Vienna Wrap Up

I really enjoyed my trip to Vienna and loved that there was always something to do. In fact, I still have plenty of things on my bucket list, so hopefully I’ll make it back at a later date. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Vienna is a very walkable city (unless you’re going out to Schönbrunn Palace) and the subway is also easy to use. Note: Google Maps doesn’t really work well with Vienna’s public transportation, and I still have no idea how the trams or the buses work.
  2. I would say that depending on the length of your stay it might be more economical to buy a transportation pass instead of a Vienna Pass. The Vienna Pass gives you only around a 1 Euro discount on major sights as well as access to public transportation. Be sure to validate your transportation card if required (the week long passes don’t need validation).
  3. Make dinner reservations in advance or go to dinner on the early side (around 6 pm) for the more popular places. I would highly recommend At Eight, Plachutta (for tafelspitz), and Figlmueller (for schnitzel).
  4. When you are ready to order close your menu, otherwise the waiters will ignore you.
  5. Don’t forget to tip about 5-10%.
  6. Stock up on 50 cent coins since you need to pay for a surprisingly large number of bathrooms in Vienna.
  7. Go to a concert! Vienna is known as the City of Music and a concert is well worth your time. You don’t necessarily have to make reservations in advance since there are plenty of registered ticket sellers who will try to sell you tickets on the street. There are also plenty of free concerts that you can find, especially in the churches.
  8. Go to a café. Café culture is really big in Vienna so stop by one to grab either food or coffee.
  9. Be sure to have some Sacher torte even if it isn’t at the Sacher Hotel.
  10. For me the permanent must sees were: Karlskirche (take the elevator up to the top of the dome), Stephansdom (get all-inclusive tickets and prepare to spend at least half a day there), Prater Ferris Wheel, Schönbrunn Palace, and Imperial Treasury.
  11. The temporary must sees were: the Monet exhibit at the Lower Belvedere and the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
  12. If you’d like to get a good and quick sense of the city and where everything is take The Ring Tram Tour (the yellow tram) starting in Schwedenplatz
  13. Keep in mind that most museums have strange photography policies (some things you can photograph, others you can’t)

Christmas

Funnily enough, more things were open on Christmas than on Christmas Eve, and most of them were open for longer. My Dad and I were pretty content to just call our trip our Christmas present, but our hotel had graciously given us holiday slippers and sweets the night before. So, after testing out the slippers and eating a few of the sweets we prepared to begin our Christmas adventures.

The first thing we went to was Schwedenplatz so that we could board a Ring Tram Tour. The Ring refers to the road called Ringstraße, which also happens to be where Vienna’s city walls were. The tour mostly consisted of riding a yellow tram around the Ring and listening to an audioguide point out notable sights along the way. All in all the tour took about 25 minutes. While the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, I still found it worthwhile since it pointed out some of the major sights in the city, taught us a little bit of history, and helped orient me.

IMG_6993  IMG_6982  IMG_6987After the tour finished, we made our way to the Belvedere museums. The Belvedere property contains the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Winter Palace, and the grounds. Unfortunately it was raining, so my Dad and I decided against exploring the grounds and immediately made a beeline for the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having a large number of Klimt paintings, most notably The Kiss, but it also contains other well known pieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I’m a Klimt fan so I enjoyed seeing his artwork, but I didn’t find much else in the Upper Belvedere particularly exciting.

I will also say that the Belvedere has particularly confusing photography standards. Some rooms you could photograph, others you couldn’t, some statues you could photograph, others you couldn’t, etc. Because I’m a shutterbug I was alternately yelled at and encouraged a number of times.

IMG_7025  IMG_7023  IMG_7026IMG_7046  IMG_7036  IMG_7052My Dad and I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Lower Belvedere since it mostly speicalizes in modern art, but a sign caught our eyes saying that the Lower Belvedere currently had a Monet exhibit. My Dad and I happen to be big Monet fans so we made our way over to the Lower Belvedere to upgrade our tickets. To our surprise, we ended up liking the Lower Belvedere much more than the Upper Belvedere. The Monet exhibit was fantastic and featured a large number of his paintings. The rest of the Lower Belvedere was interesting, but the Monet was what made the entire Belvedere trip really worthwhile.

IMG_7056  IMG_7062  IMG_7065Once we had finished with the Belvedere, we made our way towards Schloß Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace. My Dad and I initially had some difficulties remembering the name Schönbrunn and so my Dad decided to dub it “Sunnybun.” The palace lies just outside the center of Vienna so we had to take the subway to get there, but it was well worth the trip. Because we were going later in the day we only had time to do a tour around the palace. The guide that we were provided with turned out to be an audioguide, and while I’m generally not a fan of audioguides, this one wasn’t actually too bad. Some of the audioguide numbers were a bit outdated, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Schönbrunn was originally commissioned in the 17th century to serve as a hunting lodge, but under Empress Maria Theresa it became the focus of court life. Since then it has hosted a number of momentous events and notable people. Some of the rooms that we saw featured great historical events, but the majority of the rooms were the private rooms of the Habsburg family. In retrospect, Schönbrunn was one of my favorite sights.

After we were done with the tour, we wandered around the grounds and paid a visit to the Christmas market.

IMG_7120  IMG_7092  IMG_7093IMG_7099  IMG_7108  IMG_7116IMG_7121  IMG_7140  IMG_7131Once we finished, we went back to our hotel before coming back again for the Christmas concert. The concert primarily featured two of Austria’s golden boys, Mozart and Strauss. The music was great and to top it all off there was also some opera and ballet mixed in. So, in honor of the concert I leave you with Austria’s unofficial national anthem, Blue Danube.

Christmas Eve

To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.

IMG_6632  IMG_6635  IMG_6660IMG_6646  IMG_6649  IMG_6648 IMG_6650  IMG_6669 IMG_6759According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).

We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.

IMG_6641  IMG_6642  IMG_6645Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.

IMG_6683  IMG_6701  IMG_6711IMG_6714  IMG_6688  IMG_6716After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.

Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.

IMG_6768  IMG_6770  IMG_6788IMG_6780  IMG_6783  IMG_6786When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:

  • From my parent’s generation
  • Into old movies
  • Watched post-World War II movies for class

you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.

Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.

IMG_6826  IMG_6845  IMG_6849IMG_6867  IMG_6869  IMG_6878IMG_6919  IMG_6928  IMG_6920The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.

IMG_6957  IMG_6950  IMG_6966Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.