As global wayfarers, we discover new cities and towns, and we fall in whirlwind love.
No two cities are alike, so each visit feels unique and special to us. Snapshots of rustic buildings, cute cobblestones, and statues of anonymous important people fill our instagram feeds, as we check into quirky hostels on our facebook accounts and make our friends at home seethe with jealousy.
But still, we play favorites. We strongly connect to some cities but not others. We don’t love every city. We may even hate some of them.
Central Europe was a fairy tale land that I want to return to soon. From Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic to Lake Bled in Slovenia, it’s nearly impossible for me to choose one place that I liked best of all. Each location holds remarkable memories, which I’ll cherish during upcoming hard times. I’m looking at you, ungraded 9th grade persuasive essays sitting in a stack on my desk.
However, as far as big cities are concerned, Vienna takes the literal and figurative cake. Some backpackers I met on Busabout were turned off by Vienna’s high prices and apparent lack of nightlife, especially compared to electrifying Eastern cities such as Budapest and Prague. And okay, I’ll admit the price for Wiener Riesenrad was ridiculous, especially for my poor Australian friends whose wallets were suffering under a bad exchange rate.
Regardless Austria’s capital city stole this blond’s heart and won’t leave her alone until she books a return visit. I want to see an oprea. I want visit more museums. I want to day trip to the Wachau Valley and sip white wine. I want to waste hours in a coffee house. Five days still wasn’t enough time to whet this notoriously slow traveler’s appetite.
As you’ll see, there are many reasons why I fell in love with Vienna, but I promise not to ramble (much)!
Hopefully when you’re done reading this post, you will book your ticket to Austria’s capital city as soon as possible! You won’t regret it!
The cakes, coffee, and other sweets are to die for.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you thrive on caffeine? Then Vienna is for you, my indulgent friend! I call this city “Coffee House Heaven.” Even UNESCO agrees! I’m not kidding. Viennese coffee house culture is considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Here, coffee house culture is considered a slow affair. You’re supposed to enjoy your caffeinated beverage for hours, as you quietly read a book or talk about local events with your friends. Coffee houses don’t serve full meals but small plates are an essential part of the experience. And by small plates, I mean, chocolate cake and apple strudel.
Desserts are easily found, purchased, and consumed in this capital city. Trust me, you don’t have to only go to coffee houses to enjoy a decedent slice of sweet apples and flaky pastries.
For example, all of Vienna’s high-end grocery stores, especially their small bakeries, destroyed South Jersey’s (sorry, Acme and Shoprite!) chains as far as sheer quality is concerned. I even had a lovely piece of strudel in McDonalds. Yes, MCDONALDS.
Be sure to book a bike to burn through those excessive calories. Or not.
The Baroque architecture is a photographer’s dream.
Vienna’s baroque buildings are almost as delicious as the cakes and coffee. Almost. My camera was ready to explode at all the fancy architecture! Seriously, I thought I fell into an endless pinterest board on this trip. Which is both bad and amazing due to my out of control pinterest addiction, but that’s a story for another day.
I especially loved the yellow and pink exteriors, being a complete sucker for feminine pastel colors, and I also adored the Ancient Greek and Roman-inspired statues perched on top of the roofs as they gazed down at passersby. The buildings – even banks and fast food joints – added another layer to Vienna’s already elegant ambiance.
And of course, we can’t forget how clean and well-maintained all these buildings are.
I could’ve easily wandered Vienna’s streets for hours and stared at buildings if I had unlimited time to meander, but alas, I had to sight see and watch the opera on a gigantic outdoor television (seriously) with my new Busabout friends.
Be sure to say “thank you” to Maria Theresa and her Habsburg friends for all the wonderful architectural delights!
Speaking of which…
How about Baroque palaces? Yes, Vienna has plenty of them, too!
The Habsburgs ruled The Holy Roman Empire, including Austria, for hundreds of years. Like any filthy rich and power hungry royal family, they built a series of incredible palaces all over Europe and some of the best are located in Vienna itself! No need to plan and pay for extensive and expensive day trips here, my palace loving friends!
Hofburg and Schönbrunn are the two most popular palaces here, but Vienna has many, many, many more at its disposal. Seriously, trust wikipedia if you don’t believe me! You could spend an entire month, visiting a palace a day, and probably still not see all of them.
As a history buff, Vienna’s palaces were a perk for me, and I was more than willing to pay the admittance price(s). Of course, if palaces aren’t your thing, then be picky about the places you choose to spend your hard-earned money.
Honestly, Vienna’s most popular palace is Schönbrunn more so than Hofburg. So if you only visit one palace on your stay, go to this one. It’s fantastic and packed with attractions that aren’t limited to the history and palace tour. There’s something for every type of traveler, I promise.
To reach the Imperial family’s summer residence, you need to take the subway a couple stops outside of the old city center. The trip doesn’t take long at all. It only took us maybe thirty minutes from St. Stephen’s Cathedral to reach the complex’s entrance, so the journey is easy enough to squeeze into your schedule.
Anyway, this huuuuuuuuuge Baroque example of opulence is often compared to Versailles. Furthermore it’s described as one of Europe’s most lavish palaces, but I actually enjoyed the gardens much more than the ones at Versailles! Probably because it was warm and sunny in Vienna, and cold and rainy outside of Paris, so maybe I’m not being quite fair to poor Marie Antoinette.
We spent about three hours at the palace complex, which was perfect. We walked to Gloriette, got lost in the maze, posed in front of statues, and relaxed in the expansive park. There are many types of tickets available and if you’re not into the history, you can book a cheaper ticket for the gardens only and still have a memorable visit!
Note: In order to take a tour inside the palace, you need to book a certain time in advance. Schönbrunn is packed in peak season. Obviously every gigantic tour group can’t enter the elegant rooms at the same time, because hellooooo, fire hazard. Therefore have at least 2 to 3 hours to spare for your visit, and enjoy the beautiful gardens while you wait for your turn to enter the palace. Just don’t forget your time!
Vienna’s museums pack an educational punch.
Museums are literally everywhere in Vienna. In particular, ones that showcase beautiful art! The Habsburgs accumulated many priceless pieces over their years in power, and now we can enjoy the benefits of their wealth.
Now I totally get art museums aren’t everyone’s thing, but if you’re like me and enjoy a peaceful afternoon ogling at French impressionism, ancient (and handsome) Roman statues, and Dutch Masters, then Vienna’s museums won’t disappoint you at all!
During my stay, I only had time to visit two museums, The Belvedere and Kunsthistorisches Museum, and want to return to explore the rest of them!
Like the rest of Vienna, the museum buildings themselves are ornate and worth a visit for fans of architecture.
Okay, now let’s say you’re like me and ready to decompress after being on the road, surrounded by people 24/7, for two weeks. A solo trip to any of Vienna’s museums will recharge your worn batteries even if you’re not necessarily an art lover.
I trekked to The Belvedere, all alone, to unwind and appreciate the fine portraits and statues. The trip was needed to restore my sanity before meeting a few people at a nearby coffee house.
Taking the journey across Vienna wasn’t an issue either. Because…
Safe? Check! Clean? Check! Traveler-friendly? Check!
Nervous about traveling? Austria’s capital city is very, very, very safe. I wasn’t worried about shady characters or dark alleys at all. And pickpockets? They didn’t cross my mind once!
Way back in the summer, I mentioned Austria in a post about first time destinations for anxious travelers for a good reason. All of Austria feels very safe including its biggest city!
On my first night, we stayed out until four in the morning exploring Vienna, and we weren’t bothered one single time on our way back to the hostel! Heck, I didn’t even feel the slightest bit uncomfortable in my new surroundings. I doubt we’d be so lucky in Philadelphia.
I’m not saying to act reckless and aimlessly walk around, drunk, in the wee morning hours, while you’ve hundreds of euros and the latest iPhone in your back pocket. Safety doesn’t give you a reason to act stupid, because stuff happens even in places with insanely low rates of violent and petty crime. Don’t turn off your brain or then blame me for it.
However you don’t have to feel paranoid here, which is especially lovely for solo travelers, male and female alike.
Plus the public transportation is easy to navigate. It’s also fast and on time. You can cover a lot of ground and not feel hassled or overwhelmed. For example, I loved Lisbon from the bottom of my heart, but goodness, the city’s subway system was slow at times, which was especially irritating if you need to make it to the airport or catch a long distance train. I didn’t have to worry about that in Vienna.
No huge tour groups ran me over.
Okay, this point is a total personal antecedent and won’t be the case for every traveler headed to Vienna. For all I know, selfie stick wielding tourists could trample you on your way to the Opera House. Hopefully your travel insurance covers that.
But speaking from my experience only, crowds didn’t mob Vienna’s streets during my stay, and not once did I feel like I was shoved into what I fondly dub “European Disneyland.”
You know what I mean, right? Stalls of cheap souvenirs. Aggressive tour guides promoting hop-on, hop-off buses to strangers. “We speak English” signs in every window. As much as I loved cities like Prague and Split, the tourists mobs overwhelmed me at times, making me leave the city center in search for quieter pastures. If I wanted to see other Americans everywhere, I would’ve stayed home.
Tourism exists in Vienna, like much of Europe, but I didn’t feel like it overpowered the city and transformed it into something inauthentic. I was part of the crowd here, enjoying day to day life, while still seeing the best sites Vienna had to offer. As I’ve said, the summer palace gets crowded, but otherwise, life was business as usual.
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, because, while I’m a tourist myself (I’m not touching the tourist v. traveler debate here), gigantic tour groups make me internally rage, because they literally take over an entire room or street or cafe. I had to avoid umbrella-carrying tour guides in Prague, fight to take pictures in Cesky Krumlov during the day through the small town was empty at night, and time my visits to particular sites in Munich. Vienna? I had none of those problems. Even at Schönbrunn.
For those who have visited this capital city, did you love it? Hate it? Feel indifferent about it? What information would you add to this post?
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