- When you become engaged in conversations with fellow travellers about what European cities should not be missed, whether it be for a city break or during a 30-day long inter-railing stint, Paris, Rome and London are the cities that tend to pop up most frequently, and rightly so. Each of the aforementioned capitals has endless amounts of attributes that make them ‘must-sees’ in any traveller’s list of places to see before croaking it. But one city which doesn’t seem to get mentioned as much as it should is Vienna.
The Austrian capital has some of the most remarkable architecture in the world. Granted, none of them are as instantly recognisable as those found in other capitals, but buildings here have just as much stature as those found anywhere else. Many of these can be found on the ‘Ringstrasse’ (‘the ring’), a series of roads which encompass the Inner Stadt (city centre). The best way to see all of them is by parting with €1.80 for a tram ticket and hopping on tram number 1 or 2 anywhere on the ring. Both trams lap the Ringstrasse’ it and by getting on either tram you will be treated to a 45-minute trip past many of Vienna’s most impressive buildings.
The seat of the Habsburg Empire
The best known of all these is the Hofburg (open daily from 9am-5pm; admission €7.50 adult/€5.90 student) which was the residence of the Habsburg dynasty for over 600 years. Its two most famous residents were Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Empress Elisabeth. Walking around the grounds costs nothing but for a fascinating insight into their lives visit the Imperial Apartments. Highlights of the tour include the emperor’s audience chamber and the empress’s dressing room. The entrance fee includes access to the Sisi Museum which allows you to explore the myths and realities of the empress’s life.
Also on the ring is the Rathaus (city hall) which you can’t miss on account of its gothic spire which soars over 100 metres into the sky. It is faced by the Burgtheater, Austria’s national theatre. Other striking buildings on the ring include the Parlament which is the seat of two federal assemblies and Universitat where thousands of Viennese bury their heads in books day after day.
As you would expect from a capital city, Vienna has its fair share of museums. The Kunsthistoriche Museum (open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; admission €10) is widely regarded as Vienna’s finest and has one of the world’s most valuable and important art collections in the world. It is mirrored by the Naturalhistoriche Museum which houses some outstanding geological and palaeontological exhibits. But one of the city’s more intriguing museums is KunstHausWien (open daily from 10am-7pm; admission €9/€4.50 on Mondays). Dedicated to the life and works of Friedensreich Hundertwassen, looking at his paintings it is fascinating to see how the mind of such an imaginative artist works. As well as his unmistakable paintings, his thoughts and quotes also adorn the walls. One that struck a chord with this particular travel writer was “If we do not honour our past we lose our future. If we destroy our roots we cannot grow”.
Regardless of whom you pray to when in a state of worship, you should devote a couple of hours to visiting some of Vienna’s churches. The most illustrious of these is Stephansdom which is located right in the centre of the Inner Stadt. Built on the site of a church which dates back to 1144, the first thing you notice about it is it’s roof which is paved with over 250,000 tiles. Other notable churches in the city centre include Votivkirche with its colourful stained-glass windows, the Augustiner Kirche with its breathtaking wooden altar and dazzling chandeliers, and St Michaelskirche, renowned for its marble altar.
For those who enjoy testing the boundaries of their stomach capacity without testing the limitations of their bank account, Vienna really is a dream come true. Wurstelstands abound every second corner on the ring, and there are hundreds more throughout the city centre and inner-city suburbs. A culinary institution in the Austrian capital, the sausage (wurstel) rolls they dish out taste great at any time of the day. But unfortunately the privilege of resting your feet as you try and wrap your mouth around one cannot be enjoyed simultaneously.
For this treat you will have to venture to a restaurant. Don’t fret – these won’t stretch your budget too much further. For instance, a full 12” pizza cooked fresh in front of your eyes in Der Banderger Pizzeria (open Mon-Thurs 6.30am-10pm, Fri 6.30am-4pm, closed Sat & Sun) costs €5. A pizza slice from one of the many pizza stalls around the city centre costs €2.50. Do the math.
Another Italian restaurant which is phenomenally good value is Risorante Salambo (open daily from 11am-11.30pm). Not far from KunsHausWien on Radetzkystraße, the average main course here shouldn’t cost you more than €7. What’s far better value though are the set menus which are advertised on the chalkboard out front. Order one and you will enjoy a three course meal for €6. Honestly.
Not as quiet as expected
Vienna’s nightlife has a reputation for being somewhat tame. And the Viennese have a reputation for being tucked under their duvets well before midnight. Both of these are untrue. The Viennese streets might seem quiet at night, but its nightlife is anything but tame.
One of the most vibrant parts of the city is the Bermuda Triangle, a small area around St Ruperstkirche and Franz Josef Kai on the Danube Canal. Side by side, bars line its cobbled streets, and this is a good place to go on a bar crawl. Excess (Rabensteig) has a dark cellar bar that gets busy at weekends. They have karaoke nights on Sundays and Mondays. Beside this is Rotef Engel, which confidently titles itself as ‘the voice of Vienna’. It is good for live music.
Not far from the city centre, just two stops on the underground from Westbanhof, is Lerchenfelder Gurtel, another part of the city where bars outweigh wurstelstands. Mezzanin – The Living Room (Lerchenfelder Gürtel, open daily from 7pm-4am, until 2am Thurs & Sun), is a cool venue with a hip clientele and hipper tunes. If you’re lucky enough to acquire one of the oval-shaped seats that greet you as you enter you’ll find it difficult to leave. Across from it is Chelsea a favourite in the city for years. Decked with enough big screens to open a small electrical store, sporting events draw as big a crowd to it as the 80s music which blares from the speakers. But if you want your night to have more of a cultural flavour to it, queue up outside the city’s Staatsoper for a standing ticket to the opera for as little as €3.50.
In my opinion, Vienna should be on everybody’s travel wishlist. Everything about it speaks class – its buildings, its nightlife, its culture and its people. It is the safest city in Central Europe and even though it is too big to explore on foot in full, it has a very efficient underground service which will more than likely be utilised during your stay. If you are planning a weekend break, or are in the process of plotting your route around Europe and are thinking of going to Vienna take my advice. Make this city a definite rather than a maybe.
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