The ultimate city trip to Vienna
Vienna is a perfect city trip destination. You will anything from Sisi palaces, Klimmt, sachtertorte and opera to jazz and hipster cafes. Read my travel story below or go straight to my favourite hotspots to plan your ultimate city trip to Vienna
As we enter our hotel I feel like I have stepped into a time machine. A piccolo welcome us as we take in the views of the interior of hotel Astoria. I see wooden doors, carpeted stairs and gold coloured lamps. The piccolo shows us the tiny boxed elevators with a push door. With a rattling sound we move up a couple of floors. The hotel that opened its doors in 1912 shows Viennese flair, somewhere between classy and kitsch. It fits perfectly with the ‘old romance’ image I have of Vienna. The perfect way to start the ultimate city trip to Vienna.
The original Sacher Torte
We find the same setting at hotel Sacher. This hotel is first and foremostly known for its cafe. It is the only cafe allowed to use the name ‘original Sacher torte’. And so, many tourists want to taste Vienna’s most famous piece of pastry here.
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-haired man who looks like he has been working at hotel Sacher for over 40 years. 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 before making a transaction. Although I am not the most patient person, this man is a joy to watch.
The famous Sacher Torte is tasty but we are not convinced that is was worth the long wait. Anyways, we ticked that off, and now it is time to explore the city.
The ultimate city trip: Vienna has it all
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. Enjoy a kebab or fish dish 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 a 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 a ticket for the tourist Ring Tram providing audio commentary as you slide through town. Or you can make the circle yourself using tram line 1 and 2 like we did.
Ultimate city walk through Vienna
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. 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. The museum is housed inside a neoclassical building that is as sumptuous as the art it contains. The Naturhistorisches Museum displays meteorites and dinosaurs.
Leaving behind billion years of national history, you will suddenly find yourself in artsy 21st century in the Museums Quartier. The Museum Quartier is a hotspot full of contemporary art, cafes, shops and performing arts venues.
We arrive here 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 is raw and hoarse. Three man make a circle. One of them is showing his best dance moves, the other two carefully watch 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.
Vienna Film Festival
It is a fascinating scene, but not really our style and so 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. Friends and family have crowded on the benches to enjoy the food together.
We have 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.
Before the performance starts, we treat ourselves to a schnitzel and Austrian beer. And then finally sit down for a moment of relaxation after a long day of walking through the city.
The sound of classical music filling the square on a summer evening is an amazing and relaxing experience. 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. In the Kursalon Vienna, we enjoy the refined tones of famous composers Mozart and Strauss. The Kursalon provides a pompous setting with chandeliers and golden ornaments.
We take in the vibrations of the violin, piano, cello and other instruments virtuously played by the Salonorchestra Alt Wien. The clear voices of the aria and baritone resonate in the ball room.
The room is filled with grey haired tourists. The concert master who directs the orchestra from the position of first violin, makes silly jokes in between compositions to please them. We feel completely out of place, 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. As the audience starts to clap along I laugh out loud. I am enjoying this so much since I remember my sister and I singing along funny Dutch lyrics to this composition. And at the same time I feel like 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. We feel incredibly young and privileged to walk past them into the freedom and possibilities of a Vienna summer evening.
Jazzlands: Vienna’s oldest jazz club
About half an hour later, this freedom has led us to a completely different setting below ground level. 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. We are welcomed by the warm and playful tones of the Red Hot Pods. 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. It 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.
Schloss Belvedere and Gustav Klimt
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 luckily does not resemble any of the merchandise. It is a romantic and unique piece of art that you definitely do not want to miss out on. Just like the heavily decorated rooms of the Schloss itself.
In addition to Schloss Belvedere, we chose to visit Schloss Schönbrunn. It is the biggest schloss of all, and was once the home of Emperor Franz Josef I and his wife Elisabeth (Sisi). The imposing estate includes a carefully maintained flower garden and hilly grass fields. The beautiful glass Gloriette looks out over the Schloss and city. And then there is an orangery, maze and even a Zoo.
For us, the setting was perfect to carry out our crazy idea to make wedding anniversary pictures in our wedding attire. (See ‘A travel story dedicated to love’ ). New romance in old romance setting.
If you are in for a completely different experience after all those museum visits, then Prater is your answer. This neighbourhood can offer anything you might need for a day of relaxation or an adrenalin boost. Unterer Prater is a woodland park that’s perfect for picnics and easy bike rides. 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 to take 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 have 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.
My favourite hotspots for a Vienna city trip
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.
Treat yourself to a classical music concert. Check the calendar of the Vienna State Opera or look at other performances for instance in the Kursalon.
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.
Should I buy tickets for Schloss Schonbrunn in advance?
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.