By Alex Kallimanis: Vienna is currently ranked first globally on Mercer’s Quality of Living ranking. It’s also a fantastic destination for travelers, with a wealth of opulent palaces, museums and famed patisseries. We spent nearly a week in the Austrian capital not so long ago, but writing on one of Europe’s grandest cities slipped through cracks (where to begin when discussing Vienna). Upon our return, we covered lesser known destinations like Sofia, Bulgaria and Bratislava, Slovakia, both of which offer excellent value. Before our trip, a good friend who had recently resided in Vienna gave us some great local tips, that we’re also sharing. Keep these recommendations in mind if you’re planning a trip to Vienna.
What to See in Vienna?
Sigmund Freud Museum
The most famous psychologist of the 20th century and the founder of psychoanalysis’s former home and office has been a tourist attraction since 1971. The Sigmund Freud Museum draws over 80,000 visitors per year to see where Freud conducted the bulk of his life’s work. Freud lived and practice in the house from 1891 -1938, when the Nazis forced him to flee into exile in the United Kingdom. Today, it’s truly a step back in time to walk through Freud’s waiting room and peruse his memorabilia.
Belvedere Palace Museum
The Belvedere Palace encapsulates the grandeur of Vienna. It was originally the summer home of Prince Eugene of Savoy (aka lucky dude). It consists of two baroque palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere has more big ticket items and draws a bigger bulk of visitors. The gardens are especially lovely to tour during the warmer months when there are flowers to accompany the impressive fountains and statues. Inside the palaces are an impressive collection of European art, including the largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt, and a wealth of intricate sculptures, marble and lavish chandeliers. Similar to the Vatican, heaven can’t possibly be as opulent!
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
No trip to Vienna is complete without stepping into one of Austria’s most important Gothic cathedrals. St. Stephen’s Cathedral dates back to the 12th century. You can climb 343 steps to the top of the cathedral and enjoy an amazing view of Vienna. Or just admire the impressive art and architecture at ground level. You can also tour the catacombs on a guided tour. The catacombs house the bodies of bishops, members of the Hapsburg dynasty and other former Viennese big wigs.
Schonbrunn Palace, in its current form, dates to the mid 1700’s and has 1,441 rooms, with a history tied to the famous Hapsburg family. Schönbrunn Palace is rated slightly higher than Belvedere on TripAdvisor, but the reality is that both palaces are beautiful. Schönbrunn is a little further from the center of Vienna compared to Belvedere. If you’re an art aficionado visit both, otherwise you should probably pick one to avoid palace overload. I chose to visit Belvedere over Schönbrunn Palace, but its popularity as a tourist attraction means it has to be listed here.
More Things to Experience in Vienna
This is just a handful of things to see in Mozart and Beethoven’s old stomping grounds, which also has a wealth of world class museums, with the city’s Museum Quarter being one of the largest in Europe. Classical music fans can visit the house Mozart lived in from 1794-1797 at Mozart Haus Vienna, explore musical history at the Haus der Musik or go to the opera. Another grand spot in the center is Hofburg Palace if you can’t get enough of lavish palaces.
Where to Stay in Vienna?
If you’re looking for a good budget option, we found Motel One Wien-Prater to be good value for money. Rooms are comfortable and the property features a chic bar for a night cap. It’s also literally on the doorstep of the Messe-Prater U-bahn metro stop, so you’re easily connected to the city center. One of the highlights of staying at Motel One are the excellent high-quality breakfast buffets they serve. We’ve also stayed at Motel Ones in Brussels and Amsterdam, and the breakfasts are consistently good.
We also stayed at the Hilton Vienna Danube for a night as it was a great deal. It’s a little out from the center but the metro in Vienna is incredibly fast, efficient and clean. And enjoying a great breakfast on the Danube is really peaceful.
We took a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna which is something to consider. Bratislava is just an hour by train from Vienna and has a very walkable and enjoyable historic center.
Where to Eat and Drink in Vienna?
If you only eat at one restaurant in Vienna, you should definitely consider Reinthaler’s Beisl. In Austrian, beisl basically means that you can expect typical hearty dishes served in a cozy environment for good prices. This is an excellent place for fried veal (wiener schnitzel) or a number of other dishes. The food, service and ambiance all hit the spot at Reinthaler’s Beisl.
Vienna is famous for its beautiful cafes and one of the best is Cafe Central. Established in 1876, Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky were among the famous former regulars there. Today the café remains a Viennese icon for coffee and cake, or a meal. If you walk in and look at their beautiful dessert selection at the counter, you’re likely to start drooling before taking a seat. This is my favorite Viennese café.
1516 Brewing Company
There’s a lot of good beer joints in Vienna, and 1516 Brewing Company is among the best. This large brewpub strikes a nice balance between a large selection of quality craft beers and good fun. You can order beers here in sizes that range from .1 liters to 1.5 liters, if you’re looking to set the tone for a good stumble back to your hotel.
Café Anzengruber is a little outside the center of Vienna and a local favorite. A good friend who used to live in Vienna told me this was the place to go for great schnitzel in a cool, not touristy setting. There isn’t a lot of choice on the menu here, but what they serve is done really well. Go here for schnitzel or goulash and nice Austrian beers. The menu is only in German, but the staff was friendly and helpful during our visit. Bell and I both ordered schnitzels there, which are massive, so bring an appetite too.
If you have a hankering for Hungarian food in Vienna, head to Illona Stuberl. This cozy restaurant in the center of Vienna draws an international crowd, but the service and food are very good and well priced. Established a couple decades ago by Hungarian immigrants with a touching personal story, this is a restaurant we would return to.