I went to Hungary, Austria, and Germany with my BFF for 12 days during the summer 2014. Our stop after Budapest was Vienna. When we arrived, I realized right away that 3 days would not nearly be enough to explore this gorgeous city, though we managed to cover a lot of ground. So, here are my tips about everything we did, and even things we didn’t!
- At Westbahnhof (west train station) from Budapest on a Railjet train booked in advance at http://www.raileurope.com/. We booked several weeks in advance so our paper tickets could arrive by mail.
- Just south of the old town at an AirBnb apartment. The host was so nice! The apartment is adorably compact, but the grandness of the main room had me thinking “I could live here.” Very close to a metro line and a tram line.
- Austrian National Library located in Hofburg Palace – If you read my post about Budapest, you know we are wont to pursue “Beauty and the Beast” libraries. This one, claimed by some to be the most beautiful library in the world, was everything we hoped for. Not only was it gorgeous, but there was an interesting exhibit about WWI, since 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of its beginning. We thought it would be free to enter, but we happily paid the €7 per ticket.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral – The centuries-old church at the heart of the city. We paid the €16 for the all-access pass, which includes more space to explore the cathedral and an insightful audio tour (though I read Rick Steves has one too you can download for your smartphone). We spent over an hour in the treasures museum, which we had all to ourselves shortly after the cathedral opened. The catacombs tour was also creepy-interesting, and though the pass included elevators to both towers, we only went to the north tower (the one with the bell) since it was rainy.
- Jesuit Church – (Universitatskirche) We got a tip to see this church from some Americans we met at St. Stephen’s, and since my BFF went to a Jesuit high school, we were curious to go. When we entered, my jaw dropped – and this was AFTER being in St. Stephen’s. There were very few people there, and entry was free (though please donate a euro or two to any “free” church you visit).
- Pfarrkirche zu St. Michael – we stopped in this church near Demel in the evening, and it was beautifully dark and contemplative.
- Opera Tour – Since music is such a huge part of Viennese culture, don’t miss this incredible building. Better yet, catch an opera for just a few euros.
- Belvedere Palace – A world-class museum in a gorgeous series of buildings. The Upper Belvedere housed “The Lovers (The Kiss)” by Gustav Klimt, so I art geeked out quite a bit. The rest of it as well as the Lower Belvedere have an impressive collection. The Orangery featured a quirky but fascinating exhibit exploring mirrors. We spun through everything in just over two hours out of necessity, but I would have liked to spend more time there.
- Schönbrunn Palace – The home of the Hapsburgs is a don’t miss. Plan for at least half a day here, but you could spend all day, especially if you get the all-inclusive Gold Pass. We highly recommend the Grand Tour – a step up from the Imperial tour that leads you through 18 more rooms – which included the most impressive ones. We also recommend buying tickets in advance online – we had to wait an hour for entry after buying tickets, but that gave us time to wander the gardens and hike up to the Gloriette on top of the hill.
- Jazz/Food and Film Fest – These seemed to be going on simulta neously around Town Hall. The food part was a lively event full of locals and the classiest of its kind I’ve ever experienced – food was served on ceramic dishes with real silverware, and drinks in actual glasses, both of which were collected by waiters. As for the film part, we caught a recording of a Beethoven concert on a huge screen with a large, appreciative crowd right in front of the Rathaus. We felt like cool hipsters avoiding the Mozart concert tourist traps and listening to jazz and Beethoven instead!
Saw (from the outside)
- Hofburg palace – Including the nearby Burggarten full of sunbathers.
- Parlament – A stately building with an iconic stature and fountain. The Volksgarten it faces has lovely gardens, fountains, the Theseus temple, and a monument to Empress Elizabeth.
- Town Hall (Rathhaus) – A soaring anchor of the city
- Spanish Riding School – At first I was skeptical about this since an equestrian-loving friend recommended it, but since I have learned that “You do not need to be crazy about horses to be truly intrigued by the Spanish Riding School Vienna.” Unfortunately, our visit was timed so that no shows were going on – not even the off-season ones featuring foals. It sounded like a cool stop though, and I would have liked to go.
- Pork Schnitzel and Wiener Gold Fassl Pils at Figlmüller (specifically the one on Bäckerstraße) which claims to be the home of schnitzel. Though reviews said it was touristy, I was pleasantly surprised by the elegant atmosphere and attentive service. We went around 7:00 pm – dinnertime for Americans but early for Europeans, so the place wasn’t crowded. The schnitzel is wonderfully crispy and HUGE – consider sharing it. The spinach dumplings were mind-blowingly delicious.
- Ice cream at Zanoni, just up the street from Figlmuller. There are a few locations around town, but this one seemed to be the largest and liveliest. We just got ice cream from the counter inside. The chocolate was – and I’m not joking – the best chocolate ice cream I have ever had.
- Sausage at a stand just a bit south of St. Stephen’s. They put a hotdog-sized hole in a loaf of French bread with condiments for nearly mess-free eating. I had a bratwust and my BFF tried käsekrainer – “käse” is for the cheese blended with the meat.
- Veal Schnitzel and Beer at Salm Bräu, just around the corner from Lower Belvedere – another highly rated restaurant that did not disappoint. It has a fun biergarten feel, with staff decked out in lederhosen and dirndls.
- Sachertorte at Café Central – a classic Viennese dessert at the place Leon Trotsky used to hang out. It’s a beautiful place with a creepy/hilarious mannequin of the Marxist, but unfortunately the cake was dry and disappointed us.
- Apple Strudel at, well, a lot of places. Sometimes for all three meals. Aida – a 50s-style and very pink local chain, Café Residenz at Schönbrunn – where the strudel is made onsite and you can even see a demonstration, and at Demel – a Viennese institution with opulent architecture and displays of treats inside. They were all slightly different and all delicious!
- The Hapsburger – also at Café Residenz at Schönbrunn. I was craving American food, and the pun was too funny not to try. The humor was better than the taste, but it still hit the spot.
- Food and Film Fest – We dined and drank like locals, stopping at an an “Austrian tapas” booth and eating prosciutto-wrapped feta, chocolate-filled knödel (dumplings rolled in crumbs), and a spritzer with fresh raspberries.
- We had planned to purchase the Vienna card when we arrived, which gives tourists free access to all forms of public transportation plus discounts to a lot of the main sites for 48 or 72 hours. We tried purchasing one each from the a ticket machine at Westbahnhof and found a 72-hour option called “Vienna card” for €16. It turns out this was only a 72-hour transportation card without the discounts on sites (the actual one is “more colorful”). It ended up working out ok since we would have paid €21.90 for the actual Vienna Card just to get discounts.
Restaurants/bars we researched but didn’t have the chance to visit (mostly recommended from various local AirBnB hosts):
- Gasthaus Engelhart – traditional Austrian food
- Café Goldegg – Old historic cafe
- Café Landtmann – Where Sigmund Freud used to hang out, and has great apple strudel according to a local.
- Sperl – Really good restaurant with traditional Austrian + international fod
- Puntigamerhof – Wiener schnitzel
- Schlossquadrat – 4 restaurants inside – Austrian, Italian, burger
- Alten Fassl – typical Austrian food
- Gasthaus Poschl – great Austrian food. Might need a reservation
- Plachutta – famous Austrian restaurant
- Naschmarkt – iconic market with world food
- Ost Club – A relaxed club
Vienna, though more expensive than Budapest, was pristine and full of gorgeous buildings – so many that it was sometimes difficult to pinpoint which one was our actual destination! Transportation is a breeze, and desserts are delectable and plentiful. Feel free to ask me any questions!