I’ve made several trips to Vienna over the past few years, but haven’t had the opportunity to venture further afield, except a brief jaunt to the western town of Feldkirch. Anyhow, here are a few brief recommendations:
Vienna is the quintessential central European destination — and the last stop before going into Eastern Europe. As the seat of power during the Hapsburg Monarchy, Austrian Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire — there’s enough history in Vienna to go around! As you might expect for a city of this caliber, Vienna is often slammed with tourists. For this reason, it’s best to get an early start on the day and have a rough plan of attack — visiting the most popular sights first.
While I usually don’t like to spend too much time in museums when visiting a new city, Vienna’s museums are worth the visit– with many of the key ones in the aptly-named MuseumsQuarter. Don’t miss the Hofburg Palace and the Kunst Museum. If you have enough time, it’s worth getting one of the all-encompassing Vienna Passes in order to stop into many of the other museums, as well, such as the Imperial Treasury, the Hapsburg Crypt, or the musical instruments museum. Fans of Mozart might want to stop by his apartment, as well.
The ornate Rathaus, or city hall, is a good spot to get your bearings — it also hosts balls and occasional events. While I haven’t yet done it myself, I think a visit to the famous Vienna State Opera would be time well spent!
Cathedrals abound, but I especially recommend visiting the St. Stephens Cathedral (and take a tour of its extensive, spooky catacombs). The Hapsburg-era Karlskirch is also exceptional and should not be missed!
Food and Drink: While there’s no shortage of cafes to enjoy wiener schnitzel and coffee with Mozart Kugel candies, I enjoy people-watching at the Cafe Europa.
Because the food scene is always changing and there’s so much choice, I will only highlight one restaurant everyone should visit. Tucked in a courtyard behind the St. Stephens Cathedral is the Twelve Apostles Cellar (Zwölf-Apostel-Keller) — an outstanding Austrian restaurant in a deep subterranean cavern setting, dating back to 1339! It has great traditional food and wine with a cozy atmosphere!
Two other essential sites outside of downtown Vienna (via a bus or tram from downtown): 1) The Belvedere Palace— a gorgeous, Baroque-style palace from the 18th century, featuring artwork from Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (including the famous painting “The Kiss.”) 2) The Schonbrunn Palace — another exquisite 18th century palace with incredible gardens. While it’s located further outside of town — don’t miss this one! If I could only see one thing in Vienna, this palace would probably be it!
I visited the western Austrian town of Feldkirch a few years back by taking a local commuter bus from Liechtenstein. It has a charming medieval feeling with several old churches, tunnels, and cafes nestled under archways of ancient buildings. The Schattenburg Castle and Museum is the main tourist attraction, but I spent most of my time just exploring the old city and popping into the various cafes around town.