The fourteenth in our new City Guide series, this travel guide to Vienna features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.
Vienna offers an inexhaustible wealth of architectural grandeur, a rich artistic legacy and some of the finest museums in the world. Today, it has just 1.7 million inhabitants, but the immense Hofburg Palace, seat of the Habsburg imperial dynasty, recalls the city’s past as capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most places are within easy reach, and if your legs become weary, there are always the spotless red-and-white trams that constantly trundle around the Ringstrasse, the great circular boulevard that defines the Innere Stadt, or old city. And perhaps only Paris can boast as many delightful cafés.
In the half-century prior to World War I, Vienna ranked as one of the world’s most exciting cities. Palaces, theaters and grand public buildings replaced the medieval walls, and luminaries such as Klimt, Schiele, Schönberg, Mahler, Freud and Wittgenstein transformed the city’s cultural life. Vienna now has a conservative reputation, but during the time of the Secession, it was a churning center of experimentation and innovative design. That heritage — the grandeur of empire, the turbulence of the early 20th century, the renewed prosperity of recent decades — remains clearly in evidence today. Vienna manages to integrate all these disparate facets of its history into a graceful, elegant whole.
When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in Vienna.
The Danube Valley in northeast Austria is the driest section of the country and is typified by Vienna. Mild spring and fall seasons have the best weather for a visit, though there is something undeniably romantic about Vienna during the holidays when shopkeepers decorate their storefronts with glittering lights and cheery Christmas displays and roasted chesnuts can be found on most street corners. The "Hundstage" (dog days) of mid- to late-August should be avoided, when temperatures can climb into the low nineties and many shops and restaurants are temporarily shuttered.
Want to experience Vienna like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industries.
Andrew Harper, Editor-in-Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel
Whether staying at the Sans Souci or not, any visitor to Vienna should stop by Le Bar, located just to the right of the small but striking lobby. This jewel box resembles a tiny version of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, with low lighting, velvet-upholstered Louis XV-style canopy chairs and a fine selection of Champagne by the glass.
Anna Butler, Managing Web Editor, Andrew Harper Travel
Visit the Naschmarkt, the city's largest market situated between Karlsplatz and the Kettenbrückengasse U-bahn stop, for an exceptionally immersive Viennese experience. Beyond the excellent gastronomic offerings, the market is flanked by a pantheon of Viennese architectural styles, all of which make for a pleasant, though brief, walking tour.
At the east end of the market, near Karlsplatz, you'll find the Jugendstil-style Secession building (Friedrichstraße 12), home to Gustav Klimt's famed Beethoven Frieze. A block further, Theater an der Wien (Linke Wienzeile 6), where Mozart's "Zauberflöte" ("The Magic Flute") was first performed, stands on the corner with its original Empire-style facade. Venture two blocks onward to Wienzeile 38 and 40. These two residential buildings, one completely faced in tiles and the other embellished with rich gold accents, illustrate the playful, decorative flair of architect and urban planner Otto Wagner.
Vienna contains some of Europe’s most storied and opulent grand hotels. The Sans Souci is a more contemporary boutique property in a central location near major art museums. Firm traditionalists have no shortage of hotels in Vienna. The Sacher, set behind the opera house in the old quarter, exudes fin-de-siècle Viennese charm, while the nearby Bristol just emerged from a thorough renovation. Its main restaurant, the Bristol Lounge, is one of Vienna’s most beautiful dining rooms. But for palatial grandeur, the 138-room Hotel Imperial has no equal.
Though renowned for its traditional establishments, Vienna now has many fine restaurants serving highly creative cuisine.
This simple but cozy tavern with vaulted whitewashed dining rooms and bare wood floors is a wonderful choice in the heart of the city for anyone who wants to sample authentic and delicious Viennese comfort food. Try dishes such as rindsuppe (rich beef bouillon garnished with finely sliced pancakes), schnitzel, faschiertes (veal meatballs with mashed potatoes) and apple strudel.
Singerstrasse 28. Tel. 1-512-5895.
The specialty of this friendly and popular white-tablecloth restaurant in the heart of Vienna is tafelspitz, the favorite dish of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It’s a hearty meal of beef simmered with root vegetables and spices in beef bouillon accompanied by side dishes of fried potatoes, applesauce with horseradish, and creamed spinach. In warmer months, request a table on the bright covered patio.
Wollzeile 38. Tel. 1-512-1577.
The Palais Coburg’s gourmet restaurant serves exquisitely presented and memorably delicious cuisine, but what really stood out on a recent visit was the audacious wine pairings. The sommelier exploited the breadth of the restaurant’s cellars, matching, for example, an acidic and smoky Zierfandler (a grape found only in Austria’s Thermenregion) with a rich dish of tête de veau and liquid quail yolk topped with artichoke and shiitake mousse. Equally unforgettable was the Swiss Pinot Noir paired with a dish of dove breast, cranberry, beetroot and Savoy cabbage cream.
Coburgbastei 4. Tel. 1-518-18-800.
Innovative New Austrian and Styrian specialties are offered here in stylish surroundings overlooking the Vienna River and the Stadtpark. Expect dishes such as warm artichoke salad with fresh herbs; Lake Attersee pike with preserved lemon, cauliflower and macadamia nuts; and venison with Jerusalem artichokes, quince and pine. Superlative wine list. Dinner only.
Closed Saturday and Sunday. Am Heumarkt 2A/Im Stadtpark. Tel. 1-713-3168.
Fans of Wiener schnitzel and tafelspitz won’t miss meat for a second at vegetarian Tian. With a stylishly decorated interior, this Michelin-starred restaurant serves creative and satisfying dishes such as white and wild asparagus spears in a savory chanterelle cream with fresh peas, al dente lentils with wild garlic-leaf rolls and puntarelle chicory, and Mimolette cheese shavings atop hazelnuts and white chocolate.
Closed Sunday and Monday.Himmelpfortgasse 23. Tel. 1-890-4665.
Vienna’s café scene is justifiably world-renowned, but certain famous institutions, such as Café Central, are now geared entirely for tourists. When I relax with a glass of wine or a slice of torte and a Mélange (cappuccino), I prefer a place where you have at least a chance of seeing residents relaxing with friends or reading a newspaper. One of my favorites is the wonderfully Old World Café Sperl (Gumpendorferstrasse 11), with stuccoed ceilings and appealingly worn velvet banquettes, even though its torte selection is limited. I also love the 1950s time capsule of Café Prückel (Stubenring 24) for its “Third Man” ambience, and the soaring barrel-vaulted conservatory of the Palmenhaus (Burggarten 1), which originally served as a Victorian-style palm house for the adjacent Hofburg Palace.
Andrew Harper points out additional tips and ideas for travelers visiting some of Vienna's most famed sightseeing destinations.
The most civilized way to experience the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Maria-Theresienplatz) is to attend a “Gourmet Evening,” held each Thursday from 6:30 to 10 p.m. The exhibits remain open until 9 p.m., when they have far fewer visitors than during the day. The buffet is fine, as buffets go, and dining in the grand cupola hall beneath the gilded central dome is a delight. If the event is sold out, ask your concierge to waitlist you.
Like the Belvedere, the more sober Palais Liechtenstein stands amid delightful gardens just outside Vienna’s Ring. We booked one of the once-monthly public tours of the Gartenpalais (Fürstengasse 1), home to a private art and decorative object collection rivaling New York’s Frick. The tour, conducted only in German, charged through the palace in just an hour, making it impossible to fully appreciate the many works on display, which included masterpieces by Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens. I therefore recommend reserving a private tour instead, which can be more leisurely and in English. Book well in advance.
The best way to finish a visit to Schönbrunn Palace (Kavalierstrakt 52) is with a stop in the Café Residenz, which serves the most delectable apple strudel I’ve ever had. Order it mit Schlagobers (with whipped cream).
The impressive Gothic Stephansdom (Stephensplatz 3) draws big crowds, but few know about the Domschatz (cathedral treasury), which opened about a year ago. After you pass through the main doors of the church, turn immediately to the right and take the elevator up. Beyond a room filled with ornate reliquaries and crucifixes is the cathedral’s organ loft, which has breathtaking views of the entire nave. It is an experience well worth the €5 entry fee.
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