Let’s travel to: Vienna, Austria
Vienna blends the new and old like no other city I’ve ever seen. It is wonderfully contemporary and modern, boasting a unique coffee culture, wine culture, exciting nightlife, and luxury experiences. At the same time, it has a rich cultural history that influences ever corner of the city. Having spent a semester studying in Vienna, there are endless recommendations I could make for travellers. Below I’ve attempted to narrow down my favourite things about Vienna (as well as some handy tips), and I hope these brief descriptions are able to give you an idea of what to expect.
SIGHTS TO SEE, THINGS TO DO
Vienna State Opera – A true Viennese experience is incomplete without a trip to the opera house, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The opera house offers standing tickets for 4-5 euro that can be bought the day of the show, with the dress code being less strict. Standing tickets go on sale around 5:30pm in the evening, but depending on the popularity of the show that night (think Swan Lake ballet) you may want to arrive early. Guests with standing tickets normally bring a scarf or some kind of identifier to mark their place, then leave to grab a bite before the show starts at 7pm. Of course, for those looking for a fancier, sit-down opera experience, check out the opera’s website for a listing of upcoming shows. Buying in advance is highly recommended!
Naschmarkt – Vienna’s best outdoor market not only is a great source of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses, but also offers several restaurants that will open up their patios that will be heated in chillier weather. In the warmer months, the flea market will also open up at Naschmarkt on Saturdays and can be a great place for unique finds.
Museum of Natural History & Museum of Art History – You will be blown away by the vastness of collections in these museums, commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I himself. I would recommend allowing at least 3 hrs per museum.
Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace) – One of my favourite places in Vienna (I think I went three times in the four months I was there), the palace served as Empress Sisi’s summer residence. I highly recommend visiting in the spring/summer to fully appreciate the beauty of the surrounding gardens. The Vienna Philharmonic will also hold summer concerts in the evenings at Schönbrunn.
Get lost in the park – Near the opera house and Hofburg Palace are three connected gardens, Burggarten, Heldenplatz, and Volksgarten, which are lovely to stroll through in the spring and summer months. A little further to the east is Stadtpark, surrounding a small river that trickles off the Danube. With tall, sweeping willows and open fields, it also hosts an Austrian food festival every May and is home to Steirereck, Vienna’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Rathausplatz Skating Rink – If you’re visting Vienna between January and March, chances are the outdoor skating rinks in front of City Hall (Rathaus) will be open. The building façade is lit up in a wonderful display of colour and my personal favourite is the winding ice path through the trees at the City Hall square.
Schnitzel – Obviously there are countless places in the city that offer this Austrian tradition, but for a time-tried classic, make a reservation at Figlmüller and you won’t regret it.
Hotel Sacher – Home of the classic Viennese sachertorte, the café is located in the bottom level of Hotel Sacher.
Viennese Coffee (and café culture) – The classic Viennese coffee is made from two shots of espresso and cream to top off. You’ll be able to find this specialty in every café in the city. Check out Café Central near the city centre (closest to the Herrengasse metro stop), one of the oldest, most gorgeous cafes in Vienna.
Viennese Heurigen – The heurigen is a particular type of wine tavern that is a major part of Vienna’s culture. The taverns typically own their own wineries and serve their most recent wines from the year. Heurigen are known for their social atmosphere, often featuring live music.
Turkish kebap stands – Kebap stands are the city’s equivalent to hot dog stands and they are an affordable, delicious must-try. There is a stand just outside the opera house, and you’ll be bound to spot opera-goers sitting outside before a show with their take-out boxes!
Gelato & Ice Cream– My two personal favourite places to get gelato or ice cream in the city are Eis Greissler, which offers a ton of unique flavours (think pumpkin seed oil or macadamia nut ice cream rolled in cookie crumbs), and Eissalon Tuchlauben near the city centre. Highly acclaimed for gelato is Eissalon am Schwedenplatz by the Danube, which was founded by an Italian family.
Vienna city centre – The city is organized into numbered districts that start in the city centre and fan out towards the outskirts of the city. In the first district is where you’ll find Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) and a plethora of stores to choose from, from your Zaras and H&Ms to your luxury designers, to little boutiques off the beaten path.
Mariahilferstrasse – All along this street, starting from the Westbanhof train station towards the city centre, is another major shopping/dining neighbourhood. In the summer months, you’ll find flea markets set up all along Mariahilferstrasse in addition to the Saturday markets at Naschmarkt
Metro and tram lines – By far the best way to explore the city. The Viennese transit system is modern and services all the corners of the city you’ll need to reach. Furthermore, the city centre is a pedestrian neighbourhood, so cars can only drive around it.
ÖBB/OeBB (Austrian Federal Railways) – The train network across all of Austria and a clean, convenient option if you plan to explore other cities in Austria. Frequent travellers may benefit from signing up for an ÖBB discount card (for a fee).
Cheap travel outside the country – While there are many airlines that operate out of the Vienna International Airport, Ryanair does not. For those looking for cheap travel with discount airlines, you’ll need to fly out of the Bratislava airport in neighbouring Slovakia. There are coach bus companies that run regularly between Vienna’s Erdberg station and the Bratislava airport and it takes just over an hour to get there. On that note, many coach bus companies also operate longer routes, such as from Vienna to Prague, and are often very cheap and quite comfortable.
Other Austrian Cities
Graz – Home of the Zotter chocolate factory, where hundreds of varieties of chocolate creations are developed. The best part is that endless chocolate tastings are available throughout the entire tour. It’s a chocolate lover’s heaven.
Salzburg – Made world famous by The Sound of Music, Salzburg offers incredible views of the city and the Austrian Alps from the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The city offers a Hop-on/Hop-off tour bus that allows you to discover the city (including Sound of Music filming locations) at your own pace.