There are no downsides to an airberlin trip across Europe. However if there was one tiny snag, it is that I have a limited amount of time at each destination. It’s impossible to see all that historic Vienna has to offer in just 36 hours. But if, like me, you are short on time, there are a few essential attractions and experiences that you absolutely must try in Austria’s capital.
3 Things Visitors Must Experience
Viennese coffee houses date back to the late 17th century. This rich tradition is simple: sit down, relax and enjoy a hot drink. The most common one among locals is the Melange, which is similar to a cappuccino. For the non-coffee drinkers, most cafes have spectacular homemade hot chocolate and a selection of tea. Just make sure not to order a plain old coffee or you may receive a funny look from the waitstaff. The locals can sit for hours enjoying just a single drink, along with a magazine or newspaper. It’s all about the relaxation and that is what makes this experience truly unique.
Here are some of my favorite cafes:
- Cafe Central – This traditional coffee house has beautiful columns and ceilings, making the atmosphere quite unique. Opened in 1876, guests in this cafe have included Sigmund Freud and Theodore Herzl.
- Cafe Sacher – Home of the world famous Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake invented in the early 19th century for an Austrian prince. Although you can get a Sacher Torte anywhere in Vienna now, the original was created in this cafe. Enjoy views of the Opera House from this traditional, elegant coffee house.
- Aida (multiple locations) – These cafes are throughout the city and are reminiscent of a 1950s diner. All the waitresses wear pink outfits while serving up great pastries and drinks. Go for the hot chocolate, you won’t be disappointed.
- Phil – For a modern take on the cafe, check out this chic coffee house that sells the chair right from under you. The cafe is full of second-hand, retro furniture and books for purchase. It is no surprise this unique shop is located right in the heart of the trendy area of Vienna. Other hip restaurants, bars and boutiques are spread throughout the area of the 5th, 6th and 7th districts, so check those out along the way.
This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sight (pictured at the top of the article) is Austria’s most visited attraction (2.66 million visitors in 2011). The large complex houses the palace, parks, gardens, museums and several outer buildings. I recommend walking the grounds to experience all the royal gardens and parks, then take a tour of the 1,441-room palace. The palace tour takes you through the residential apartments of the emperors and their families. All the rooms are beautifully decorated in a lavish imperial style and give clues as to how the royal family lived.
Every building in Vienna is absolutely gorgeous. It’s hard to imagine a place like this, but the facades of almost every structure are littered with sculptures and stucco. Walking down any of the streets off of the “Ring” will give you a great view of the architecture, but here are a two major standouts:
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral – The original cathedral was constructed in 1147, though the current structure is a mixture of restoration and rebuilding dating as far back as the 13th century. Take a look at the steeples and roof which are quite different than most other churches in Europe.
- Imperial Palace (Hofburg) – This vast complex of buildings was the seat of the Habsburg Empire until 1918 and is now home to the Austrian president. Buildings were constructed from the 13th Century all the way up until about 1900. The palace was primarily used as a winter residence, as the Habsburgs spent most of their summers at Schonbrunn. Each building has a unique story and purpose, which is likely best explained by a skilled tour guide. If you only have time for a quick stroll, pay special mind to the contrast between buildings, including sculptures and decoration, which gives a hint as to the history of the structure.
How to Make the Most of Your Time
Stay at a hotel in the “Ring”
Though hotels in Vienna’s first district, or in the “Ring” (the heart of the city), generally cost more, they are perfectly situated for some of the city’s best attractions. As a result, spending a little extra on a hotel can save valuable travel hours. My experience at Le Meridien Vienna was fantastic, the rooms are quite comfortable and the location is fantastic. It is steps from top points of interest including the Opera House, main shopping street (Mariahilferstrasse) and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Also, the hotel is across the street from the tram and the Karlplatz metro station, which connects several of Vienna’s main metro lines and provides easy access to the airport and Schonbrunn Castle.
Like other Ring hotels, Le Meridien Vienna is on the pricey side. However there is some added value beyond just its location, including free drinks from the mini-bar and complimentary WiFi. Not a bad deal from one of Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards Top 25 Hotels in Central Europe.
Use Public Transportation
Cabs are few and far between in Vienna. Avoid the wait time and hop on the tram or metro. Both are very easy to use, in fact 36% of all journeys in the city are by public transport, the most of any city in Europe. Each ride is €2 if purchased prior to getting on the tram or metro, but 24, 48, and 72-hour unlimited passes are available for €6.70, €11.7o and €14.70 respectively. For travelers staying for 48 hours or more, it’s probably worth upgrading to the Vienna Card, which is a 72-hour unlimited public transportation pass that also provides discounted entry to over 200 different attractions in the city. Please note that the Vienna Card is not valid for trips to/from the airport, however it does entitle you to a discount on those trips.
Check Your Email from the Road
No sense wasting precious minutes (or Euros) in your hotel room or the business center checking email or researching city attractions. Get to a coffee shop, museum, restaurant or any one of the more than 200 free WiFi hotspots in Vienna. This is also great for quick walking or transit directions prior to heading from one attraction to the next, or finding a top-rated restaurant in the area. While we are on the subject, I highly recommend Motto am Fluss for delicious Viennese cuisine with a modern twist (their website is only in German, but I put the link through Google Translate for your convenience).
Other Vienna Attractions
If you do have extra time, here are some suggestions:
- Vienna Wine Country – Vienna has a large wine industry, and it’s one of the only ones where the vineyards are actually within city limits. In fact there are over 1,700 acres of vineyards in this Austrian capital. Our guide mentioned that visitors can help in the process for a few days and receive compensation in wine.
- Opera – Vienna has a thriving cultural scene, and almost each night a new opera is performed. The seats can get rather expensive, but standing room seats are available at the box office a few hours before the show for under 5 Euros.
- Museums Quarter – This new complex houses several museums dedicated to modern art and culture. Throughout the year this area is a central meeting place for students and artists and even hosts concerts or festivals.
Next up Zurich, where the chocolate is plentiful! For a European whirlwind adventure of your own, enter airberlin’s contest for a chance to win airfare for to two to Germany, Austria or Switzerland.