We asked Barbara Cacao from the popular blog Vienna-Unwrapped what she would do if she visited her hometown for the first time…
Vienna is a beautiful, cultured city and so much more than just white Lippizzaner horses and Wiener Schnitzel. If you want to get a feel of real Vienna, strike a balance between must-see attractions, little known secrets and fun things that are typical for the Austrian capital. Here is my pocket manual for the Top 10 of the best places to visit in Vienna for travel snobs…
Bike around Ringstrasse Boulevard
The Ringstrasse girds the historic city centre, and lines up many state buildings and town palaces. In 30 minutes you can either go round Ringstrasse by tramway or by bike. There are a few city bike stations around that let you rent bikes for as little as 2 euros. Main landmarks to see on your way: Vienna State Opera, Museums of Fine Art and Natural History, Austrian Parliament, City Hall, University of Vienna, and the Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art. In 2015, Ringstrasse will celebrate its 150 year anniversary. Expect great exhibitions and events and easily one of the most romantic things to do in Vienna.
Visit Schonbrunn Palace and gardens
Our number one tourist attraction is so old-world. Like no other place, the Habsburg Emperors’ baroque summer residence brings Vienna’s Imperial past to life. Take the small guided tour through Schonbrunn Palace ’s 40 palatial rooms, past gold plated panels, delicate china, larger-than-life tapestries, red velvet upholstery and heavy tassels. In the baroque gardens, stroll past trimmed hedges, broderie flower beds and sculptures to have coffee with a view up at the Gloriette belvedere.
Get an overview from a World War II air defence tower
I’m not crazy enough to suggest an aquarium during your first visit in my hometown. If it happens to be a historic monument with stunning rooftop views, that is different. The Haus des Meeres is located in one of the six World War II air defence towers in Vienna. The concrete colossus are protected historical monuments. You can visit the rooftop cafe and restaurant independently to get a beautiful view over Vienna’s rooftops and the city centre.
Dig into cakes at Orlando di Castello
At this point, go off tradition and head for a chic modern patisserie. Orlando di Castello at Freyung square boasts a contemporary style with a distinct Austrian touch. I love both the main seating area with its cosy upholstered sofas, and the ultramodern round seating area at the back. The cake counter stocks the finest of Viennese patissier craftsmanship. Enjoy using the outdoor seating at Freyung square in the summer.
Feel contemporary Vienna at Museumsquartier
Museumsquartier feels less a museum than a large village square. The museum complex is housed in the former Imperial stables. In the summer, the large courtyard buzzes with urban professionals, students, art lovers, and tourists: Cafés, the iconic Enzi lounge chairs, music, mini boat races and boules dominate the scene. If you like Expressionists, head for Leopold Museum. For modern art, visit the Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK). Do take time to admire the ceiling of Café Corbaci…
Take Sigmund Freud’s place at Café Landtmann
Ringstrassen coffeehouse legend Café Landtmann has always had an eclectic mix of guests: from national politicians, senior officials and journalists to international celebrities and students from the University just opposite. Add yourself to the picture. Try to get the table to the right at the very back of the main room. This was Sigmund Freud’s favourite place. Do take a peek into the exquisite wood-panelled Landtmann-Saal right next, which is often used for political press conferences.
Discover Vienna’s Pawlatschen courtyards
A couple of months ago I took a private tour through Vienna’s historic Pawlatschen courtyards. It was a busy week for tourism, and slipping away from the crowds felt excellent. The 18th century Pawlatschen give you a glimpse of the main residential architecture and how people lived at the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Napoleon Bonaparte. The most beautiful have large painted wooden galleries covered with climbers, and old trees in the center.
Have a snack at Hoher Markt
As the home of the Vienna sausage, our local stands deserve a visit. You can choose from half a dozen local sausage varieties. Some of them are made with herbs, spices or cheese. They are sliced up and served with brown sourdough bread or a roll, and a choice of mustard, ketchup and horseradish. The sausage stand at Hoher Markt in the centre is known for its top quality sausages and is a little less touristy than the stands around the Vienna State Opera.
Attend a music event
Yes, we love music, but don’t only do Mozart and Strauss. Did you know that Vienna is one of the best European cities for electronic music, and stages big annual jazz and modern music events? If you go for classical music, take care to choose a venue and orchestra that isn’t just for tourists. Operas at the State opera are a beautiful experience, while operettas at Volksoper are hilariously funny. English subtitles are provided with most performances. My favourite e-music spots are the club Grelle Forelle and the Tuesday Techno Club at Volksgarten Pavilion (summer only).
Sip wine at Nussberg
Vienna is the only world capital with its own vineyards. We produce our own wine which we have with cold and warm snacks at local wineries around Grinzing, Ottakring, Neustift, Stammersdorf and Liesing. For best views of Vienna, go up Nussberg hill in Grinzing. There are a few small winery outlets right in the vineyards, which operate during the summer and serve excellent red and white wine.