here we are in our final stop, vienna! following our time in budapest and prague, we spent 2.5 days roaming the streets of vienna, soaking up the history, eating and drinking a lot, and wandering through christmas markets.
vienna afforded me the extra benefit of catching up with gugi and being able to introduce him to maggie and katie. it was so nice to see my friends instantly bond with one another, and i loved spending so much time with him after so many years.
what we did.
our train arrived in vienna in the mid-afternoon. gugi met us at the railway station and walked us back to his flat. we hit up the supermarket for some wine and snacks, and then we spent a few hours chatting and eating and catching up over the last few years. it was the perfect introduction to vienna, and it allowed everyone to get to know each other a bit.
we ladies needed some food, so when gugi headed out to meet friends we took off to yak+yeti, his recommendation for delicious nepali food. and delicious it was. we stuffed ourselves silly with momos and dal bhaat and i think some chana. it was all very yummy, and we were full and sleepy by the end of it and took ourselves straight home to bed.
we set out for our first full day in vienna without a real plan in mind. we knew a few things we wanted to do and figured we would make it up as we went along, just as we had done in the previous cities. we found ourselves a little overwhelmed in the middle of the day, however, and gave ourselves a little break to regroup and come up with a plan for our remaining time. it worked out well, and we had an awesome few days.
vienna’s naschmarkt is a row of outdoor food stalls that also includes a flea market on the weekends. we began our day with a stroll through the market to see what was on offer and to get a lay of the land. vienna was out in full force, shopping and laughing, and it was a fun way to start our day. pro tips: visit on the weekend if you want to see the full flea market. we didn’t purchase anything, but i imagine most of the stalls are cash-only.
this was maybe the place i was most excited about in vienna. the imperial vault houses the tombs of members of the hapsburg dynasty. there are over 100 members of the dynasty buried beneath the capuchin church, and we spent over an hour wandering through and learning about some of the more famous members of the family. i have always had a fascination with cemeteries, and burial vaults are similarly fascinating.
sacher eck wien.
this is the place to go if you are on the hunt for sacher torte, the chocolate cake that vienna is famous for. hotel sacher is the only place where the original recipe is still used to make the torte, and a visit there is an experience. the couches are a plush velvet, all the surfaces are shiny, and i felt like a heroine in a classic movie. the three of us shared one piece of cake, which i highly recommend as it is very rich, and we each had our own hot beverage to accompany it. the prices are steeper than other places that serve sacher torte, but a visit here is well worth the price. pro tips: you can eat a full meal here, but we only wanted the cake. we didn’t make a reservation and were seated pretty quickly, but people who were there for breakfast had to wait a while; maybe book ahead if you plan on dining. also that hot chocolate is absolutely decadent.
austrian national library.
all three of us love libraries, and the austrian national library is on many lists of places to see in vienna, but we ultimately only made a quick stop to see what the line and prices were like. in the end we decided not to pay the entrance fee, but we did wander around for a bit and see what we could spy for free. if we had another day we probably would have stayed and taken a proper look around. pro tip: plan a little of your itinerary ahead of time and include this; i think we were all a little bummed to skip it.
bier und bierli.
after the library we wandered through the palace complex, which is when we all got a little overwhelmed. there were so many different places to visit and we didn’t know enough about any of them, so we decided to take a little sojourn to get some food, warm up, and plot our next move. we found our way to bier und bierli, where we were able to do all of those things. the food was good [i had the goulash], the drinks were better, and we were able to figure out how exactly we wanted to spend the rest of our day. it was exactly the reprieve all of us needed.
we decided we wanted to head back to the hofburg palace, and i found a ticket online that granted us admission to three parts of the palace: the imperial silver collection, the sisi museum, and the kaiser appartment. after our lunch we made our way back to the palace, this time with our destination in mind and our tickets in hand.
- silver collection. our first stop was the imperial silver collection. there are so many rooms and thousands of things to see, but luckily with the audio guide you can listen to as many or as few commentaries as you like. we knew we had two other museums to visit so we went through pretty quickly, but it was quite an impressive china collection.
- sisi museum. we had been hearing about sisi for over a week through three different countries, so we were fully on board when we found out there was an entire museum dedicated to her. our visit ultimately left us with lots of new questions, but the museum did fill in a lot of the gaps in our sisi knowledge and gave us a lot of general context we were lacking.
- kaiser appartment. after the sisi museum we had the opportunity to walk through the apartments that sisi and her family lived in. we were able to see visiting rooms and living quarters and ballrooms, and it was fascinating to see how things have been preserved or restored. i always love being able to walk through old homes like that and imagine what life was like for people all those years ago.
pro tips: if you buy your tickets online you can skip the line and just scan your qr code to enter [more details at the end of this post]. all of the tours are self-guided audio tours, so you can listen to as much or as little as you like, but i definitely recommend listening to all of the kaiser appartment options. we spent nearly two hours between the three places, so be prepared to be on your feet for a while. you can take pictures inside the silver collection but not inside the museum or the apartments.
maria theresa platz.
we were all ready for some fresh air after the museums, so we ventured across the street to maria theresa platz. they were setting up for a christmas market, but unfortunately it opened after we left vienna so we only saw the vendors beginning to move their merchandise into their stalls. i can only imagine what it looked like when the market was in full swing or what the plaza looks like in spring when the city is in full bloom.
a bar of unknown name.
we were about ready for a drink and to rest our feet at this point, so we found a pub and ducked in for some wine and bourbon. it was a nice, hidden place that seemed to serve mostly locals, i made friends with a little kid who was very into our game of peek-a-boo, and we had some time to process all the things we’d seen in the museums. and as an added bonus, it was right by a little hidden christmas market that became our next stop.
hidden christmas market.
i don’t know the official name for this market, but it stretched between parallel alleys and had some cute merchandise plus a lot of glüwein and snacks. we wandered through two of the streets, stopping at a few stalls, ducking into a shop, and convincing maggie that she needed to keep her mug as a souvenir. we were all a little bummed that the market at maria teresa platz wasn’t open yet, so finding this one was a nice little surprise.
the lantern and chocolate store.
as we were wandering through the market we spotted this cute shop that had recently opened. they had a wonderful selection of locally-made chocolates, of which each of us bought a few, and they had a lot of other lovely trinkets as well. i especially liked the lanterns and bought a beautiful purple star one for my house. i wish i could remember the name of it so i could recommend it to others, but sadly it has slipped away.
we were pretty done with being tourists by this point and decided it was time to move on to the next portion of our evening. we found a bar and told gugi our whereabouts and enjoyed some beverages and fun conversation at 7stern before moving on to dinner. i especially liked this place because it gave us the opportunity to eavesdrop on all the local hipsters out for their saturday evening and to guess what they were discussing.
gugi highly recommended the burgers at weinschenke, which happens to be next door to 7stern, so we popped over to have some dinner. we made friends with the server and with the couple at the table next to us [they also sat next to us the previous night at yak+yeti], and the food was so delicious. pro tip: split the burgers, as they are super filling. gugi and i split one, while maggie and katie split another, and the portions ended up being perfect.
gugi then took us to one of his favorite pubs, a dive bar called morningstar. it’s very dark and a little dingy and i loved it immensely. we found some chairs and couches to sink into and spent a lovely few hours chatting and drinking. pro tip: it is super smoky inside, so be prepared to smell like an ashtray when you leave.
after our time at morningstar we wrapped up with a nightcap at espresso. there was a very eclectic crowd in there [it was about 1.30am by this point], our server was wearing a very entertaining tiger sweater, and maggie walked into the men’s restroom on accident, so we had ourselves a pretty entertaining time.
we allowed ourselves to sleep in on sunday, getting a late start to our day and enjoying a lazy breakfast before heading out.
gugi knew we wanted to visit schönbrunn palace, so he suggested walking over and entering through the gardens, and i am so happy we took him up on his suggestion. we walked along some lovely neighborhoods and through the woods and emerged at the top of the gardens with a view straight down to the palace. we had a blast skipping along and taking lots of lovely family photos with “our” palace in the background. pro tip: i am glad we did the gardens first and then the palace, although that could also be because it was cold and we didn’t spend a ton of time wandering; that could be different in the spring when the weather is nice and you want to wander a little more.
after we frolicked through the gardens we said our goodbyes to gugi and made our way to the front of the palace. our ticket from the previous day also granted us admission to the grand tour of schönbrunn, which had the added benefit of allowing us to skip through the ticket line once again. we grabbed our audio guides and made our way through the summer home of the hapsburg family. the palace is a showcase of art and architecture, and we soaked it all up. pro tips: get that sisi ticket! you’ll need to check any backpacks and large purses at the coat and gear check stand. and remember no photography allowed inside.
we needed food after the palace and headed back to district 1 and found ourselves at figar for a delicious late lunch. we snagged the last table in the place and chowed down. i had the coconut thai curry with chicken, and it was scrumptious.
rathaus christmas market.
gugi knew we were on the lookout for christmas markets, so he steered us toward the annual market at the city hall: the rathausplatz christkindlmarkt. and when we spotted it, we realized this was it, this was the silver tuna we had been searching for. rows upon rows of stalls beneath hundreds of garlands of twinkle lights. decorations as far as the eye could see. a skating rink to one side, and all the glüwein you could desire. it was amazing, and we soaked it all in. we made an initial round, eyeing the various things for sale and making mental notes of stalls we wanted to come back to. maggie and katie got some wine in souvenir mugs. we spent well over an hour wandering and oohing and aahing to our hearts’ desires, finally succumbing to the cold and our tired feet. inside city hall there were a number of children’s activities, including a baking class that was producing the loveliest aromas. pro tips: this is one of the most famous christmas markets in vienna and well worth a visit. make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do a loop, figure out what you want to purchase, and then go back. talk to the people at the stalls, they’re super friendly. and remember these are cash-only businesses!
from rathaus we called gugi and figured out where to meet him and made our way back toward his house. we weren’t quite hungry for dinner just yet, so we headed to one of his local pubs for a drink and some nuts and to fill him in on our day. we were all still energized by our time at rathaus, and he had a good laugh at all of us.
my one request for our time in vienna was a schnitzel dinner. i love schnitzel so much, and i knew i wanted to taste the authentic thing, so gugi took us to his favorite spot for dinner and it was absolutely perfect. there were red-and-white checkered tablecloths everywhere. there were two old ladies playing cards at the table behind us. the owner was smoking behind the bar as he took orders and made drinks. it was the cutest place, and one we never would have found on our own. my schnitzel was delicious, and katie and maggie reported positive reviews of their pumpkin soup as well. it was the best way to wrap up our time in vienna.
where we stayed.
we stayed with gugi! one of the perks of having a friend in the city is that we were able to bunk with him. it saved us on accommodation, and it meant we were able to spend a lot of fun time with him during our visit. he very generously gave the three of us his room for three nights, and we had our own key so that we could come and go as we pleased. it was the loveliest, and i hope i can repay the favor one day.
some good things to know.
currency. vienna uses the euro, which is the currency we had the most familiarity with, but that also meant that vienna was more expensive than our previous stops. €1 roughly equals $1.15, so we had to remind ourselves to round up every time we purchased something. most places accepted card except for the stalls at the christmas markets, so we did our best to save our cash for those purchases.
getting around. vienna was the only city where we purchased a transit ticket, and i am so glad we did. on saturday morning [after joyriding the metro on friday night, shh] each of us purchased a 48-hour ticket, and we got good use of it. gugi lives in the 12th district, a pretty good distance from the city center but a straight shot on the metro, so we utilized the trains to get from one end of the city to another and eventually back again. since we purchased it on saturday morning, it was valid up until the time we left on monday morning and was well worth the €14ish we each spent on them. vienna is much more spread out than budapest and prague – especially if you also want to visit schönbrunn – and this is a good investment. pro tip: you can purchase them online ahead of your arrival, but honestly they are very easy to get at the metro station ticket machines. and unlike budapest and prague, every station has at least one ticket machine.
vienna is pretty touristy. one thing none of us was prepared for was how touristy vienna was. budapest and prague both had some tourist pockets, but we also felt like we saw a lot of locals and were easily able to find places to eat or drink that were not surrounded by visitors or super expensive. vienna, on the other hand, has so many attractions so close together that it was a little more difficult to stumble upon places the way we were able to in the other two cities. all of the restaurants and bars near the library and opera house, for example, seemed very catered toward tourists with their menu options; there is nothing wrong with this, but it wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for.
the districts. vienna is split into 23 districts, but they aren’t necessarily in any order. most of the big tourist draws [hofburg palace, national library, opera house, etc] are inside the ring road in district 1. while the districts don’t appear in any order, the street signs will tell you which district you are in, if you ever need to orient yourself.
the christmas markets. if you are visiting vienna in november or december, you are bound to run into at least one christmas market. they are so fun and great places to pick up a local souvenir or two. the rathaus market was hands-down the best one we visited on our trip, but i do wish we could have seen the one at maria theresa platz as well. pro tips: there are lots of websites that list the top markets and their opening dates; if this is a big draw for you make sure to check those dates when planning your trip. all the markets we visited were cash only, so be sure you have some on hand.
the sisi ticket. this was one of the better decisions we made during our time in vienna. i stumbled upon the sisi ticket while we were eating and immediately purchased three of them. for €29.90 per person [at the time we visited, november 2018; it does look like it is increasing to €34 in april 2019], we gained full admission to both hofburg and schönbrunn and we were able to scan our qr codes, skip all the lines, and get the grand audio tours in all locations. the ticket is valid for up to one year from when you purchase it, so you can buy it ahead of your visit or use it however you like. and it also gets you admission to the imperial furniture collection, which we did not have time to visit. pro tip: buy this ticket.
cash machines. we somehow had quite a hard time finding cash machines in vienna. luckily we all withdrew money at the supermarket on friday, because after that we found at least two that were out of order. i don’t have any words of wisdom so much as i simply wanted to share our experience with you.
and with that, our european adventure has come to a close. i hope you enjoyed coming along as i reminisced, and here’s to the next one.