There is something for everyone in Vienna, which makes this city the ultimate playground for the avant-garde traveler. From chic palaces and baroque architecture to tiny coffee houses, there are multiple ways to explore Austria’s capital. If you only have a few days to roam around the city, here are five ways to experience local life while learning about Vienna’s historic past.
Vienna has its fair share of palaces so there’s plenty of opportunities to gaze upon royal bedchambers, impeccably designed gardens and detailed statues. Schönbrunn Palace is my personal favorite mainly due to the endless rows of colorful flowers growing in the outdoor gardens. One glance at the palace grounds and its easy to understand why the Habsburg monarchs chose to spend there summer here.
Hofburg Palace lies within the inner city and includes museums, a chapel, riding school, horse stables, library, theatre and Hofburg Congress Center. It’s also the current residence of the President of Austria. Hofberg Palace is a great starting point for your day because of its historical significance and central location. A third and perhaps the most well-known is Belvedere, which houses two palaces, the Orangery and the Palace Stables.
While Vienna has countless museums and cultural attractions to occupy hours on end, it’s a good idea to balance history with lifestyle. Instead of going to one museum after the other, try heading into a local cafe or venturing away from the central district. For those of you who crave street art and a more urban setting, there’s no better place to experience this than along the Danube canal. During the day there are young hipsters creating new graffiti art, bikers chatting as they go and people simply watching boats travel along the river. By nightfall, this is the main hub for nightlife and lively bars.
One really helpful resource for finding local spots is the Urban Guide to Vienna. Their map includes graffiti walls, art spaces, music venues, affordable accommodations, shops, bars and restaurants, all with a young, urban slant. You can also order a free copy of Vienna for Young Travelers, which is a map created by locals for travelers looking to go-off-the-beaten-path.
As I wrote about earlier, I had a rather reflective experience while visiting Mozart’s grave at St. Marx’s cemetery. To get here, I took a subway ride followed but a tram ride and about ten minutes of walking. The overall journey isn’t too bad and once you arrive to the cemetery itself, it is as if you enter a different world. Far from the loud highway where the tram stops, St. Marx is a quiet sanctuary where the only sounds I heard were birds chirping and the soft whistling of the autumn wind.
Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) is the more commonly visited of the two and is among the largest cemeteries in the world. Don’t let its size intimidate you. There is a clearly marked music corner where you can find the graves of Beethoven and Schubert in addition to Johannes Brahms, Antonio Salieri, Arnold Schoenberg and Johann Strauss II. There is also a memorial dedicated to Mozart.
I’m no architecture expert but I know enough to confidently say that Vienna showcases some phenomenal buildings and monuments. At a basic level, the Museum Quarter is one of the largest art and culture complexes not only in Europe but around the world. It’s possible to take an architectural tour around the area including the new Kunsthalle Wien and the Fischer von Erlach Wing.
From here, I’d recommend picking up an Art Nouveau walking map and heading directly into the inner city where you will find all the major government buildings churches. If you have more than a few days in Vienna and are looking for even more stunning sightings, stop by the Main Public Library, the Haas-Haus (look for the mirror image of St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the facade) and T-Center St. Marx.
As with any boho guide that I write, there’s always an unparalleled beauty about stumbling upon hidden gems and discovering that these seemingly insignificant places and things are actually the most meaningful part of your trip. In Vienna, I spent hours purposely walking down streets where nobody else cared to venture. Escaping from the large crowds of tourists helped me envision what it felt like to like in these old streets hundreds of years ago.
One off-beat museum I suggest visiting is actually located within the famous Demel restaurant and cafe. Although their museum is clearly mentioned on their website, I had no idea it existed until my guide started walking toward the back of the restaurant and then down and up again. I don’t remember exactly where the entrance of the actual museum is but it’s hard to find and at times you will most likely feel like you are breaking and entering, which you are not. Once inside, your may see some face your recognize.
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