Have you ever seen the movie Before Sunrise with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? I used to love it! These two strangers meet on the train to Vienna and decide to spend a night there together before one of them moves on to Paris. It paints such a wonderful picture of the city that I was afraid, if I ever went, I would be disappointed. Reality just wouldn’t be that magical.
Fast forward about 20 years and I got the chance to go.
Every year in early March Vienna hosts the European Congress of Radiology. And every year since 2014 I get to go, expenses paid. The first year I went though, I got a big fat cold on the way there, I could literally feel how I git sicker by the hour on the train there. So I spent half the day in my bed in the hotel room and if I felt a little better, went to the congress for a few hours each day. Sadly I didn’t see much of Vienna that time.
The year after, I got the flu 2 days before I was supposed to go and ended up staying home for 10 days, feeling like sh*t. And I thought, maybe I am just not supposed to ever see Vienna, maybe it (or I??) is cursed?
But, third time’s a charm, and last year I went, was healthy, and the weather was fantastic, same again this year.
The congress lasts five days, which is a lot of listening and concentrating and learning new things. So I always take a half day off to go see some of the city and enjoy the local food. Of course, the work dinners are also at traditional local restaurants, so I have experienced quite a bit of it over time.
Food and drinks
My number one choice for local food is the Gmoakeller around the corner from the Konzerthaus. They serve classic and modern versions of the traditional cuisine, combined with tasty local wines. My favourite is Gruener Veltliner, an Austrian white wine that goes very well with fish.
After dinner, you should head to one of the rooftop bars for a drink, for example the Onyx Bar, where you have a great view of the cathedral next door. They have a very nice whiskey collection and of course all the standard drinks and cocktails you could ask for.
One thing you have to do when in Vienna, is going to a Kaffeehaus, a legendary Viennese experience. They are spread all over the city, some of them on the big boulevards, some hidden in side streets. But all of them are unique in their way. I love to go and eat some Kaiserschmarrn, a sweet, traditional Austrian dish. The best one I found so far, I ate at Café Mozart, close to the famous Albertina museum.
If you like cake, you have to go eat a Sachertorte at Café Sacher, just around the corner from Café Mozart. When I went, there was a line to get in, but it is totally worth the wait. The decor is very stylish and the cake is really good.
If you are in Vienna only for a day, the one museum you should not miss, is the Albertina. I went last year to see the original painting of the Duerer hare, only to find out, the one shown is a replica, as the original is too delicate to be on display. But the museum is worth visiting anyway. The building is pretty interesting and they always have famous artists, local and international, on display.
From here it is only a short walk to the Hofburg, the former emperors’ residence. The building is really awe-inspiring and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Last year we had a work event in one of the big rooms inside. Huge chandeliers and stucco on the ceiling, it was so impressive!
One part of the Palace is home to the Hofreitschule, the imperial riding school. They train beautiful Lipizzan horses and if you want to spend a lot of money, you can see a show. I didn’t do it (yet), I just found it unreasonably expensive. If you are there during the week, you could go see the morning training, which is considerably cheaper. Next year I will try to squeeze it into my schedule.
If the weather is good, the Prater is a nice place to spend an afternoon. It is a fairly old-fashioned amusement park with rides, a Ferris wheel from 1897 and nice cafés. It started off in the 16th century as the emperor’s hunting grounds and was opened to the public in the 1760s.
Last but not least you have to see the Stephansdom, Vienna’s official landmark, quite literally in the centre of the old part of town. It was built in 1433 and is almost 140 m high. You can climb up the stairs of the taller of the two bell towers, it is “only” 343 steps. Or, if you are feeling lazy, there is an elevator up the smaller northern tower.
The first years I always stayed at the Lindner Hotel am Belvedere, located right next to the beautiful Belvedere Gardens. They are definitely worth a visit, with their statues, trees and a beautiful palace at the upper end. Even though they are right in the city centre, it is a very quiet, peaceful place mostly due to the wall surrounding them. On a sunny day, it is wonderful to just sit on a bench and read or watch the passersby.
This year I stayed in the Hotel am Konzerthaus, which is a little closer to the centre and more convenient for evening activities.
The Konzerthaus was opened in 1913 and is home to the Vienna Symphony orchestra and hopefully next year I will be able to see them play. It is a classic Art Nouveau building and used to be part of a bigger complex. But the bigger part of this was torn down in favour of the very unsightly Hotel Intercontinental.
Every year, when I leave Vienna after the congress, I think I should come back for a weekend in summer to explore more. So maybe this year I will finally do that.
Have you been? What do you like most about the city? Do you have any tips for me for my next time there? Please leave them in the comments!