Imperial. Aristocratic. Elegant. Vienna is that and more. Once the capital and center of one of the most powerful empires in history, the Habsburg, today Vienna is the capital of a small landlocked country called Austria. This city has managed to maintain a certain level of splendor that distinguishes from other European cities. I don’t think even Paris feels as posh as Vienna. Maybe is the rich and impressive architecture of its palaces, the musical heritage, the elegance of the cafes, or the people, but there’s definitely something in the air that makes you feel so elegant and noble. It is like the past of this once powerful country is still as latent and live as centuries ago, inviting you to be part of it.
Alexis and I chose Vienna for a weekend getaway in April. Easter in Europe is a religious holiday, with no school or work on Easter Friday or the following Monday. Vienna is easy to reach from Zürich. Just one hour flight and amazing deals of less than 100chf for a round trip ticket made it a winner. As usual we booked our room through Airbnb and it didn’t disappoint. Our goal was to spend a relax weekend but see as much as we could. Yes, I know, those two sound contradictory and they were. We walked so much by day 2 that we had to go back to our room and take a long nap. The relaxing part for some reason doesn’t always work for me.
But how can you blame me? There’s so much to see and do in this city! If you read some of my previous posts, you are familiar with my
obsession admiration for royal families and monarchies, and Vienna is the perfect place to savor the grandeur of a powerful monarchy that once ruled almost entire Europe.
A visit to Vienna’s magnificent palaces is a treat for those who, like me, enjoy torturing ourselves visiting the lavish residences and seeing the luxurious life-style of the kings and queens, and why not? feeling a bit envious. Two of my favorite palaces were Hofburg (which houses the highly recommended Sisi Museum) and Schönbrunn.
Talking about Empress Sisi, let’s take a detour here. I was really impressed with some details about the life of this woman, to whom tragedy seem to follow her until her dead. She’s often compared with Lady Di and in my opinion have the equal number of admirers and haters. Visiting the museum that was opened in 1994 to honor the life of a beautiful woman, considered to be narcissistic and to have a serious eating disorder, was really interesting. Can you believe that it took a whole day to wash her hair? She used a special mixture of egg yolk and cognac. Sisi was obsessed with her health, beauty and weight. Often calling a dentist during her trips. She would weight herself daily and would stop eating if she felt she gained any weight. She was 5’8 tall and weighted 103 pounds. Some of the artifacts she used to exercise daily are displayed at the museum. I know, maybe completely useless information but I still find it interesting.
Another must do while in Vienna is a stop to one of the many cafés and revel in their killer pastries. The employees at the cafés are for the most part men and are famous for providing a rude service. Make sure to know exactly what you want and don’t make them waste their time. They will make sure to let you know if you do. If you are mentally prepared, it can be quite entertaining, but if you expect an excellent customer service then you can leave disappointed.
Top 5 Cafes is Vienna:
1. Cafe Hawelka
Why? Because they have the best apple strudel. As simply as that.
2. Cafe Central
Why? This legendary cafe offers 130 years of history in an elegant setting. It was frequented by a famous Austrian named Sigmund Freud. We had a continental breakfast: coffee, juice and one of their delicious pastries.
3. Cafe Aera
Why? Located away from the center, Cafe Aera feels more intimate and most of their clients are locals. We found this cafe because it was right in front of the apartment where we stayed and returned at least 3 times during our stay. They open late, at around 10 and have a good variety of breakfasts, including some dishes with egg. At night is a great spot to enjoy a beer and a traditional Viennese dish. Sometimes they even have live music.
4. Cafe Sacher
Why? Although in my opinion a bit overrated, one cannot leave Vienna without trying their famous Sachertorte, a special chocolate cake invented in Vienna by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich.
Why? Another classic. Founded in 1786 offers a variety of delicious pastries to die for. It feels crowded, so I recommend to buy a few of their mini-pastries and enjoy them sitting in front of the palace.
Top Free or Really Cheap Activities in Vienna:
How? It is fairly easy, but it is important to be smart about it and to be able to stand for a couple of hours. First you need 3-6 euros (per person) and a scarf (prime seats sell for at least 250euros). Then go on the date of the performance to the Opera House, look for the door that will sell the standing tickets. Arrive 2 hours prior to the performance. Stay in line. Every person MUST be present when buying the tickets, you can’t buy tickets for the friends or family that are at the hotel waiting for you while you are sucking up the line. That wouldn’t be fair any way, right? You stand better chances if you are one of the first 50 people to arrive. Once they open the ticket box, they will call you in upon your turn and you will specify which area you want to stand (you can choose from 3). The most expensive ticket was 4euros when we went. By the time we got to the ticket window, those were sold out so we paid 3euros for ours. Then, as soon as you have your tickets on hand run to your assigned area. Do NOT stop for drinks or to go to the bathroom or you will miss the chance of finding a good spot. Then pick a spot and mark it with a scarf. The danger is gone. Now you are free to leave and explore one of the greatest opera houses in the world and take pictures or sip some champagne next to the statues of Mozart and Richard Strauss. When walking up the stairs to your spot, remember those are the same stairs that Mozart once climbed.
They can’t be seen but you sure will hear them. Is like listening to a choir of angels singing. The Boy’s Choir were performing on Easter Monday at St. Augustinian church. Experiencing mass at this church during Easter weekend was a special moment, but if to that you add that the Vienna Boy’s Choir had a Mozart repertoire prepared for that day, it makes the experience truly magical and unforgettable.
3. Vienna’s Easter Market (free)
I heard about the Christmas Markets in Vienna, but didn’t know they also have an Easter Market. There are 2 in the center and another at Schönbrunn Palace, maybe there are more but I didn’t see them. They are filled with food stalls and little huts selling hand-made gifts and souvenirs. I saw little workshops for kids to paint Easter eggs and live music. The best thing of all is that it is free! The downside, that it is only during Easter.
Last but not least, I have to mention the food. I decided that Austrian food is not my cup of tea, however we still found some good restaurants where we enjoyed the dishes along with the service and atmosphere and therefore they deserved to be mentioned.
Great service, good Austrian wine and tasty liver
The equivalent to fast-food in an elegant setting. This place is famous for very cheap finger sandwiches which can be enjoyed accompanied with one of their cold and refreshing beers. Very popular and limited tables. Enjoy your food selection like the locals do, standing up in one of the high tables or at the bar.
This was my favorite restaurant in Vienna. The food was authentic and delicious. The beer cold and fresh and the service was outstanding. We arrived on Sunday night and they didn’t have any tables available. It didn’t occur to us to make reservations for the next day. On Monday afternoon we stumbled upon this place once again so we decided it was a sign and entered to have at least a drink. We weren’t hungry so we made reservations for later at night. The waiters are dressed in traditional lederhosen and our server, Christian, was very friendly and suggested great dishes for us to try.
Something I have never seen before was a kid fishing coins from a fountain with scissors and a magnet. You learn something new everyday.
The 3 days we spent in Vienna awoke in us the curiosity to explore more of Austria. We hope to return to this country again in the future and visit the wine country to learn more about Austrian wines and visit the towns of Salzburg and Hallstatt.