Ah Vienna, Vienna, is there anywhere quite as Europeanly and extrovertly elegant as the Austrian capital?
The country’s federal capital and largest city (it’s home to a mere 1.9million people) and is renowned for its Baroque, Classicist and Art Nouveau architecture, its imperial palaces, its museums, parks and nightlife (apparently there ere are over 450 balls per year, some featuring as many as nine live orchestras.). Not to mention the odd musical luminary, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert.
You may be put off adding Vienna to your Interrailing itinerary because you think it’s expensive (after all, it is the capital of one of the world’s richest nations) and maybe just a little dull. If that is the case, then think again – avoiding the tourist traps means you can eat and drink at a reasonable price — and if you do your research you can grab bargains for everything from opera tickets (there are often free screenings on a giant screen outside the State Opera in May and June) to food, with most restaurants offering lower price lunch menus. There’s also a great public transport system at a fair price covering the entire city. Hey, millions of visitors can’t be wrong and Vienna recorded 15,510,000 visitor bed nights in 2017 alone. Here’s our essentials guide.
The essentials – top five
Schönbrunn Palace – The opulent summer residence of dynasty rulers, The Hapburgs, the Schönbrunn is a Unesco World Heritage site, offering a mind boggling 1,441 rooms. A more manageable 26 rooms are open to public view via the Imperial Tour, which includes the private apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his empress Sisi. For those who want a little bit more, the Grand Tour covers 40 rooms and includes the precious 18th-century interiors from the time of Maria Theresia, the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. Elaborate, extravagant and utterly breathtaking, this is a must-do when in the city.
The Belvedere palaces – Built in the early eighteenth century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, the Upper and Lower Belvedere and extensive garden is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Truly stunning in its own right, the Belvedere is also home to the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. The artwork on show includes the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings, such as his most famous and sensual work, The Kiss (Lovers).
Take in the view from 65 metres up – The Riesenrad is a 64.75-metre (212 ft) tall Ferris wheel at the entrance of the Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt, the city’s 2nd district. Now a landmark of Vienna, the wheel has operated for over 100 years – so not only are you getting to enjoy the view, but you’re enjoying a real slice of history too. A ticket costs roughly €12pp with the ride lasting around 20 minutes, and a handy sky-line map inside each carriage points out major landmarks.
Hofburg Palace – Yes, another palace, But this is Vienna – this is the city of palaces, each one individual and magnificent and resplendently evocative of another time. The Hofburg lies at the centre of Vienna and is the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburgs. Today it us used as the official residence and offices of the President of Austria, as well as home to a number of museums, including the Sisi Museum, the imperial apartments and the imperial silver collection.
Grab a coffee in style – After all that palace hopping, you certainly deserve to kick back and chill over a coffee and a bun. And where else would you do that in Vienna other than Café Sacher? It is renowned for its Sacher Torte, an iced-chocolate cake with apricot jam once favoured by Emperor Franz Josef. You can dine on the terrace but we suggest enjoying your treat in the immaculate and opulent interior, a room of polished floors, of deep reds and creams and sparkling glassware. After all in Vienna, where else would you sip a cup of coffee other than below a chandelier in one of the cities most renowned cafes?
The Budget or Broke Recommendation (i.e. free)
If you’re hitting the city in the summer then go like a local and, when the mercury soars, hit Danube Island – a favourite spot for sunbathers and swimmers. For those after a little more activity, there’s also boating, cycling, hiking, surfing, skating and beach volleyball – there’s even a water slide and a water ski lift. The 21km long island can be reached from the city centre via subway lines U1 and U6.
Austrians tend to go heavy on the meat dishes, such as Wiener schnitzel (veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried), Wiener wurstel (Viennese Sausages), Austrian goulash (a hearty beef stew seasoned with tomatoes, onion, and paprika) and Tafelspitz (Beef or Veal Boiled in Broth With Vegetables). Just don’t forget to leave room for dessert – Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel) or Powidltascherl (Plum Jam Turnovers),
The city offers a combination system of busses, trams, trains and newer subway lines, which means makes getting around Vienna easy and efficient. In addition, transport within Vienna city limits is integrated, meaning that one ticket is valid on any form of public transport. Tickets can be bought from ticket offices or machines situated in railway and underground stations and at the larger bus/tram stops as well as most Tabaks (shops selling newspapers, cigarettes etc – look for the ‘TABAK’ sign outside) or online.
If you’re planning to be in the city for a few days, consider the 24 hour travelcard (24-Stunden Wien), 48 hour travelcard (48-Stunden Wien) or (72-Stunden Wien). Tickets must be validated in the blue machines either on the platforms or on board (buses & trams only) – the period of validity starts at the time stamped on the ticket.