“Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’ll go inside, pack my little bags, and return to Vienna where I belong.” – Elsa in The Sound of Music
Fun fact: Despite the popularity of the musical in America and the fact that many Americans have learned most of what they know about Austria just from the movie, the number of Austrians who have actually seen or even heard of The Sound of Music is really unbelievably low.
The beautiful country of Austria has so much more to offer than what you see in the movie. I have no doubt that I will be writing more posts and posting more pictures about different places in Austria. If, like many travelers, you only have a limited amount of time to visit the whole country, chances are you will spend a day or two in the capital city of Vienna. Hopefully this post will be a good starting point to plan out your top priorities when visiting this deeply historic city!
One of my best friends recently visited me from the States. She arrived late Friday night into Vienna International Airport and we stayed in Vienna until Sunday afternoon. Here is how we spent our day and a half in Vienna, seeing as much as we could without stressing out too much. As a little added bonus, I have added some destinations from past trips at the end too!
Our first stop was the historic Naschmarkt just outside the southwest corner of the Ringstraße (the circular street surrounding the Inner Stadt – the main historic section of Vienna). Its origins trace back to the 16th century and you can find restaurants, foods, and goods from all over the world here. Note: It is closed on Sundays
Naturally we took our first of many coffee stops (well… I usually get a chai latte) at Café Savoy to combat the jetlag and to check out the Altbau, which is the old construction style with the high ceilings. (And there is a pretty nice bathroom here.)
After we finished our rounds at the Naschmarkt (and obviously tasting some of the delicious samples that the vendors were handing out), we walked on over to Karlskirche. Strolling around the fountain in front and basking in the beauty of the church already made the walk worth it; but for a couple Euros, you can go into the sanctuary. There is currently (as of April, 2018) some metal scaffolding inside of the dome. Although it is a bit out of place, the bright side is that there is an elevator up to the top, which provides an up close look at the murals on the ceiling and a panoramic view over the city.
Outside of the church, we decided to check out the offer for tickets to the Mozart and Strauss Concert in Schönbrunn Palace. At all of the big “tourist” spots in the city, there are people selling concert tickets (you’ll know who they are by their baroque-style costumes). I was originally skeptical; but I have bought tickets from people at the Opera House, outside St. Stephens, and now outside of Karlskirche, and have never been scammed. And, fun tip: you can usually get tickets cheaper there (and often get further discounts or seat upgrade if you ask) than you can get online. For this concert, we paid about 35 Euros each for the middle section. Vienna is known for its classical music; so this is personally one of my favorite things to do. Plus, the dress code for many of these concerts is just on the nice side of casual.
After getting our tickets for the evening, we hopped on the U-Bahn (the subway in Vienna) to head to the Rathaus. By the way, the subway system in Vienna is incredibly safe, inexpensive, and easy to use and navigate. Just make sure that you purchase a ticket at the stations at the self-serve kiosks, then get the ticket time-stamped at the blue boxes before entering the train. There are not always controllers on the train checking tickets; but if they do and you do not have a ticket, there are pretty hefty fines (over 100€). It is also walk-able if you would rather. We discovered that it was the weekend of the Argus Bike Festival, which made the experience that much cooler, seeing the old architecture mixed with the modern festival.
We walked around the festival and past the parliament building before making our way to the Museumsquartier. It had a college campus vibe and there was a Designmarkt with all handmade goods like jewelry, bags, clothes, and much more. Across the street we wandered to Maria-Theresien-Platz. At Christmas time, it is home to a wonderful Weihnachtsmarkt; but in the warm weather it is filled with picnickers enjoying the sun and sights.
Before heading home to change into warmer and nicer clothes for the evening’s concert, we stopped at Eiles Café. There was no way that we were leaving Vienna without eating the traditional Wienerschnitzel, Rindgulasch, potato salad and of course an Apfelstrudel and another cappuccino and chai latte.
To finish out the day, we took the U-Bahn out to Schönbrunn Palace. We arrived about an hour early in order to walk around the grounds before the concert started. It is not to be missed. The oldest zoo in the world is open during the day, and during open hours, there is a great tour of the palace if you have some extra time. When my family was visiting for Christmas, we spent most of a day here and had a wonderful time. The concert itself was held in the Mirrors Room, where six-year-old Mozart likely performed his first concert in 1762 in front of Empress Maria Theresa. It’s so incredible to sit there and wonder what kinds of magic those walls have seen.
Sunday morning we started at the unassuming but ornately ivy-covered Rupertskirche. It is traditionally recognized as the oldest church in Vienna; but some more recent discoveries have caused some dispute. Regardless, it is said to have been built in the year 740, which is pretty impressive for an American visitor.
Walking through one of the oldest sections of the city, the Roman Vindobona (Roman military camp), we made our way to St. Stephens’s Cathedral. Known in German as Stephansdom, it’s easy to see why it is one of the most iconic sites in all of Vienna. It is a must-see, both outside and in. The glazed-tile roof is iconic – especially the mosaics of the eagles one each side (which are not pictured here). On the South side is the double-headed eagle, which is a symbol of the Austrian Empire under the Habsburgs. On the North side, there are two one-headed eagles, one of which carries the coat of arms of Vienna, and the other carries the coat of arms of the modern-day Republic of Austria.
Stephansplatz is located on the pedestrians-only “Graben”. To get a good vibe of the inner city, take a stroll around, check out the shops, and (like us) stop for a coffee and/or ice cream at one of the cafés with outdoor seating for some people-watching. Along the way, make sure to stop at the “Wiener Pestsäule” (in English – Vienna Plague Column), which is a column from the late 17th century after Emperor Leopold I vowed to have it built if the Great Plague (which killed an estimated 76,000 Viennese residents) would end.
Since Vienna is arguably one of the most influential classical music cities in the entire world, it is only appropriate to see the Vienna State Opera House.
From the northern corner of the Opera House, we made our way up to Augustinerstraße, past Josefplatz and the stalls for the Spanish Riding School’s Lipizzan horses, to Michaelerplatz. Besides the beautiful statues and fountains decorating the Hofburg Palace, there is an open display of the ancient urban Roman ruins. If you want a horse carriage ride, this is a good place to check that out.
Head through the archway of the palace. Note: if you need a bathroom, there is a public toilet in this square (when you walk through the dome, turn right and go to the far corner). We continue out the other side of the square, and were welcomed by an incredible view of our last inner-city site. This plaza is a chilling reminder about why it is so important to get out and see the world – history is very real. In 1938, Hitler gave a speech from this balcony about Austria joining Germany in WWII.
Although I know how incredibly important history is, I always had a hard time getting truly excited about it. I think that it was difficult for me to envision it and feel like it is really real (even though it obviously is). But being in a place like Vienna, with such deep and visible history, has really turned on my appreciation for it all. When you are standing where so much actually happened, your history books come to life and take on a whole new feel. It can make you feel small and insignificant; but it can also make you feel empowered and like you have the chance to make a real impact on the world as just one person. It inspires me to strive to leave the world at least a little better and richer.
BONUS: Here are three other sites I have visited in Vienna which I think are worth checking out if you have the time!
Wiener Prater: It is a large public park and amusement park, which is home to the famous Viennese Ferris Wheel.
Belvedere Palace: These two Baroque palaces are gorgeous. The art museum is impressive to say the least and has fantastic grounds to walk around.
Weihnachtsmarkt: If you happen to go around Christmas time, it’ll be hard to miss the Christmas Markets. If you’re above drinking age, make sure to get a Gluhwein (hot spiced wine) to warm you up. But a hot chocolate is a good idea at any age!
… And of course, just walking around and seeing everything else the city has to offer is totally recommended! Happy traveling!