In 2018, I made my first visit to Austria. It was two nights and three days in the capital city of Vienna – no opportunity to get outside the city given the limited time – and I was charmed.
The city airport train offers a 16-minute ride into the city, after which you will likely need to connect to another line to reach your destination.
You can also take the local train service, which is slower but less expensive. We took Uber, which when you have multiple passengers and luggage, struck us as worth the modest price – about €25.
Where to stay
There are many choices, but we stayed at the SO/Sofitel. The location is excellent, just on the river across from the north side of the old city.
Splurge for a room with a view of the river and the old city – it is worth it. The view is spectacular. Service at the SO/Sofitel is top-notch, too. Attentive, friendly and helpful with whatever questions or requests you have.
If you chose not to stay at the hotel, at least go for a sunset drink at the bar on the top floor. You get the same spectacular view and Vienna is especially pretty at sunset.
The old city – the historic heart of Vienna – is completely walkable. At a modest pace, it takes about a half-hour to walk across it. The subway and tram system is very convenient and you can purchase passes at the stations. Recommendation: when you arrive, ride the #1 tram, which makes the loop of the old city. This is a good way to orient yourself to the city and see where many of the main sights are in relation to one-another.
What to see
Vienna is chock-a-block with museums, palaces and a beautiful cathedral. The Opera House, above, is spectacular. They are all probably worth your time to see the inside of, but as we were on a two-day visit, we didn’t go into any. Rick Steve’s guide of what to see is probably a good bet.
One thing that I did find worth the effort was the short trip to ride the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park. Built in 1897, this 64.75-meter tall ferris wheel was the tallest until 1985. It’s hefty steel frame reminds me of the Eiffel Tower and offers a nice view of the city. Take the subway to the Praterstern station and then walk five minutes towards the giant wheel. You buy single-ride tickets downstairs, €10 at the time of writing. Official website here.
Where to eat?
What we did do a lot of (besides walking) was eating. Vienna is known for its cafe scene – the coffee houses were where the intellectuals from Wittgenstein to Freud to Buehler whiled away the hours and shaped the world.
A few things about the coffee houses:
- The waiters are proudly rude. Don’t take it personally. They also expect a gratuity, rounding up to the even amount around 5-10%.
- When you arrive, you can seat yourself at any available table. Beware the “reserved” signs. Have your hotel call in advance and reserve you a nice seat – or some of the restaurant’s websites allow you to reserve.
- A few of the cafes are cash-only. Always a good idea to check before ordering or make sure you are carrying some cash.
Cafe Landtmann is on the west side of the city center and traces its roots to 1873. The service was actually quite hospitable and they have a daily lunch menu which is a steal:: I had three tasty courses, a glass of wine and a coffee for under €24. On a sunny day, a seat on the veranda is a nice choice.
Cafe Hummel is to the west of the city center a short tram ride away. Located on a small plaza, it has good food and the service is accessible to English speakers. The knödel mit ei and kaiserschmarren are both good choices – very local and tasty.
Cafe Prückel is on the east of the city center. It is celebrating 114 years and looks like it stopped remodeling about 70 years ago! The service isn’t super-warm but the food is pretty tasty. I had a goulash that was loaded with flavor.
Figls is the more contemporary addition to the Figlmüller family’s chain of restaurants – the original is the eponymous Figlmüller in the 1st district, an authority on the Wiener Schnitzel. Located about 5 kilometers northwest of the city center and really easy to get to with public transportation or Uber, Figls is a beer garden and sausage house that is worth a trip. Welcoming service and tasty food and beer.
Zwölf Apostelkeller (Twelve Apostles’ Cellar) is an ancient underground space that dates from the 1300s. The restaurant itself is only from 1952 and specializes in Viennese classics and good wines. It is located in the old city on the northern side, just ten minutes’ walk from the SO/Sofitel. Could it be a bit of a tourist trap? Maybe. But for a first dinner in Vienna, we were pretty happy with the experience.
We did go to two other places but I didn’t find them worth the mention. Hope you enjoy your visit to Vienna and I look forward to hearing what you liked and didn’t like. I also look forward to an opportunity to visit more of Austria on a future trip.