by Kerry Walker and Destination Expert, The Telegraph, August 27, 2019
A city on the move
Oh, Vienna! Built high and mighty on the riches of the 600-year Hapsburg Empire, the Austrian capital bombards you with its near-overwhelming ensemble of palaces, Klimt-filled galleries, stately baroque streets and hallowed concert halls where orchestra batons swing. Top this with one-of-a-kind coffeehouse culture, expansive parks sprawling along the banks of the Danube, and a first-class public transport system, and you can see why the city has winged into the number one spot in Mercer’s quality of living survey for 10 years running. In 2019, its star is still rising.
For all its grandeur, Vienna works its real magic on a more human scale. Go beyond the trophy sights of the Innere Stadt to see its edgier side in neighbourhood markets, retro cafés and new-wave design studios. Vienna is a city on the move when it comes to social tourism, too, with a growing crop of enterprises making travel here more meaningful than ever.
Hot right now . . .
Kerry Walker, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do this season.
While the weather's warm, join the Viennese on the Danube Island to swim, picnic and sunbathe (nude, if you wish). Bike, canoe, stand-up paddleboard and skate rentals are available if you fancy more action.
The sea is miles off, but you can imagine you’re on a tropical beach at one of Vienna’s urban beach bars, complete with sand, palms, cocktails, DJ-spun beats and summer vibes. Check out Tel Aviv Beach (Obere Donaustraße 65) and Strandbar Herrmann (Herrmannpark, 1030; 00 43 720 229996).
Vienna grows some serious wine within its city limits. A half-hour U-Bahn or tram ride to the 18th, 19th, 21st and 23rd districts bring you to vine-rimmed Heurigen (wine taverns), where classic Viennese grub is served with Pinots, Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. Christ(Amtsstraße 12; 00 43 1 2925152), Edlmoser (Maurer Lange G; 00 43 1 889 8680) and Mayer (Pfarrpl 2; 00 43 1 370 1287) are good bets.
48 hours in... Vienna
Kick off bright and early with a nose around the baroque streets of the Innere Stadt, Vienna’s historic heart, as the city wakes up. Grab a freshly roasted espresso or cold drip at hole-in-the-wall Fenster Café (Fleischmarkt 9; 0043 43 680 4458005). Now you’re fixed to puff up the 343 steps mounting the south tower of gargantuan Gothic St Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansplatz). Up here there are close-ups of the cathedral’s zigzagging mosaic-tiled roof and dress-circle views of Vienna’s skyline to the wooded hills that ripple beyond.
Stroll briefly past the swanky boutiques lining the Graben to reach the Hofburg (Michaelerplatz; 0043 1 533 75 70), an imperial palace to outpomp them all. Pre-book online to dodge the crowds. After a romp of the state apartments where the Hapsburgs once swanned around, nip across to Bitzinger Würstelstand Albertina (Albertinaplatz; 0043 664 88 62 24 28) for a classic wurst in a bun, which you can munch in the adjacent Burggarten (Josefsplatz 1), where an art-nouveau butterfly house stands.
This afternoon you have choices. The first is the Albertina (Albertinaplatz 1; 00 43 1 534 83 0) for graphic art in a grand Hapsburg palace. Don’t miss the peerless collection of Dürer works. Or make for the neoclassical Kunsthistorisches Museum (Maria-Theresien-Platz; 00 43 1 525 240) nearby, with a fine arts collection whisking you from Rome to the Renaissance. The picture gallery is an Old Master feast, with crowd-pullers by Rubens, Raphael, Caravaggio and co.
By now you’re surely ready to have your cake (or strudel) and eat it - in the opulent coffeehouse setting of Demel (Kohlmarkt 14; 00 43 1 535 17 17), say.
A drink with a view? Vienna has many. Try the Hotel Lamée rooftop (Lichtensteg 2; 0043 1 532 22 40) for a botanical-infused spritzer and knockout views of the cityscape, or the slinky Onyx bar at Do & Co (Stephansplatz 12; 0043 1 241 88) with wraparound glass walls facing the cathedral at close range.
Take a saunter in the back alleys and courtyards of the Innere Stadt as the city begins to light up. This hones an appetite for an old-school Viennese supper at tiny, vaulted Gasthaus Pöschl (Weihburggasse 17; 00 43 1 513 52 88), brimming with good cheer and huge schnitzels. Providing you’ve bought tickets ahead, glam up for a performance at the Staatsoper (Opernring 2; 0043 1 514 442 250), one of the world’s most revered opera houses, which counts Mahler and Strauss among its famous past directors.
You've already dosed up on Viennese classics, so now it's time to see a slightly edgier side to the city. Begin with breakfast at gloriously retro Vollpension (Schleifmühlgasse 16; 0043 1 585 04 64), where a team of Omas (grandmas) bake some of the city’s scrummiest cakes. Just south of here is the Freihausviertel, an artsy neighbourhood crammed with indie galleries, boutiques and speciality shops. It’s just a short walk from the Naschmarkt (Linke Wienzeile), where food stalls overflow with fresh produce, spices and picnic fixings.
Across the way is the Secession (Friedrichstrasse 12; 0043 1 587 53 07), topped by a flamboyant, laurel leaf-entwined copper dome that has earned it the nickname the ‘golden cabbage’. Here the biggest stunner is Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze down in the basement.
A vision of stylishly faded grandeur, Café Sperl (Gumpendorfer Strasse 11; 00 43 1 586 41 58) is one of Vienna’s most enticing coffeehouses. Nab a booth for lunch, or coffee and a slice of milk-chocolate Sperl Torte. Nearby, the MuseumsQuartier (Museumsplatz 1; 00 43 1 523 58 81) delivers high-calibre culture in the former baroque imperial stables. Hit the Leopold Museum for the world’s largest collection of Schiele works, or the MUMOK for 20th and 21st art designed to scandalise and shock.
Time permitting (or as an alternative itinerary to the above), hop in the U-Bahn for a quick ride to one of Vienna’s sumptuous baroque palaces. If you’re into Klimt and want to see that Kiss, make it Schloss Belvedere (Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27; 00 43 1 795 570). Or if you’re curious to see how the Hapsburgs once lived, go rococo in the lavish state apartments at Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse; 00 43 1 811 130). Child prodigy Mozart gave his first public performance in the gilded Mirror Room at the tender age of six. Both palaces are flanked by manicured gardens dotted with mythological beasties.
Squeeze in another memorable 360-degree city view by sipping a pre-dinner cocktail (try the signature ‘Loft Royal’ with champagne, truffle and strawberry) at Das Loft (Praterstrasse 1; 0043 1 90 616 8110) on the 18th floor of the Sofitel. A quick ride on the U2 line from here brings you to Veranda (Burggasse 2; 0043 1 522 252 01 94), where you can wind out the day with experimental, season-driven Austrian cuisine in contemporary surrounds.
Where to stay . . .
In Vienna's heart on Am Hof square, Park Hyatt occupies the former HQ of the Bank of Austria. The opulent marble and chandelier-lit interiors manage the delicate act of fusing historic character with contemporary design. With a gold-kissed spa, season-driven cuisine and flawless service, it's five-star all the way.
Double rooms from €370 (£334). Am Hof 2; 00 43 1 22740 1234.
In the beating heart of Vienna’s first district lies Hotel Topazz. This architecturally innovative boutique hotel hides a subtly glamorous interior replete with Wiener Werkstätte-inspired designs. It’s a swish, urban escape for sightseeing as well as sunset cocktail sipping on the roof terrace that peeks cheekily across to Stephansdom.
Double rooms from €170 (£145). Lichtensteg 3; 00 43 1 5322 250.
The circus-themed 25hours Hotel Vienna at MuseumsQuartier is a splash of cheerful colour on Vienna’s hospitality scene. This bustling design hotel is housed in a 1970s tower block with an expensive, glassy facelift. It’s determinedly down-to-earth in style yet offers dizzyingly sublime views from its sky-high balcony bar.
Double rooms from €120 (£104). Lerchenfelder Str. 1-3; 00 43 1 521 51 151.
What to bring home . . .
For perfection in sugar confection, swing over to former imperial favourite Demel (Kohlmarkt 14; 0043 1 535 17 17) for beautifully packaged pralines, truffles, bonbons and candied violets (the house speciality) to take home.
For Austrian design, check out Österreichische Werkstätten (Kärntner Strasse 6; 0043 1 512 24 18) on Vienna’s most famous shopping mile. Pick up gifts including Viennese-inspired art nouveau and art deco jewellery, crafts, glass and porcelain.
When to go . . .
The cold weather between December and March shouldn't be a damper. There are plenty of places to warm up. What's more, with street markets aglow and the ball season in full swing it's a fun time to visit. By April milder temperatures and blooming parks and gardens lure locals back outdoors. From mid-May to late June, outdoor festivals and parties are well underway and reach their peak with the annual three-day Donauinselfest – Europe's largest free open-air party. Although the odd heatwave may feel uncomfortable during July and August, chill-out locations are in abundance along the Danube River and canal, though state-run opera, concert and theatre venues close shop. From September onwards, cultural activities are back in full swing, and mild, sunny days offer ideal conditions for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy Vienna: (00 43 1 713 1575; gov.uk), Jauresgasse 12, 1030 Vienna
Emergency services:Dial 112
Tourist office: See wien.info, the website of the Vienna Tourist Board, for what’s on in the city and tips on where to go. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the Tourist Info Vienna (00 43 1 24555) at the corner of Albertinaplatz and Maysedergasse, 1010 Vienna. Open daily: 9am-7pm
Telephone code: Dial 00 43, followed by 1 for Vienna numbers from abroad
Time difference: +1 hour
Flight time: London to Vienna is approximately two hours
Local laws & etiquette
• Formal greetings are the norm when meeting someone, and you'll hear 'Grüss Gott' (greeting the almighty), or the more worldly 'Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend', just about everywhere you go, and it's customary to return the salutation. Locals love their titles, so if you are meeting someone who has a university degree, not only are you expected to know this fact, but you're expected to use the title whilst shaking hands e.g 'Grüß Gott Herr Doktor' in cafés and restaurants the waiter will expect to hear a 'Herr Ober' (Mr. waiter) from guests seeking attention.
• Tips are not included, nor is it usual to leave them on the table. After the waiter has given you the bill add roughly 10 per cent and ask for it to be added to the total.
• A simple thank you is 'Danke'; 'Bitte' means both 'please' and 'you're welcome'.
Kerry Walker is one of Telegraph Travel’s Vienna experts, and has been writing guidebooks to the Austrian capital for more than a decade. She’s a huge fan of the city's art scene, coffeehouse culture and edgy enterprises.
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