Vienna is the cultural hub of Austria featuring the Vienna Opera, the Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. If culture isn’t enough to win your heart, the Baroque architecture at every turn and the cobble stone streets will put Vienna in a special place among other European cities. It’s hard walk the streets and not wonder how so much detail and beauty can be packed into one city. Vienna is not only an aesthetically pleasing city, but there is so much beauty in the Viennese way of life with its slow and graceful approach to the everyday. Vienna is overflowing with sidewalk cafés, wine bars, pastry shops, and luscious parks to enjoy at your own pace, but never rushed. My advise is to let Vienna show you around, don’t over plan, and just follow your senses.
Views not to miss:
The Stephansdom is free to go inside, but I think the really beauty here is the intricate detailing on the outside of the cathedral and the gorgeous tiled roof. I think I spent a few minutes just staring with my mouth open from the sidewalk outside. For a wonderful view of the city, pay a few euros and head up either the north or the south tower.
Located on the top of Hotel Lamée, only a few streets over from the Stephansdom, is a rooftop bar featuring a few signature drinks and quick bites to eat. Even on a cold December day, the bar was an enjoyable place to have a glass of wine and take in the view over Vienna.
Palace of Justice
In interior of the Palace of Justice has a breathtaking interior with a grand staircase that many don’t know about. There is also a café, Justizcafe, on the top floor with views of Vienna.
Architecture to admire:
Vienna needs its own section on architecture. Vienna’s architecture is a mix of contemporary, Art Deco, Neo-Classical, Baroque and Rococo buildings. There are many architectural icons in Vienna, such as the Opera House, Austrian Parliament Building, Rathaus, Belvedere Palace and some lesser known gems such as the Ferstel Passage which us worth a visit. I enjoyed just wandering the streets with no plan with my eyes and camera pointed up.
Things to do:
Vienna Christmas Markets
Stephansplatz – With the cathedral as your backdrop, its hard to beat the atmosphere of this market. We found fun alternatives to the typical bratwurst here with goulash in a bread bowl and Jack Daniels apple cider. The goulash in a bowl was worth the trip, but skip the Jack Daniels cider for the traditional Gluhwein, as we think it was just the juice.
Rathausplatz – This is one of the most elaborate Christmas markets I have been to. The feel was very similar to many of the German markets where they are selling bratwurst and gluhwein, but the decorations were all Viennese and over the top. There is a huge ice skating rink in the middle of the market that lights up at night for skating far into the evening.
Christmas Village at Maria-Theresien-Platz – This is the smallest of the three but it isn’t a far walk from the Rathaus market and was nice to take a quick break from the hustle and bustle of the larger markets. The Christmas Village is replaced by the New Year’s Village on 27 December.
Horse carriage ride
Although we did not take a ride ourselves, there was no shortage of horse drawn carriages making their way up and down the cobblestone streets near the Stephansdom. This is a great way to sit back and enjoy the elegance of Vienna and learn a little bit about the history and the architecture.
You could easily spend an entire day touring the rooms of the Imperial Palace, admiring the gardens and trekking up to the Gloreitte to see Vienna from a highpoint. If you don’t have an entire day or even half a day to spend here, I would suggest enjoying the mains gardens around the Palace on a summer day and the Christmas market outside the Palace if you happen to be in town during the holidays, both of which are free to enjoy.
The Belvedere is another large Palace with numerous intricate estate rooms to explore. In addition to estate rooms, the upper palaces display works from Austrian artists and some international artists like Vincent Van Gogh. Similar to the Schloss Schönbrunn, the main gardens are free to explore and at Christmas time there is a Christmas market at this location.
This is the gorgeous Vienna Opera House which you can either tour during the day, or book to see a performance at night. During the holidays they have the Nutcracker ballet performances at the Opera House. The Nutcracker tickets at the Opera House were all sold out, so we did some research and found the Vienna Residenz Orchestra performance at the Palais Auersperg which combined the orchestra with some dancing and opera singing. Find a complete listing of all operas, ballets, theatres, concerts and musicals in the city to choose from during your visit at Vienna Classics.
American Bar for Drinks
Enjoy a drink with a view at the Lamée rooftop bar, or for a more intimate experience, try out the American Bar. There are about 20 seats in the whole bar, and from the moment you step in you feel like you are back in America in the 20’s. Despite the small space, this place has a big personality. Its dimly lit and the entire interior is covered in wood. The bartenders were extremely friendly and the prices aren’t outrageous, but more on the pricier side. We enjoyed some champagne and an old fashion to warm up from the winter weather.
Places to Eat:
Opera dei Vini,
We stumbled on this place in the Mariahilf neighborhood late the first night we arrived and we have to give it a recommendation for amazing pizza and Italian food at a great price. This place is casual, the waiters are very friendly and it was an overall wonderful experience. Mid-meal we even talked about coming back a second time during our trip. We settled for taking our leftovers home and eating them for lunch the next day.
Ulrich, Sankt-Ulrichs-Platz 1
This restaurant is near the Museum District, so if you are in the area definitely make a stop in. The interior is modern and the menu prices are reasonable. Not to mention the food is delicious and varied.
Café Central, Herrengasse 14,
Come in an explore the Viennese coffee culture at one of the most famous coffee shops in Vienna. Here you can get famous a famous Vienna coffee, delicious cake and also a lunch plate. However, your wiener schnitzel might cost you a few extra euros here due to the fame of the Café, but it’s all for the experience.
Train station (this is not a recommendation, but a reality)
As Christmas fell on a Monday this year, I’m sure we were not the only ones affected by the shorter window of holiday preparations. Some may have had less shopping days for their friends and families, we unfortunately had run out of shopping options for Christmas Eve dinner. In Europe, many countries celebrate Christmas on December 24th, so when we arrived in Vienna on the night of December 23rd many shops, restaurants and grocery stores were already closed. We needed to get some groceries so that we could throw together a decent Christmas Eve dinner on the 24th, however the only thing open at 9pm was the train station. The train station had a small, closet-sized grocery store that was still open, but not for long. The realities of traveling set in and we decided to make the most of it. We picked up what we could, which included a 7 Euro duck breast, potatoes, sauce from a packet and some wine. We youtubed how to cook a duck the next day and since then this meal lives on as the “best 7 Euro train station Christmas Eve duck”!
Where to Stay:
We enjoy staying a little of the beaten path when in a large city. Especially in a city with such cheap and well designed public transportation as Vienna. This way we can easily access the city by day and wander around the quaint streets of the neighborhood feeling less like a tourist at night. If you are ever in Vienna, we highly recommend the Mariahilfer area. The Westbahnhof train station was a 5 minute walk, and from there you can take 3 stops to get to the Volkstheater to go to the shows, or 4 stops to get directly to Sptehansplatz in the heart of Vienna. This location also puts you in between the city and Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna’s most popular attraction.
Also, one of the spectacular things about Vienna, especially during Christmas, is walking the streets at night when everything is lit up!
Day Trip: Bratislava, Slovakia