Tried and Tested: Vienna19.10.17 | Kirsty
When I think of Vienna, my mind automatically springs to images of elegant waltzes and grand balls, scenic Christmas markets and an abundance of art and culture. I recently spent a weekend in this magnificent city and I discovered that it has all of these things, and so much more.
In just two hours, I was transported from a rainy morning in England, to the most beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine of Vienna. I caught a brief glimpse of what I was to expect from the city at the airport, which was modern and efficient, and within twenty minutes I had arrived into the city centre. The Ringstrasse (or ring road) is a grand boulevard which circles around the entire old town, and it is here where you will find the most elegant hotels and buildings. The city walls which were originally built in the thirteenth century once stood here, and after they were dismantled in the mid nineteenth century, the now UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ringstrasse was born.
Upon arrival in Vienna, and throughout my entire stay, my eyes didn’t know where to look first as they were constantly spoilt for choice with visions of the most beautiful and historical architecture I have ever seen. The city is beautifully infused with both modern and classical buildings, including Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic structures, and with every footstep within every district, the sights never failed to impress. I was constantly aghast with the sheer beauty and grand splendour of my surroundings.
Perhaps the most prominent sight which can be seen from the majority of the city, is the impressive and famous St Stephens Cathedral – the symbol of Vienna. Construction of the cathedral commenced in the twelfth century, and it is today considered to be the most important Gothic structure in Austria. For those energetic enough, the most magnificent view of the whole of Vienna can be seen after climbing 343 steps to the tower room – although I have been told on good authority from my extremely knowledgeable and humorous guide for the weekend Inge, that the north tower actually houses a lift if you don’t fancy having aching legs!
As there is an overwhelming amount of history and culture in Vienna, I would definitely recommend a guide for at least part of your stay. We can arrange private guided tours and walks for you, and after experiencing this for myself, I can honestly say that I have learnt so much and seen so many places that I would have never been able to discover by myself. It was also a great way to beat the crowds at museums, and having a local Viennese guide’s insider knowledge was invaluable.
There are an abundance of museums and galleries to visit during a stay in Vienna, and choosing the most suitable one’s in a short space of time can be a daunting task. The most popular two which our clients enjoy are the Leopold Museum and the Kunsthistorische Museum (art history museum). A Masterticket, which we can purchase for you, covers both venues, and is a great way to experience both the old and the new in Viennese and Austrian art. The Leopold Museum is located in one of the world’s largest complexes for modern art and culture, and houses over 5000 exhibits including works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl. The building itself is extremely modern and functional in design, with natural light pouring into the exhibition rooms, so that visitors can experience the works of art in the same way that the artist originally did whilst creating them. In contrast, the Kunsthistorische Museum is housed in the most elegant and classical style of buildings on the Ringstrasse, and is a mirror image of the Natural History Museum which is located directly opposite. The building opened in 1891 and took twenty years to complete. I was blown away by both the exterior and interior of the museum, and that was before I had even seen any works of art! Originally built under Emperor Franz Josef to house the Imperial collections, the Kunsthistorisches museum is now home to famous works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael and Vermeer, and also has the largest collection of works by Pieter Bruegel the elder. As there is so much to see and discover here, it is again well worth having the valuable knowledge of a guide, either as part of a group or privately.
If you’re looking for somewhere to take a break from sightseeing for an hour or two, then why not do as the Viennese do and head to one of the city’s famous coffee houses? I discovered that the Viennese are as passionate about coffee as the Italians, and it is quite normal to frequent the same coffee house on a daily basis for hours at a time – and only buy one cup of coffee!
In years gone by, locals would have the same seat every day, maybe have a coffee at 2pm, meet friends to chat or play bridge, and leave at 10pm. Some people even used to have their mail delivered to them at the coffee house as they were there more often than their own home! This is a tradition that has carried on until the present day, and I was told that even now, you will never be asked to leave a café or restaurant in Vienna – you are welcome to stay there as long as you would like to.
I had the most wonderful lunch at the famous Café Demel, and even got to see the confectioners at work and their final wonderful creations. At over 230 years old, Café Demel is very popular with tourists from all over the world, so this is one coffee house where you may expect to wait for a table – however, in my opinion, it is more than worth it! With so many coffees to choose from, there is something for everyone’s taste – a true coffee lovers’ paradise. My personal favourite was the kaffe melange – quite similar to a cappuccino and truly delicious.
For a culinary experience with a difference, how about breakfast, lunch or dinner aboard your own private carriage on a giant Ferris wheel from the 1890’s? With 360 degree views of the whole of the city, I did just this on a wonderful, sunny Saturday afternoon. Although maybe not for the faint hearted, it is a memory that will stay with me forever, and an experience I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Vienna.
Vienna is renowned for being the music capital of the world, and no visit here is complete without sampling a concert, opera or ballet. Over the years, Vienna has been home to the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn (to name but a few), and you will find that there is always a concert of some kind taking place in the city. I was fortunate enough to experience a Mozart concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and was immediately transported back in time. Upon their entrance to the stage, all musicians were dressed in traditional attire which only added to the ambience at the impressive venue of Musikverein. Even if you are not a music lover, a concert such as this is not to be missed during your stay in Vienna – it truly was magnificent.
Being one of the leading opera houses in the world, the most outstanding venue to enjoy an opera or ballet is most definitely the Wiener Straatsoper (Vienna State Opera House). Originally opening its doors in 1869, it truly is a most impressive piece of architecture, both externally and internally. Events taking place here sell out very quickly indeed, so it is highly recommended to pre-book any tickets with us before you travel. During my stay, a performance of La Boheme was taking place at the Opera House. What truly captured my heart, was that a giant screen had been erected on the side of the building, allowing everyone to enjoy the spectacular performance in the mild autumnal evening. What a fantastic way to spend an evening, with friends and loved ones in the open air, experiencing the heart of Vienna at its very best. If you would prefer to sample the opera in a more private and exquisite manner, then the most perfect way to do this would be to book into the stunning Hotel Bristol which is located directly opposite the Wiener Straatsoper. The opera suites have the most unique location surrounded by classical opulence – just imagine opening the French doors, allowing the evening air to flood in, dining at a beautifully set private dinner table in the privacy of your own suite, and relaxing throughout an opera performance being projected upon the side of one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Most definitely a truly unique experience and one which would be remembered for years to come.
I merely scratched the surface of Vienna during my two night stay, but I can honestly say I have learnt so much, witnessed the most amazing architecture, enjoyed wonderful music, eaten delicious food and admired works of art in all of their magnificent glory. Vienna truly is a city for all five senses, and I look forward to arranging your trip to Austria’s great capital city.
- Flight time: around 2 hours
- Fly direct from: Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, London & Edinburgh.
- Accommodation: Ranges from boutique hotels to grand luxury properties; our favourite is the Bristol.
- When to go: Vienna offers different experiences all-year round. Winter is probably most popular in the winter months for the fabulous Christmas markets. Summer is great to enjoy all of the sights and make the most of the outdoor parks and cafes. Spring are autumn are perfect times to visit as they are quieter months and the weather is pleasant for walking and sightseeing.
- Currency: Euro
- What not to miss: An evening at a musical performance, lunch on the Ferris wheel at Prater Park, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the numerous palaces.
- Example package: 3 nights with flights from London, private return airport transfers, 4* accommodation with breakfast, Vienna Masterticket and Kirsty’s top tips on where to eat and what to do, all from only from £588 per person