In July last year (blimey time goes by fast, I’ve only just had time to finish this), my best friend and I visited Vienna; the trip was a belated 21st birthday present. If I’m honest, I was surprised that she chose Vienna as our next ‘escapade abroad’, because I had never even considered or mentioned the city as a desired travel destination. However, after very little time there, I discovered that the Austrian capital is rich in culture and lavish buildings, including some rather brilliant palaces, and well, that’s a bit of me!
So what did we see…?
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
We went to St. Stephen’s on the Sunday morning, which was probably the best time to go. The cathedral was packed because a service was taking place and with it, hymns being sung, prayers being said and candles being lit. For me, this really made the experience because we saw the cathedral come to life.
The Jesuit Church
This was easily one of the most spectacular churches I’ve ever seen; it wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but inside? Just wow. The ceiling reminded me of those at Le Louvre, painted with such detail and so breathtaking, you almost wanted to lay down a blanket, set up a picnic and stare at it all day. Everywhere you looked there was gold, ornate structures and design. A huge organ, almost unnoticed, took pride of place at the front of the church – only seen when you looked behind you. When we visited, a small choir was practicing. The way their voices filled the space and bounced off the curved archways created a superb sound. I’ve truly never heard anything quite like it.
Prater Amusement Park
Prater was not far from our Airbnb, so on the first evening we decided to stroll over and see what it was all about. I was expecting a small park with a handful of tame and basic rides. In England, we are spoiled with some great theme parks and roller coasters and in my experience, European equivalents are never in the same league. Until now…
Prater was no-where near the size of the likes of Thorpe Park or Alton Towers, but it had a variety of food stalls, some half-decent restaurants, and crucially, a good amount of eyebrow-raising, heart-pounding rides.
The system sees you pay for each ride separately, and prices ranged from about €3 – €7 each. We went on as many rides as possible, and also had a go on the dodgems, because let’s be real, who doesn’t love dodgems?!
Museum der Illusionen
On the Sunday, we decided to venture into town and unfortunately, it rained a little. (For us, the trip into the centre was extremely easy because it was just 2 stops on the tube, and our nearest station was right outside our Airbnb). So we decided to do an attraction on our back-up list – the Museum of Illusions. Entry was €12 and it was probably just about worth the money. It’s small and nothing spectacular, but still worth a visit because there were some cool things to see and some interesting puzzles to complete, and we did enjoy ourselves. Definitely a good way to pass an hour out of the rain.
Here, we went inside The Österreichische Galerie, housed in the palace, which boasts a number of spectacular paintings and works of art. The most popular and crowded painting we came across was ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt, which I must admit, was quite impressive. Timing wise, unless you’re heavily into art, about an hour and a half here is sufficient.
We didn’t do any more here than take a few photos and wander round. It was an impressive building and very busy. We did however get cornered by a charming young man selling concert tickets. Of course, at first everyone is wary of these street sellers kitted out in fancy dress, with the ability to sweet talk their way into your purse! Us included! However, we heard him out and actually decided that the show was worth our time. We haggled over the price (final cost €34pp) and found ourselves with two tickets to the ‘Barock & Klassik Konzerte’ that night.
So, this wasn’t as expected…the show and the hall it took place in were smaller than anticipated – the brochure photos provided by the street seller definitely made it all look bigger than it was. In fact, there was probably only a maximum of 100 guests and there was no real stage to speak of. The venue, ‘Palais Schonborn’ (not to be mistaken with Schonbrunn Palace) was built in 1699 and certainly looked it – a traditional building, with creaky stairs and tall ceilings. I liked it.
The concert itself consisted of a 5 person orchestra and 2 opera singers, and lasted 2 and a half hours, with an interval. During the show, we were treated to pieces by Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Strauss. Although not what we expected, we actually really enjoyed the performance; the musicians were absolutely on point and we managed to secure good seats. It felt as though we’d experienced a taste of the real Vienna.
This was the attraction that we were most excited about visiting, so we saved this for the sunniest day to ensure we captured the best pictures!
As expected, it was busy, but we got there fairly early and went straight to the ticket office to see what was available. We decided on a tour of 22 rooms of the palace, which cost approx. €15 each. We were given a time in which to go in (printed on our tickets) and start our tour. Warning: when we went in July 2018, this was a bit of a shambolic system, with just one lady organising all the tour-goers into lines and groups depending on their allotted times – they are very strict about ensuring that you only enter when it is your time to do so. Once finally through the doors, we were provided with a numbered audio device to hold to our ear and guide us through the rooms.
For me, the Schönbrunn was the highlight of the trip. I love elaborate, historic buildings and learning about those who have lived before us. The rooms were well kept and the audio guide, informative and interesting. The 22 room tour took us about 45/50 minutes to complete and was just enough for us. There was an option to do a 44 room tour but I think this would have been too much.
On completion of the tour, we ran to the gardens which were extensive and beautiful, boasting a number of fountains and flower displays. Definitely worth a wander!
On our last day, we had the morning in Vienna before our flight home in the afternoon. So, like all great women, we decided to spend our last few hours sourcing cake. However, this wasn’t just any old cake, oh no, this was the original Sachertorte! Considered a delicacy in Vienna, it was created there in 1832 by Franz Sacher (I wonder where his inspiration for the name came from…). And indeed, it was very rich and very nice. See delicious looking photo below:
Top tips/Things we learnt:
- Everyone we met in Vienna was extremely polite and happy to talk to us. They were particularly interested in where we were from and luckily, reacted well to ‘England’, and were perhaps even more welcoming.
- London being our local city, we found Vienna to be very quiet and calm. We were on the tube in ‘rush hour’ hours but experienced no ‘rush’ comparable to London or other cities I have visited, like Paris and New York. It’s all rather civilised!
- Speaking of the tube, the Underground is very easy to understand and make your way around. There were electronic ticket machines at all of the stations we visited, with information available in English. At the time of visiting (July 2018), prices were as follows: €2.40 single trip and €8 for a 24hr ticket, tickets for 48hr travel and 72hrs were also available. I downloaded the ‘City Rail Map’ app which can provide you with a map of Vienna’s tube lines as well as instructions on which lines to take to get from station to station – which I found to be very handy.
- With regards to food, we didn’t really embrace the local cuisine. In fact, quite the opposite…on our first day we were recommended an Italian restaurant called ‘Vapiano’. The restaurant setup is slightly different to the norm in that it’s self-service and the chefs cook your dish fresh, right in front of you. Upon entry you’re given a card on which to bill all that you consume. We couldn’t get enough of this place and it didn’t help that there was one located just 30 seconds down the road from our apartment! To our delight, since our return home we’ve learnt that the chain also exists in London! See below some of the delicious meals we had there (salad also available, but we like the carbs):