From the most delicious local specialities and where to find them and winter markets to sunbathing on the Danube, Daniel Cole lets us in on what to see and do on a short weekend break in Vienna.
The Habsburg’s paradise of Vienna is a goldmine of cultural treasure-troves, replete with a long and rich history and stunning architecture that dates back thousands of years. It's easy to visit the Austrian capital and spend endless hours inside the various galleries and museums that make the city so great, but when visiting for a short weekend break, it’s important to make the most of the renowned City of Dreams, so plan accordingly and embellish yourself in the various traditions the city has to offer.
1. Stroll the Streets of Vienna
Although well connected with an extensive underground system, you can best explore this cultural centre for fine arts, science and music on foot or on a walking tour. Start your foray in the first district at Stephansplatz – home to St. Stephen's Cathedral, originally built in 1147 and one of the tallest in Europe. Check in to the top-rated The Guesthouse Vienna before wandering on to Karlsplatz, home to one of the city’s most beautiful baroque churches.
Behind MuseumsQuartier you can marvel at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, located on the inner city’s Ring system, also home to the Parliament houses, the University of Vienna, Burgtheater and National Library. Once you’ve spent hours admiring these wonders, then finish off at the Naschmarkt for an opulent selection of market food stands, featuring a wide range of delicacies from Asian to Spanish and beyond, with plenty of freebies to sample (take note, most food stands close up early at around 5 p.m. and the market is not open on Sundays). If all the walking doesn’t tire you out, then you might want to consider taking the Third Man Tour, a guided hike visiting the locations that made the Graham Greene 1949 film-noir classic – starring Orson Welles - such a success. Taking on board the inner city dwellings, you’ll eventually find yourself at Prater, one of Vienna’s largest public parks in the second district, home to the hundred-year old Wiener Riesenrad, the famed ferris wheel where Welles delivers one of his most famous scenes in the movie.
2. Meander through MuseumsQuartier
One of Vienna’s must-visit places is the central, museum district, home to some of the best exhibition spaces in the entire city with an open courtyard, decked out with recliners where you can enjoy live music throughout the summer months. Pick up a MuseumQuartier Duo or Combi Ticket, to get your pick of the select museums and be sure not to miss:
Leopold Museum: Home to the city’s Expressionist era works, and select pieces from the Art Nouveau. It’s the best place to acquaint yourself with the likes of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. If you only have one time for one art space during your stay in Vienna, make sure it’s here.
Mumok: The largest space for European modernism houses works from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, with more contemporary-installation works and a cinema showing art-house selections.
Kunsthalle Wien: A space for contemporary art with daring and innovative projects featuring artists from across the world.
3. City of Music
It’s a city of the classics, having once housed the musical visionaries Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and many more. A visit to Vienna without spending a night in either the Wiener Konzerthaus, Musikverein or Staatsopera would be criminal. Tickets for the Konzerthaus start at around EUR 20 and the Opera offer up a limited amount of standing tickets on a first come-first served basis at EUR 3, each. For those with even more time to spend, then the historic Volkstheater and Theater an der Wien are also recommended. There are select jazz clubs littered throughout the inner city for those more inclined towards something a bit more modern. Hit Porgy & Bess, a modern, eclectic jazz club opened in the '90s on the site of a famous Austrian cabaret venue.
4. Schnitzel, Wurst & Coffee
If there’s one thing the Austrians are really famous for, it’s the schnitzel. Breaded veal (or pork, but veal is the best) cuts served alongside potato salad and sauerkraut. There’s no better place in Europe better for this regional delicacy. Most places in Vienna will serve you schnitzel, from the street-side Schnitzelpalast, to the more upmarket Figlmüller - one of the oldest and grandest restaurants in Vienna.
Throughout the city and especially within the first district, sit a wide, abundance of street-side Wurselstands. These pocket-sized, fast-food counters grill sausages all day long, offering up either Wurstel mit senf (sausage and mustard), Debreziner (a spicy sausage), Weisswurst (fat, German sausage) or Leberkase (liver cheese, i.e. baked sausage with cheese). The best of the bunch is easily the Kasekrainer, a large German-style bratwurst, filled with cheese. Make sure to order it with a large salted-pickle and a side plate of mustard to get the most out of your experience.
The Viennese are also very fond of their coffee house culture, a practise that dates back hundreds of years, supposedly after they discovered a sack of coffee-beans after being besieged by The Ottomans. Throughout the city you’ll often find these grandiose coffee-institutes, harbouring locals for hours at a time breezing through newspapers, or catching up with friends and lovers. Towards the start of the 20th century these famed establishments were once populated by the likes of Trotsky, Lenin, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Head to the oldest of these fine establishments, Café Schwarzenberg, to soak up the atmosphere.
5. Vienna’s summer months
Vienna lives in a state of flux between the warm summer and bitter cold winter. When the weather is at its best, you can walk and relax alongside the river, hang out on Danube Island, chill on the various city beaches, like Schafbergbad and even swim. The Danube is surprisingly clean, with many locals opting to go to Alte Donau for a quick dip.
Vienna is also surrounded by rich countryside and hillsides, perfect for hiking and wine-tasting during the warmer climes. Head up to the 19th district to see the whole city and get a feeling of the more rustic side of city life.
6. The Winter Markets
If visiting during winter, the Austrian capital is home to some of Europe’s best Weihnachtsmarkts, picturesque street markets with bountiful amounts of glühwein, waffles and trinkets, with the best located at Spittelberg, Karlskirche and just outside the town hall. So wrap up warm and join the festive atmosphere alongside the cheery locals.