With more than 100 museums, Vienna is an art lover’s delight. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) is perhaps the most important, housing the massive collection amassed by the Habsburgs. You can find several of the masters in there – everyone from Raphael and Rembrandt to Titian and Vermeer.
Emperor Franz Joseph opened the palatial and extravagantly decorated museum in 1891, making 2016 its 125th anniversary. To mark this occasion the museum has a special exhibit, “Celebration” (running till September, 2016), which will depict how festivals have evolved over time. The baroque Belvedere Palace also houses several collections, the most important of which are Gustav Klimt’s famous golden paintings, The Kiss and Judith. The Vienna Museum Karlsplatz documents the city’s history from its birth, right up to the present. One of the most exciting art destinations in Vienna is MuseumsQuartier, near the Imperial Palace. There are several museums here, including the Museum of Modern Art (see Picasso, Warhol and more) and the small, but significant Leopold Museum. The complex has many restaurants, cafes and bars, making it a very lively place to hang out in the evenings.
On Your Plate
You will eat well in Vienna, whether it’s at a fancy restaurant or at a traditional Beisl, the Viennese version of the cosy English pub. The rustic Griechenbeisl (Fleischmarkt 11) is the oldest restaurant in Vienna, dating back to 1447. Try the local specialties like Wiener schnitzel or the goulash. For a more international experience, the restaurant at the Do & Co Hotel (Stephansplatz 12) cannot be beat, especially for its stunning view. Vienna’s iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral soars in the backdrop, as you feast on beautifully plated dishes (including a fabulous sushi menu).
Burggarten houses the former royal greenhouse, which is now a trendy café-brasserie, Palmenhaus (Burggarten 1). The atmosphere is almost tropical with lots of trees inside; I recommend the local grilled fish.
Another Viennese institution is Trzesniewski (Dorotheergasse 1), which is always full of locals who come by for a pfiff (0.175L) of beer and open sandwiches with a mind-boggling number of toppings (try the sweet & spicy peppers or anything with herring in it). The gorgeous ONYX bar on the 6th floor of the Do & Co Hotel is the place for a sundowner. Read more about Vienna's many culinary delights here
Vienna is the only city in the world that can boast of having extensive vineyards within its metropolitan limits, so there is a lot of local wine to be savoured. The city’s specialty is an unusual blended wine called Gemischter Satz, which is made by combining mixed varieties of grapes, all grown together in the same vineyard. This local wine is a popular drink at the Viennese heurig (wine tavern) where you can pair the Gemischter Satz with rustic foods such as roast pork or beef, and meat burgers. I'd recommend the comfy cottage-like Heuriger Schübel-Auer (Kahlenbergerstrasse, 22), which has a huge buffet of Austrian specialities, accompanied by house wines and musical entertainment in the evenings. Vienna is also the place where you can try several top-class Austrian wines such as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. If you want to pick up a bottle or two of Austria’s finest wines, check out Wein & Co near Naschmarkt, which also houses a bar where you can grab a snack or have a wine-paired meal.
Vienna epitomises the coffee house culture, and the city is dotted with historic cafes that are meant for lingering in (and for people-watching). The grand Café Central (Herrengasse 14) was a meeting point of artists and intellectuals, and it retains its pre-War charms. Café Sperl (Gumpendorferstrasse 11), with its intimate booths and quaint ambience, invites you to savour their chocolate-almond house cake, Sperl Torte. Drop by at Café Frauenhuber (Himmelpfortgasse 6), one of Vienna’s oldest cafés where both Mozart & Beethoven have performed.
A coffee at Café Sacher (Philharmonikerstrasse 4) is another must-do. The legendary Sacher Torte was created here – a decadent dark chocolate cake, layered with tart apricot jam, and topped with chocolate icing and cream. However, my favourite at Café Sacher is the Gewürzgugelhupf, a sweet-spicy Viennese ring cake with hints of candied orange and ginger.
Café Griensteidl (Michaelerplatz 2) is one cafe that I absolutely adore - relish an apfelstrudel, or better yet, a topfenstrudel, a deliciously flaky strudel pastry filled with cream cheese.
On my latest trip, I discovered another cafe - not a historic one, but great coffee nevertheless! Drop in at CaffèCouture located in the passage of Palais Ferstel in Freyung. Read more about Vienna's famed coffeehouses here
What was a marketplace in medieval times is today Vienna’s premier shopping street – the Graben, which offers some fantastic shopping opportunities. At end of the Graben is Kohlmarkt where you can shop for more luxe brands (think Tiffany and Cartier). At the edge of Kohlmarkt is the Golden Quarter with flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Prada and more. The family owned Mühlbauer (Seilergasse 10 and Neubaugasse 34) has been making hats, caps and other headwear since 1903. The handmade head coverings are available for both men and women, and have graced the heads of international stars such as Brad Pitt, Madonna, Pete Doherty, Meryl Streep and many more. Fancy picking up some unique Austrian design furniture? The cushioned benches and comfy armchairs at Lichterloh (Gumpendorferstrasse 15-17) will fit right in to your study. If you’re looking for exquisite glassware and high-end crystal products, head to Lobmeyr (Kärntner Strasse 26).
Twice a year Vienna hosts spectacular festive markets. For two to three weeks before Easter, you can buy beautifully decorated Easter eggs, as well as traditional decorations and handicrafts at the Easter markets in the city. The Schönbrunn Palace hosts the largest Easter market where kids can participate in Easter nest hunts and Easter Bunny workshops.
The pretty medieval square Freyung builds the biggest tower of eggs in the city - this year there was a giant, revolving Easter egg painted with a rooster and some bucolic scenes.
You can also partake of traditional dishes at these markets, including the roast Easter lamb. On Easter Sunday the Prater hosts a colourful party, complete with live music acts, arts and crafts workshops, games and children’s puppet theatres. Come November, the city lights up again with several Christmas markets, with both Schönbrunn Palace and Freyung hosting numerous stalls selling local delicacies.
But the biggest market is held in front of the City Hall in Rathausplatz, which puts up the tallest Christmas tree in Vienna. Sip on some gluhwein, take a bite of a bratwurst or kasekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage), and load up on the lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits). Hand-painted glass balls and colourful knitted gloves are wonderful souvenirs or gifts. Read more about Vienna's Christmas markets here
Turkish Airlines has frequent flights to Vienna with a layover in Istanbul. If you can manage an upgrade to business class, there's nothing like flying high with Turkish Airlines! Read about my business class experience with Turkish Airlines here
Where to Stay in Vienna
Hotel Sacher (Philharmonikerstrasse 4) stands right opposite the Vienna State Opera and practically oozes old-world charm. Hotel Sacher is part of the Leading Hotels of the World consortium, so you can expect a certain standard of accommodation & service. I absolutely loved my Nussknacker Suite, which was bathed in gold and had a regal air about it. With gilded wallpaper, dull gold upholstery, massive chandeliers, and fresh tulips this is probably the fanciest hotel room I had stayed in! Not to mention the huge bathroom with a bathtub, Time to Chocolate® toiletries and ample wardrobe space...
Since it was Easter time, the hotel staff had left a cute Easter bird nest and several chocolate eggs for me to enjoy. The hotel itself was all done up for the festival, with Easter eggs, bunnies & other characters all over the place. The lobby was also beautifully done up.
I dined at Restaurant Anna Sacher one night - opulently decorated in emerald green upholstery, this restaurant pays tribute to Anna Sacher, the elegant owner of the hotel in the late 19th century.
For other stay options in Vienna, read this post
- You don’t need to give up your jogging routine when in Vienna. The city’s numerous parks and open spaces offer excellent running trails, many of which are signposted. Try the Hauptallee, a 4.4km long avenue in the Prater amusement park, or the Danube Island for all sorts of outdoor activities, including jogging, cycling, hiking and skating.
- Opera tickets at the Vienna State Opera (Opernring 2) get sold out in advance. However, you can buy standing room tickets directly at the opera house, 90 minutes before the performance starts. These usually cost €3-4 (approx. Rs.300). This is how the husband and I watched a modern rendition of Romeo and Juliet a few years ago - totally worth the aching feet ;)
- Naschmarkt is Vienna’s biggest outdoor market, and has been around since the 16th century. More than 120 stalls and restaurants offer everything from local produce to international cuisines. Don’t miss the flea market here on Saturdays – you might just chance upon an antique gem!
- The Vienna Card is a worthwhile investment. You can get discounts at museums, tourist sights, theatres, cafes, shops and more. It also allows you free travel on the city’s public transport system. The 48-Hour card costs €18.90 (Rs. 1,400) and you can buy it online (https://www.wienkarte.at/card-order/order.php) or at the airport, train station and tourist info offices.
This article was commissioned by Man's World India. An edited version of this was published in the April 2016 issue.
Disclosure - My latest visit to Vienna was made possible by Turkish Airlines and Leading Hotels of the World. This blog post contains collated wisdom from three trips to the city :)