Would you like to travel to a place, where you would get the grandeur of Paris and the countryside of Switzerland?? Then, Austria is the answer for you!! Austria has got the perfect match of stunning Alpine views, pristine lakes, architectural masterpieces, dramatic landscapes and rolling hills. This marvelous country falls in Central Europe and is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the East, Slovenia and Italy to the South and Switzerland to the West. It has taken the best from every place!! When you have so many countries bordering you, the languages spoken also tends to be diverse. The local population speaks Bavarian dialects as their native language, but German is the official language. Hungarian, Croatian and Slovene are also spoken here.
Before we start, let's get the facts right!!
Best time to visit - April to June for warm and sunny weather, and September to October for Autumn colours. We visited at the end of September.
How to travel around - Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Graz are the major airports. Austria is very well connected by buses and trains. However, I found the trains quite expensive (For instance, from Vienna to Salzburg it would cost somewhere around 100 Euros. Hence, we chose to make a road trip. Which in my opinion is one of the best options!!)
Ours was a 4-day weekend trip. It isn't enough, but we at least explored the must do's. Planning the trip was a difficult task, as all the places are so beautiful, that we were finding it difficult to exclude a few from our itinerary. We finally pinned down our to-do list and were off to experience something extremely surreal. As there is so much to do in the beautiful city of Vienna, I have broken down my blog into two parts - the 1st one with Vienna and the second one would be the countryside of Austria.
We flew from London to Vienna on a Friday morning and got to our hotel by noon. We were put up in AllYouNeed Vienna 4 Hotel. By then, we were starving and were craving for some hot Indian food!! We found a restaurant very close to our hotel - Taste of India. The food was just like how we wanted it - spicy and delicious. Since we had an early start, we snoozed for a while, so that we could be energetic to explore the rest of the day.
After a brief nap, we walked towards the city centre, admiring a lot of beautifully built buildings on the way, especially Albertina - an Art museum with collections of old master prints and 20th-century art and Innere Stadt - this marks Vienna's old town and is encircled by the Grand Ringstrasse boulevard. We also walked by the magnificent Opera House. There were a few vendors selling tickets for the Mozart show. We were lucky enough to get seats for the night. (Adult tickets cost from 50 Euros to 300 Euros, depending on the categories. However, the vendor was sweet enough to give us a student discount, which then cost us 45 Euros each). We continued walking and when we got to the city centre called Stephansplatz, there were some local dances which were being performed by old couples and youngsters. It was a treat to watch them. Right opposite, we noticed a Gelato ice cream parlour called Aida Cafe, which claimed to be the World's best Gelato ice cream. We ordered for fresh strawberry and Belgium chocolate. Needless to stay, it was mouth watering!!
Also, in the centre was the St. Stephen's Cathedral. It is considered one of the most religious buildings of Vienna. Built of limestone, the cathedral is known for its multi-coloured tiled roof. Another notable fact is that, above the choir on the south side, the tiles form a mosaic of a double-headed eagle that is a symbol of the empire which was ruled from Vienna by the Habsburg Dynasty. You can witness a beautiful pulpit, a rustic pipe organ and tomb of Emperor Frederick III inside the cathedral.
At a little distance, nearer to the shopping street was another church - St. Peter's Catholic Church. This church had a completely different architecture. It is based on Baroque style and its design is said to be inspired by St. Peter's Basilica of the Vatican in Rome. The turreted dome is artistically designed and inscribes paintings on its walls. This gorgeous church, right in the heart of the city deserves some time to sit and glare at the artistic walls.
We walked the entire stretch of the shopping street, also going through the Plague Column - a Holy Trinity column built to commemorate victims of the plague. My husband was holding my hand, to ensure that I don't get diverted, and start shopping!!
Our dinner stop was at Vapiano (there are many in Vienna). It is one of my favourite Italian restaurants, as you can customize your pizza and pasta right in front of you.
After dinner, we directly went for the Mozart concert at the Royal Opera. (We were in casual clothing. What you need to wear may differ from show to show, so inquire before you attend your show). The interiors of the Opera are like a typical European style Opera House, sprawling staircase, glittering chandeliers and red and gold decor. Even if you don't plan to watch a show here, I would recommend to see it from the inside. When you are in the "City of Music," you are undoubtedly going to witness some of the most musical tunes, especially when the music is by Mozart. The show was very well organized. It had a variety of symphonies being played along with Opera and ballet dancing. The Opera genre was mostly comedy. The show beautifully ended with the Mozart's most famous piece of work - Symphony 40. Hear it below, and it'll ring a bell to you!!
We took a taxi back to our hotel, humming the tune in our heads and rested for the night.
For the love of trying new cafes we have, we went on to try breakfast at Vollpension, which was around 800m away from our hotel. It's a fun and comfortable place to chill with old rustic furniture and a variety of framed pictures. Also, there were freshly baked pieces of bread and cakes. The speciality of the cakes was that a cute grandma made them!! We ordered for granola, a bowl of fruits, some coffee and the scrumptious cakes. One thing we noticed all through-out Austria was that the coffee was quite warm and not hot how I like it to be.
Like I mentioned in my earlier blogs, we usually prefer taking the hop and hop off when we are running short on time. And we did that here as well. Our first stop was Naschmarkt. It is one of the most attractive attractions of the city with many delicacies, flavours and aromas from all over the world. There are a variety of restaurants and bars which happily invite for a delicious meal!!
We hopped on to our bus and stopped at our next stop - Schonbrunn Palace. The Schonbrunn Palace was the primary summer residence of the Habsburg rules. It is a 1441 room Baroque palace and is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. It is one of the most elegant palaces I have seen. The lush green gardens and the monuments are worth a sight. There is a Gloriette at the end of the gardens at a great height, which houses a cafe and an observation deck which provides panoramic views of the city. Also, on the other side of the gardens are the Roman ruins. Just like how magnificent the palace is on the outside, it is posh and glamorous on the inside. The entry to the palace gardens is free, however, if you want to explore the staterooms and the interior (which I would definitely recommend) costs 14.20 Euros for adults, 11.50 Euros for children aged from 6-18 years for 22 rooms and 20 Euros for adults, 13 Euros for children aged from 6-18 years for 40 rooms. I couldn't have enough of taking pictures here, but, we had to continue on our journey.
Our next stop was the Belvedere Palace. This palace consists of 2 Baroque palaces, Orangery and the Palace Stables. It is now a museum and houses the famous Kiss and Judith painting by Gustav Klimt. To be honest, after seeing the Schonbrunn Palace, this one looked quite pale in front of it. But it is definitely worth a see. I wouldn't recommend visiting the interiors as they aren't as fancy and majestic as Schonbrunn. The palace is divided into the Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere. The former houses the main building while the latter houses the sprawling gardens, fountains and the common building. It is a pleasing walk around the whole palace where you can stop at various points for some amazing clicks!!
We continued on our bus and got dropped off near Parliament Square. Since it was time for our next meal, we started our hunt for some food and found a vegan restaurant called Veggiezz nearby. This place had some amazing burgers and wraps which were a great replacement for meat. Definitely try their mocktails as well. A very cute and chic restaurant to hang around.
Vienna's architecture can leave you speechless. We were already spellbound after seeing the 2 palaces, but this was just the beginning. Next, we stopped at the Museum of Fine Arts (Also known as Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Natural History Museum. These 2 buildings face each other with a statue of the Kings of Habsburg in the centre, separating the two. Both of them are very similar to each other architecturally, or rather a mirror image of the other. The Museum of Fine Arts houses paintings and artefacts by Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Titian and many others. If you are an art lover, then you can give this museum a try. (I am not!! Haha). The tickets cost 17 Euros and children go free. While, on the other end, the National History Museum is not to miss!! (If you have seen the one in London, then you may want to skip it, as it is more or less the same. However, the interiors of the one in Vienna are more gorgeous). The National History Museum exhibits more than 100,000 artefacts which claim to be more than 250 years old. The tickets cost 12 Euros for adults, while children go free.
From there we walked towards the Parliament Square located on Ringstrasse. There you can see the Hofburg Palace, the Palace of Justice and the Parliament Buildings. I'm falling short of words to explain the beauty that surrounded me. They have a lot of horse rides which take you around the parliament and explain each and every building. (It costs around 100 Euros for a carriage. Minimum of 6 can fit in it. So if you are just a couple, like us, then it turns out quite expensive!!) Our last stop of the day was Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles). Another Baroque architecture inspired church, this has a frescoed dome and a french designed pulpit. The colour scheme is characterised by marble with sparring and conscious use of gold leaf. I did not find it as grand as the earlier two churches, however, it is one of the must visit in Vienna.
We then went to the airport to collect our rental car. Since we were going to explore the countryside the next day onwards, I was adamant to get a convertible car. And so we did. It was a Fiat 500cc. A cute little monster. We drove back to our hotel and stopped at Riva Pizza for dinner. A special recommendation to this restaurant - despite being terribly busy, they served us a wood-fired pizza before time and oh my god! It was delicious as hell. Do try the Marinara pizza (its the best I've eaten till date).
Despite covering most of the must do's, we were still left with a few more places on our list which couldn't be covered. I'm pinning them down for you here:
- Experience horse riding in the Spanish Riding School
- The Vienna Ferris Wheel
- Hundertwasser - It is a collection of colourful apartments built after the idea and concept of the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser
- Zoo at the Shonbrunn Palace
- Relaxing and may be a picnic at Stadtpark
After visiting Vienna, I realised that it is a very underrated city. It definitely deserves 3 days. A lot many times, people just keep the city in their itinerary as an arrival and departure point. This city is way beyond that. So I come to end to Part 1 of Austria. Will launch Part 2 soon!!