Vienna is a city that has many layers and sides to it- much like one of it’s classic pastries, the Austrian capital has something for everyone. Here are detailed guides to experience the city from four perspectives- the Vienna of kings, the Vienna of culinary elegance, Vienna on a shoestring and a Vienna off the beaten path. No matter who you are, as Billy Joel once said, Vienna waits for you!
A Royal’s Vienna
Home of the Habsburg Empire that set trends for the rest of Europe for centuries, Vienna is the perfect for the closet princes and princesses among us.
Where To Stay: If you've got a thousand euros or so to spare, stay at the Schonbrunn Palace itself. There’s an imperial apartment you can rent for the night (or if you've got the money, more than that) with refurbished as well as original fittings, butler services and a formal sitting room.
What to Eat: Eat at the the Cafe Landtmann, haunt of hallowed intellectuals and princes, or book the Imperial Pavilion at the Zoo where the Emperor once took his breakfast.
What to Do: Take a trip aboard the Majestic Imperial Train De Luxe, complete with painstakingly replicated carriages from Hapsburg trains, for four-course Austrian meals and trips not just over Vienna’s Danube but on day trips as well. Softer on the pocket? Just see the Imperial Crypt for a macabre (but detailed) history of the Royal family, or the Imperial Palace itself with its exhibition on the forgotten Empress, SiSi, and immense collections of royal artefacts from bathtubs to 1000-piece dinner services. Gorgeous summer palace Schonbrunn’s bright orangery and 350-ft Grand Hall, themed rooms, sprawling gardens and more aren't to be missed either.
A Foodie’s Vienna
Austria’s amalgamation of cultures has resulted in a varied, unique cuisine, a love for new food and bouquets of Michelin stars bestowed upon its restaurants.
Where to Stay: Since most of these locations are close to Vienna’s celebrated boulevard, the Ringstrasse, which encircles many of the city’s older neighbourhoods- the best place to stay is the Ring hotel (aptly named), artsy enough but not crusty in the way many inner city hotels are, or the slightly more pretentious Do & Co, right opposite St Stephen’s Cathedral.
What to Eat and Do: The best destination, as such, is the Viennese Naschmarkt: row upon row of delectable dish, stall upon stall of brand-new innovation- the foodie’s paradiso, indeed. More upscale? Visit Steirereck, the world’s ninth best restaurant (as ranked by the Telegraph’s annual review in 2016), with a menu self-described as Neo-Austrian: twisting and turning classic Austrian dishes like Schnitzel and mountain fish into modernistic pieces of art, its Stadtpark location is most popular for lunch. In dessert terms, Sachërtorte was infamously invented in Austria, and Apple Strudel with cream is to die for- the real culinary stars of Vienna, however, are the cafés- from Centrale, a lane down from the Imperial Palace with its elderflower spritzers and Freudian heritage to the seedier Cafe Sperl with silky hot chocolate at which Hitler was once a regular. For more authentic, grittier fare go to one of the street side Wurstelstands (sausage stands) for iconic bratwurst; or the Brot und Spiele (bread and games) Cafe for local cheeses, well-priced drinks and spirited sessions of boardgames.
A Budgeter’s Vienna
Vienna isn't all upscale eateries and royal frivolity: the amount of free, or barely-priced entertainment in the city is astonishing.
Where to Stay:Stay at an authentic family-run B&B, such as the Schweizer Pension right in the heart of downtown Vienna (don't miss their organic German breakfast) or roll your dice with the hostel scene at the Kaiser23, self-described as “stylish urban accommodation…where classic and modern times merge”.
What to Eat:Make lunch the main meal of your day- most bistros and eateries offer discounts or even the great Mittagsmenu, which is two set courses for 6-10 euros- for example, vegetarian restaurant Tian with its fresh, local produce.Sample cheap but amazing fair food like candy apples and sausages, or visit the Esterhazykeller (an institution that opened way back in the 17th century) for full meals around 7 euros as well as theTunnel, a light eatery with live music.
What to Do: Take a trip to Danube Island for sun and sand like the locals do on weekends to make full use of the 180 hectares of forest- skating trails, boat hires and even beaches where clothes are optional: all for no charge, along with free WiFi. For a more sophisticated Viennese pastime, stroll along the Prater park or take the kids on the Ferris Wheel for nominal fees, Listen to free piano music or browse the papers at one of the cafes for the price of a coffee (the chandelier-filled Cafe Pruckel is great), or buy last-minute, standing room only opera tickets. Grab an ice-cream from Julius MeinlCafe and hang around the Stephansplatz before climbing up the Kahlenberg mountain for some great views, or run around a couple of flea markets for hidden treasure (lederhosen, anyone?) and elegant graffiti. For the more touristy of us, there’s the Schonbrunn palace gardens with their hedges and fountains which you can stroll through free of charge, and many of the Museumsquartier museums only cost 10-15 euros (some even have free entry days on weekends), so you can feast your eyes on some Klimt masterpieces like The Kiss.
Where to Stay: Dubbed Vienna’s “off-strasse” secret, the Urbanauts project involves converting disused spaces around the city into “lofts” for tourists to stay in. The brainchild of three Viennese architects, the project has numerous locations across old shops and studios, each with their own backstory, preserving their history and yet revitalising the spaces for authentic tourist experiences- one of the founders calls it an attempt to create “a boutique hotel spread horizontally across the neighbourhood”.
Where to Eat: Go to a canteen, such as that of the Akademietheatre, for a bare-bones experience of everyday Austrian cuisine, or get a street-food spectacular like the Kasekrainer sausage that oozes cheese, fondly called the “pus stick” sausage. Discover some organic produce at Tongues, a deli cum record store with wholesome lunches and baskets of veggies, but for some sin make your way over to the chocolate emporium Xocolat, a boutique and workshop with handcrafted creations from the world’s best chocolatiers.
What to Do: Visit the Narrenturm, a museum made out of one of the world’s first purposefully built mental hospital- it’s name translates to lunatics tower and has five floors full of creepy medical specimens, as well as the Museum of Fake Art that celebrates forgery and subterfuge in all its forms. Tour Vienna’s sewers as inspired by the move “The Third Man”- take a moment at the Spiegelgrund memorial where hundreds were murdered as part of the Nazi Euthanasia program, or perhaps venture into the catacombs beneath St. Stephen’s Cathedral.Look out for the City Hiking trails if you're in an active mood, or bike along the Donau Canal- for a bigger adrenaline rush take a trip out to the Donauturm tower for some bungee jumping. Lighten the mood with a visit to the Imperial Butterfly park, or marvel at the clock museum, full of over a thousand clocks. - Devanshika Bajpai