48 hours in Vienna only gives visitors a snapshot of Austria’s capital city but it can be just enough to entrance you with its beauty and tempt you to return another day. Arriving by train at lunchtime from Salzburg, we had one full day and two half-days to canter round Vienna, which seemed totally at odds with the Slow Travel ethos we had adopted from Inntravel on our Lakes and Mountains walking holiday the previous week. But somehow the idea of taking time to explore in a leisurely fashion remained firmly in place. There was no ticking off a list of ‘top ten highlights’ on this trip but we did discover the essence of the city with some clever sightseeing decisions.
Use the Vienna City Card to make travel easier
A city card, giving you access to free transport, does make life easier when you’re visiting a city for the first time. We were very grateful to the Vienna Tourist Board for supplying us with a Vienna City Card to use during our stay. As Vienna is a lot bigger than Salzburg, you probably won’t want to walk everywhere. The City Card enabled us to use buses, trams and the metro to get around. Discounted entry to many attractions, shops and restaurants was also included. You can, if you wish, swap the free public transport for the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus Tours of Vienna.
There is another card available to tourists, the Vienna City Pass. This isn’t supplied by the tourist board. If your aim is to gain entry to a large number of attractions, it’s a consideration and I’d certainly recommend you compare the offer from both suppliers to see what suits your needs. In terms of price, the Vienna City Card, which we used, costs 21.90 euros for 48 hours of free public transport and discounted entry to most attractions. The Vienna City Pass costs 78.30 euros for 48 hours with free entry into many attractions plus free use of the Vienna Sightseeing hop-on, hop-off bus (for an extra 13.30 euros you can purchase a travelcard for public transport).
You just need to weigh up how many museums and galleries you wish to visit. The weather may influence your decisions here…
If the weather is good, admire attractions from the outside
When we arrived in Vienna we were initially overwhelmed by the scale of the city and its opulent buildings. But as we didn’t have time for everything, we made the most of the warm Autumn weather to appreciate Vienna’s gifts from the outside. The Natural History Museum is a striking edifice and one of my favourite photographs from our stay made use of the late afternoon light which captured the architecture perfectly.
You could easily spend a full day at Schloss Schönbrunn, the dazzling summer residence of the Hapsburgs. There are tickets available for palace tours, the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Furniture Collection. It’s definitely on the list for a return visit to Vienna but on a sunny October day, a slow amble through the gardens and up to the Gloriette monument was a wonderful way to pass a couple of hours. The gardens are free and our city card allowed us to jump on the metro which took us swiftly to the palace gates.
Save interiors for a rainy day
Our final morning was a bit grey and damp and as this was predicted, we planned a visit to the Belvedere, the palace complex which is home to stunning art and, of particular note, the world’s largest collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt. The ornate golden pictures of The Kiss and Judith, in the Upper Belvedere, are matched only by the mirrored extravagance of the Golden Room in the Lower Belvedere.
Plan some evening sightseeing
Our accommodation was the Hotel Kaiserhof, an elegant establishment just outside of the Ringstrasse within which many of the famous buildings are located. From here we had easy access to public transport but we were also very close to the Naschmarkt, the huge permanent daily market, a popular meeting place for the Viennese. We realised on our first afternoon that the market had lots of restaurants which stayed open as the market began to close for the day. By having an early dinner at the market, we were able to rest when I’m usually flagging, and continue our exploration of Vienna for a few more hours after dinner.
After some delicious Asian food at Yumi, we headed for Prater Park, via the metro. Here we took a ride on Vienna’s famous giant Ferris Wheel. There were no queues, the park itself was quiet and the views over the city at night-time were spectacular.
On our second night, after a romantic Italian meal at Trattoria Pulcinella in the Naschmarkt, we walked to Austria’s State Library to visit the baroque hall, the Prunksaal. On Thursday evenings the library is open until 9pm so we were able to see the exquisite interior at a quiet time. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. To wander around, unrushed and relaxed, was another Slow Travel moment to treasure.
The Sound Museum (Haus der Musik) isn’t on everyone’s must-see list for Vienna but when it’s open until 10pm every night, and you fancy having lots of fun when the children aren’t hogging all the interactive displays, it’s well worth a visit. This museum was a huge hit with us. It’s where the traditional – the great composers, operas and Viennese Balls – meets the progressive – perception lab, polyphonium and instrumentarium.
I ran up and down the keyboard staircase, just like Tom Hanks in the movie, Big. Again and again. Such a child. Dougie and I rolled dice to create our own waltz composition and tried out the NAMADEUS, where we turned our names into an original Mozart melody. Originally created for his piano student Franziska von Jacquin in 1787, this musical game ‘KV 516f’ sets music to letters of the alphabet.
The highlight was virtually conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Here’s a little snippet of my woeful attempt at the Blue Danube. It all ended badly with a severe ‘telling-off’ from one of the musicians, who was very disappointed when I stopped too early. My tip here is, no matter how quick or slow you conduct, make sure you carry on until the end. Dougie’s timing was abysmal but he still received a standing ovation at the end. Not that I’m bitter…
If you want to know more about this museum, check out posts from fellow bloggers, Emma (A Bavarian Sojourn) and Sarah (Family Travel Times). It was reading their experiences of the Haus Der Music that put it firmly on our Vienna list.
Make some time for something you really want to see
I was familiar with Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), a famous Viennese architect and artist, and vowed to make time to see his museum and nearby apartment block so I could see his colourful, bizarre, rule-breaking work for myself. It’s a little further out from the centre so we took the tram, making use of the free transport provided by our Vienna City Card. Photos aren’t allowed in most of the galleries within the Museum Hundertwasser (Kunst Haus Wien) but I can share the glorious design of the exterior, which will give you some idea of how gifted and inspired this man was. There’s more than a touch of Gaudi in his style and it’s remarkable to think his designs were accepted for a number of buildings including a hotel in Austria, a railway station in Germany and a winery in California.
Do make sure you walk down the street to see Hundertwasserhaus, the apartment block which he designed in conjunction with Josef Krawina and where people are still living, albeit in a goldfish bowl as tourists congregate to take photographs.
Always stop for kaffee und kuchen
You’re in Vienna so it’s the law (probably) to stop for coffee and cake at least once during your stay. Café Central, on the corner of Herrengasse and Strauchgasse, is one of Vienna’s finest. A big thank you to everyone who recommended it to me in advance (and there were many). It has been a popular rendezvous since 1876, just the place to meet with your companions, Freud and Trotsky, to discuss politics, philosophy and literature of the day. Or you could just sit and people-watch, like we did. The smart waiters weave their way around the tables, the atmosphere is elegant and stylish and it’s buzzing with conversation. Take your pick from the selection of cakes on offer, sit back, and let the history and traditions of Austria’s café society soothe you. That’s Slow Travel, Viennese-style.
We were given two complimentary Vienna City Cards by the Vienna Tourist Board, to use during our stay.
We booked our own trip to Vienna as an add-on from our Lakes & Mountains walking holiday with Inntravel.