With only two full days in Vienna, long days were in order to make the most of our limited time in this opulent city. Upon our arrival late in the evening, we headed out in search of dinner. All of us were immediately in awe over the beauty of the magnificent buildings all lit up at night.
The best thing we did to soak in the beauty of the city was to take a walk from the Äußeres Burgtor (across from the Museum of Natural History) around the Burgring (inner ring). It is absolutely amazing to see all the grand buildings lit up. (Rathaus may have become my favorite building to see at night in all of Europe – absolutely spectacular. Pictures just don’t do it justice).
While the city is FILLED with over 100 wonderful museums of every interest imaginable, there were two things that we could not miss in our trip to Vienna – The Spanish Riding School where they train the Lipizzaner Stallions and the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, aka the Vienna Zoo. (The zoo recently had rare twin panda cubs which was the HIGHLIGHT of Megan’s birthday trip and a large part in why we found ourselves on this side of the continent. Saying Megan loves pandas may be the understatement of the year!)
The Spanish Riding School – The Famous Lipizzaner stallions are an elite group of horses and riders that perform elevated classical dressage around the world. They train year-round within Hofburg palace in Vienna. The riding school is the oldest of its kind in the world, first named in 1572. The methods practiced were originally developed to strengthen the war horse’s body and mind and make him a supreme athlete. Today, visitors can purchase a ticket to the riding school, allowing you to watch a 2 hour “show” in which the horses and riders exercise and practice for the larger performances on the weekend. About 6 groups of 5-6 horses enter the ring for their 20-minute window. Different skills levels are on display and if you are lucky enough, some may be practicing the famous aerial tricks! (We happened to witness three horses doing these jumps, which is very rare as the skills are strenuous and practiced infrequently).
Schönbrunn Palace and Grounds – This amazing area of the city is the former imperial summer residence featuring a huge 1,441 room palace, vast gardens, monuments, and of course the zoo. A fully day can be spent wandering around and exploring these amazing grounds. We arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds at the zoo, getting an up-close view of the cute panda cubs. Spring has sprung in Vienna, as many other babies could be spotted throughout the exhibits. A quick stop for lunch just outside the gates and it was time for our Palace tour. We opted to spend the extra couple dollars on the full tour and it was well worth it! As you wander through the 40 rooms, it is amazing to see the opulence in which the powerful royals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire lived. Don’t forget the free audio guide, providing great insight to the stories within the walls.
Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) – Located in the heart of the tourist area, this huge church is the most important religious building in Vienna, dating back to the 12th century. While the Romanesque/Gothic architecture is impressive, the geometric titled roof (the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna are also created out of tile on the roof) is by far its most spectacular feature! Entrance into the Cathedral is free, but for a couple Euros you can climb to the bell tower and visit the catacombs below.
Naschmarkt – Like every great city in Europe, Vienna has a large outdoor market full of local specialties and fresh foods. The difference we found in visiting this one is that one side features a multitude of sit down restaurants of all different cuisines. Don’t miss the freshly grilled sausages, baked goods galore, amazing meat and cheese stands, or all the wonderful spices for culinary souvenirs!
Gastwirtschaft Pürstner – With its eclectic, sometimes questionable, décor on every inch of this restaurant, it’s a great choice for an honest, quintessentially Austrian meal. The pork ribs and beefsteak in pepper sauce were especially delicious. The Wiener Schnitzel and Spätzle classically perfect. All washed down with big steins of Austrian beer at incredibly reasonable prices. One of our favorite meals we had while in Eastern Europe!
Kutschker 44 – A welcome break from the heavy traditional cuisine of Eastern Europe, this informal modern restaurant was delicious. The contemporary menu changes seasonally and is prepared at the show kitchen situated right at the bar. Visiting near Easter, highlights included braised veal with potatoes, carrots, and plums and grilled lamb with asparagus risotto.
Sacher–Torte at Hotel Sacher – An original since 1832, and still made with the same recipe, we could not miss an opportunity to try a famous slice. This confection is comprised of a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam, and topped with a thin layer of chocolate icing. For 6E it was quite pricey and the overall consensus from the group – while it was good, it was not a favorite. We prefer our chocolate cakes a little more “rich”.
Café Restaurant Weimar – If you enjoy coffee, no trip to Vienna is complete without an authentic Viennese café experience. Vienna, Austria has elevated coffee to an art form and its consumption to a lifestyle. By purchasing a single cup of coffee in one of the city’s grand old cafes, customers can spend entire days amongst a charming ambience and variety of patrons, making the Vienna coffee house an integral part of the city’s social experience. Be prepared to sit for at least an hour, and don’t you dare rush the waiter! With so many to choose from Café Restaurant Weimar, a classic, happened to be around the corner from our apartment. While convenient, it is also home to the head honcho of the official Vienna coffeehouse ruling board.
Our Stark Perspective (Tips):
- To avoid the crowds, stay off of the main pedestrian street of Kärntner Straße. It does not have much character and is full of overpriced souvenir shops.
- Austrian Banks don’t charge an ATM fee and seemed to have a pretty high limit.
- Tip if traveling by train – if you don’t have an assigned seat on your train ticket, pick a seat in which there is a blank space on the “screen” above. The term Last Minute Reservations are assigned.