To an outsider, Vienna may just appear to be quite city-like, for it is now one of fastest growing towns in central Europe, but if you try to see and absorb the city in its more real and conscious form, it may appear as a town you’d still want to call as ‘historic’. As you walk along the Grand Ringstrasse (a one way street that encircles the Vienna’s 1st district, or the city-center) you literally go back in 19th century – the time when Vienna was still developing as the capital of Austrian empire, and started shaping itself into a city, we are much familiar to, today.
Walking along its many elegant pedestrian thoroughfares, particularly in and around the first district, there was not a single moment when I did not find myself awestruck by its ever-impressive architectural marvels. Whether in the historic city center, in the traditional wine taverns or on the other side of the Danube — its many contemporary and historic buildings coexist in a strikingly innovative manner. But that doesn’t mean that Vienna is only about fascinating architecture. In fact, there’s more to see, do, and adore here.
From food to shopping to Christmas/Easter markets (I was here during the time of Easter) the capital city of Vienna has only the best to offer. And speaking of my experiences, and discoveries, during a short 3 day travel period, here are a few things I’d highly recommend, for they make Vienna so original and unlike any other town in central Europe…
Chow Down At A Würstelstand
Street food is on the tip of everybody’s tongues today, as so is the case with me. And thanks to the many sausage stands, known as Würstelstand, dining on the fly is so easier and accessible in Vienna. These sausage stands that are now part of the cityscape, have moreover been always a Viennese culinary trademark.
Whether you like fast-food or not, or you’re one of those people who are bitten by the idea of sumptuous sit-down meals, Vienna’s historically traditional food (as I’d like to call it) and the city’s best snack can only enjoyed standing. So next time you’re here, stand elbow to elbow to gulp on a hot dog, or something more filling – a Käsekrainer (sausage with cheese).
Walk Along The 1st District
As mentioned earlier, I repeat again, with all the historical buildings along a few kilometer long ring-road (or around the St. Stephens Square) 1st district is the architectural highlight in Vienna, something you don’t want to miss when you’re in Vienna. The 1st district (or the center) is moreover blissfully walk-able and punctuated by swathes of urban greenery; while buses, trains and trams make it easy to move beyond the Ringstrasse, the 150 year old throughfare that encircles the 1st district.
Beyond The 1st District
If time permits, you should also go further. To the Naschmarkt area, not only looking a more open (Asian style) market stands, but also a bit up to all the beautiful Jugendstil buildings in the right and left. I also like the 2nd district, the former Jewish district with its reminders of this very important group in Vienna.
However, if you love the countryside and greener areas, don’t miss going up on one of the hills including Mount Leopoldsberg and Mount Kahlenberg (only accessible by bus fom the city center) that also offer the best free views over Vienna.
The Spanish School Of Horse Riding
Picture Credit: Spanish School of Riding
If there’s one thing that differentiates Vienna from any other place in the world it is its Spanish School of Riding – the only institution in the world where the classic equestrian skills (haute école) has been preserved and is still practiced in its original form. The school has been training horses and riders since it was established by the Habsburgs back in the 1500s.
But as the name otherwise suggests, it’s not the school or its riders that are Spanish. Rather, the name comes from the horses. They are all Lipizzaners, a particular (and very smart) breed which mixes Spanish, Arabian and Berber ancestry, and who can trace their bloodline back to 1750 and the first Habsburg stables.
I happened to see the 2 hour Morning Exercises sessions, which the public can buy tickets for at the box office – at the school or on Josefsplatz, in person – and totally loved different training sessions. It almost looked like a ballet with the horses dancing to the music. And though it gave an impression that everything that was happening was done so effortlessly, but like a lot of things, it takes a lot of work to make it look so easy, and that was beauty of it!
Explore The Coffee Culture
Viennese coffehoueses – a slice of viennese tradition – have always been the perfect places to sit and watch the world go by for hours on end. In addition to the traditional Kaffehaus, there are a number of contemporary cafes around the city to celebrate the fine art of coffee making.
As recommended, and personally explored, the best coffee can be found in the 1st district at Caffecouture, in Palais Ferstel. An award winning barista, they even roast their own beans, of course! Kaffeebar Balthasar, Kaffeefabrik, Kaffemilk, are few other names high on the chart. But as truth goes, there is virtually no end to the variety of coffee you can drink in Vienna, and with more than 1,000 cafes and espresso bars to choose from it could take a lifetime, and a lot more money, to sample all the options, so you of course can’t!
A Few Other Prominent Stops
St Stephan’s Cathedral: Situated at Stephansplatz 3, the St Stephan’s cathedral is a soul-stirring place and a must-not-miss in Vienna, after all it is the city’s most prominent landmark, one of the top visited tourist attractions, and a place of worship. Part Romanesque, part Gothic, it dates to the 14th century and stands on the ruins of two previous churches. Inside, you can climb the 137-metre South Tower for views of the city (though I skipped it as it costed €4.40).
The Parliament: The parliament of Vienna has one of the finest and quite astonishing bindings (as per my personal view). The details of the architecture are quite well thought of. Here you get to see a lot of Roman and Greek influences with the building style, something that would remind you of Rome (especially if you’ve seen it only in Television so far in your life!)
Belvedre Palace: A former summer palace, and another masterpiece of Viennese architecture. Two Baroque palaces stand in row on a sloping hill, and between them lies a wonderful French garden, statues and cascades. “Belvedere” translates (in Italian) to “beautiful view” and that’s what you can enjoy – visiting this wonderful site.
Donau City: The great river of Danube, sliced half by an island, almost dramatically, flows through an area that has a more modern and corporate look in the entire city. The area takes on the hi-tech and business center that includes some of the tallest buildings in Austria.
Where To Stay
Vienna has a significantly rich accommodation scene, for it is one of the top tourism destinations in the world. And with that said, do not expect to find very cheap accommodation. Even the cheapest hostels can seem a bit too much (especially if you are more accustomed to Asian markets). However, I can recommend Wombats City Hostel located in Naschmarkt for its convenient location and a lively atmosphere. The best thing about the hostel was the common area which makes it so easier for solo travellers (like me) to find other people to speak with. A lively bar adds furthermore to the experience. The only disappointment was, however, they charged 3 Euro 50 Cents for the breakfast, even if you have a 70 Euro private room for yourself, which was kind of disappointing.
Have You Been To Vienna? What Would You Add To The List?
I wrote this post in accordance with ViennaTourism, under #ViennaNow campaign. Though my tour in the city was partly hosted by them, all the recommendations and ideas are solely personal. And I only recommend what I personally experience or see.