If regal palaces, art museums, and busy cafes come to mind when you think of Europe look no further. Vienna is a romantic city worth visiting if you don't mind a heavy dose of modernity.
The fifth city of our Europe backpacking trip brought highs and lows. As an art history major I was in heaven, but Brad reached his limit of museums. Vienna blends old and new traditions together in a visually stimulating way. As travelers, we prefer an unobstructed historical view of a city's character. In our opinion, we felt Vienna was posh and expensive.
While we enjoyed the Austrian capital, Vienna was our least favorite city in our eight city sweep of Eastern Europe. Regardless, the House of Habsburg definitely left a lasting legacy which can be appreciated in a two-day trip.
St. Stephen's Cathedral
Begin your tour of the city with a spiral climb of 343 stairs to the top of the South Tower; the main attraction of the 12th Century church is worth the effort. The 360 degree view is captivating and provides a unique vantage point to admire the glazed roof tiles. Arrive early to avoid crowds and appreciate this important landmark in Vienna.
There are an abundance of cafes in Vienna, but our favorite was Cafe Central. Known for its colorful patrons, such as Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky, the popular location has a welcoming atmosphere. The service is friendly and the food is delicious. The scrambled eggs, apricot crepes, and yogurt fueled our day while the coffee added a swift kick in the pants.
I have been to plenty of art museums, from the Met in New York City to the Louvre in Paris, but the Belvedere takes the cake. Brad even enjoyed himself! Two Baroque palaces exhibit artists including Gustav Klimt, Johann Knapp, and Jacques-Louis David. As you stroll along pea gravel walkways, manicured gardens come to life with sculptures, fountains, and lush flowers. The exhibits have a wonderful layout and provide important historical context.
SIDE NOTE: I also visited the Hofburg Palace to see the Imperial Treasury, the National History Museum to see the Venus of Willendorf, and the Kunsthistoriches Museum to see Johannes Vermeer's The Allegory of Painting. Look for combo tickets to save money. I spent most of my second day at these three museums while Brad explored the city. I loved all of them, but if I had to pick just one it would be the Belvedere!
Vienna's biggest outdoor market is a great way to try unique flavors if you get tired of the typical meat and potato dishes. We tasted dried hibiscus, curry chicken, and baklava. Vendors are not shy and will hand out free samples to entice a purchase, especially from tourists. Grab a seat, enjoy a break from the formality of traditional restaurants, and have fun people-watching.
Out of the many pastries and confections you will undoubtedly eat on your trip in Vienna, the famous Sacher Torte is perhaps the most notable. The Hotel Sacher serves the original recipe created by Franz Sacher in 1832. A thin layer of apricot jam nestled between two layers of chocolate cake is covered with a dark chocolate icing. Overall, the dessert was mediocre and did not live up to our expectations after a long wait in line. Oh well!
A meal worth standing in line for can be found at Figlmuller, a restaurant that prides itself on the perfect execution of pork schnitzel. Measuring almost a foot in diameter, the thin golden fried cutlet is finished off with fresh lemon juice and a tangy side of potato salad. The combination is mouthwatering. We also ordered potato soup, pork fettuccine, and apple strudel. The service is top notch and the charming ambiance is inviting.
Although we only scratched the surface, Vienna left us perplexed. After Salzburg and Hallstatt, our last Austrian stop was underwhelming. Perhaps it was unfortunate timing since we were exhausted with the pace of our itinerary at this point. We left with no regrets, but realized an imperfect environment is more our style.