Austria is one of those fly under the radar countries. Like, in the way that it’s surprising you don’t hear about how amazing it is all the time. Because you should. Because it truly is.
Especially it’s capital and largest city, Vienna or Wien (they speak German here). Not Ween, that’s an alt-rock band. This is a European city: there’s sprawling boulevards, a backdrop of rolling hills and mountainous terrain, miles of shoreline along the Danube river, awe-inspiring art, stunning Roman and Baroque architecture, amazing food, interesting if not dubious history (umm home of Freud, Hitler and Lenin?), innovation and culture, and…it’s the
sound city of music.
plan your travel soon because vienna waits for you
The first thing you should do when you arrive in Vienna, or Wien, is find coffee. They are serious about Viennese coffee here, the cafe culture is woven into the DNA of its people. Mienl is probably one of the most famous names in the game, but find any coffee house, post up with a newspaper and enjoy.
The perfect accompaniment to your cup of joe is a Sachertorte. This is the best. If you do one thing in Vienna, it should be this. This decadent chocolate cake is moist, smooth with melt in your mouth apricot jam layered in between delicate chocolate sponge. It is delightful, and there’s nowhere better than at the Hotel Sacher. There is controversy as to the origin of the cake, whether it was invented at Demel or Hotel Sacher, but I liked the one from HS better (please don’t @ me). Take the liberty of comparing the two versions, you’re on vacation!
Now that you’re fueled up, you can explore the city. It’s not a huge, and a lot of attractions are condensed into the central downtown. Starting with the Parliament Building, which looks like the Pantheon but with more gold gilding, to the Burgtheater and the famed Vienna Opera House.
Performing arts is another important theme to this city, and you see it everywhere. Everyone knows the Viennese Boys Choir, the angelic voices you hear every New Year’s Day on PBS, right? But it’s also the epicenter of opera and classics. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the people who have lived and composed in Vienna: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms.
You must see the inside of Musikverein, the setting of those famous New Year’s Day concerts. It’s one of the most beautiful music venues in the world, and the acoustics are perfection.
If you are eine kleine for a little nachtmusik (maybe my best pun ever), there are lots of tourist attractions that hold nightly Mozart’s concerts across the city with accompanying Viennese Waltz programs to boot. True Viennese Balls, are a bit of a lost art now, but these symphonic ragers used to go all night. People would literally have a ball.
Rock me, Amadeus, indeed.
Many of these balls used to be held in palaces, and boy, does Vienna have a lot of them. I only had time to visit one of the triad: Augarten, Belvedere and Hofburg. Mainly because of my love of Mr. Belvedere, you know which I chose.
You know a palace is grand where there’s an upper Belvedere and a lower Belvedere. This stately compound was built for Prince Eugene, and trickled down through multiple nobles until Franz Ferdinand and the Habsburg clan moved in. Well, we all know what happened to him (shot heard around the world), and the palaces were significantly damaged in the ensuing wars. Fortunately for us, reconstruction has been successful and the government turned the palaces and gardens into museums.
At this point, you’ll want to make your way back into town and head to Graben, one of the central arteries in Wien. There are lots and lots of shops and cafes and restaurants, but save yourself. Find Kohlmarkt Street, basically Vienna’s Fifth Avenue because you can’t miss the large Tiffany & Co near the corner. On this street is Vienna’s most famous cafe, Demel. Apparently, the Sachertorte was actually invented here, then taken to be sold at Hotel Sacher.
So obviously, you have to have another slice and a cafe, and people watch from the outside patio. The coffee is amazing here!
Two options, if you’re feeling ambitious and want to take in another palace, head towards Michaelerplatz and visit Hofburg, home of the Habsburgs and you guessed it, Franz Ferdinand I. You’ll hear about them a lot. The Austro-Hungarian empire was no joke.
If you’re palaced out, head the other direction to Stephensplatz, the largest central area in downtown. You can’t miss it, there’s a gigantic church in the middle, one of the tallest in the world.
For the last must see destination, head east to see one of the most artistic apartment buildings, the Hundertwasser House. Built from the designs of artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, there’s uneven floors, trees growing out of the building, rooftop grassy knoll, and a primary color facade…like Mondrian x the Joker.
Before you go, find yourself a wienerschitzel and spaetzle. Along with white paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things.