Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Vienna: a guide and my top tips

Hofburg Palace
Vienna is by no means a huge city, but it has the beauty of Paris and is as easy to walk round as New York. Having spent the past three weeks exploring Austria's capital while I worked as an au pair, I had the good fortune of being able to get to know the city rather well, so here are my top tips for visiting Vienna.


Compared to Paris' metro, Vienna's U-Bahn (underground train network) looks quite small on a map. However, it's extremely efficient, reliable, spacious and easy to use. Equally, when above ground, you're never more than a few minutes walk from a station. It's easily the best way to get around if you don't want to walk, although there are also trams and buses. No matter how long your journey on the U-Bahn, a ticket costs 2€. There are no ticket barriers, and you're supposedly meant to be checked by ticket officers on the train. However, in my three weeks riding the U-Bahn, I wasn't checked once and didn't even see a ticket inspector. I'm not condoning travelling without a ticket though, because you'll be fined if you're caught and I wouldn't want to be the one to blame! Vienna also has a bike system just like the Vélibs in Paris - the first hour is free and there are lots of docking stations, so it's another good way to get around and see the city.


Hofburg Palace
Vienna has an incredible array of palaces, monuments and grand buildings. The majority of them are pretty central and easy to walk round in an afternoon. A nice central walking tour I did a few times with different people went in this order: the Staatsoper (opera house), Stephansdom (cathedral - you can walk round inside for free too!), the Spanische Hofreitschule (the grand Spanish riding school), Hofburg Palace, the Parlament building, the Rathaus and the Burgtheater - they're basically all just impressive buildings. And if it's a nice day, walking round central Vienna and stopping off in beautiful gardens full of flowers and fountains, while stumbling upon one of these beautiful buildings every few minutes is a really nice way to spend an afternoon. I'm no architecture geek but even I was in awe of Vienna. These main sights aside, pretty much every building in Vienna is beautifully grand. I think I may have found the most opulent H&M in the world. Don't worry, I'll get to shops later.

Schönbrunn gardens
As if the aforementioned architectural treats weren't enough, Vienna has two more amazing palaces that are slightly less central: Schloss  and Schloss Belvedere. Schönbrunn in particular is a definite must-see, and deserves an afternoon all to itself. It has delightful huge gardens to explore (as well as a zoo and maze) and if you walk up the hill to the Gloriette (don't worry, there's a café at the top which is unsurprisingly over-priced but there if you need it!) you'll find stunning views looking out across the whole of Vienna. You have to pay for the maze, zoo and to go inside the palace, but exploring the gardens and walking round the palace outside is free. Hoorah!

Schloss Belvedere


Vienna's Mariahilfer Strasse is supposedly the city's answer to Oxford Street, and is where you can find all the main high street chain shops, as well as an English language cinema (most English/American films are dubbed in German). However, for shopping, I actually prefer Kärntner Strasse. It has most of the shops you find on Mariahilfer Strasse (such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara and United Colours of Benetton), but is a much nicer shopping environment in my opinion, mainly because it's pedestrianised. If you follow the order in the walking tour round Vienna's central monuments I mentioned above, you will actually find yourself strolling down Kärntner Strasse. Convenient eh?

Shopping in Vienna
If it's a rainy day and you fancy getting a bit of high-street shopping in, why not venture out to Vienna's huge shopping mall Shopping City Süd (SCS) on the outskirts of the city. It's not pretty. At all. But it has loooads of shops (I literally got lost), eateries and a cinema. SCS is also easy to get to by bus.

If designer shopping is more up your street, then the streets you want to find are round Kohlmarkt. Here you'll stumble upon Chanel, Tiffany's, Burberry and more. Oh, and yes, you will also stroll through this area on the aforementioned walking tour. Works out rather nicely, don'tcha think?

Vienna has great little markets popping up all the time and everywhere, but the biggy is the Naschmarkt, which I devoted a whole separate blog post to here.


The entrance to Prater
Prater - Its full name is The Wurstelprater amusement park, and is more fun than you might think. It's huge, so there are rides to suit everyone from little kids to crazy thrill seekers. OK, maybe not crazy thrill seekers, but we went on some that sure had me screaming for my life. There's also a Madame Tussaud's if that floats your boat. What's great is that it's free to enter the park, but then each ride costs between two and five Euros, and obviously, the best ones are the more expensive ones. And if parents want to leave the rides to the kids, there's a ginormous park nearby which makes for some nice strolling, and also a huge beer garden.

The Art History Museum
Museums - Conveniently, all Vienna's big museums are located together in one area, The Museums Quartier. The Art History Museum is directly opposite the Natural History Museum, and both are architectural treats, and then just over the road all the other main museums are found (such as MUMOK (modern art) and the Leopold (Klimt galore!)) around a pedestrianised area, dotted with cafés and restuarants, including a great fro-yo place. I really loved spending time relaxing with friends inside the Museums Quartier. It's a great place for people watching and always full with trendy young things whiling away their days hanging out on the strange colourful loungers. Most of the museums have discounted prices for students, and if you're under 19 a lot of them are free. I was just too old. Annoying.

Vienna is a city full of culture, and there are plenty of other smaller museums on offer as well. One of the most interesting I went to was the Esperanto museum, which I wrote about here.

Inside the trendy Museums Quartier
Theatres - In the space of less than two weeks, I went to my first opera, a musical and a ballet in Vienna. What? I hear you thinking, That doesn't sound very studenty! Well, both my tickets for the opera and musical were 2€ each, and for the ballet I paid 8€. Major win. The musical and opera were both performed at Vienna's Volksoper. This is supposedly the less grand "theatre of the people", but it was still pretty grand as far as I was concerned. The reason I got my tickets for 2€ is that they were standing tickets. However, on both occasions there were some empty seats at the top of the auditorium, and we were allowed to move down into them. Amazing. Obviously both the opera and musical were in German so I couldn't understand everything, but for 2€, who cares? Seeing live performances is always great fun.

Vienna Volksoper
The ballet, on the other hand, was performed in Vienna's Staatsoper theatre. And this really does make the Volksoper look like a shack. If the exterior of the building wasn't impressive enough, being allowed inside on the night of the ballet revealed that the interior is actually even more opulent. My 8€ ticket was a "restricted view" seat at the back of a box. To be fair, the view was pretty restricted. Or it would have been, if I hadn't stood up, moved forwards and peered over the heads of those in front of me. Luckily, they were fine with that! The Staatsoper also sells standing tickets for 2€, but these go on sale just two hours before a performance, and you have to get there early to queue!

Inside the Staatsoper
Both theatres have different performances on most nights, as opposed to having one show in for weeks at a time. This is obviously great for tourists, as you're bound to find something that tickles your fancy during your stay in Vienna. Also, people get reeeaaally dressed up for their nights out at the theatre - the opera and ballet especially. I learnt this the hard way. Sandals to the opera? Even if they are trendy and bargainous River Island beauts, they probably weren't the best choice.


Right. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Viennese cuisine is goooood. If you're going to Vienna student-style, you probably won't be frequenting many of the fine restaurants on offer. However, I did go to one, which is apparently the home of the Schnitzel, and it got a whole separate blog post because it was so great. Interestingly, Vienna is home to a lot of Turkish eateries and take-aways, so if you're a Kebap fan (no, that wasn't a typo, that's how they spell "kebab" in German), you'll be right at home. There are also lots of cheap places where you can grab a slice of pizza to go.

Obviously the cheapest way to buy your food is in a supermarket. Billa is Vienna's most prominent chain, with a vast array of foodie goodies, and is easily spotted by the rotating yellow Billa bag outside each store. Don't ask. However, Lidl and Hofer (like Aldi) are actually cheaper, despite being less ubiquitous and offering less choice.

If you haven't read my previous post all about them, you're probably wondering Why hasn't she mentioned cakes yet!? I know I would be. Well, reader, I devoted a whole separate blog post to Viennese cakes. Enjoy it here.

Mozart flavour ice cream
And if you fancy indulging your sweet tooth outside of cakes and pastries, Vienna loves ice cream. There are so many Italian-style Gelato places with all sorts of delicious sundaes and flavours on offer. I even saw Mozart flavour ice cream. No joke. Something else I would recommend are the Viennese Manner wafers. They sounds so simple - wafers filled with a hazelnut cream - but they will blow your mind.


Around central Vienna, there are lots of benches, parks and places to sit. This pleases me, as sometimes in England you want a sit down (yes, I know, I'm prematurely elderly) but you don't want to have to spend money in a café (student problems eh?). Equally, there are a fair few water fountains around the city centre, which is always great for the broke student.

Annoyingly, you do have to pay for all public toilets. 50 Cents each time! Not cool. My friend and I thought we'd out-smarted the system on one occasion by sneaking under the un-manned barrier. We went to the loo, feeling really smug, but when we came out there was a security guard who'd seen us on camera waiting to charge us. Pfft.



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