Vienna Waits For You: Your Guide To The Austrian Capital
WIEN: A PLAYGROUND FOR CULTURE SEEKERS
After spending about 3 months total in the Austrian capital this year, I've fallen in love with the reliable functionality, imperial beauty and mesmerizing Viennese charm. The city is lined with splendid coffee houses, cosy wine taverns, world famous church choirs, historic architecture, excellent museums and royal palaces to explore.
Austria is usually characterized by its unrefined Alpine terrain and mountain villages, although the capital city Vienna is as intellectually stimulating as one can get. Mozart, Strauss and Freud were some of its noble residents and the Schönbrunn and Hofburg palaces were summer residences to the royal family. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Wachau region and the Vienna forests (Wiener Wald), Vienna is rated one of the top best cities in the world to live in.
Things To Do
Stephansplatz and Stephen's Cathedral: For more than 700 years now, the magnificent cathedral has stood watch over the city, and Austrians see it as one of the most important and most beloved landmarks of the country. Climb the 343 steps up to the tower and enjoy a picturesque view of the city. It was the site of Mozart's wedding and his funeral. Today, it remains one of the most important Gothic structures in the country. Guided tours are available for both the cathedral and the catacombs below. You can also walk 343 steps up the South Tower (or take the elevator up the North Tower) for a rooftop view of Vienna’s first district. This church was also the same place Haydn sang as a young boy in the choir.
Staatsoper & Volkstheater: Even if classical music is not ordinarily your thing, one can admire the immense culture through this city's cultural history. This city was home to some of the world's greatest composers and attracted young singers from all over to join the famous Vienna Boys Choir, which still performs today. Popular performances sell out weeks ahead, but you can try your luck for last-minute standing room tickets at the opulent. Click this link for a list of upcoming concerts and operas in the city.
Dialog im Dunklen is hands down one of the coolest things you'll do in your life. It's a blind simulation tour where visitors are accompanied by blind or visually impaired guides through completely darkened rooms, creating the effect of challenges in everyday situations and locations. Tours are offered in German and English and must be reserved ahead of time (maximum group of 8). On weekends, you can even eat at their restaurant and bar in the dark. This experience is quite pricey, but gives you a really cool approach to a "blind date".
Museumsquartier: One of the largest culture and art complexes in the world. In this district, historic and contemporary buildings hold art spaces and display works by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and other artists. Check out the Kunsthistorisches Musuem of Culture and History. And just passed that you'll find the Nationalbibliothek, a library fit for kings. There are two entrances, one for real use and studying, and the other for architectural tours.
Schonbrunn Palace: You can jog off your Sachertorte cake around the palace gardens. This Unesco-listed Schloss Schönbrunn just barely lets you envision or imagine how the Hapsburgs lived as you saunter past romantic fountains and the Gloriette. It holds sweeping city views from the French-style gardens and maze. Only 40 (out of 1441) lavish rooms are open for public viewing, including the white-and-gold mirror room, where in 1762 a six-year-old Mozart first performed for Empress Maria Theresia.
Volksgarten is great for club goers, located directly at the Ringstrasse. It includes it's own outdoor area with a pool and open-air dance floor. There is usually a multi-cultural crowd, depending on the music for the night (house to raggae).
Haus der Musik you shouldn't visit Vienna without experiencing classical music. As the world’s capital of the classical style, Vienna has a dedicated space to experiencing its formation and legacy. At Vienna’s House of Music, discover the fascinating world of sound and Viennese music in an playful way (great for families).
Mozarthaus: Domgasse 5 is the only one of Mozart's apartments in Vienna that still exists today. The composer lived there in grand style from 1784 to 1787, and nowhere else did he compose more music. The house converted to museum now shows the life and works of the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (with emphasis on his years in the city) in a unique setting in the heart of Vienna close to St Stephan's Cathedral.
Stadtpark and Prater: Traveling with infants? Feed the ducks at the pond in the lush greenery centrally located in the city. The Prater spreads across 60 sq km, central Vienna's biggest park comprises woodlands of poplar and chestnut, meadows and tree-lined boulevards, as well as children's playgrounds, a swimming pool, golf course and race track.
Best area for going out with friends is the Gürtel. You'll find bars, live music venues and clubs all beneath the railway arches. One of my personal favorites is called The Loft, a glass-walled bar on the 18th floor of the Sofitel to grab a cocktail. It effortlessly captures the entire Austrian capital reduced to postcard format. Also check out the "Bermuda Triangle" area near Schwedenplatz that tons of hole in the wall bars to yuppie places. It got its name in the 80's because it is easy to get lost in one of the many bars, get drunk and then awake a few days later in some gutter with no memory of what happened. Instagram bloggers, check out the strange and colorful Hundertwasser Haus in the 3rd distrcit for an architectural dreamland.
Spanish Riding School: Providing you've booked ahead, you can watch snow-white Lipizzaner stallions performing morning with a frankfurter in hand.
If you're traveling late November to the end of December, the christmas markets are an absolute must. Although touristy, there's nothing quite like the charm and history which traditional dates back to the middle ages. You can find Lebkuchen (gingerbread), gebrannte Mandeln (toasted almonds), Waffeln (waffeles), Maroni (glazed chestnuts), Bratkartoffel (baked potatoes), Bratwurst (fried sausages) and Punsch (glogg) of various kinds.
most popular CHRISTMAS markets:
(1) Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz
(2) Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg
(3) Market in front of Schonbrunn castle
(4) Altwiener Christkindlmarkt at the Freyung
(5) Weihnachtsdorf Maria Theresien-Platz
(6) Adventmarkt vor der Karlskirche
(7) Weihnachtsdorf im Alten AKH
(8) Weihnachtsdorf in front of Belvedere castle
(9) Adventmarkt Mahlerstrasse
(10) Adventmarkt Am Hof
(11) Adventmarkt vor der Kirche Mariahilf
Can't make it to fulfill your Austrian Christmas market dreams this winter? Check out this homemade Gluhwein recipe to quench your wanderlust!
DAY TRIPS OUTSIDE THE CITY
Wachau: Take a car around this region and stop alongside the small towns situated in the mountains. They face Danube river and are laced with authentic countryside vineyards and restaurants. My personal favorites are Durstein, Melk and Krems for quick day trips to see nature outside of Wien. Although the most beautiful is Mondee on Lake Wolfgang, very close Salzburg but a bit farther of a drive.
Skiing in the Alps
You have three main regions to choose from, the Nördliche Kalkalpen (Northern Calciferious Alps), the Südliche Kalkalpen (Southern Calciferious Alps) and the Hochalpen (High Alps) sandwiched in between. Snowfall tends to be stronger East of the Alps, where the top skiing destinations are in Northern Kalkalpen of Tyrol and Salzburg; they include towns like Lech, St. Anton and Kitzbühel. In towns such as those, skiing culture usually includes families bar hopping after hitting the powdery slopes. This is the birthplace country of downhill skiing, so you have some incredible options:
Innsbruck: Highest Lift Point: 7,444 ft/2255m Vertical Drop: 5,547 ft./1680m
St. Anton: Highest Lift Point: 9,273 ft./2811m Vertical Drop: 4,970 ft/1507m
Sölden: Highest Lift Point: 10,725 ft./3,250m Vertical Drop: 6,181 ft./1,874m
what to eat and where
WIENER SCHNITZEL, Kürbiscremesuppe, VIENNESE KAFE, SUPPEN MIT FRITTATEN, SACHERTORTE, APFELSTRUDEL, KAISER SPETZLE, TAFELSPITZ, KAISERSCHMARRN
Naschtmarkt - This market has existed since 1774 and it is Vienna's largest retail market with around 2.3 hectares. In the present form, it was designed by Otto Wagner and opened in 1916. Although since WWII, the exterior appearance of the market has not changed by renovation work. This unsuspected monument is known as the "belly of Vienna". Try Ta Wae for the best hummus in town, and Nemi for affordable cocktails. If you're on the go, indulge in the samples you'll be handed of sweet nuts, breads, cheeses and sweets. There's even a motto stating, "what does not exist at Naschmarkt, you do not need." You can find Japanese buffets, Italian restaurants, fresh seafood, classic Viennese taverns, and imported Persian treats. The organic supply directly from producers is also growing. On Saturdays, elleven winners will be offered fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, bread, pasta, pork and fish in organic quality. To make this easier for consumers, small organic corner table flags were distributed to these producers.
Best Upscale Restaurant in the city: Steirereck (previously rated 15th in the world)
Oldest Coffeehouse in the city: Cafe Hawelka (grab the seat where Freud used to write for a nerdy thrill)
Best Brewery for study abroad students on a budget is called 1516 . You can indulge in local craft beers and traditional cream of pumpkin soup in the autumn
Wein & CO Bar Schottentor right at the Ringstrasse is a trendy hot spot for wine lovers. It's a wine boutique with a bar attached offering tasty mediterranean snacks, tramezzini sandwiches and salads
Vegetarians tired of all the meat? Try something different, such as the best Indian restaurant in the 7th District at Spittelberg, called Tandoor.
The 25 Hour Hotel has a rooftop cocktail bar with the ambience of a circus, decorated with antiques all within a tasteful and trendy feel
For travelers looking for basic grocery items, check out Spar and Merkur, the cheapest stores with foreign cooking items.
Facts & Observations
1. The three richest Austrians own Porsche (worth 63 billion but divided), Glock Firearms and Swarovski Crystals
2. Up until two years ago, Red Bull was owned 50/50 with the Thai and Austrians, although now they only own 49% of the company
3. Vienna was voted the safest and most livable city in the world in 2016
4. Tiergarten Schönbrunn is the oldest zoo in the world and brought the first exotic animals into Europe
5. Vienna's Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) has over 2.5 million tombs (more than the city's live population), including those of Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Schubert, Schoenberg and Strauss
6. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Austrian
7. Sound of Music's Von Trapp Family was indeed real and resided in Salzburg. There is a movie tour I highly recommend
8. Austrians tend to be hard working people who love the outdoors and their families as much as a good cup of gluhwein.
P.S. Vienna has the most reliable metro I've used in all of Europe. There are five lines and it's pretty impossible for you to get lost. The two main train stations to come in and out of are Westbahnhoff and Hauptbanhoff.