WHAT TO DO
Vienna is one of the most beautiful and civilized cities in the world. As the capital of Austria, and before that the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is a bastion of refinement. This city on the Danube River is an epicenter of classical music, modern design and cafe culture. Here you will find Baroque palaces, elegant coffee houses and masterpiece filled art museums. Vienna's imperial grandeur is the legacy of the powerful Habsburg Monarchy which ruled for nearly 650 years. With inviting cafes, historic landmarks and delicious cuisine, Vienna is a traveler's dream.
Vienna is best explored on foot and the first place to begin your adventure is in the heart of the historic center at Stephansplatz. This square is located in the oldest part of the city and its most prominent feature is the towering Gothic cathedral Stephansdom (Saint Stephen's Cathedral). It stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. From the exterior, the initial feature that will strike you is the glorious tiled roof with its dazzling row of chevrons and Austrian eagle. Inside, the magnificent Gothic stone pulpit presides over the main nave, fashioned in 1515 by Anton Pilgrim. The handrail of the stairway curving its way around the pillar from ground level to the pulpit has fantastic decorations of toads and lizards biting each other - symbolizing the fight of good against evil. At the top of the stairs, a stone puppy protects the preacher from intruders. The baroque high altar, at the far end of the main nave, shows the stoning of Saint Stephen. The chancel to its left has the winged Wiener Neustadt altarpiece, dating from 1447; the right chancel has the Renaissance red marble tomb of Emperor Frederick III. Under his guidance the city became a bishopric (the church a cathedral) in 1469. Stephansdom's massive south tower reached its final height of 450 feet in 1433, and today you can climb the 343 steps to a small platform for one of Vienna's most spectacular views over the rooftops of the Innere Stadt (Old Town). The cathedral has 23 bells in total - the largest is officially named for Saint Mary, but usually called Pummerin ("Boomer") and hangs in the north tower. At over 44 thousand pounds, it is the largest in Austria and the second largest swinging bell in Europe. Note: composer Ludwig van Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells' tolling but could not hear the bells. The area on Stephansplatz around the cathedral was originally a graveyard, but with plague and influenza epidemics striking Europe in the 18th century, Karl VI ordered the graveyard to be closed and henceforth Vienna buried its dead beneath Stephansdom in the 'New Tombs'. In the 19th century they became known as Katakomben (Catacombs), and now you can visit them only on a tour. From Stephansplatz, stroll along the pedestrian friendly Graben and Karntner Strasse until you reach the iconic Wien Staatsoper (Vienna Opera House). Few concert halls in the world can hold a candle to this neo Renaissance opera and ballet venue. Even if you can't snag a ticket to a performance, you can get a taste of the architectural brilliance and musical genius that have shaped this cultural bastion by taking a 40 minute guided tour. Note: tours (in English and German) generally depart on the hour between 10a and 4p. Built between 1861 and 1869 by August Siccardsburg and Eduard van der Null, the Staatsoper initially appalled the Viennese public and Habsburg royalty. Despite early criticism, it went on to house some of the most famous directors in history, including Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Guided tours take in highlights such as the foyer, graced with busts of Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn and frescoes of celebrated operas, and the grand staircase. The Gustav Mahler Hall is hung with tapestries inspired by Mozart's 'The Magic Flute'. You'll also get a behind the scenes look at the stage which raises the curtain on around 300 performances every year. Across the street at Albertinaplatz 3 is the Albertina museum. Once used as the Habsburgs' imperial apartments for guests, it is now a repository for what is regularly touted as the greatest collection of Modernist art in the world. The permanent Batliner Collection - with over 100 paintings covering the period from Monet to Picasso - and the high quality of changing exhibitions really make the Albertina a must visit.
Vienna has a number of superb museums and I recommend a visit to each of them. A masterpiece of total art, Schloss Belvedere is one of the world's finest baroque palaces. Designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, it was built for the brilliant military strategist Prince Eugene of Savoy, conqueror of the Turks in 1718. The first of the palace's two buildings is the Oberes Belvedere (Upper Belvedere), showcasing Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (1908) - the perfect embodiment of Viennese art nouveau, alongside other late 19th to early 20th century Austrian works. The lavish Unteres Belvedere (Lower Belvedere), with its richly frescoed Marmorsaal (Marble Hall), sits at the end of sculpture dotted gardens. The museum is open every day from 9a-6p. One of the unforgettable experiences of any trip to Vienna is a visit to the wonderful Kunsthistorisches Museum, brimming with works by Europe's finest painters, sculptors and artisans. Occupying a neoclassical building, the museum takes you on a time travel treasure hunt from Classical Rome to Egypt and the Renaissance. You could easily spend an entire day at the Kunst, but if your time is limited, head straight to the Picture Gallery and take in the Old Masters. The huge range of art amassed by the Habsburgs is extraordinary - do not miss Picture Gallery highlights such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's totally awesome The Tower of Babel (1563), Raphael's Madonna of the Meadow (1506) and Giuseppe Arcimboldo's Summer (1563). Before you leave, enjoy a coffee at the Cupola Hall Cafe and admire the surroundings. The hall is paneled with white marble and decorated in gold. Above you, one of the most ornate domed ceilings in Vienna lets in the sun. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-6p and is located at Maria Theresien Platz. Nearby at Museumsplatz is the excellent MuseumsQuartier. The MQ is a remarkable ensemble of museums, cafes, restaurants and bars inside former imperial stables designed by Fischer von Erlach. This complex is one of the world's most ambitious cultural hubs and is home to several fantastic museums along with a top notch book store. Of the numerous exhibition spaces, be sure to see the Leopold Museum and MUMOK. The Leopold has a white limestone exterior, a glass covered atrium and natural light flooding most rooms. It contains the world's largest collection of Austrian painter Egon Schiele's works. Among the standouts are The Self Seers Death and Man (1911) and Mother with Two Children (1915). Of the handful of works on display by Klimt, the unmissable is Death and Life (1915), a swirling amalgam of people juxtaposed by a skeletal grim reaper. Grab a drink at Cafe Leopold which sits on top of the Leopold Museum. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Tuesday. MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst) is a complete contrast to the Leopold with its dark basalt edifice and sharp corners. Inside, it contains the city's finest collection of 20th century art - focused on fluxus, nouveau realism, pop art and expressionism. Viennese Actionism evolved in the 1960s as a radical leap away from mainstream art in what some artists considered to be a restrictive cultural and political climate. Artists like Gunter Brus and Otto Muhl aimed to shock with their violent, stomach churning performance and action art, which often involved using the human body as a canvas. Other well known artists represented throughout the museum - Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Rene Magritte and Max Ernst - are positively tame in comparison. The museum is open every day from 10a-7p. Note: if you are planning on visiting several museums within the MQ, be sure to purchase the MQ Art Ticket from the MQ Point. Before leaving the MQ, stop in to the splendid Buchhandlung Walther Konig book store at Museumsplatz 1. A must for coffee table connoisseurs, this lofty space hosts a serious collection of books on art, photography, fashion and design - including a great range on the history of Viennese and Austrian art and design.
In 1897, a few progressive artists moved away from the mainstream Kunstlerhaus artistic establishment to form the Wiener Secession (Vienna Secession). Among them were Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser and Joseph Olbrich, who designed the new exhibition center of the Secessionists. Located at Friedrichstrasse 12, its biggest draw is Klimt's exquisitely gilded Beethoven Frieze (1902). The 14th exhibition held in the building featured the painting, which was intended to be a temporary display - it is now on permanent display in the basement. The small room you enter before viewing the frieze tells the story of the building. The Secession is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. Close by is the lively Naschmarkt, Vienna's most famous market. It began life as a farmers market in the 18th century when a law was passed, stating that fruit and vegetables arriving in town by cart had to be sold on Naschmarkt. There were plans to tear it down in 1965 - it was saved, and today the 'munch market' is not only the place to shop for food but has an antique market on Saturday. In all, there are over 120 fixed stalls including a slew of sit down restaurants. Some of my favorites include: Urbanek meats (stand 46), Kaseland cheese (stand 172) and Umar seafood (stand 76). From Naschmarkt, walk to the Karlsplatz U Bahn (metro) station and take the U1 (red line) to the Praterstern stop. You will exit to Prater, the city's largest park. Fringed by statuesque chestnut trees, this green space dates back to the time of the Austrian Empire when Emperor Joseph II made the Prater open to the public in 1766. Today, the park is home to the Wurstelprater amusement park and one of Vienna's most visible icons, the Riesenrad. Built in 1897 by Walter Basset, this grand Ferris wheel rises over 200 feet and takes about 20 minutes to complete its circle. Note: the Riesenrad was featured in the 1949 Orson Welles' film The Third Man, set in a shadowy postwar Vienna. After a spin on the big wheel, take the U1 (red line) to the Stephansplatz stop. From there, it is a short walk to Domgasse 5 and the Mozarthaus (Mozart House). The composer spent over two years at this residence between 1784 and 1787. Exhibits include copies of music scores and paintings, while free audio guides recreate the story of his time here. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart spent a total of eleven years in Vienna (he was born in Salzburg), changing residences frequently - of these the Mozarthaus is the only one that survives. Spread over three floors, the exhibition covers Mozart's vices and his music - it was in this house that he wrote The Marriage of Figaro. A surreal holographic performance of scenes from The Magic Flute is in one room, and in another is Mozart's bedroom with a few pieces of period furniture in glass cases to give a feel for the era. Mozarthaus is open every day from 10a-7p. Next, visit the former home of another legendary Austrian - Sigmund Freud. Located at Berggasse 19 in the Alsergrund neighborhood (9th district), just outside the Ringstrasse, is the Sigmund Freud Museum. It was in this apartment that the famous neurologist navigated the unconscious. This is where Freud spent his most prolific years and developed the most significant of his groundbreaking theories; he moved here with his family in 1891 and stayed until forced into exile by the Nazis in 1938. Freud's daughter helped to transform the apartment into this museum in 1971 - on display is a mirror she gave to her father along with the scarcely transformed waiting room area. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-6p and will be closed for refurbishment from March 2019 to May 2020. A temporary exhibition at Berggasse 13 will be available during this time. To ponder psychoanalytic theory, head to the lovely Stadtpark (City Park). Opened in 1862, this park is a tranquil pocket of greenery with winding paths and willow tree rimmed duck ponds. It's great for strolling or relaxing - the park spans the Wien River, which empties into the Danube. The most famous of the several statues inhabiting the park is the much photographed Johann Strauss Monument. It is a golden statue of a violin playing Johann Strauss (Blue Danube Waltz) under a white marble arch. Another beautiful monument to seek out can be found in the Burggarten (Castle Garden), a leafy oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the Ringstrasse and Innere Stadt. The marble statue of Mozart is the park's most famous tenant, but there's also a statue of Franz Josef in military garb.
I would now like to discuss Vienna's imperial splendor and the prominent landmarks of the Habsburg Monarchy. The Habsburgs were one of a handful of royal families who ruled nearly all of Europe until World War I. The Habsburg sights in and around Vienna can take up much of your time so I will focus on the places that are not to be missed. Begin at ground zero of the Habsburg Empire, the Hofburg Palace. Nothing symbolizes Austria's magnificent cultural heritage more than its Hofburg, home base of the royal family from 1273 to 1918. The oldest section is the 13th century Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard), named after the Swiss guards who used to protect its borders. The courtyard adjoins a larger courtyard, In der Burg, with a monument to Emperor Franz II adorning its center. The palace is massive, and now houses the Austrian president's offices and several museums. The Kaiserappartements, once the official living quarters of Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth, are dazzling in their chandelier lit opulence. Inside the Kaiserappartements, the popular Sisi Museum is devoted to Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi. A partial reconstruction of her luxurious coach is a highlight, but it's the details that give a feel for the life of the empress: a reconstruction of the dress she wore on the eve of her wedding and her sunshade, fans and gloves. Tragically, Sisi was assassinated in Geneva, Switzerland by an Italian anarchist in 1898. Note: multilingual audio guides are included in the admission price and combo tickets allow you to visit most of the exhibits at a discount. The Kaiserliche Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) contains treasures of priceless value - the sheer wealth of this collection of crown jewels is staggering. As you walk through the rooms you see spectacular treasures such as a golden rose, diamond studded Turkish sabres, a 2680 carat Colombian emerald and, the highlight of the treasury, the imperial crown. The wood paneled Sacred Treasury has a collection of rare religious relics: fragments of the True Cross, the Holy Lance that pierced Jesus on the Cross, one of the nails from the Crucifixion, a thorn from Christ's crown and a piece of tablecloth from the Last Supper. A short walk from the Hofburg is Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church), located at Tegethoffstrasse 2. It opened in 1632 as a church and monastery of the order of the Friars Minor Capuchin and famously contains the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt), the final resting place of most of the Habsburgs. A total of 149 Habsburgs are buried here, including Empress Elisabeth. The hearts reside in the palace church and the organs are below the cathedral. Conclude your Habsburg experience at the sprawling Schloss Schonbrunn (take the U4 green line to Schonbrunn), outside the city center. The Habsburgs' overwhelmingly opulent summer palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Of the palace's 1441 rooms, 40 are open to the public; the Imperial Tour takes you into 26 of these, including the private apartments of Franz Josef and Sisi, while the Grand Tour covers all 40 and includes the precious 18th century interiors from the time of Maria Theresia. These mandatory tours are done with an audio guide or, for an additional charge, a tour guide. Note: due to the popularity of the summer palace, I suggest booking tickets in advance online for a specific timed entry. After exploring inside the palace, head out back and wander the Schloss Schonbrunn Gardens. The beautifully tended formal gardens of the summer palace were opened to the public by Joseph II in 1779. From 1772 to 1781 architect Ferdinand Hetzendorf added some final touches to the park under the instructions of Joseph II: the Gloriette in 1775, fake Roman ruins in 1778, the Neptunbrunnen (Neptune Fountain), a riotous ensemble from Greek mythology, in 1781. The original Schoner Brunnen fountain gushes near the Roman ruins while the baroque Irrgarten - a maze complex - is a late 20th century recreation with classical labyrinthian hedges, a viewing platform, puzzles and a contemporary playground designed by famous designer Gunter Beltzig. To the east of the palace is the Kronprinzengarten (Privy Garden), planted with citrus and flush with pergolas. With its ornate parterres and octagonal pools, the Kronprinzengarten is a replica of the original baroque garden created in the 1750s. Note: there is no fee to see the gardens.
There is hardly any other city in Europe that offers such a variety of historically and architecturally diverse churches as Vienna. I would like to conclude by sharing some of my favorites. It is without doubt that the previously mentioned Stephansdom (Saint Stephen's Cathedral) is the most impressive church in town. It is one of the true landmarks of Vienna. Another magnificent church is Karlskirche (Saint Charles' Church), located at Karlsplatz. Built between 1716 and 1739, after a vow by Karl VI at the end of the 1713 plague, Vienna's finest baroque church rises at the southeast corner of Resselpark. It was designed and commenced by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and completed by his son Joseph. The huge elliptical copper dome reaches 240 feet; the highlight is the elevator to the cupola (included in admission) for a close up view of the intricate frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr. The enormous twin columns at the front are modeled on Trajan's Column in Rome and show scenes from the life of Saint Charles Borromeo (who helped plague victims in Italy), to whom the church is dedicated. Peterskirche (Saint Peter's Church) can be found at Petersplatz in the old town. One of the city's prettiest churches, the Peterskirche was built in 1733 according to plans of the celebrated baroque architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. Interior highlights that make a visit highly worthwhile include a fresco on the dome painted by JM Rottmayr (also painted Karlskirche) and a golden altar depicting the martyrdom of Saint John of Nepomuk. Note: regular organ recitals and concerts are held here in the evenings. Ruprechtskirche (Saint Rupert's Church) dates from 740 and is the oldest church in Vienna. The lower levels of the tower date from the 12th century, the roof from the 15th century and the iron Renaissance door on the west side of the building from the 1530s. The interior of the church has a Romanesque nave from the 12th century. Last but certainly not least is Michaelerkirche (Saint Michael's Church) at Michaelerplatz, close to the Hofburg. Dating from the 13th century, its highlight is the burial crypt which you can see on 40 minute bilingual German/English tours at 11a and 1p Monday through Saturday. Tours take you past coffins, some revealing occupants preserved by the rarefied air of the crypt. One hour bilingual church tours run at 1p and 3p on Wednesday. A pleasant way to end your tour of Vienna is by enjoying a ride in a horse drawn carriage (fiaker). You can hire a two horse carriage at Michaelerplatz, the cobblestone circular 'square' that is ringed by gorgeous architecture.
WHERE TO EAT
Vienna has plenty of great places to eat, drink and indulge in something sweet. The Viennese coffee house is a typical institution of Vienna that played an important part in shaping Viennese culture. Since October 2011, the 'Viennese Coffee House Culture' is listed as 'Intangible Cultural Heritage' in the Austrian inventory of the National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a part of UNESCO. Coffee in Viennese coffee houses is presented on a small silver tray with a spoon, sugar and a small glass of tap water - sometimes even a chocolate. There are a great deal of these types of cafes all over town and I would like to share a few of my favorites. There is no better place to start your day than at Cafe Central, located at Herrengasse 14. Opened in 1876, it is perhaps the most traditional and famous of the Viennese kaffeehauses (coffee houses). It was here that Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky would take their daily caffeine under the cathedral like ceiling. Though a full menu is on offer, it is Central's daily excellent selection of tortes and cakes that attract the crowds. Do try the apfeltorte (layers of apple encased in a buttery, sugared confection). Cafe Braunerhof can be found at Stallburggasse 2 - this traditional coffee house has been a haunt of writers from the 19th century to the present. Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernard was one famous regular. Don't miss the cafe's sweet apricot cake, which pairs well with a bitter coffee. Unlike other Viennese cafes with lavish interiors, Cafe Pruckel features an intact 1950s design. Located at Stubenring 24, it has cozy booths, strong coffee, diet destroying cakes and the house specialty - its crispy, flaky apple strudel served with cream. The first cafe added to Vienna's Ringstrasse (Karntner Ring 17), Cafe Schwarzenberg was built in the 1860s and is still serving coffees and cakes. Do not miss the delightful traditional Viennese breakfast - served with a hard roll, a croissant, a jar of local jam and a soft boiled egg. Cafe Sperl opened in 1880 and is at Gumpendorfer Strasse 11. Like at all the iconic coffee houses, the coffee itself is perfectly prepared and you can spend hours in the cozy velvet booths enjoying a Sperl Torte - an almond and chocolate cream dream. Cafe Landtmann opened its doors in 1873 at Universitatsring 4. It has a long list of traditional coffees and the dessert menu features a variety of yummy treats. I saved my 2 favorites for last - Demel and Cafe Sacher. Located at Kohlmarkt 14 within sight of the Hofburg, Demel is an elegant cafe with a stunning rococo period salon. The specialties of the house are the Ana Demel Torte and the Eduard Sacher Torte. The window displays an ever changing array of edible art pieces and with the cafe's iconic pastel packaging, it's a fantastic option for souvenirs. Cafe Sacher can be found inside the legendary Hotel Sacher at Philharmonikerstrasse 4, across the street from the Vienna Opera House. With a battalion of well dressed waiters, this grand cafe is celebrated for its world famous Sacher Torte (a wonderfully rich chocolate cake with apricot jam and served with cream), once favored by Emperor Franz Josef and today enjoyed by Prince Michael Lichtstein.
For lunch, head to Griechenbeisl at Fleischmarkt 11. Dating from 1447 and frequented by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Strauss among other luminaries, Vienna's oldest restaurant has vaulted rooms and wood paneling. You can't go wrong here, every classic Viennese dish is on the menu along with three daily vegetarian options. Note: if the weather is warm, head to the plant fringed front garden. A completely different experience awaits you at Phil, found at Gumpendorferstrasse 10. This hip joint with a vintage shop and book store serves some excellent grub. It has a relaxed vibe and attracts a bohemian crowd happy to hang out on kitsch furniture, which is available for purchase. Cafe Mozart is located at Albertinaplatz 2 and has been in business since 1794. It serves classic Viennese dishes and cakes - Tafelspitz (boiled beef) with creamed spinach potato salad and Rehrucken (chocolate almond mousse dipped in dark chocolate). Vollpension can be found at Schleifmuhlgasse 16 - this white painted brick space with mismatched vintage furniture does some serious cakes. Traditional red wine organic goulash with bread dumplings and frankfurter sausages with fresh horseradish mustard are two of the house favorites. For some serious street food, head to the nearby (and previously mentioned) Naschmarkt and sample some grub from the several stalls. My favorite street food stand and probably the most popular in town is at Albertinaplatz 1, behind the Vienna Opera House. Bitzinger Wurstelstand has cult status and for good reason. It serves up tasty sausages (sliced or in a bread roll) with ketchup and mustard until 4a. Note: be sure to try a Kasekrainer - pork sausage studded with gooey Emmenthaler cheese and smoked over apple wood with horseradish. Other sausage stands worth a visit include Wurstelstand at Hoher Markt 1 and Zum scharfen Rene at Schwarzenbergplatz 15.
For dinner, make your way to Figlmuller at Backerstrasse 6 (the original location is around the corner at Wollzeile 5 and only serves wine). This famous beisl (bistro) has a rural decor and some of the biggest and best schnitzels in town. They also do a nice Zwiebelrostbraten (thinly sliced, pan fried sirloin steak topped with crispy fried onion) and desserts such as Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and served with hot plum sauce). Hidden downstairs at Breite Gasse 4 in the MuseumsQuartier (follow the signs from MUMOK), Glacis Beisl is a stylish and intimate venue for classic and innovative Viennese cuisine, with a plant filled garden. It does an authentic goulash, an accomplished Wiener Schnitzel (thin, breaded, pan fried veal cutlet) and some other Austrian favorites, which you can wash down with local Viennese red and white wines. An additional spot for great Wiener Schnitzel is Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper at Walfischgasse 5. This must try dish is prepared according to the original recipe, uses the choicest cut of veal and is served with potato salad. Wash it down with a local beer or perhaps some schnapps - Mikey likes the Williams Pear Schnapps. If you're inclined to try Tafelspitz (boiled beef in broth, served with a mix of root vegetables, minced apples and horseradish), then the sister restaurant Plachutta, located at Wollzeile 38, is your place. Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer is one of Vienna's oldest and most renowned restaurants. It can be found at Weihburggasse 4 and offers the best of Viennese cuisine, in a unique atmosphere. The service is excellent and the food is sourced from local farms. I enjoyed the sauerkraut soup and the braised lamb shoulder with artichokes and sweet peppers. I finished off with the apple strudel and a wee bit of schnapps. Another fantastic location in the Innere Stadt is Zum Schwarzen Kameel at Bognergasse 5. It is an eclectic deli/patisserie/wine bar hybrid, but is above all worth a visit for the inventive cuisine in its wood paneled restaurant upstairs. Menu highlights include: grilled lobster with truffled pea ragout, Styrian chicken with saffron risotto and steak stuffed with blue cheese and grappa soaked raisins served with roasted artichokes. The wine list is outstanding and the desserts are glorious. My last 2 dinner recommendations are both Michelin starred restaurants and require advanced bookings. Located at Dorotheergasse 6, Blue Mustard is an experience and a culinary journey around the world. Backlit wood hand carvings of Stephansdom's Gothic windows, a wall to wall neon lit map of Vienna and a street food truck parked in the foyer make this one of the city's hottest culinary destinations. Star chef Alexander Mayer's 'Journey' tasting menus take you from Vienna all over the world with spectacular cocktail pairings. Global stops include: Vienna (trout, horseradish, flat beans and parsley), Seoul (pork neck, white kimchi, shiitake, plum and rice noodle) and Marrakesh (nutmeg pumpkin, butternut squash, couscous, walnuts and mint). I enjoyed The Silver Surf cocktail (gin, pecan nuts and tonic) and the El Cipote (tequila, aloe vera liqueur and pineapple juice). Street food from the retro gold truck spans Vietnamese spring rolls to fajitas and falafel. Note: the restaurant opens at 5p and is closed Sunday and Monday. Found at Am Heumarkt 2a in Stadtpark is Steirereck. Chef Heinz Reitbauer is at the culinary helm of this two starred Michelin restaurant, beautifully located inside a 20th century former dairy building. His tasting menus with wine pairings are an exuberant feast, fizzing with natural flavors that speak of a chef with exacting standards. Rotating seasonal menus feature local trout paired with melon, cucumber and pea shoots followed by milk fed veal with melon, eggplant and sorrel. Be sure to save room for the legendary cheese trolley or delectable desserts such as milk and hay with raspberries. The service by white gloved waiters is flawless. Note: the restaurant opens at 630p and is closed Saturday and Sunday.
Vienna has plenty of cool spots to enjoy a drink and take in some fine entertainment - I would like to share a few of my favorites. Start at Loos Bar, located at Karntner Durchgang 10 in the Innere Stadt. Also known as 'American Bar', it is decorated in 1950s style with green leather couches and a parquet ceiling. Loos is the place for a classic cocktail such as its signature dry martini, expertly whipped up by talented mixologists. Designed by Adolf Loos in 1908, this intimate space can accommodate up to twenty patrons. Staying patriotic, Kruger's American Bar retains some of its original decor from the 1920s. Found at Krugerstrasse 5 near the Opera House, this dimly lit, wood paneled American style bar is a legend in Vienna. It is furnished with leather Chesterfield sofas and plays the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the like. Kruger's is open every day at 6p and its drinks list is impressive. Barfly's Club is at Esterhazygasse 33 and does some of the best drinks in town. This low lit, sophisticated bar is well known for its 500 strong cocktail list and intimate ambience. It is decorated with photos of Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe and other prominent people. Just down the street at Esterhazygasse 12 is Miranda Bar. With a pastel pink feature wall, a turquoise marble counter and white leather stools, this joint is a bright alternative to the city's more serious cocktail hideouts. Favored by a younger crowd, its seasonal menu runs from Earl Grey infused gins to the Bunny & Clyde (vodka, coconut cream, fresh carrot and lemon juice). Located at Billrothstrasse 31, SLUbar is a parade of luminous purple lighting, violet walls and heavy lavender drapery which would have made Prince feel right at home. Serving over 300 varieties of gin, its knowledgeable staff know which elderflower infused tonic best matches which bourbon vanilla gin, and can even create cocktail combinations based upon your mood. Note: the bar opens at 6p and is closed on Sunday. If you fancy more gin or perhaps some local wine, then Vinogin is your next destination. The name says it all - the twin specialties of this spot with large chalk scrawled blackboards are wine and gin. Many of the wines are from producers in Vienna's outer districts; there are also Austrian gins as well as boutique international varieties, with over 100 different labels in all. Vinogin can be found at Fleischmarkt 28 and is a cash only establishment. There are 2 additional places where you can enjoy local wines. The first is Achtundzwanzig, located at Schlosselgasse 28. Austrian wine fans will feel like they've found paradise at this vinothek (wine bar) that vibes casual but takes its wines super seriously. Wines by the glass are all sourced from small producers and are well priced at under 4 euros (5 usd) a glass. Note: the bar opens at 4p and is closed on Sunday. The second is Weinstube Josefstadt, found at Piaristengasse 27. Set in a leafy green oasis spliced between residential buildings, it is one of the loveliest stadtheurigen (city wine taverns) in Vienna. The atmosphere is friendly and the wine is local and inexpensive. Note: it is open every day at 4p and the location is not well signposted - look for the metal green wreath hanging above a doorway.
Conclude your evening in Vienna by attending a musical performance. You might want to go to the opera or ballet at the glorious Staatsoper. Keep in mind that tickets can be expensive and are usually purchased up to months in advance - there is also a strict dress code. Note: I highly recommend standing room tickets. These tickets allow you to watch a show (standing) and always go on sale the day of a performance 90 minutes before showtime. It is the only opera house in the world to offer 567 standing room spaces every evening, and the best part is tickets are only 3 or 4 euros (less than 5 usd). Lines start to form hours before tickets are released to the public. If you're not crazy about waiting in line for hours, you can easily acquire a ticket for a classical concert. Several churches and music halls put on Mozart presentations every night. I attended one at the beautiful Peterskirche (Saint Peter's Church) and another at the opulent Musikverein (Music Society). It holds the proud title of the best acoustics of any concert hall in Austria, which the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra embraces. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik indeed.
WHERE TO STAY
Vienna offers a number of places to call home during your stay. There are 2 superb hotels in particular that I highly recommend. Both are in a prime location and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Hotel Sacher, located at Philharmonikerstrasse 4. Stepping into this grand hotel is like going back in time one hundred years. The lobby has dark wood paneling, original oil paintings, deep red shades and heavy gold chandeliers. Opened in 1876, it is located across the street from the Opera House and is a short walk from the Hofburg Palace. Art nouveau style rooms with chandeliers and ornate furnishings feature free WiFi, flat screen TVs, minibars and iPod docks. Other amenities include a lavish Viennese restaurant with a terrace overlooking the opera, the Cafe Sacher (you get a taste of the famous torte on arrival) and a plush bar. Additional perks include a full service spa with a herbal sauna and an ice fountain.
A second option is Hotel Bristol, located around the corner at Karntner Ring 1. Opened in 1892, it is a place to revel in Vienna's artistic grandeur. This dignified hotel is right next door to the magnificent Opera House and a pleasant walk from the spectacular Saint Stephen's Cathedral. Rooms are furnished in the elegantly ornate style of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and come with complimentary WiFi, minibars, sitting areas and flat screen TVs. Upgraded rooms have balconies, old world decor and fireplaces. Other amenities include a refined restaurant, a dark toned bar and a stylish lounge with a piano.
Vienna is loaded with history, culture, music, charm and great food. It treated me very well and I look forward to returning. Wien ist wunderbar.