Insider Guide: Best of Vienna
Vienna’s elegance and tradition find their greatest expression in the Inner City, or more formally, the First District.
Its three square kilometers are full of stunning architecture, highlighted by palaces, museums, theaters and churches. Most tourists stay in this small area to see the best of Vienna, then leave town thinking that’s all there is.
Pity, those people miss out on seeing what Vienna (population 1.7 million) is really about by exploring the outer districts.
There’s the Naschmarkt (snack market) where Viennese go to eat. There’s the Seventh District with its huge shopping street and Bohemian flair, funky coffeehouses and local designers. The Nineteenth District showcases a strong wine culture with vineyards inside the city limits.
After a day of touring the city, all-night partying awaits in multiple pubs, bars, restaurants and dance clubs.
The best of Vienna shows off a versatile city with more to offer than most people think.
You can live like a prince at the Hotel Imperial.
The building was originally constructed in 1863 as the Vienna residence of the Prince of Württemberg.
The stately palace on the magnificent Ring Boulevard was turned into the Hotel Imperial in 1873. It's still a best of Vienna hotel pick.
Kärntner Ring 16; +43 1 501 100; from €450 (US$583) per night; www.imperialvienna.com/en
nH Hotel on Mariahilferstraße supports the company’s claim to being one of the top 20 chains in the world.
It follows the company’s look with minimal style and clean lines.
The location is fantastic, right in the middle of Vienna’s biggest shopping street with an underground connection almost at the front door. Yet for all this, it still manages to remain quiet and tranquil.
Staff are friendly and check-in quick.
Mariahilfer Strasse32-34 (via Lindeng.9), 1070 Vienna; +43 1 52 17 20; from €90 (US$116) per night; www.nh-hotels.com
Next to the imperial summer palace and a five-minute walk from an underground station, this clean, budget hotel has an ideal location.
Rooms are spacious and there are a few that overlook a courtyard that offer quiet from the busy street outside.
Staff are friendly and speak good English. The breakfast is basic and unvaried but provides good coffee.
Schönbrunner Schloss Strasse 30; +43 1 815 50 27 0; from €70 (US$90) per night. www.pension-schoenbrunn.at
The dining scene in Vienna has exploded over the last few years. The city now offers cuisine from every part of the world ranging from trendy to traditional.
Considered one of the best restaurants in the world by prestigious Les Grandes Tables Du Monde, Steirereck offers painstakingly presented modern Austrian cuisine.
It uses fresh ingredients from the chef’s own farm.
Its location in the middle of a park offers a soothing escape from the bustle of the city.
Open weekdays only. Reservations are a must for lunch and dinner.
Am Heumarkt 2a/im Stadtpark; +43 1 713 31 68; expensive; www.steirereck.at
Plachutta is celebrated for its tafelspitz, the favored dish of Emperor Franz Josef.
The best of Vienna boiled beef comes with a side of applesauce spiked with horseradish, which makes a sweet and spicy combination.
Wollzeile 38; +43 1 512 15 7743; expensive; www.plachutta.at
Café Central is a coffeehouse first, but serves traditional Austrian food for lunch. During dinner the white linens come out to cover the marble tabletops.
The grand interior displays its palace setting to perfection, with a classical pianist serenading diners on select days.
Ecke Herrengasse/Strauchgasse; +43 1 533 37 63 ext. 24; mid-range; www.palaisevents.at
Bettel Student is a rowdy pub that serves reasonably priced, consistently good Austrian food. The upstairs seating area is usually quiet and not too crowded.
Johannesgasse 12; +43 1 513 20 44; budget; www.bettelstudent.at
For those seeking the best of Vienna, eating at a würstelstand (sausage stand) is an integral part of the local dining experience.
There are many stands strewn throughout the city, but the best is in front of the Albertina Museum.
There are a variety of sausages with the option of a side of bread and an Austrian Ottakringer beer or even champagne.
Vienna coffeehouses are an institution. Social life revolves around them as people go to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, business meetings, celebrations and above all, coffee and cake.
Demel was the Imperial and Royal Court Confectionary Bakery to the former Austrian royal family.
Though the emperor is gone, Demel hangs on tight to its traditions.
It continues to produce exquisite cakes created by hand. You can check them out behind glass walls in the back. Upstairs offers seating in pretty, parlor-like rooms.
Kohlmarkt 14; +43 (1) 535 17 170; www.demel.at
Sacher Café makes the delicious sachertorte, which has been delivered to almost every country in the world.
The recipe is kept secret and the country's best bakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate the iconic chocolate cake.
Philharmonikerstrasse 4; +43 (0)1 - 51 456 0; www.sacher.com
Nightlife in Vienna isn’t obvious even though the party week starts on Wednesday and on weekends goes all night long.
The Sofitel has a sophisticated bar that offers the absolute best view of the city.
The floor-to-ceiling glass windows lay a glittering Vienna at your feet.
The bar is well stocked. The restaurant's Austrian-French fusion is so-so. Reservations for the bar are necessary.
Praterstrasse 1; +43 (1) 906160; expensive; www.sofitel.com
The 25 hours hotel bar
The 25 hours hotel bar has a laid-back atmosphere, good vibe and cheap drinks. The best thing about the place is the large terrace.
A downside is that there can be a long line to get in; reservations aren't taken, so it's wait to get in or skip it.
Lerchenfelder Straße 1-3; +43 1 521 51 0; budget; www.25hours-hotels.com
Volksgarten-Pavillon is where Viennese go to dance late into the night during the hot summer months. The music is a mix of house, disco and party hits. The garden in the back is the highlight, with an outside bar and even a pool.
On Fridays and Saturdays, if you show up earlier than midnight, you might be the only one in the place.
Burgring 1 (Heldenplatz); +43 1 532 42 41; mid-range; www.volksgarten.at
Albertina Passage opened its doors in December 2011. It's now where the über-chic of Vienna comes to dance.
A major advantage is that there are a lot of seating nooks to sip your drinks in and get cozy with friends.
Passage Opernring/Operngasse; +43 1 512 08 13; expensive; www.albertinapassage.at
The major shopping street in Vienna’s First District, Kärntnerstraße, has one flagship store lined up after the other.
The usual suspects, sich as H&M and Zara, are present, but the German department store Peek & Cloppenburg dominates the scene by offering the best all-around shopping.
Kärntner Str. 29; +43 1 8904888 0; www.peek-cloppenburg.at
Just outside of the Inner City is the Naschmarkt.
Put up with the crowds and walk at a slow pace to see all the exotic (and often pricey) foods on display.
On Saturdays, the Naschmarkt expands to include Europe’s largest flea market. It’s fun to poke through all the dusty knickknacks even if many items are overpriced.
Cosed on Sundays and public holidays.
Wienzeile between Kettenbrücke und the Secession; +43 1 546 3405 430; www.wienernaschmarkt.eu
Peryd Shou Print Boutique
Peryd Shou Print Boutique believes that printing what you want on any surface is possible within 30 minutes.
The store is filled with bags, shirts, lampshades and even tea sets with unique prints from the imaginative to the bizarre.
Zollergasse 9-11; +43 1 522 46 70; www.perydshou.com
The Hot Dog
The Hot Dog is the result of designer Mandarina Brausewetter’s dream of producing streetwear to buy.
The trained graphic designer rose to fame in the graffiti scene.
Now she puts her designs on T-shirts, skirts and other articles of clothing that she makes in the back of her store.
Zollergasse 12; +43 1 236 8814; www.thehotdogs.org
With the tagline “fashion democracy,” useabrand encourages its shoppers to design their own clothes.
Its website allows users to pick the color, material and cut. Once a month designs are voted on by users and the winner is then produced and sold online and in the useabrand store.
Zollergasse 15; +43 1 699 11 47 8004; www.useabrand.com
The First District contains almost all of the best of Vienna's “must sees.” It's small enough to walk everywhere.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the iconic image of Vienna and an excellent display of Gothic architecture. It dominates the center of the city.
Its colorful roof is covered with 230,000 tiles that form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle representing Austria's former imperial family, the Habsburgs.
Inside there's an elevator that to the top with nice views of the city.
Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna; www.stephanskirche.at
The Hofburg Imperial Palace
The Hofburg Imperial Palace has 20 different sights and tours that entertain and inform visitors about Austrian history.
The most impressive is the Spanish Riding School where the white Lipizzaner horses perform to Strauss’ “The Blue Danube.” Tickets purchased in advance are necessary.
The Imperial Treasury boasts imperial crowns, jewels and a “unicorn” horn. However, the best tour is the Imperial Apartments Sisi Museum, with a refreshing honesty about the past Austrian Empress.
Hofburg-Michaelerkuppel; daily 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., July, August 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Guided tours for children: Saturday, Sunday, public holidays 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. www.hofburg-wien.at
Vienna Ring Boulevard
Lined with the most stunning architecture in the city, the 5,200-meter-long Vienna Ring Boulevard was created from 1860-1890 when the old city walls were torn down.
Best of Vienna architecture includes the neo-classic Parliament, Gothic City Hall, and State Opera, which received such criticism from the Viennese upon its opening that one of the head architects committed suicide.
The Ring is lined with so many beautiful buildings that the city runs a Vienna Ring Tram. It starts at Schwedenplatz and informs riders of the highlights en route during its 23-minute circuit.
Daily, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (Departure from Schwedenplatz) July and August 10 a.m.–7 p.m. www.wienerlinien.at
The exquisite baroque summer residence of the former imperial family, Schönbrunn Palace is located outside the First District.
A 30- or 60-minute tour gets you access to the living quarters of the ruling family, which display excellent examples of Rococo interior design.
The large baroque garden is filled with wonders, like the world’s oldest zoo and a public pool where the chic set cool off.
Schönbrunner Schlossstraße 47; +43 (1) 811 130; daily, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; www.schoenbrunn.at
The Giant Ferris Wheel
The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater Park is a landmark of Vienna.
Though the ride offers a bird’s-eye view of the Danube, lines can be long and for many not worth the wait. Photo opportunities from the ground looking up at the wheel can be really nice.
Prater 90, Riesenradplatz 1; www.wienerriesenrad.com
Attending a Viennese Ball is one of the most authentic experiences a tourist can participate in.
They're also a great way to get into parts of buildings normally closed to the public to see dazzling displays of imperial interior design.
Despite the formal setting and very strict dress code (men must wear tuxedos and women must wear floor-length gowns), balls are anything but stuffy with their long nights of dancing, live music and fun.
Balls vary in price and experience. Of the 450 ballshosted in Vienna each year, four stand out.
The Vienna Philharmonic Ball
The Vienna Philharmonic Ball is the most elegant ball, with Viennese society attending, including the President of Austria.
The Vienna Philharmonic performs during the opening ceremony, a real treat.
Bösendorferstrasse 12; www.wienerphilharmoniker.at
The Viennese Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball
The Viennese Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball is one of the top five balls in Vienna with more than 5,000 guests in attendance.
It’s hosted every year in the Imperial Palace, the Hofburg. The imperial ceremonial room where the emperor received guests is the most beautiful, with white marble and gold chandeliers.
Hofburg-Michaelerkuppel Vienna; www.kaffeesiederball.at
The Emperor’s Ball –- Le Grand Bal
The Emperor’s Ball –- Le Grand Bal is hosted at the Hofburg on New Year’s Eve. It's expensive and touristy, which does not make it the most interesting event to attend.
Hofburg-Michaelerkuppel Vienna; www.legrandbal.at
The Opera Ball
The Opera Ball is the most famous Vienna ball, with its big show of celebrities. The ball gets mixed reviews. Some find the grand experience transcendent; others say it comes off tacky due to the media circus around it.
Opernring 2; www.wiener-staatsoper.at
More information about Vienna's ball season can be found at events.wien.info
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