How do I start? Vienna is one of the places I’ve been to which will forever be special to me. Not only is it a stunningly beautiful city, but I went with an old friend and, unfortunately, after a lot of drama and upset, we no longer speak. In many ways it feels like we left our friendship in Vienna, and if I were to ever go back I feel I’d be reminded of all the good times we had from every palace, restaurant, and cathedral I stepped foot in. It’s very bittersweet, feeling happiness from the laughs and good memories, but sadness from the fact that it’s over.
We booked a deal for late November through the fabulous My Holiday Guru, £58pp for two nights at the Hotel Anatol, part of the Austria Trend hotel chain, which included breakfast, and a food token for the Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace. The hotel was great; modern, spotlessly clean, the staff were very helpful and the continental breakfast was plentiful. We arrived before check-in but we were able to store our luggage with them while we went to explore the city. (Not before we freshened up, of course!) It wasn’t long until we were able to check in, and we were knackered from being awake all night, so we set off in search of food. The hotel is in a great location, close to the metro station Zieglergasse, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from Mariahilfer Straße, Vienna’s longest and most lively shopping street. Upon trying to resist the temptation to shop when greeted with Mariahilfer Straße, we soon saw a sign simply saying “Food & Cocktails”. Didn’t care that it was only lunchtime – we sort of gravitated towards that direction to Cafe Cosmopolitan and before we knew it, we were sat down ordering. We were sat there staring at the menus for probably a good half an hour, trying to guess what each thing was (neither of us speak German), until the waitress came over and asked us if we’d like some English menus. I wonder how long she was laughing at us before she decided to come over! The food wasn’t amazing, but it definitely fuelled us for the rest of the day.
Schönbrunn Palace is one of Vienna’s most popular, and well known tourist attractions. The 1,441 room Baroque palace has been open to the public since the mid-1950s. It boasts beautiful rooms and galleries which will give you major home envy, restaurants with one hell of a view, stunning gardens, and even a zoo! This was by far my favourite part of the trip. On the first evening we went to look around the Christmas market located in the courtyard. Christmas markets in any European city are something special, but I think a lot of other cities would find it hard to beat Vienna. There was one stall in particular which was selling hot punch (which we later found out was being sold everywhere throughout the city!), and when you purchased the drink you even got your very own Schönbrunn mug to keep! I ended up with two from Schönbrunn and one from Stephansplatz. Didn’t think about the logistics of this until I went to pack my suitcase to come home…
Oh, and there was another stall selling amazing waffles and other hot treats. I had banana and nutella waffles on more than one occasion. *swoon*…
Vienna at Christmas time is such a special place to see, however, the one thing I’d like to see in the summer would be the Schönbrunn gardens. I could still appreciate their potential in the winter, but I’ve seen pictures of their beauty in full bloom, and I know that seeing it in the flesh would take my breath away.
By the time we’d walked all around the palace, through the gardens, around the zoo, we saw this gorgeous building which was lit up right at the top of a hill at the back of the gardens. Our feet were so tired at this point we decided to give it a miss, but we later found out that at the top was a café. Had we known this, we definitely would have forced our legs to ferry us up there just to have a sit down and some hot food and drink. The power of hindsight!
This is the photo I took through the blurry aeroplane window when we flew over Schönbrunn. Makes you realise the scale of the whole site!
On the second day, we decided to go for a tour of the inside of the palace, which was just incredible. I can’t remember which option we went for, I think it was the tour which included 40 rooms. This isn’t a guided tour, when you go in you get given a walkie-talkie-like device, and each room has a specific number. You’re supposed to punch in the number of the room you’re in, and your device will tell you information and history about each room. (It’s a great idea to take headphones with you for this, so you don’t have to keep holding it to your ear along with everyone else’s going at the same time). You’re not allowed to take pictures, but, being the very nerdy rebel I am, of course I got a few sneaky ones when no one was looking! At the end you’re met with a very lovely gift shop – had to get a fridge magnet for my collection!
After the tour, we had some lunch in one of the restaurants in the courtyard; Cafe Residenz. It was a bit fancy, when we walked in it was like we had just walked into the ritz. We ordered lunch, thinking the food was going to be quite sophisticated, but when mine came out it was essentially a ham & cheese toastie with a few crisps lobbed on the side. Felt a tad out of place but it was good! After that we went to the zoo which is located within the gardens. This zoo is actually the oldest zoo in the world, and one of the few zoos worldwide to host Giant Pandas. This is probably one of the things to do which would be better in the summer, when a lot of the animals are more tempted to come outside rather than take warmth in their nests and houses!
Ok, let’s just get over the fact that I was originally pronouncing this as the “Danooby” river, okay? At 1,177 miles, the Danube is Europe’s second longest river, passing through 10 different countries. I would have really loved to take one of the Danube cruises available from Vienna, but, unfortunately we just didn’t have time to do this, so I settled for getting a picture next to it.
St Stephen’s Cathedral is actually the most important religious building in Vienna, one of the tallest churches in the world, and it’s located in the geographical centre of the city. Stephansplatz is the square in which the Cathedral is located, surrounded by a number of shopping streets, and, in the winter, a beautiful Christmas market. Again, here you can purchase hot punch with a Stephansplatz mug which is shaped like a boot. I liked this one.
Vienna has one of the easiest metro systems I’ve ever used, called the U-Bahn (an abbreviation of the German term Untergrundbahn…I think I’ll still with calling it the U-Bahn!)
Like in most other cities, it’s best to purchase a 24 or 48 hour ticket, which enables you to really make the most of exploring the city while keeping the cost down. Just remember to stamp your ticket whenever you travel, though.
At Vienna’s airport, you are able to get the CAT Train straight to the city, which is so useful when you’re alone in a foreign city and both of you are terrified at the prospect of hiring a car. Although, you’d have to be mad to even want to hire a car for a city break these days, as the public transport and metro systems are so good. A return on the cat train is €17.00 and takes you from the airport to the Landstraße (Wien Mitte) stop on the orange line.
The arrivals hall at Vienna’s airport was quite cool, though. You walk through the endless corridors of the airport, then you seem to come to a dead end. Suddenly the walls opened and you’re on what literally feels like the red carpet. You walk through the doors, then you’re met by a line of people staring at you while you have to walk past every single one of them. This is the only photo I’ve found online which shows what it’s like. That’s the view as soon as the doors open, then the barrier goes along quite far to the right.
I may or may not have done the over-the-shoulder pose for the imaginary paparazzi, but you’ll never prove it.
You can also purchase a Vienna Pass, which includes entrance to 60+ of Vienna’s top attractions, includes fast track, and access to a lot of hop-on, hop-off bus tours. They are fairly pricey, but if you’re planning on visiting a lot of attractions during your time in Vienna you’ll soon make your money back. Just click the link on the page which shows all the attractions, and you’ll soon realise there is much more to do in Vienna than I’ve listed in this post!
Vienna is cold. Like…cold cold. At least it was when we were there. If you’re wanting warm weather where you can sit in the beautiful gardens, visit in the spring or summer. The happy medium weather wise would be April/May or September/October, where the crowds are as mild as the weather. If you do go in the summer, though, like any city, there will be a lot of crowding and the room rates will skyrocket. We visited at the end of November, and even though it was generally between 3 – 5°C, it felt a lot colder than that just from the air and the wind. On one of the days we were there we had to go back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon nap just to try and warm up! Make sure to take plenty of warm clothing if you’re going to be out sightseeing a lot during the colder months.
I wish I’d…
I really wish I’d visited the revolving restaurant, named Donauturm. I always like activities and sights which are really different and unique, so this was right up my alley. The tower is 150m high and has a 360° observation deck where you can see panoramic views of the city, day or night. If you visit the website there is a virtual tour of the deck. The person I went with didn’t really fair well in lifts, so it was ruled out, but if I’m ever in Vienna again I’ll definitely make a visit!
So there you have it! Leave me a comment and let me know your favourite parts of Vienna.