Have you read Part 1 of our Vienna story? You can find out all about Day 1 (and see lots of pretty festive lights and read about mulled stuff) here
Monday – Walking tours, schnitzel, more mulled stuff and the opera
There’s no better way to kick start a city break than with a free walking tour. We choose Good Vienna Tours as our guides for this Monday morning tour. But first – Spar. Breakfast supplies purchased – including bread for toasting, only to discover the apartment doesn’t have a toaster. I make do with cereals and yogurt.
We’re first to arrive at Albertinaplatz so we do the usual shuffling around, moving from one place to another until someone with a green t-shirt and umbrella appears in the square. This is our cue to stop hiding around a corner and make ourselves known to our guide. Iva is in charge of us today, and it’s quite a large group so it’s sometimes difficult for us to see the video clips she shows on her tablet, but it’s still an engaging and informative morning.
We start off at the terrace of the Albertina museum, where Iva gives us comprehensive information about the State Opera House and it’s amazing history. I covered some of this in my recent Vienna State Opera blog. Of course, Mozart is synonymous with Austria; although Salzburg was his birthplace, Vienna was his home for a number of years. We gather under the memorial statue in Burggarten. It’s interesting to note that Mozart was actually buried in a simple, common grave; he was never fully appreciated in Vienna during his short life and neither The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni received acclaim or success in Vienna.
We retrace our steps to Albertinaplatz and then to the Hofburg Palace complex via the fascinating and powerful Monument against War and Fascism, a multi-element installation beginning with a “gateway” to a concentration camp, and ending with an etching of the 1945 human rights declaration cut into a stone plinth. It is interesting to hear about the Austrian’s continued guilt about their relationship with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler – himself an Austrian.
We continue the tour winding down side streets. We’re taken to a cafe at the halfway point for a comfort break but we’re unwilling to pay the ridiculous prices for a coffee so instead Mr Fletche and I walk the streets for 20 minutes. In a city famed for its cafe culture, we can’t find anywhere handy for a takeaway coffee. We’d have even been grateful at this stage for a Starbucks. We meet back up with our tour group, still coffee-less. We should have just gritted our teeth and gone for the 5 euro coffee.
We follow Iva to Stephansplatz; Vienna’s cathedral is right in the centre of the old town and our guide points out the incredible mosaic tiled roof depicting the double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Austrian Empire under the rule of the Habsburgs. From here we head to Domgasse for more Mozart tales, and then we press our noses up against the windows of Figlmuller to get a glimpse of their legendary wiener schitzel. Iva recommends booking a table for dinner a couple of days in advance. I tried before we left for Vienna and was informed that the next available evening table was sometime in January…
The tour luckily (for us) concludes in the Jewish Quarter, close to our apartment, which means we can have a quick comfort break and throw on another layer or two after a morning spent outside. All that talk of schnitzel has made us hungry.
We’d spotted a €7,60 wiener schnitzel lunch special at Kaffee Alt Wien, just down the street from that other famous schnitzel place. We made a good choice, its a traditional Viennese restaurant and coffee house, with quirky posters on the wall. The diners on the table next to use was very confused by the Austrian menu, and asked the waiter what a schnitzel was, and then asked what meat was in the (beef) goulash. They then rudely got up and left when they realised there was nothing remotely unAustrian on the menu. They probably had lunch in McDonalds or Hard Rock Cafe or some other similar unAustrian establishment.
We wander through the old town, stopping here and there, retracing our steps from the morning. We revisit the Rathausplatz christmas market which thankfully is less busy than the previous evening. We find ourselves back at Maria-Theresien Platz and continue our mission to try all the weihnachtspunsch options on the menu. We plan to get back to the apartment early as we have opera tickets for tonight, so we pop into our local Spar on the way home for a takeaway sandwich. My eyes are drawn to the wine aisle (as they so often are) and settle on a 1.65€ bottle of merlot. Does it taste any good? Who cares for 1.65€? Half a bottle of wine later and we’re ready to head back out into the cold for tonight’s performance of Don Pasquale. You can read my review of the performance, and answers to all the opera-type questions I googled first here
Tuesday – conquering Vienna’s underground system, pretending to be an empress and giant ferris wheels
It’s our wedding anniversary so naturally I demand to be treated like a Queen. Or at least a member of the Habsburg monarchy. So we purchase an all-day travel pass and hop on the underground at Schwedenplatz for the 30 minute journey to Schonbrunn Palace, the imperial summer residence of the Habsburgs.
All the information I read beforehand recommend to arrive early due to the sheer heaving mass of tourists visiting, but on a Tuesday morning in late November it’s not too busy. It’s not raining, and not too cold, so we decide to give the tour of the palace itself a miss and content ourself with wandering around the gardens. The gardens themselves are pretty massive with fountains, statues and Roman ruins, as well as additional chargeable attractions such as the zoo, maze, botanical gardens and carriage museum. The crowning glory though is the Gloriette, cresting a hill and looking down on the gardens and the palace itself; in the summer months you can pay a small entrance fee to access the top balcony. On a warm sunny day, you could easily wile away the hours exploring the extensive gardens, after an hour or two though today we are more concerned with sampling the wares at Schonbrunn’s Christmas market. A hot boozy Baileys and a shared waffle later and we’re ready to head back into town – and then straight back out of town.
Prater is a traditional amusement park, a couple of underground stops from Schwedenplatz in the 2nd District and it is home to Vienna’s iconic Riesenrad. Today’s version isn’t the original as it was rebuilt after being seriously damaged in World War II, but a giant ferris wheel has been present here in Vienna since 1897. It’s a good job that the wheel is operating today, because not much else is, and it’s quite eerie wandering round what has the feel of an abandoned theme park or ghostown. I can imagine this being a wonderful place to spend the day in summertime though, as there are attractions and rides for all ages, and loads of places to eat and drink – both of the fast-food and the more traditional variety. But today it’s not to be so we make our way back to the Winter Market at the relatively bustling Reisenradplatz for a bratwurst-based late lunch.
Of course, we can’t leave without riding the ferris wheel; it’s one of those Vienna “must-do’s”. We could opt for the private luxury gondola for a romantic meal for two, but instead we slum it with the rest of the tourists on a standard twirl around the wheel. It’s 10,00e per standard ticket, although there are a number of options if you want to combine the ferris wheel with other Vienna attractions. You can find more info here.
We finally find Karlsplatz. In fact, we take the U directly to Karlsplatz station so we can’t get ourselves confused. My favourite thing about this market is the setting – the beautiful baroque backdrop of Karlskirche – and the more rustic displays including a small petting zoo and haybales strewn around. As for the food, drink and stalls – maybe we’re getting a little christmas-market-fatigue? Although the difference at Karlsplatz is that all the food and drink is organic and sourced from bio-certified vendors.
For our final evening we decide we deserve more than a Christmas market meal or a Spar sandwich, especially as it’s our anniversary. Based on recommendations and reviews, I opted for ef16 – admittedly because it was just a five minute walk from our apartment, but also because of the excellent reviews. It also shares my initials which makes it an obvious choice. It’s located down an alleyway so my first chance to scope it out is when we push open the heavy door and step inside. It’s cosy, warm, and best of all, very busy, suggesting that we’ve made a popular choice.
Our table isn’t ready and there is standing room at the bar only but our waiter makes sure we have a drink whilst we wait. We overhear that the duck is no longer available. Of course, this is what I’d selected whilst perusing the menu earlier. Time to re-think. Once our table is ready, we forego starters in favour of demolishing the bread basket. I choose the beef filet strips which are melt-in-the-mouth succulent; Mr Fletche has the chicken breast stuffed with spinach-ricotta and walnut polenta. It’s much too dark to take any decent photos – damn you romantic candle-lit table – but rest assured that both dishes looked, smelled and tasted wonderful. We both have dessert, but I failed to make any notes of what we chose and the online menu has changed since then. But it was lovely… A wonderful way to finish a wonderful festive trip to Vienna
Flights: We flew from Birmingham International to Vienna with Eurowings, a low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa. Eurowings Europe fly from a number of UK airports including Birmingham, Manchester and Heathrow all across Europe. Our flights cost around £110 per person including all surcharges, and we paid an additional £30 for one checked suitcase up to 23kg.
Accommodation: We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in the First District, close to the Schwedenplatz underground station and a short walk from all of the Old Town attractions. If you’re interested in trying out AirBnB in 2018, use this link and you can get money off your first booking!
Travelling around Vienna: Vienna, like most European cities, has a wonderfully efficient and cheap public transport system. Tickets can be purchased which are valid on the bus, train and tram network (excluding airport shuttles and the Vienna Ring Tram), and these can be bought as singles, as a ticket strip for four single journeys, or as a 24-, 48- or 72-hour pass. A 24-hour ticket is €7.60. Vienna’s public transport is run by Wiener Linien. Most of the city’s attractions are in the First District, encircled by the Ringstraße, and it is an extremely walkable city.
Airport to Vienna: From the airport the best transfer options are the direct bus or train. The City Airport Train (CAT) takes 16 minutes to reach Wien-Mitte station for €11.00pp, or take one of the Vienna Airport Line buses on one of three routes to various stops around the city – we used the VAL2 route, a non-stop 22 minute journey between the airport and Morinplatz/Schwedenplatz for €8.00pp
Wow, that was longer than I intended! Thank you for sticking with me (if you have, and you’re not just scrolling trying to find your way out of this endless ramble…)
Is Vienna on your citybreak wishlist? I can highly recommend it, particularly at Christmastime!