My Mini Guide to Vienna
My Mini Guide to Vienna
Romantic, dazzling, grand…
These three words instantly spring to my mind when I think of Vienna. I fell head over heels in love with this beguiling city when I went there for the first time back in February. The first four-day trip was not nearly long enough to explore all the nooks and crannies of this splendid city, so I went back in June. And still, I feel like that was not enough and that there is so much more to discover!
Immerse yourself in Imperial nostalgia…
When you first find yourself in the presence of the many majestic buildings in the historic centre of Vienna, you instantly realise how powerful Vienna must have been once… Personally, the most appealing aspect of Vienna is the persistent abundance of imperial nostalgia from the city’s glorious past: splendid Hapsburg palaces, imposing Baroque churches, horse ridden carriages, monumental late-19th century buildings lining the Ringstrasse, and wonderfully old-fashioned coffeehouses.
At the turn on the 20th century, Vienna was one of Europe’s major cultural centres: the city was home to Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Sigmund Freud, Josef Hoffman and Otto Wagner amongst many others. Unfortunately, the golden age of Vienna came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the First World War, accompanied by the deaths of several leading artistic figures. Nevertheless, almost a century later, the Austrian capital still revels in its imperial glamour of many years past, and still remains one of the cultural centres of Europe, albeit on a smaller scale.
What to do in Vienna – This is a list of things that make me want to return to the Austrian capital…
Go for breakfast at Café Central
Start your day with a Wiener Melange (Viennese version of a cappuccino) and the best croissant in the city at Café Central. Or, if you are hungry, go for the decadent Princess Sisi Breakfast, that also includes smoked salmon, a tasty soft-boiled egg, and a glass of sparkling wine (who doesn’t like to kick start their day with some bubbles?). This old-school coffee house was once THE meeting place for many an Austrian intellectual and other prominent figures. Coffee houses, in general, became the most important social institution in Vienna by the late 19th century. I can easily spend two or three hours at Café Central, reading a newspaper and people watching, whilst sipping my coffee. The interior of Café Central is beautiful and airy, with high ceilings, marble table tops and an extremely tempting pastry counter. Other great grand cafes to check out include Demel and Café Sperl.
Museums, museums, museums…
Spend your morning wandering around a museum or two, whilst you still have plenty of energy. If you are even remotely interested in art, you will be spoilt for choice in Vienna. My personal favourites are:
Leopold Museum: This cube-shaped limestone museum is home to the unparalleled private collection of Egon Schiele works, including many rare oil paintings. The collection was put together by Rudolf Leopold, a zealous art collector with a real passion for Schiele’s work. He later sold his vast, impressive collection to the Austrian state, which built a new museum to showcase Leopold’s collection exclusively. Other artists on show include Gustav Klimt, Richard Grestl and Joseph Hoffman. The Leopold Museum is part of Museum’s Quartier, a modern cultural complex hidden behind the façade of former imperial stables, across the road from Kunsthistorishes and Natural History museums.
Belvedere: This former Baroque palace complex houses a wealth of blue-chip art works from Austria’s three most famous twentieth century artists: Gustav Klimt (here you will find his iconic, world-famous painting The Kiss), Egon Schiele (the highlight is his most famous, large-scale erotic painting The Embrace, a self portrait with one of his models) and Oskar Kokoschka (it has a fascinating oil painting of a tigon, an animal that is a cross between a lion and a tiger, that the artist came across at a London zoo). If you get a little tired of art, you can wander around the impressive formal gardens, which offer great views of central Vienna.
Albertina: This museum boasts one of the world’s largest and impressive collections of graphic arts: dozens of drawings by the most important figures in the history of art, including Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt. With such quality and scope of graphic material – drawings in particular are susceptible to the passage of time, and many do not survive – Albertina is able to stage the most outstanding exhibitions. When I was there back in June, the temporary exhibition showcased many works by Durer (including the world- famous The Hare), Michaelangelo and Raphael. The museum also has an extensive permanent collection of Modern and Impressionist paintings.
Sisi Museum: This gem of a museum, housed in the former apartments of the Hofburg palace, is dedicated to Austria’s most famous and often misunderstood Empress. Here you will find over 300 objects, including dresses, jewellery, gloves and beauty recipes that once belonged to Princess Sisi, as well as the actual 4-inch needle file that was used in her assassination by an anarchist in 1898.
Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum): Home to the fourth largest collection of oil paintings in the world, this museum’s collection is mostly focused on the artists from the 16th and 17th centuries. It has the largest collection in the world of paintings by Peter Bruegels the Elder, including The Tower of Babel and paintings from the cycle of seasons genre, including the first known winter landscape by a European artist, Hunters in the Snow. Here you will also find a numerous paintings by Titian, Dürer, Rubens, Velázquez and many others.
Take a tram around the Ringstrasse
This is a perfect opportunity for a free sightseeing tour along the famous boulevard, interspersed with late 19th century monumental buildings: several major museums, including the Kunsthistorische Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum; Vienna State Opera; and the Rathaus (the Town Hall). With very little effort on your part, you will be rewarded with splendid views of the city.
Go for lunch at a local beisl.
Beisl is a laid back eating establishment serving traditional Viennese fare such as Tafelspitz (braised beef garnished with chips, chives sauce, spinach, horseradish and apple puree), Vanillierostbraten (roasted meat with garlic) and Schnitzel (breaded fried meat, usually veal). Your meal will be cheap, delicious and ample.. Glacis Beisl, a stone throw’s away from the Museum Quarter, is one of the best places in the city for authentic beisl experience.
Spend a few hours exploring the streets of the Innere Stadt, Vienna’s historic centre
Regardless of its grandiosity, the historic city centre is very compact and can be covered with a few hours of strolling its streets. The beating heart of the city centre is Stephandom, a gothic edifice with stunning interiors. Climb one of its twin towers for bird’s eye views of the city.
Go for a slice (or two) of delicious apple strudel at a historic Café Sperl as an afternoon snack
I tried many apple strudels whilst in Vienna, and Café Sperl was my personal winner. Situated around the corner from Museumsquartier, Café Sperl is a traditional Viennese coffee house, similar to Café Central, which opened in 1856. Thos café is an atmospheric institution with its wood-panelled walls, fading upholstery and pool tables covered with newspapers.
Indulge your tastebuds at Naschmarkt
Naschmarkt is an outdoor food market that is an epicurean, multi-ethic paradise, is another great option for lunch. In addition to countless stalls selling everything from flowers to Russian food, here you will also find plenty of restaurants. I would highly recommend Umar Fisch, an establishment that stands out for its wide assortment of delicious, market fresh seafood, and Kafferosterei Gegenbauer for a great cup of coffee.
Where to Stay…
Hotel Sans Souci Wien: this recently opened boutique hotel is located within a stone throw’s of the Museum Quarter and the Ringstrasse. The spacious bedrooms are beautifully designed with clean lines, parquet floors and super comfortable beds, whereas the reception area and the bar are a lot more kitsch: there is a lot of colour purple and rococo furniture (apparently all the furniture is antique). Another highlight of the hotel is a 25m pool, whose ceiling is adorned with beautiful chandeliers.
Hotel Topazz: this charming, small hotel is located within one minute walk of Stephansdom, so if you are looking to stay right in the city centre, this is a place for you! The decor is modern and clean, and I particularly liked the window divans in the oval shaped windows: a fun place to lie down and gaze at the streets below.
Where to Eat and Drink…
Best for Austrian food: 3 Hacken Magazin
For great Viennese food in the city centre, head to Magazin. This restaurant serves excellent tafelspizt, boiled beef in broth accompanied with horse radish, and wiener schintizel, thin breaded meat, usually veal, amongst many other Austrian classics.
Best for dinner: Meierei im Stadtpark
So far this is my favourite restaurant in Vienna. I love Meierei’s wonderful, quiet location along the Venice canal in Stadtpark: dining here feels that you are far away from the busy city life. The food is a fresh and exquisite, and the whole menu constitutes an innovative take on Austrian cuisine.
Best for beisl experience: Glacis Beisl
This restaurant popular with the locals for an authentic Viennese dining experience. Here, you can enjoy delicious Viennese classics at great prices. Glacis Beisl has a large open courtyard, perfect for the summer al fresco dining!
Best for a snack: Trzesniewski
Vienna’s well-known and beloved institution that has been around for over a century and a great place to stop for a delicious snack of open sandwiches made of fresh, local dark bread cut into the typical rectangle-form with various spreads (there are more than twenty different types) washed down with some local beer or a shot of vodka. There are currently eight outlets insperssed throughout the city
Where to Drink…
Loos American Bar is a famous historical bar and is a prime example of modernist architecture designed Adolf Loos, one of the leading figures in Viennese architecture. This tiny bar is only 30sq metres in area, yet its size is enhanced by the use of several mirrors, a novel interior design concept at the time this bar was opened.
Perlage: I stumbled across this hole-in-the-wall champagne tasting room and shop, whilst wandering the streets of central of Vienna. As some of you know, I am an absolute champagne
lover addict, so imagine the instant jump in my happiness level as soon as I set my foot inside! This shop specialises in sourcing its champagne from the best independent champagne producers rather than the generic, well-known names. My friend and I ended up spending a few joyful hours inside chatting to the shop’s (very) talkative owner.
Roberto American Bar: this recently opened, elegantly deisgned bar oozes with glamour and serves beautiful cocktails. Come here for a pre-dinner drink and some nibbles, as it gets packed in the latter hours of the evening ( it is tiny, just like Loos American Bar).