Vienna is a modern, fast-paced, cosmopolitan city divided into 23 districts and much bigger than what we anticipated. The first district, right at the center, is a historic UNESCO World Heritage site. Being the oldest, the Inner Stadt or first district has all the noteworthy attractions and is the concentration point for the horde of tourists (including us).
So here’s what we did (and you can do too) to experience the best of Vienna in three days –
Stephansplatz (St. Stephan’s cathedral)- shopping streets of Graben and KartnerStraße – Michaelerplatz – Austrian Parliament
After a relaxed cup of Viennese coffee in one of the cafes, we reached Stephansplatz to be faced by the tallest church in Austria – Stephansdom or St. Stephan’s cathedral. With its multi-colored, patterned, tiled roof, this is the structure that is seen in any picture of Vienna. Even though part of the cathedral was scaffolded, it stood majestically and didn’t fail to impress.
After a short time in the crowded cathedral, we ascended 347 steps to the top of the south tower to see Vienna from above and got a closer view of ‘the eagle’ and ‘coat of arms’ patterns on the roof. Access to the tower is from outside the church and there is a fee.
If you are in Vienna for a day or two, staying close to the historic center makes sense. However, Vienna has good public transport system, so even if you wish to stay in the farther districts, you can easily get to the center in a matter of few minutes.
From Stephansplatz starts the shopping streets of Graben and KartnerStraße, and further down is Kohlmarket. Historic center of Vienna in unison with the latest fashion shops. While strolling on these streets, we saw Peterskirche (St.Peter’s church) – Baroque Roman catholic church, Pestsäule (Plague column) – a Baroque style Holy Trinity column erected after the great plague epidemic in 1679, and Hofburg imperial palace at a reeky Michaelerplatz filled with horse carriages.
Most of the edifices in the inner city have intricate carvings, are beautifully designed and photo-worthy and houses top-end brands and offices.
The center is encircled by a ring road called the Ringstraße along which are the famous buildings – Parliament, City hall (Rathaus), Hofburg palace, State Opera House, and museums.
Walking through Volksgarten we reached the Austrian Parliament building–a beautiful, white colored building, designed in a Greek Revival style.
In between our wanderings, we had delish frozen yoghurt from Kurt and Sachertorte (special Austrian chocolate cake) from the famed cafe Demel located in the Inner Stadt.
To enjoy Wiener Schnitzel at the famed Figlmüller, reserve a table in advance. We didn’t have a reservation, so had to settle for a quiet, not-so-famous, charming restaurant which has been in business since the 15th century.
Schönbrunn palace – Naschmarkt – Museumsquartier – Rathaus (town hall)
After much thought over which palace to tour, we decided on Schönbrunn palace over Belvedere and Habsburg. Located in the 13th district, Schönbrunn is the most visited and beautiful of all palaces, plenty of rooms with all the royal furnitures still in place. Also, Schönbrunn is where Mozart performed in front of the royal family as a boy.
Belvedere is converted into a museum and houses the largest collection of paintings by Klimt. We had reached a point of saturation from art museums, but still decided to just see the palace from outside. Hofburg palace is the current residence and workplace of the Austrian President; it has a museum and imperial apartments–rooms occupied by the imperial couple. It didn’t sound as interesting as Schönbrunn.
We did an ‘Imperial tour’ of Schönbrunn palace and got to know a bit of the life of the Habsburgs. After spending sometime in the royal gardens debating over whether to walk till the Gloriette, we decided we had had enough of Schönbrunn. We set out to treat our tummy at the most popular market–Naschmarkt. Bought some roasted chestnuts outside the palace gates and headed to the much talked about Naschmarkt, existing since the 16th century. We enjoyed Turkish Dönners, kebabs, and small snacks; good food for a good price.
With a happy tummy we headed out to explore Museumquartier, wandered around aimlessly listening to buskers and musicians and then had a much needed coffee at Akrap Espresso bar. From here, we walked towards Rathaus (town hall) and saw the building light up at dusk.
For dinner we just snacked on Viennese sausages. Not just any ‘Würstlstand’, on a locals’s suggestion we went to the one on Am Hoher Markt street and had his best-selling, delicious ‘Käsekrainer’ sausages.
Karmelitermarkt – Belvedere palace – Mexican church (St. Francis of Assisi church) – Donauinsel (Danube island)
A rather slow start to our third day, we had brunch at Tewa in Karmelitermarkt, which was right behind our apartment in Leopoldstadt. Tewa is a cozy cafe with delicious food; a must-do if you visit either Karmelitermarkt or Naschmarkt. Then, we boarded a train to the 3rd district, walked on a street lined with embassies to reach Belvedere palace. Did some photo-shoots, enjoyed the serenity and leisurely headed back to the historic center, to the beautiful art nouveau Cafe Central. Savored the beautiful interiors and delectable pastries.
How could we leave Vienna without taking a stroll along the mighty Danube?! So that’s where we headed next. Met a friend, walked on Reichsbrücke and had the serendipity of seeing the castle-like Mexican church (St. Francis of Assisi church), crossed the pontoon bridge, and spent sometime in one of the cafes on Donauinsel (Danube island).
With that lovely evening, we ended our three days in Vienna.
How we reached Vienna?
We took the early morning train from Obertraun (a small village in the Salzkammergut) to Wien Westbahnhof, with a change in Attnang-Puchheim. Since it was a local journey, we purchases tickets on the day of travel; we bought our tickets from Obertraun station.
Where we stayed?
An AirBnB apartment in the 2nd district – Leopoldstadt, around 15mins walk to the historic first district.
Must-visit food places
Cafe Central, a traditional Viennese cafe. Any of the local markets for cheap, good food. ‘Würstlstand’ on Am Hoher Markt street for authentic ‘Käsekrainer’ sausages. Don’t forget to snack on roasted chestnuts if you are here in autumn.
Things we wished to see but missed
- Vienna’s Central cemetery / Zentralfriedhof. No, I’m not a taphophile, but I certainly love visiting beautiful places, be it even a cemetery. Vienna’s cemetery is one of the largest, with a church, multiple chapels, one of it’s famous resident is Beethoven, and it has a Buddhist, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish burial sections. Doesn’t it sound interesting?!
- Military History museum – It has exhibits of weapons, tanks, aeroplanes, etc. from World War I.
(We visited Vienna in October 2015)