Join us as we explore the Grand Austrian city of Vienna
This post on Vienna is a quick capture of our travels as they occur. Though we often post on social media during our adventures, many have requested that we do so on the blog. The focus will be the photography and our first impressions while experiencing the city. The photos in this post will be from our iPhones vs. our Nikon since we can process them quickly while traveling.
Let’s pay a visit to historic Vienna.
A bit about Vienna
Vienna is the capital city of Austria and is located in the east of the country. Around 1.8 million people live here, and though that sounds like a lot, the city somehow keeps a more intimate feel about it, while having all the amenities of any major European city.
A stunningly beautiful city, Vienna is full of urban charm and vitality. It has a rich and long history, an extensive range of leisure and cultural activities, excellent public transportation, economic success, low crime, and some of the best coffee and cakes in the world.
The history of Vienna goes back to the Romans when they settled here when it was known as Vindobona. There are churches in the city that date back over 1000 years. Vienna owes its beauty to the legacy of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled over large areas of Europe for many centuries. Vienna sat at the center of Habsburg rule. Many of the monumental buildings and renowned art found here are because various royal members and their families constantly played the game of one-upmanship in architecture, interior design, and art collections.
Considered the home to classical music, the arts are core to the culture of Vienna. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, Lehár, various members of the Strauss family, and many others produced impressive quantities of sheet music here. Vienna has one of the world’s greatest opera houses, and many believe one of the world’s best classical music venues.
The top things to do and see in Vienna are
- Take in a classical concert, whether in a church, concert hall, opera house, or outdoor venue.
- Explore Hofburg and Schonbrunn Palaces.
- Learn more about the reality and myth of the most enigmatic of the Habsburg Empresses at the Sisi Museum.
- People watch in Heldenplatz Square.
- Stand in awe of the Stephansodm Cathedral.
- Spend time in a traditional Vienna coffee house, some dating back centuries. Enjoy a cup of Viennese coffee with Sachertorte. Austrians love their cake, often having it for breakfast. If you want an authentic experience, the cake is a must.
- Visit the Kunsthistorisches, Upper Belvedere, and Albertina Museums with many paintings from old masters.
- Wander around the streets and enjoy the mix of architectural styles, such as Baroque townhouses, Jugendstil shop fronts, Biedermeier villas, and neo-gothic municipal offices.
- Dine on some Wiener Schnitzel (pork fried with a breadcrumb coating) with Kaiserschmarren (shredded pancake).
- Take a tour of the State Opera House.
- Shop with the locals at the Naschmarkt. An open-air market full of little bars and endless produce and food stalls.
- Stroll down Ringstrassen Blvd clockwise to Schottentor. This path takes you past the Burggarten with its Mozart memorial, Parliament, the Volksgarten park, the Rathaus, the Burgtheater, and the University.
- Take a food tour to look into Austrian food and experience it as locals do.
Our Vienna Visit Details
5 nights in early September
Middle of a 14-day trip that included; Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague
It was our first visit to Vienna
Hilton Vienna Plaza
(Free with Hilton Points)
How we got around
Walked 41 miles total along with public transportation.
Imperial Austria Sisi Tickets One day (Schloss Schonbrunn, Sisi Museum and Imperial Apartments). Spanish Riding School Tour, Food tour Great Taste of Vienna, Ed Sheeran Concert, Classical concert St Peters Church
The weather was sunny with average temps of the low 80s. It got a bit warm at times, especially when indoors without A.C.
Our favorite moments and highlights from Vienna
We thoroughly enjoyed Vienna, more so than we expected. Our five-night stay was a reasonable amount of time, but we still did not get to all we wanted to see. It would be easy to spend much longer here.
One of our favorite experiences in Vienna was taking a 5-hour food tour with Wolfy Adventures on our second morning in Vienna. Our tour guide Maria took our small group of six throughout the city of Vienna. We started, of course, at a cafe for a Cafe Melange with a sweet and savory breakfast; from there, we explored two street markets, enjoyed many delicious varieties of street food, followed by a traditional Austrian meal at a local restaurant, and finished off with a unique ice cream experience. All the while, we were learning about Vienna’s history and food. What made it extra special was visiting various districts of the city we otherwise would likely have never seen.
Vienna is all about its Cafe culture. Many days start and end at cafes. They love their coffee, and their favorite brew is Cafe Melange. It is similar to a Cappuccino but with a bit more punch. Our first Melange was at the famous Cafe Central, and, well, we didn’t think it was unique, just like an extra shot added to any espresso drink. The Cafe experience in Vienna is fun, especially when you step back and people-watch. Locals still come here just to read the paper while easing into their day. It is where locals gather, and people connect with their neighbors. Of course, alcohol is on all cafe menus we visited for those who prefer a glass of wine or beer in the evening.
While at the cafes, you will note that the Viennese love their desserts. We noticed big, delicious, decadent, elaborate desserts with their coffee. We heard that Sacher torte is a must, and we did try it. It did not quite live up to the hype, and looking around us; it didn’t seem many Austrians were ordering it either.
Music is the heart of Vienna
Music is core to Vienna’s history, especially in classical music. The most famous classical composers of the world composed their work here. The most outstanding music venues are reputed to be here in Austria. The Opera house sadly was closed during our visit, so we took in a Classical concert by a string quartet at St Peter’s Church. It was truly remarkable and moving. We can’t recommend it enough. Vienna has many choices, but avoid the touristy ones sold on every corner.
In the weeks before our arrival, we learned Ed Sheeran would have two shows while in Vienna. Of course, we bought tickets and what an incredible experience it was. It was our first large-scale concert in Europe, and what a city to do it in. The atmosphere outside of the stadium was similar to a large outdoor festival. The venue is so well organized and staffed. Of course, what can you say about Ed Sheeran? What a performer!!! We were blown away, and it was an evening that will always be a special memory. Check the local calendar before you travel; there may be some great experiences to add to your itinerary you weren’t expecting.
During our time there, an international film festival occurred in Vienna. It had a large outdoor screen for public viewing of movies. We visited the food and drink area, where they had an expansive selection of food and drink stands while live music was playing. They do love their Aperol Spritz here. They had an incredible diversity of international cuisines, even kangaroo, at the Australian food booth. It was such a fabulous and festive atmosphere. Seek out local festivals on the schedule for something unique and different. See how the locals enjoy their free time.
Vienna is known for its Grand Palaces, and we especially enjoyed our visit to Hofburg Palace and the Sisi Museum; it is well worth your time. We also visited Schonbrunn and Upper and Lower Belvedere Palaces. The exteriors and grounds were lovely, but we found the interiors lacking some. You will be disappointed if you are looking for something comparable to Versailles. It was time later we wished we had spent elsewhere.
The Spanish Riding School is part of the Hofburg Palace. The riding school is world-famous for the Ballet of the White Stallions. We had pre-booked the popular guided tour of the Spanish Riding School that we thoroughly enjoyed. Getting up close to the Lipizzaner horses in their stables was a treat. The history behind these horses and the threat they came under in WWII, and how the U.S. played a role in saving the horses were fascinating.
A surprisingly affordable city
This may seem out of place in favorite moments, but we found Vienna affordable. Everything was reasonable; food, entries into sites, public transportation, hotels, entertainment, etc. Servings at restaurants are generous.
During our last few trips, we have had our share of Wienerschnitzel. We have to say the best has been in Vienna.
We didn’t have a favorite city area and enjoyed it all. Even away from downtown, near the stadium was lovely and safe.
Our Observations and Commentary
Vienna is a clean, classy, and organized city. People here like order and rule, which is the norm. Even a jaywalker is rare to see. It has a similar feel to Germany, with a softer edge.
We found the public transportation system remarkable and easy to navigate. There never was more than a few minutes wait at any hour of the day. Before our arrival, we purchased the Vienna City Card, which provided a mobile pass on our phone. It made it simple to get around. Google maps were flawless for guiding on what public transportation options to take.
The public transportation system, like in Budapest, is an honor system. There are no ticket stations, scanners, or kiosks. We never saw anyone check for tickets. They are respectful rule followers here.
At the time of our visit, masks were still required on public transportation; most people complied. There were those few defiant ones. At some transit stations, Police were calling out people not wearing masks. Otherwise, nowhere else was it required. Not in museums or restaurants. It was rare to see anyone wearing masks other than in public transit.
Diversity in Communities
During our food tour, we learned about Vienna’s social housing program. Maria pointed out the buildings that are social housing vs. privately owned. It was easy to recognize. Both are well-kept and clean, but the social housing was plainer and more affordable. Vienna requires this housing placed in every area of the city. No district, even where stores like Louis Vuitton are, is exempt. The goal is to have people of all classes and walks of life be part of the same community. Over one-half million people reside in these buildings throughout Vienna, which is just under 1/3 of the city’s population.
We did not see any homeless or beggars during our extensive travels through the city day or night. Our food tour guide said if someone is without lodging, they are taken to a place to stay. One of the reasons for social housing is that all can have a place to live. It sounds ideal, and it would be interesting to learn more if it is successful or if there is a dark side to it.
It surely is GRAND
If there was one word to describe Vienna, is grand. The buildings, monuments, parks, and museums. Palaces, boulevards, and music. It, in many ways, has a feel of Paris but is cleaner and safer.
It was surprising to us, but Vienna is quite a diverse, multicultural city. There is little apparent separation here, as is seen in some cities, at least on the surface, maybe because of their social housing programs that keep communities diverse. It is a well-educated population with an average household income of almost three times of the United States. Only 4% of the population lives below the poverty level.
There was never a time we felt unsafe or worried. There was a night that we walked over a mile back to our hotel after midnight, on backstreets and at times alone with no concerns at all. Getting lost never bothered us; it was fun.
The gardens and parks are beautiful and thoroughly enjoyed by the city’s residents. Families are everywhere, and many people are lounging on the lawns enjoying the beautiful weather. In such a big city, you still feel a sense of community.
People are friendly and welcoming to tourists. We did find people a bit serious at times but never rude. Austria is a respectful society that follows the rules by nature.
They do tip in Vienna and Austria as a whole. Ten percent is the norm across the board.
Apple Pay is the way to go here. Everyone uses it, even for bottles of water at kiosks. When tipping, you can tell them how much to add to the bill before scanning or leave cash.
Thank you for joining us on our adventure through the classical music city of Vienna
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Photo Gallery of Vienna
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Our Recommended Travel Resources
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