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. Unfortunately, after a lot of drama and upset over the following months, we no longer speak. In many ways, it feels like we left our friendship in Vienna. If I were to ever go back 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 My Holiday Guru. It was £58pp for two nights at the Hotel Anatol, part of the Austria Trend hotel chain. Our stay 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.
(Not before we freshened up, of course!)
It wasn’t long until we could check-in, so we set off to find some food to try and wake us up a bit. The hotel is in a great location. It’s 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”. I didn’t care that it was only lunchtime. We 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 speaks German). Eventually, 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.
On the first evening, we had a 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. Throughout many of the Christmas markets in Vienna, when you purchase a hot drink you even get to keep the mug it comes in – a great souvenir. 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.
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 the hill at the back of the gardens. We decided to give it a miss because our feet were so tired. 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 sit down for some hot food and a drink. Ah, the power of hindsight.
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 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 if no one’s looking then you can get a few sneaky ones! At the end, you’re met with a nice gift shop.
Of course, I had to get a fridge magnet to add to my collection.
After the tour, we had some lunch in one of the restaurants in the courtyard; Cafe Residenz. When we walked in, it felt like we had just walked into the ritz. We thought the food was going to be quite sophisticated, given the decor and atmosphere. But when mine came out it was essentially a ham & cheese toastie with a few crisps lobbed on the side. I felt a tad out of place but I enjoyed it. After that, we went to the zoo which is located within the gardens. This zoo is actually the oldest in the world and one of the few zoos worldwide to host Giant Pandas.
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. 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. It’s 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 (and the name of the metro stop). The cathedral is surrounded by a number of shopping streets, and, in the winter, a beautiful Christmas market where you can purchase hot punch with a Stephansplatz mug which is shaped like a boot.
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 stick with calling it the U-Bahn…)
Like in most other cities, it’s best to purchase a 24 or 48 hour ticket. This 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. 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.
Fun fact: at the airport, the arrivals hall has a red carpet style reveal when you arrive at your destination.
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. This 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.
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. Even though it was between 3 – 5°C, it felt a lot colder than that just from wind chill. One afternoon we had to go back to the hotel to huddle up in the bed for a mid-afternoon nap just to try and warm up.
I wish I’d…
After we left 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 with 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!
Have you ever been to Vienna?
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