bar. Live music is played at the other end of the bar every evening Monday – Saturday from 9:30. Kärntner Str. 19
DIY ring tram: hop on at Schweden-platz and take tram 1 heading northwest, change to tram 2 at Stadiongasse/Parlement.