Vienna is such a beautiful city that I find I could wax lyrical about it for days. It's one of those cities where you can just imagine yourself living - it lacks the pretention (and hoards of tourists) of other nearby cities, yet with its grand, old buildings and amazing cafe culture you wonder why it's not as popular as places such as Paris and Florence. I spent a week in Vienna last August, and while it doesn't do well in the heat (I was unlucky enough to be caught in a freak heatwave crossing Europe at the time) it remains one of my favourite European cities. Here are my top five experiences in Vienna.
5. Hofburg Palace
The Hofburg Palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The oldest sections originate from the 13th century! Today it is the official residence of the President of Austria.
The palace itself is enormous, and there is so much to look at that I felt utterly exhausted by the end of it. For example, the Silver Collection is made up of the former court silverware, and while it does offer an interesting insight into the culture of dining at court, the 7000 items on display can start making you see double after a while.
No, the most interesting aspect to me (and I suspect many others) at the Hofburg palace is the Sisi Museum, which (for an additional charge) you can see during your visit. Sisi (Elizabeth) was both Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, and although she had a limited influence on Austro-Hungarian politics, she became an historical icon. The Empress is thought to have been a non-conformist who detested conventional court protocol, as well as a free spirit, who valued an individual sense of freedom above anything else. The Sisi museum has more than 300 items on display, including her beauty recipes, personal belongings, and the actual file used in her assassination. The collection illustrates how the once light-hearted young girl became a restless, unapproachable and melancholic woman.
Even if you are not one for spending hours inside an old palace, I'd recommend going just to observe it from the outside - it's an incredibly beautiful building.
4. Food and Film Festival
It just so happened that I was in Vienna when this festival was on, and I'm so glad it was! In July and August, the gorgeous Vienna City Hall becomes the backdrop for some incredible food stalls and film. It was quite busy on the night I went, and while the food options (and lines) were overwhelming, it's well worth it. I'll never forget eating a delicious waffle with some new friends as the sun was setting. It's a perfect way to spend a summer evening if you happen to be in Vienna during this time. Best of all, the film portion of the festival is completely free!
3. Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)
Schönbrunn Palace is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Vienna. The former imperial 1441-room Rococo summer residence is certainly worth the hype, however plan your trip smartly or accept your fate amongst the tour group masses. Once you've decided which pass you wish to purchase (and there's quite a few to choose from), you're suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the royal apartments.
The palace gardens are almost as good as the palace itself. They seem to go on endlessly! If you're up for a bit of a walk, I'd recommend climbing the 60-metre-high hill up to the Gloriette. It offers beautiful views over the grounds, the palace, and Vienna itself.
2. The Naschmarkt
If you love food, you need to make the Naschmarkt a priority. If not, and you can't stand crowds...well, I'd still recommend coming to check it out! Located at the Wienzeile over the Wien River it is about 1.5 kilometers long, and is Vienna's most popular market. There is so much to choose from here that it can be a little overwhelming! Fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world, exotic herbs, cheese, baked goods such as bread, kaiser rolls, and torte, meats, and seafood. And I haven't even mentioned the small restaurants which offer sushi, kebabs, seafood, and traditional Viennese food! Since I was cooking my own dinner at a nearby hostel, I was absolutely spoiled for choice. Take your time having a look around before you decide on what to buy, as I guarantee you'll be salivating over much of the produce!
1. Café culture
Completely and utterly my favourite aspect of Austria, but Vienna definitely did this the best. Sitting outside on a sunny day with an apple strudle and iced coffee will remain one of the fondest memories of my time spent traveling. I went to quite a few cafe's while in Vienna: Café Sperl (which you may recognise from David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method), Café Hawelka, and Kleines Café remain the standouts, however I have to give a special mention to Café Hawelka as being one of the nicest café's I have ever been to. The staff are infamously grumpy and don't hand out menu's, so just do as the locals do and order away. To top it all off, they offer free wifi so you can Instagram your beautiful dessert!