It is easy to be a good tourist in Vienna. Buy a 48 hour City Big Bus ticket and explore Vienna with its extravagant and historic buildings and magnificent monuments. The ticket also gave us a walking tour, a night tour and, for a few extra euros, we purchased the Vienna City Card. This gave us discounts on entrance fees, restaurants and entertainment.
It is impossible to see all the wonders Vienna has to offer in five days but here are some of the highlights we discovered during our stay.
Our first day was a Saturday so in the evening we set out to explore Vienna’s gay bars which are located predominantly around the Naschmarkt area. Unfortunately, we found it almost impossible to stay in the bars as they were small, crowded and filled with billowing cigarette smoke. We were told by a local that, “This is a smoking city” which both surprised and disappointed us. That aside, Felixx Bar is popular, stylish and well decorated with red decor and black leather seating. A DJ plays on the weekends keeping the place lively and the friendly bar staff were keen to make us feel welcome. Felixx has an outside drinking area which is popular on warm evenings.
Inside Bar Vienna, is a favourite with locals, with a small, crowded front bar and a seating area at the rear (not a back room unfortunately). Again everyone was smoking but the bar staff kindly put on the air conditioning when we couldn’t stand the lack of air any longer.
Village Bar was very quiet around 10:30 pm with about three or four people smoking and drinking and nearby Schik Bar appeared permanently closed.
There are other gay bars outside the Naschmarkt area but, to be frank, we gave up on looking further as the smoke made those we visited very unpleasant. Addicted to Rock Bar close by to Felixx soon became our favourite. Although mostly a straight clientele, there were a number of gay men enjoying this ultra modern and friendly non-smoking venue. We look forward to returning after 2018 when smoking will be banned inside bars and restaurants in Austria.
We couldn’t leave Vienna without trying its famous sauna. Nestled in a charming little cove in the most historic part of town, Kaiserbründl is a hot, steamy gem. Each day is a different theme and on Friday you’ll be treated to ‘naked night’. The foundations are built on Roman relics and this classically crafted building, reminiscent of a Turkish hamam, has been described as one of the most sumptuous bathhouses in the world. Many famous men have been entertained here, from the emperor’s brother, Archduke Ludwig Viktor, famous for his love of male beauty, to George Michael.
You’ll pay a €20 entry fee for the usual towel, key and orientation talk but when you go exploring you’ll find an intriguing but friendly downstairs bar, two dry saunas, a crowded wet sauna, a gym, and a simply stunning marble pool for cooling off. Wandering through the dimly lit labyrinth of clean, comfortable and enticing facilities is all part of the charm. Take a break and book a massage with the handsome, swarthy masseur, eat in the restaurant or chat with the locals over a refreshing beer. A totally invigorating experience not to be missed when visiting this elegant city.
The Albertina Museum across the road from the Opera House is an artwork in itself. Originally built in the 17th century it houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world with approximately 65,000 drawings and nearly one million works by old masters.
It took us three to four hours to cover the four floors displaying the likes of Miro, Bruegel, Picasso, Warhol and Monet. All were amazing but what captured our attention most was the rich elegance of the apartments with their brilliant silk wallpaper, the skilled craftsmanship of the parquetry, huge crystal chandeliers, exquisite sculptures and of course the priceless artworks.
Spanish Riding School
Our tickets were for the morning exercise program at the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg Palace. The full dancing stallion performances are only on weekends.
In the Winter Riding School the white Lipizzaners are exercised daily for half an hour each over a two hour period. We saw elements of classical dressage and training techniques which teach the stallions to lunge into the air.
We loved seeing these strong, majestic animals in the grand, purpose built arena, steeped in so much history and charm. You would want to be horse lovers like us to stay for the full two hours as the exercise program is quite repetitive. In the afternoon we toured the tack room and stables where we had the opportunity to get up close to these impressive creatures and learn more about their breeding program, their care and daily routine.
We visited the Naschmarkt one evening mid-week for dinner. We were expecting a lot from the hype we had read about this part of the city. We found a small number of restaurants open, including tapas, seafood and Italian. The majority of places open were bars filled with people drinking (smoking of course) and having snacks. Perhaps the area is better on a weekend when the flea market is open and it offers more variety but on our brief visit we found the area a little quiet. However, we discovered a fabulous article which provides details about the restaurants in the Naschmarkt as well as other suggestions for things to do in Vienna.
We used our City Big Bus ticket to get to Schönbrunn Palace, the sightseeing ride taking about 40 minutes. On arrival we bought the Classic Tickets giving us access to the state rooms, the private apartments (the precious 18th-century interiors from the time of Maria Theresa) and the court gardens.
We suggest booking tickets online if touring in summer. The Palace is imposing and each of the forty rooms has a story. For us the highlight of the Palace was the magnificent Hall of Ceremonies and the imposing Gobelin Salon with its exquisite Brussels tapestries.
Don’t miss walking behind the Palace to the extensive gardens. The Crown Prince Garden, the Maze and Labyrinth and Orangery Garden are all spectacular. The Gloriette with its viewing terrace allows a panoramic view of Vienna. Our favourite part of the garden was the centre piece fountain with towering streams of water and enormous, classical sculptures. Some brilliant photo ops to be found in this part of the palace grounds.
The Sisi Museum
We have left the best until last. The Sisi Museum is housed in the Stephan apartments of the Hofburg. It is brilliant, sheer opulence at its absolute finest.
The porcelain exhibition is incredibly extensive and some of the pieces are breathtaking. If you are into rich silver tableware, gold cutlery, fine ceramics and porcelain then you will be amazed.
Take the audio guide and learn about the matriarch of the Hapsburgs, the Empress Sisi who is more famous now than in her own lifetime. We could not believe the similarities between her life and that of Princess Diana, both strong, independent, yet troubled women who met with untimely and violent deaths.
We stayed at the Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront with the largest rooms in Vienna. The hotel was what you would expect of any Hilton and located adjacent to the ‘not so’ blue Danube.
Each morning we flung open the huge window facing the river and performed a little Strauss waltz just to set the mood for the day in this stunning city. The hotel was 15 minutes by subway out of Vienna. If you are short on tourist time this would be an issue but we found it gave us an opportunity to see the real Vienna rather than being confined just to the tourist hub.
Know Before You Go
If travelling in Summer buy tickets online for tourist attractions.
Purchase the 48 hour Big Bus Ticket.
We booked our accomodation Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront through agoda.com
Line up early at the Spanish Riding School to get the best seats in the viewing area.
Travelling by subway and bus is very easy and inexpensive in Vienna and taxis are very expensive.
Don’t forget to try the famous Sacher Torte at Café Sacher near the Opera House.
Be careful of scalpers near the Opera House who do the hard sell for evening performances.