Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been on a hiatus since the last travel post on Prague. A few distractions cropped up along the way when we were in Budapest, i.e. Christmas, New Year, catching a very bad cold, late night outings, work etc. So here I am, attempting to recall our experiences in Vienna so that I can finish this travel post on the city.
Vienna was a welcome change after Prague. Aside from the pricier living cost, the city itself has so much more to offer from their spectacular historical sites and gothic influenced buildings to their delicious Viennese cuisines. Everything is so classy and proper here in Vienna, I had to be on my best behaviour and manners when in their restaurants. Also the Viennese people are very polite and friendly, and most of them have a huge sense of pride in their heritage. Vienna was consistently voted as one of the best places to live in the world. With all the clean clear air, low crime rates, delicious cuisines, beautiful historical city and the warm Viennese folks, we can’t help but agree as well.
We arrived in the middle of December, so we were spoilt with all the beautiful Christmas decorations and multitude of Christmas markets that popped up in every square of the city. Unfortunately no snow was encountered during our time in Vienna. ☹
Vienna is famous for these: grandiose gothic style buildings, palaces that were once home to the Hapsburg royal family, the Opera theatre & classical music shows, Viennese alps, and Viennese cuisine. If you were to ask me how many days would be required for a ‘traditional’ holiday stopover in Vienna, I would probably say a minimum of 3 full days.
Accommodation — Stay within the Ringstrasse or at least within the boundary (which was where we stayed). Sure, it gets abit pricier in this area but you’ll save tons on transportation costs. Try Airbnb, lots of options around the fringe of Ringstrasse.
Public transport — Consist of U-banh, S-bahn, trams and busses. Single ticket is Eu2.60, Daily is Eu7.60 and Weekly is Eu16.20. Not very economical I know, so find somewhere central to stay and plan your journey wisely.
Sights in District One
This is the heart of the city and also the most touristic part of the city. Everything famous about Vienna that you’ve ever heard or read are within the Ringstrasse, which is the ring road that was once the city wall. Within the Ringstrasse you’ll find famous sites such as these…
Karntner Strasse and Graben
The city’s oldest and fanciest shopping streets. Every city has these, and for Vienna it would be Karntner strasse and Graben. There are many shops and restaurants / cafes lining these streets like every other typical European shopping streets. Try to venture out of the two main streets into the alleyways connecting these two for more quirky shops. A tip for those wanting to shop here – from my window shopping experience here in Vienna, I would say that the price tags for designer goods were generally higher compared to its neighbouring countries and the VAT return is about the same as Italy and France.
St Stephen’s Cathedral
This a massive cathedral located right smack in the middle of the busy shopping street Karntner Strasse. This is the largest gothic church in the city with 2 huge towers spiraling into the sky. You can choose to climb one tower or take a lift up the other one. We chose to climb up the dark, steep and very narrow spiral staircase. It took us 7–10minutes to get to the top with a lot of physical effort required. So just beware if you are slightly claustrophobic or not physically fit, then consider taking the lift up instead. I met a guy at the top of the observation deck that looked like he was very close to passing out! Free entrance into the cathedral, but be prepared to pay 4euros to go up the tower.
St Peter’s Church
This is a church located near the Graben shopping street. We were walking by aimlessly in the evening when we stumbled upon this dimly lit church. As we entered, we realised that the entire church was packed with people and lit with candles, and suddenly a group in front started singing. Apparently everyone was here for the free choir. Amidst the beautiful church background and the candle-lit atmosphere, it was an absolutely gorgeous moment that I’ll remember for life.
Winter residence of the royal family. This palace is located in the middle of the city, so if you have no time to go all the way to Schonbrunn then try to visit this one. We didn’t enter, only walked around the palace grounds because we decided to visit Schonbrunn Palace instead. (see below)
Vienna State Opera
If you have one night to spare, I would recommend a show in the historical Vienna State Opera. Even if you are not a classical music or opera enthusiasts (like us), it is still worth the ticket paid to see the talented performances of the musical groups perform in one of the most beautiful and historically significant opera theatre in the world. Only the very best gets to perform here, so whatever show you see, you are bound the see the best of their industry performing live. Vienna is hailed as the capital of classical music of the world and is responsible for its brewing world famous musical talents such as Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss. No surprise, each and everyone of them have actually performed in the same hall of the Vienna State Opera theatre.
We got our last minute tickets through the Tourist Information Centre at 25% discount earlier during the day. We didn’t care much for what type of show, but we were lucky that the Viennese ballet was scheduled for that day and it turned out to be a really good show even for a noob like me. Oh, and did I mention it is absolutely beautiful inside the building?
Tip: Don’t buy any tickets in advance. If you are not picky about your seats or shows, just turn up a few hours before the show of the day starts and ask for a last minute ticket. These tickets are sold in the Opera ticket counter 80 minutes before the show starts and they can be purchased at the official Vienna Tourist Information centre on earlier in the day as well. Typically the tickets are sold at 25% discounted onwards.
Naschmarkt is the main market where local Viennese residents go to do their weekly groceries. We came here hoping to get a glimpsed of the less touristic side of Vienna and also anything to do with market usually interests me. Unlike the usual markets in other cities however, this one didn’t have a lot of variety of food stalls. Most of the street food stalls consisted of cheap turkish / middle eastern fares i.e. doners, wraps etc. Great for budget eats since Vienna is not exactly a city known for street food and simple fares. On the other side of the market, you can find rows and rows of fancier cafes and restaurants to fill your tummy or rest your feet after your market visit.
Schonbrunn palace is the summer residence of the royal family. Needless to say since it was winter when we visited, the place was quite sparse (which is a very good thing!). Pros and cons visiting during off-season — We didnt need to queue for hours to purchase tickets and we got to take our time around each exhibits without hordes of crowds cramped into a single room. Unfortunately, some exhibits were closed for maintenance, and others were not open during winter ☹
Also known as the City Town Hall. Just look at how grand this town hall looks! Who wouldn’t love their city if their City Town Hall looks as good as this? The biggest Christmas market in the city was also held here. If you only have time to visit one market, make it this one. Every other Christmas market in the city was nowhere as good or huge as this. Plus, this one was free!
Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) — Mödling Hinterbrühl
We wanted a different scenery away from the city landscape, so we spontaneously decided to take a self guided day trip to the nearby town in Vienna Woods. It is supposed to be a very charming place during the warmer season, but we decided to go anyway even though we are in the dreadful winter season since we probably won’t be back in Austria this summer.
When it comes to self guided tours, we have our ups and downs. Sometimes, the spontaneity of traveling to a less touristic place / off season destination on our own are quite rewarding, othertimes it is just a lot of frustrations with getting lost, confusing and irregular public transports. Similarly, we had some good and bad in our tour of Mödling due to timing reasons. It was a lovely place to visit, but I would highly recommend to go with a tour group due to the infrequent public transport and the distance between each landmarks.
For our daytrip to Mödling we visited the Seegrotte Hinterbrühl and the Liechtenstein Castle.
I think like most European cities, Vienna thrives during the warmer season when most of its attractions are open (and open for longer hours). There were quite a few activities that we wanted to do that we not suitable for winter i.e. bike tours, Danube river tours to nearby towns etc. The plus side to visiting off-season was the lack of tourist crowds in town, therefore no long queues and no bookings required to popular restaurants.