While visiting Prague, I decided to take a solo overnight trip to Vienna. This is about a four hour train ride or a five hour bus ride away. I could not resist popping over to see this rich capital city with its history of art and culture. And I was especially excited to see the works by Klimt. Although I was only there for about a day and a half, I was able to pack in a lot. I was also able to get some good recommendations from a friend that has been living there for a couple of years. Below are my insights on what to do, what to buy, what eat, where to stay, and how to get around.
Things to Do:
Historic Center of Vienna. Vienna has some great examples of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Stroll around downtown and view the gorgeous buildings, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, and St. Charles ‘s Church. I walked around on my own and had a chance to really take in the beauty of the architecture. If I had more time, however, I might have tried to join a walking tour to get some more historical information about the city and buildings.
MuseumsQuartier Wein. This complex located in the historic center houses several museums, theaters, and creative spaces. Visitors can buy tickets for individual museums or combo tickets to see more than one museum. When I visited I only had time to go to one so I chose the Leopold Museum. This one holds masterpieces by Viennese and Austrian artists, including the largest Egon Schiele collection and Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life.” This museum is an absolute must see for art lovers. Plan to spend 2 hours for the Leopold Museum.
Belvedere Museum. This complex is composed of two former summer palaces. Today they house famous Austrian art. Visitors can buy a combo ticket to see both the Upper and Lower Belvedere or can buy a ticket to the individual museums. For those short on time, like I was, choose the Upper Belvedere. This museum houses the permanent collection, including Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” It has the largest Klimt collection and is another must see for art lovers. Seeing Klimt’s work in person is unbelievable. Plan to spend 2 hours for the upper museum.
Schonbrunn Palace. This is the former imperial summer residence and one of the country’s must see palaces. It is surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens, which are free to enter. Walking through these gardens feels like walking through a Jane Austen novel. I really appreciated the beauty of this place. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Bring a book and find a shaded spot to read while relaxing after walking the expansive grounds. Visitors can also pay to take a guided tour of the inside of the palace. I did not do this so I cannot recommend it, but it is probably worthwhile for those interested in learning more about palace’s inhabitants and seeing the decorated rooms. Plan to spend 1-2 hours exploring the grounds and 30-60 minutes if taking a guided tour of the inside.
Mozarthaus. This is one of Mozart’s former residences and is located in the historic center. The inside has been stripped down and replaced with some replica furniture and installments about Mozart’s life. An audio guide takes visitors through the house and teaches them about Mozart’s history and time in the house. The tour is informative and well laid out, but I would not recommend taking it for the price. I was disappointed with what was on offer here. Visitors probably learn just as much about Mozart on wikipedia or through a book. The house itself has been lived in and redone since Mozart’s stay, and most of the stuff in here is popular items from around that time. There is not a lot of authentic items that belonged to Mozart. Instead, I would recommend taking a picture of the outside of the house and skipping the inside. For those who do decide to take the tour, plan to spend an hour.
Vienna State Opera House. This beautiful opera house puts on a lot of productions by the opera, ballet, and philharmonic companies. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season when I went to visit. Otherwise, I would have loved to see a production in this building. For those who are visiting when it is in season, I would definitely recommend splurging to see a performance. I think it would definitely be a memorable experience.
My trip here was short so unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to do shopping, but I still found a way to buy a souvenir. The one thing visitors will find everywhere is Klimt related paraphernalia. Vienna is proud of this prominent Austrian painter. His work has been reprinted on everything (mugs, t-shirts, umbrellas, bags, etc.). However, I think some of the best reprints can be found in the museum gift shops. Buy a postcard or small print at the Belvedere gift shop to serve as a reminder of his gorgeous works.
What to Eat:
When in Vienna, stop by one of the many coffee houses and try a Viennese coffee which includes ice cream and is very delicious. One of the cafes I particularly enjoyed was Cafe Savoy. This cafe has a very decadent interior and a variety of delicious sweets to choose from. Pair a cake with a glass of wine and relax.
When in Vienna, also try a Viennese sausage. Sausage stands can be found all over the city and provide a range of sausages that they put in rolls with mustard. These are a great snack to eat on the go while walking around. The Bitzinger stand by the Albertina is recommended by locals as being the best. This is the one I ate at, and it was very good.
Other dishes to try include goulash, schnitzel, and strudel. These staples are regional and can be found in nearby countries as well (Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany). For something more unique to Vienna, try the Sacher Torte at Cafe Sacher. This is another dessert that locals will recommend as a must eat.
Where to Stay:
For this trip I stayed in a hotel in the historic center area, and I would recommend this to others. There are several reasonably priced hotels here, and many of the sites are within walking distance of this area. There is also good public transportation in this area, which makes it easy to get to the hotels and to get to the couple of sites that are further away.
I arrived to and departed from Vienna by bus (coming from and returning to Prague). This was a five hour trip with no transfers. However, if I had planned better I might have taken the train to save an hour. By the time I booked all of the economy train tickets were gone so there was a large difference in price between bus and train that made the extra hour negligible. The Vienna bus station is located near public transportation so getting downtown from there is not difficult. Google maps is linked to the city’s transport system, which makes navigation easier. There is also the option to buy day passes and multi-day passes along with single trip tickets. The prices for public transportation here, however, are higher in price in comparison to other countries. So staying somewhere that allows walking is best. If taking public transportation is necessary, purchase tickets at the metro stations and validate before getting on the subway. Keep tickets on hand until they expire. Like most European countries, the public transportation system here is a bit of an honor system. People could get on public transport with no ticket but getting caught will incur large fines. Being a tourist who does not understand the system is not an excuse that is accepted. Buy and use the tickets.
Overall, I found Vienna to be just as rich in artistic and architectural history as expected. This city definitely lives up to its reputation. Visitors should plan to spend 2-3 days here at the minimum to see the highlights. This city is on the more expensive side for Central Europe but worth it. I visited in July. The weather was great, and it was not too crowded. However, I think visiting the end of November through December would also be worthwhile. Vienna is supposed to have one of the top Christmas markets so getting to see that would be nice. Also, the Vienna State Opera House should be open then too. This city will appeal to travelers looking for an artistic and cultural experience.