Vienna, the capital of Austria, is a popular destination this time of year. My recent and unfortunately short trip to this beautiful city finally put me in the Christmas mood, despite the lack of snow. One night in Vienna made for a nice, relaxing getaway but I would love to go back and discover more. Nevertheless, let me share with you some of the must-sees and tips I can offer about Vienna.
How to explore the city
Vienna is one of those cities which is best to take in slowly: stroll down the streets, take in the architecture, window shop, peek at the menus outside the variety of restaurants and appreciate the sights. Partly because we were pressed for time, during my trip we purchased a 48 hour unlimited travel pass for €13.30, which can also be purchased as a 24 hour pass for €7.60. The subway system in Vienna is excellent: easy to use, straightforward, quick and convenient. This pass also includes transportation by bus and tram in the city.
In Vienna, my husband I stayed at the Wombats City Hostel, at the Naschmarkt location. The staff was friendly and helpful, we were in a great location and were able to get a private room for a good price. One thing that we loved was that the hostel offered a free walking tour for guests at the Wombats City Hostel (available only on certain days). I love doing walking tours; they give a good overview of a city but also provide you with insider stories, secrets and jokes! Our tour guide pointed out sights such as the Vienna State Opera, the Hofburg Palace and the Albertina museum. He also touched upon Vienna’s cultural traditions, cuisine and Austria’s famous musicians, painters and other artists. Afterall, Vienna is most known for some of its former residents, such as Mozart and Beethoven.
One thing to remember about Vienna this time of year: dress warmly! While we were there, the daily temperature was approximately 2°C, however the dampness in the air made it feel even colder. This also offers the opportunity to warm up and check out the Viennese coffee shops, which have a unique charm and are known to be important spots where Viennese culture was shaped.
Things you shouldn’t miss
Though our trip was short, we were still able to enjoy the beauty of many sights in the city. The Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace, was impressive in its baroque architectural style. The State Opera House was gorgeous (we were told that standing tickets to shows can be purchased at a cheap price). St. Stephen’s Cathedral, called the symbol of Vienna, is also a must-see. Its colourful roof tiles make it easy to recognize, not to mention that it stands at 137 meters tall. Furthermore, we made it out to the Schönbrunn Palace, the stunning Baroque palace which was formerly used as the imperial summer residence. We walked in the Schonbrunner Gardens and imagined how beautiful it must be in the springtime.
Of course with most of these sights, guided tours and private tours are also offered. Another thing I wish we had had time for were the different museums in Vienna. The Albertina is famously known to possess outstanding works of art from artists such as Picasso and Monet. You can also visit the Museumsquartier, where you can find the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK. You can also visit the Natural History museum or view the famous works of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt in several museums in the city (including the Upper Belvedere and the Wien Museum).
Getting into the Christmas mood
December is a wonderful month to visit Vienna, the main reason being the Christmas markets scattered all over the city. You’ll soon spot the little, cozy huts that make up these markets, accompanied by an array of Christmas lights and shivering individuals clenching mugs filled with warm liquids.
You can find the Christmas markets at locations such as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Schönbrunn Palace. However the most well-known Christmas market of the city is situated just outside the city hall, called the Rathaus. Make sure you go in the evening, when you can appreciate the large trees filled with strings of lights (candy canes, snowmen, etc) and other Christmas decorations.
You can snack on a Viennese treat like a waffle or apfelstrudel while taking in everything this venue has to offer. Products being sold include everything from Christmas ornaments, soaps and lotions, to toys and games and hand-made crafts. Make sure to bring cash with you (some vendors accept debit or credit cards, but not all). Most vendors speak English however you can pick up some German phrases too. “Guten Abend!” (Good evening!) “Danke!” (Thank you!)
In all the Christmas markets, you will notice people sipping from typically red or white mugs. Gluhwein, also known as mulled wine, is very popular in Austria. Not only do they have this delicious hot, spiced wine, but other varieties of spiked hot drinks. It is typically called punsch. For example, hot chocolate punsch refers to a spiked hot chocolate. We tried an orange and an apple punsch, which were stronger than we expected! We found out that rum is typically used in these kinds of drinks. When purchasing these drinks a deposit of €3 was usually asked for. You then had the choice of returning the mug for your money back or bringing it home as a souvenir.
We found that we both really enjoyed what Vienna had to offer. I would like to return in the future and enjoy more of the Viennese culture and art that is so present in the capital. I imagine my first stop would be the museums, then the coffee shops! The atmosphere of Vienna was cheerful, locals were kind, most people spoke English which made communication easy and we found it very easy to get around.
I would definitely recommend going as soon as possible, while the Christmas markets are still in full swing!