Vienna, Austria has been a bucket list item for me ever since I knew there was a Europe. My affinity for this continent is thanks to classical music. I had this heavy chunk of metal tv-radio-cassette player-in-one as a child, and among its uses, my favorite was to play classical music radio stations. Sitting in my room as the sun beamed through the blinds listening to great symphonies, imagining myself in Europe being a ballerina or professional flautist.
Of course, this is a great romanticization of Europe, but really, it didn’t feel too far off when I stepped out of the train in Vienna from Budapest, and it doesn’t feel too far off whenever I am exploring new cities. I always knew I belonged on these old streets admiring its beauty in ever corner.
So here I am in Vienna, The City of Music, the same streets that Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Schubert Strauss, and more walked, and the same cafes that they frequented, and even performed in! I was literally in a dream come true.
The first day we arrived it was already evening and raining, so we just explored the largest Christmas Market in front of the city hall, called Rathaus in German. Exploring the Viennese streets in the evening, admiring the breathtaking architecture I knew I was about to see the next morning in the light.
To begin our day we went to Cafe Schwarzenberg, which was more lavish than I anticipated and especially compared to all of the cafes, we went to, but also had by far the best topfenstrudle (cheese strudel) and coffee. I highly recommend checking this place out. Check out the cafe schedule for various cafes around the city to see when they have free live performances!
Next stop was the Belvedere Palace, which is split into upper and lower section. The palace is primarily a museum rather than a tour of palace rooms. In the end, we saw just three decorated rooms, which were great, but wasn’t entirely worth the money and time.
You can also walk the garden which was a bit bare since it was November, but I imagine in the summer it is great. Also depending on your interests and what is currently on exhibition. If I ever return during the summer I would try going again.
Afterward, we wandered around the center of Vienna. Explored the Museum Quarter, Austrian Parliament Building, back to Rathaus to see it during the day and to get some lunch at the market.
As per usual, we had to go in the tower of St Stephens Cathedral. For €5.50 it is always worth it for a breathtaking view. Similarly to Matthias Church in Budapest, St Stephens had a colorful roof made from glazed tiles.
This evening we stopped by the infamous Mozarthaus for one of the bigger disappointments of the trip. I read so many glowing reviews, and that it is a must see for any classical music or Mozart fans. The museum is built in an apartment that Mozart lived in and for €10 you can go through with an audioguide. I am a self-confessed nerd, and I was bored. The “museum” lacked any substantial original items, just replicas, and speculations in the audio guide. I would advise for you to spend your time elsewhere.
The second full day in Vienna we jumped on the metro to Schönbrunn Palace. The palace was formally the summer imperial residence, most notably the residence of Franz Joseph I, the longest reigning emperor of Austria.
You can choose to do the imperial (22 rooms) or grand tour (40 rooms) which includes an audio guide. We did the imperial tour which once it ended, I regretted. I wanted more, the rooms were impressive, and the audio guide was really interesting I felt like I was picked up and placed into a complete world in history.
After the tour, you can explore the gardens and walk to the Gloriette. During the summer there are more parts open to explore, but as it was November I knew what to expect.
Cafe Braunerhof was high on my list for absolutely cannot miss. On Sundays for a few hours, they have their own trio that performs (for free!) while you dine in the cafe. I wanted to see live music but didn’t have time for a 3-hour concert so this was my creative substitute. I also wanted to immerse myself in Austria culture, or maybe just a dreamy idea of what I imagined to have happened years ago in the time of Mozart. Regardless, I was there with Viennese coffee and topfenstrudle and apfelstrudel (apple strudel) to enjoy with the wonderful music.
Next stop was the Hofburg Palace, also a former imperial residence, now used partially to house the Austrian President, and partially as a museum. For €12.50, you gain entrance to the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and the Silver Collection As we were on a tight schedule and not entirely interested in everything, we skipped the Sisi Museum.
We meant to browse the Silver Collection much briefer than we did, but it was shockingly incredibly impressive. The sheer amount of tableware and luxury were unparalleled to anything I have ever seen before. The imperial rooms were of course, beautiful, but the audio guide was almost identical to the one at Schönbrunn Palace.
This evening we decided to take a small adventure out to the Danube Tower. I read mixed reviews on the place prior to going, but after Mozarthaus I feel like I lost trust in online reviews so off we went! And I must say, good for us, we found the one time of the week when you should go. There was basically no one there, no line, just pay the fee to go up the elevator to the observation deck. It was bitter cold so we tried to take a few pictures and went into the cafe, which spins! Let me say that again… it spins! So your view is always changing. I imagine that during the day it can be quite stunning, but occasionally I love to see the view at night, which can be equally beautiful.
To finish the night we stopped at Wurstelprater in the Prater which is noted as one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. I think being a Sunday night in November it was a bit bare but was interesting to see for a few moments.
My final full day in Vienna I was on my own as my travel partner opted for something different that day. I wanted to spend a day a bit relaxed in cafes, museums, and shops. I lucked out as the sky opened up and was blue, although the air still bitter. Some of what I wanted to do, such as see the Austrian National Library was closed so my travel words of advice:
*Travel Tip* Plan ahead as some places in Vienna are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
I began my day at Cafe Frauenhuber, said to be one of the oldest cafes and Beethoven and Mozart both performed here. It was a very charming little place with delicious topfen pancakes (do you see a pattern of my addiction?!) for breakfast.
Afterward, I headed over to the Albertina to see their permanent collection: Monet to Picasso and (at the time) current exhibition on Edvard Munch. Seeing original paintings by the greats themselves still always amazes me. I recall going to museums on school trips and being told, “oh, well, this is a replica, the original is in Europe”. Always a disappointment, what is the point of seeing a replica? Now, I always take advantage of being able to see the originals with my own eyes.
I spent the rest of the day in and out of cafes to write and rest and exploring the streets of Vienna. I was also attempting to retake a lot of photos from the previous two days as the blue sky was a far more beautiful background than the gray skies that occupies my other shots.
One stop which I highly recommend for all chocolate lovers was Xocolat. Be sure to visit the Kontor Palais Ferstel shop found at Freyung 2, 1010 Wien. I could have easily spent more than I ever dreamed to on chocolate in here. there was a room full of shelves filled with chocolate from all over the world (see picture below). I picked up a few bars and then a few of Xocolat’s own brand, I mean it is noted be some of the best chocolate in the world.
Last, but definitely not least, I wanted to feature again some of the foods I had while in Vienna. As in Budapest, I mainly enjoyed the treats of the Christmas Markets. Below on the top left is the infamous punsch (punch) warm alcoholic beverages enjoyed at the Christmas Markets. Top right is spätzle, a type of egg noodle, or think fancy mac and cheese. Bottom left is a mix of boiled pork, beef, sauerkraut, potatoes, and to be honest, I can’t even remember what else, but it was delicious. Finally, I couldn’t leave Vienna without a stop at Figlmüller for my first schnitzel and their famous potato salad, yum!
Vienna was incredible. Everything I could have dreamed, and more. I keep thinking when will I go back, I want to see it all again and even more. I know that me and Vienna are not finished, and we will meet again. Until then, I would love to hear about your experiences there and what I should definitely not miss next time.