"I'm taking a trip to Vienna soon. What should I do there?"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

As this question pops up in my inbox pretty frequently, I figured it's about time I do a good old-fashioned travel guide of sorts for one of my favorite former homes, the cultural capital of Europe, the place Mercer Index named the best city in the world: Vienna, Austria.
I know I've mentioned this before, but throughout my time in Vienna, I lived in eight different homes, in eight different districts. I knew the city like the back of my hand and could recite the U-Bahn, Strassenbahn, and bus routes in my sleep, forwards and backwards. So when people write to me and ask me questions such as the one after which this post is titled, my inclination is to reply, "Let me just meet you there and I'll show you myself".
But since that isn't an option right now, I'll offer the next best thing.

Ten Things to Do/See in Vienna

1. Tour Schonbrunn Palace.
It's surrounded by thick trees, fountains upon fountains, and the world's oldest operating zoo. The palace isn't so bad itself, either. Plus, it was the site of Mozart' s first concert (he performed there for Empress Maria Theresa at the age of six!). Whether you tour the palace or the grounds (or both!), you won’t be disappointed. But plan to spend several hours here; it’s a time-suck in the most pleasant of ways. See also: the instax version.

2. Stop by a Strandbar.
The Danube River, which cuts through Vienna, serves as the perfect summertime setting for a little after-hours rest and relaxation. The Strandbar Hermann (pictured above) is the most famous of the strandbars ("Strand" means "beach" in German), but there are dozens of strandbars to choose from. You grab a chair, wait for a server to come take your order, sit back, indulge in a cool beverage, and perhaps enjoy some live music, too. It's a low-key, not-so-touristy way to feel like just one of the guys (assuming that "the guys" here are "the Viennese", of course). See also: a really informative post on the Danube River.

3. Get lost at Prater.
Prater....oh Prater. How I love you so. Let me count the ways! I first described on this blog as a less trashy version of the Oklahoma State Fair and it is that, but oh, it's so much more. The Prater Riesenrad (the ferris wheel seen in the background of this photo) is what Prater is known for -- it's been there since 1897! -- but the park is full of other fun rides, attractions and, most importantly, fair food. While the famous Riesenrad was originally built for Emperor Franz Joseph, I daresay the millions of tourists that flock to it every year might enjoy it more. See also: another Vienna post about Prater.

4. Consider visiting Karlskirche.
Karlskirche is located in Karlsplatz, and if you really want to get on my nerves, you can call it "Charles' church". Sure, "Karl" means 'Charles', and "Kirche" is the German word for 'church', but it drives me crazy when people refer to it that way. It should be known as Karlskirche and nothing else! Anyway, if you think the outside is magnificent, you should see the inside. Imagine getting married at a church like this! See also: another Vienna post about Karlskirche.

5. Channel your inner royal highness at the Hofburg Palace.
From the 13th to the 20th century, Austrian emperors resided here in the winter (they summered at Schonbrunn!). Now it's filled with museums showcasing artwork and other imperial treasures. It also currently serves as the President of Austria’s official residence! See also: The Hofburg Palace from afar.

6. Lounge around at Museumsquartier.
Museumsqaurtier is one of my very favorite places in Vienna. It's only been around since 2001, but it's already established itself as one of the world's largest complexes for modern art. When summertime rolls around, the quarter fills up with these signature ultra-modern over-sized chairs, which change in color year to year. Whether morning or evening, the MQ is always filled with people of all ages, whether lounging in the chairs, dining at one of the outdoor cafes, or just passing through. They say that when you're at the MQ, "Art is in the air"; maybe that's why 2/3 of the people who visit it feel satisfied by the courtyard and never even make it inside the museums surrounding it? Bonus: it's located on Mariahilferstrasse, which is one of the best shopping streets in town. See also: a night at Museumsquartier.

7. Check out the Haus her Musik
Confession: I typically think museums are -- brace yourselves -- boring. You can judge me and call me uncultured, and I won't fault you for it. But this museum, I like. It's very interactive and fun and much of it is geared toward children (not sure what that says about me). And, yeah, much like cafes, malls, department stores, tourist shops, etc. -- your dog is welcome! See also: Another nontraditional attraction in Vienna

8. Sample your way through the Naschmarkt.
In case you needed a reason to wake up early on a Saturday morning, the Naschmarkt is it. Farmers gather fresh produce from their nearby orchards and farms and sell them here on Saturdays. Personally, I find it most enjoyable if you visit on a totally empty stomach, and spend hours grazing from stand to stand, sampling bits of everything. Another tip? The falafel and hummus here is excellent. See also: my first trip to the Naschmarkt.

9. Spend an afternoon at Kunsthistoriches Museum.
The Habsburgs collected a lot of art in their day, and they stored it right here. I toured this museum in 2009 and, shockingly, wasn’t bored at all! It houses a lot of artwork I love (like the Tower of Babel painting) as well as several of Pieter Bruegel’s masterpieces: The Fight Between Carnival and Lent,
The Gloomy Day, The Return of the Herd, The Peasant Wedding, The Peasant Dance, and my all-time favorite painting, The Hunters in the Snow. See also: Another shout-out to the Kh museum.

10. Wander the streets.
It’s hard to imagine a part of Vienna that isn’t beautiful. Sure, there are some districts that are less appealing than others, but it really is a truly gorgeous city with culture everywhere you look. If all else fails, and ideas #1-#9 aren't your thing, just walk down the streets and people watch. Take a look at this woman washing windows (above), for instance. The fact that she is so nonchalantly standing on a second-story window sill without a care in the world (other than the cleanliness of her window panes) is fascinating, yes, but almost too much for my heights-fearing mind to comprehend. See also: Empty Vienna streets on a Sunday.

Tomorrow I’ll share some tips on Vienna after dark!

{photo source}

Katie said...

I am overwhelmed at all your suggestions! They all look so incredible and fun to go to or be around. Thank you! Museumsquartier looks like it would be my favorite!

Take care,

Jessica said...

Looks like you'll be busy! Fun stuff though! I'm also on the "museums are boring" train.

Jennifer said...

Serious question: Does it ever bother you when people comment who clearly either did not read your post or did but totally skimmed so they could make a comment and missed the point in the process? I mean, it's not just this blog, I see it other blogs, too, but....man. It drives me batty! Just me?

grrfeisty said...

i just bookmarked this post. vienna has been my fave city thusfar. wish i had these suggestions the 1st round, but i have a feeling the 2nd trip will be even more amazing now. THANK YOU!! :D

Anonymous said...

Going on the wheel at the Prater was one of my biggest thrills ever...because there was a snagging scene from 'The Living Daylights' filmed on it and that's my favorite Bond film EVER!!! I felt like a Bond girl, even though I was with my parents!

Bridget said...

WISH I WERE emailing you asking you what to do in vienna. but no, i'd be emailing like... can you take my trash out it's filled with dirty diapers.

(but i probably wouldnt email you about that. you get my point)

Unknown said...

Ah it sounds so fun! I want to go to the Nashmarkt. Just something about markets I love. Also, I vote for street wandering. There are so many beautiful places, buildings and sites to see.

Emily said...

Such beautiful pictures! I've been dying to go to Vienna for ages (and really, Europe in general) so when I finally do plan my trip, I will be checking back on this. Thanks!

RetreatingAndAdvancing said...

I'm going to visit Vienna and Salzburg in September and can't wait to see those beautiful places after having read your blog entries :)

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