On the surface Vienna is elegant, traditional, and slow moving – however, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it’s also bohemian, trendy, and a place to party all night long. Vienna’s elegance and tradition are centrally located in the Inner City, or more formally, the First District. In its 3.01 km2 of space you’ll find stunning architecture made up of palaces, museums, theaters, and churches. Most tourists stay in this small area of Vienna to see the major sights, then head out thinking that’s all there is. Pity, those people missed out on seeing what Vienna is really about. To do that, you have to get out of the Inner City and head over to the districts that surround it. There’s the Naschmarkt (meaning snack market) where to locals go to dine. There’s the 7th district with its huge shopping street and bohemian flair made up of funky coffeehouses and local designers. Even further out, in the 19th district, is a strong wine culture with vineyards in the city limits. After a long day of touring the city, a round of all-night partying awaits in multiple pubs, trendy bars and restaurants, and dance clubs – Vienna is a versatile town that has so much more to offer than people think.
The dining scene in Vienna has exploded over the last few years. The city now offers cuisine from every part of the world to appease every budget. Traditional Austrian cuisine is a rich, satisfying fare. Go to Café Central or Bettel Student, both of which are in the Inner City, reasonably priced, and consistently good. Eating at a würstelstand (sausage stand) is a must. The best is in front of the Albertina Museum. Order your sausage with a side of bread and an Austrian Ottakringer beer. Vienna coffeehouses are an institution. Go in the morning and order a Viennese breakfast. In the afternoon go to Oberlaa for the best cakes in town. If you’re looking for a more formal dining experience, go to Plachutta and order the tafelspitz.
Doing the Tourist Thing
The Inner City contains almost all of the “must sees” of Vienna. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is in the middle of the city and the elevator ride to the top offers a nice view. The Hofburg – Imperial Palace has multiple tours, but take the Imperial Apartments Sisi Museum tour due to its refreshing honesty about the famous Austrian Empress. Vienna is the birthplace of the coffeehouse and The Sacher Café is the most prominent with its famous Sachertorte. Pair the sweet torte with a strong cup of Viennese coffee and the sugar and caffeine rush will keep you buzzing for hours. To see all the other sights ride the Vienna Ring Tram which is a good value. There are two important sights outside of the Inner City. The first is the Schönbrunn Palace. It offers a 30 and 60 minute tour, but go for the shorter one and spend the rest of the time walking the beautiful gardens. A little secret about the palace is that it has the world’s oldest zoo on its premises and is a great treat for families. For hot summer afternoons when touring is done, find the public pool where the chic set of Vienna go to cool off. The other sight is the Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater. Lines can be long and to be honest, it isn’t worth the wait. Photo opportunities from the ground looking up at the wheel can be really nice though.
Off the Beaten Path
Get off the tourist track to start hanging out where the locals are. Right outside of the Inner City is the Naschmarkt. Put up with the crowds and walk at a slow pace to see all the exotic edibles on display. Buy only nibble sized quantities as prices can be high. To satisfy your hunger go behind the stalls to the diverse restaurants and dine with the Viennese. Some of the places can be a good value like Tewa, which is stand 672. On Saturdays the Naschmarkt expands to include Europe’s largest flea market. It’s fun to poke through all the dusty knickknacks but the items are overpriced. Note that the Naschmarkt is closed on Sundays and holidays. From Naschmarkt walk to the bordering bohemian 7th district which is called Neubau. Within a few blocks is Vienna’s biggest shopping street, Mariahilferstraße. The usual suspects like H&M and Zara are present, but the department store Peek & Cloppenburg has a flagship location which offers the best shopping opportunities. If you want something original, check out young designers on Zollergasse. Then head east to hit the MuseumsQuartier to grab some culture, coffee, and just hang out.
Experiences & Events
Vienna is a great town to explore on foot. The Vienna Sight Running tour is a unique experience if you’re a jogger or just need to burn off the Austrian sausage, beer, and tortes. If the thought of jogging makes you woozy, dance away the night during Ball Season. Vienna hosts over 450 balls each year and is one of the most authentic experiences a tourist can participate in. They are a great way to get into sections of buildings that are normally closed to see dazzling displays of imperial interior design. Despite the formal setting and a very strict dress code (men must be in tuxedos and women must wear floor-length gowns) balls are anything but stuffy. Prepare for a long night of dancing, live music, and fun.
Tip: Balls vary in expense and experience. The Emperor’s Ball is expensive and touristy so skip it. The Opera Ball might be the most famous but comes off as tacky due to the media circus around it. The Vienna Philharmonic Ball is the most elegant and despite a high ticket price, is absolutely worth it. Most Viennese tend to flock toward the Flower Ball, Coffeehouse Owner Ball, and the Bonbon Ball due to fantastic locations and respectable ticket prices.
Nightlife in Vienna isn’t obvious even though the party week starts Wednesdays and on weekends goes all night long. 25hours has a laid back bar with a DJ, good vibe, and cheap drinks. There is nothing special about lutz except for the fact that it somehow manages to be a cool bar, but skip the club scene. Sofitel is a very sophisticated bar that offers the absolute best view of Vienna. To go dancing Volksgarten-Pavillon and Albertina Passage are the places to be. On Fridays and Saturdays don’t show up earlier than midnight.
Getting There and Away
Vienna’s airport is small but efficient. Ryan Air is a great, cheap carrier that flies to and from Vienna from other European cities. Train travel is offered by the ÖBB but check out Eurolines first for great prices on clean, punctual buses with laptop plugs and sometimes WIFI.
Britta Pichler is an American expatriate currently living in Vienna, Austria – see her blog at op-expat.com.