Vienna is truly a city that stands out in a grand way. I was simply awed by the architecture and artistic detail of almost every building. It’s virtually overwhelming! I typically find myself strolling cities, observing the distinct styles of different neighborhoods, the intricate details of cathedrals, and the massive grandeur of government buildings. Certain buildings always seem to catch my eye, and I’m drawn to them, lingering a while to appreciate artistic architecture that appeals to me. When I first stepped foot onto the streets of Vienna, I experienced architectural overload! Almost every building is massive, displaying intricate carvings and unique sculptures. Block after block, the city seemed to only grow larger and even more impressive, with monumental edifices around every corner.
We found that the best neighborhood for our short stay was the Museum Quarter, an area even more impressive than the rest of this massive city. Within a half hour’s walk lies the Austria National Library, Vienna State Opera House, and a plethora of impressive museums.
The hotels in this quarter are some of the most creative and artistic I’ve ever seen. We were lucky to find a comfortable home in the most unique spot in the neighborhood… 25hours Hotel. This funky, boutique hotel welcomed us with a sign stating “Come as you are” and a warning that “We’re all mad here”. I knew we’d fit right in!
The surreal design of the hotel made me feel as if I was walking through a whimsical, circus-themed wonderland with surprises around every corner. Each area has adventurous elements, but with a cozy and comfortable vibe. Our room was especially creative, with an interesting combination of accessories, funky lighting and a colorful mural above the bed.
We enjoyed a full and fabulous breakfast each morning, and especially looked forward to our evenings at The Dachboden, a lively bar on the hotel’s rooftop. This truly unique spot cannot be missed, with cocktails mixed to perfection served in a cozy and imaginative atmosphere… all with a view of Vienna that you just can’t beat.
Our time in Vienna was a whirlwind of Austrian events. We strolled the city, observed enchanting art, dined at a wide-range of unique restaurants, and even escaped the metropolis for a bit. With a city so massive – a pinnacle of art and culture – you could spend weeks exploring. There are so many reasons to make a visit to grand Vienna, but here are my top five!
Reason #1: Strudel
Here I am, a naïve American girl who thinks I’ve had strudel. I’ve been eating Pillsbury toaster strudel since I was a kid, so of course I’ve had strudel… what an absurd statement. Your first bite of real strudel… real sticky, sweet, flaky Austrian strudel is reason enough to visit.
Our favorite place for strudel is called Demel. A small building in the City Center with antique interiors. They sell strudel and pastries to-go, but there is also a charming seating area. Head through the storefront, and you will pass a showcase kitchen filled with pastry chefs baking delicious treats right before your eyes.
Take a seat and get ready for flavor!
Reason #2: A night at the Opera.
We’d never been to an opera before, and weren’t even sure if we would enjoy such an evening, but… when in Vienna 😉
Despite its impressive surroundings, The Vienna State Opera House is clearly the belle of the architectural ball. The exterior of the building is stunning, and the interior is equally as impressive. I recommend getting tickets to a show rather than simply taking a tour. Experiencing brilliant voices echoing powerfully through the auditorium was the most impressive part of our visit. It was incredible.
Get there early and enjoy a glass of Champagne before heading into the auditorium, which has old-fashioned charm with wooden seats and enormous, crystal chandeliers. We enjoyed La Boheme, by Puccini. Thankfully, there are subtitles provided via a small screen behind each seat.
Reason #3: A day at the museum.
There are over 100 museums in Vienna, and a wide range of choices covering every possible taste. History buffs can get their fill at Vienna’s Museum of Natural History, with everything from insects to gemstones and relics of the Stone Age. Contemporary art fans can find the works of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Yoko Ono at The Museum of Modern Art. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) has major works of European art, and Albertina has the largest and most valuable graphical collections in the world.
Our top choice was a visit to The Leopold Museum, a unique spot with a phenomenal showcase of Egon Schiele and (my favorite) Gustav Klimt.
The Leopold Museum is the most-visited in the Museum Quartier, and did not disappoint.
Reason #4: Exquisite dining.
Though we try to eat-in as much as possible, when in Vienna it’s vital to dine out! We enjoyed traditional dishes, luxury dining and street food on a daily basis. We were in a hotel without access to a kitchen, so we dined out for every meal. We have no regrets – each experience was divine!
Some of our favorite meals were from the street vendors at the Vienna sausage stands, serving up more options for sausages than I knew were possible. You can get a Frankfurter, which is made from pork… a Burenwurst, which adds ham and spice to the mixture… a Kasekrainer, which includes cheese… a Bosna, which is spicy and garnished with onions and a mustard-curry sauce… a Debreziner, which is smoked… the list goes on, and they are all served with your choice of bread and condiments.
We also enjoyed perfectly cooked steaks and juicy burgers at Said the Butcher to the Cow, which had a classy atmosphere and delicious cocktails. Our favorite traditional meal was at Glacis Beisl, where we had phenomenal weinerschnitzel, though every dish was superb! The restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and a beautiful garden that is open for dining during warm weather. For fine dining with a view, you can’t beat The Stephansplatz Restaurant at the top of the DO & CO hotel. The hotel can’t be missed – a modern creation on a street of classic buildings.
We enjoyed fresh fish and lobster tail, overlooking the colorful, tiled roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. ONYX bar on the 6th floor is the perfect place to linger after your meal, with great views of the cathedral from a different perspective.
Reason #5: A ride through the Wachau for wine.
This was the highlight of our time in Vienna, making the Austrian capital’s location even more appealing. Within an hour, we were swept out of the city on a beautiful ride to the rolling, vine-covered hills of the Wachau region. This UNESCO world heritage site, famous for Austrian white wine, lies between the towns of Melk and Krems and is unbelievably beautiful.
You can get to the region by train or car, and easily rent bikes in any of the small villages, dropping them off at numerous locations across the region. The best way to explore is to bike the scenic route along the Danube River. If you are taking the train, you’ll have to start in Melk and ride all the way to Krems – a four hour (24 mile) ride – where you can take the train back to Vienna from there. The ride isn’t difficult (it’s all down-river), but it’s not all downhill. You will want to stop at a few spots along the way, so you’re looking at a long day.
If you have a car, I recommend starting in Spitz, a small, picturesque town that’s just 11 miles from Krems, and stopping in Durnstein for the majority of your day to enjoy the quaint wine shops and a few glasses of Gruner Veltliner. Durnstien is known as the most romantic place in the Wachau, with ancient, terraced vineyards and dramatic views. We rode along the river for most of our journey, but enjoyed veering into the vines as we got close to Durnstein – it was by far the most scenic part of our adventure.
I can assure you that we did not have enough time in Vienna. The week went by fast, and we left with just a taste of Viennese culture. I’d love to have a larger helping, and we plan to return to Vienna for a longer stay. The city surprised us in so many ways, and we love that the location lends itself to easy escapes to the countryside, or even hops to other cities like Budapest, Prague, or Munich (where we headed next, on a stunning train ride from Austria to Germany). I really can’t believe it took me so long to discover Vienna. I feel as though the city has been waiting for us…