Ah Vienna, what a magnificent city you are. Your city centre is up there amongst the best in Europe, so well preserved with the cleanest streets I’ve walked on in quite some time. There’s so much to see I literally walked around during our entire stay with a smile on my face. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration. I was none to impressed when I witnessed two Viennese police officers throw an elderly drunk man face first into the road, before almost breaking his arm behind his back. It was abhorrent behaviour, a clear abuse of their power as this poor man was posing no danger to anyone, but that’s another story.
Maybe it was just that arriving in Vienna after the previous five months in south-east Asia, India and the UAE, our senses were heightened to such beauty and history, and it was always going to appear like the most magical place on Earth. Whatever it was we were enchanted by the grandness of Vienna’s architecture during our whirlwind two and a half day stay.
Whenever we visit a place we like to walk or ride pushbikes to explore rather than take the underground, taxis or buses. For the most part Vienna is a walking city, with the majority of sights concentrated within its city centre. There are of course negatives to walking everywhere. It slows you down and you might not get to see everything you would have otherwise experienced, and when you’ve got a toddler in tow, it becomes an even slower journey. Jack’s idea of walking is playing hide and seek, lying down in protest at our requests to catch up, and climbing up and down any stairs and ledges he can find. He’s not a huge fan of the pram, and when we put him in sometimes he can have a slight meltdown.
However, in our experience, the positives far outweigh the negatives. There’s the obvious plus of costing nothing to walk which is important when you’re travelling indefinitely on a budget, and slowing down can be a great thing. Our walk from Schonbrunn Palace into the city may have taken a long time, but we walked through a couple of beautiful areas we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It’s also great exercise which is something we’ve been neglecting since leaving Australia, although sore legs and feet at the end of every day I could do without.
I can’t speak highly enough of Vienna and I encourage everyone to spend a few days here if you’re travelling around Europe. We always ask ourselves whenever we visit somewhere if we could see ourselves living there, and Sarah suggested that while it’s beautiful maybe the city lacked a little excitement. I disagreed and was positive you could lead an eventful life in Vienna if you were a resident, and perhaps one day we’ll find out.
Here’s what we got up to during our stay:
EXPLORED THE CITY CENTRE
There is literally so many beautiful buildings in the city centre you could spend days wandering around an not get sick of the place. From wide pedestrianised retail streets to small, cobblestoned alleys to charming town squares, Vienna has it all in abundance. The main focal point of the city centre is the magnificent St Stephen’s Cathedral (www.stephanskirche.at), virtually right in the middle of the city centre. For the religious among you there’s seven services every weekday, and 10 on Sunday! You can explore inside the cathedral, climbing the South Tower or taking a lift up to the Pummerin in the North Tower, or heading below into the catacombs. There’s also a whole range of guided tour options for every kind of travel budget.
Monday to Saturday – 9am-11.30am and 1pm – 4.30pm
Sundays and Public Holidays – 1pm-4.30pm
From here you can walk along the main pedestrianised shopping strip on Karntner Strasse. You can grab a bite to eat while watching locals and tourists go about their day, do some shopping in a wide range of shops from H&M to Gucci, or simply admire the architecture like we did. Jack did stay for a while to watch a busker sing to the crowd, as he has a tendency to do.
From our hotel we walked through Maria Theresien Platz, a lovely square with a typically elaborate European fountain in the middle flanked by two amazing buildings, the Natural History Museum of Vienna (www.nhm-wien.ac.at/en), and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (www.khm.at/en). Neither of us are museum or art gallery people so we didn’t go in, but there are promotion staff dressed in period costume selling tickets to see a classical concert inside the Natural History Museum each night. That would have been great, but we didn’t have a babysitter unfortunately!
Opposite Maria Theresien Platz is the Museums Quartier, home to whole range of museums, galleries and events in a lovely looking building. We went to take Jack to the ZOOM Kindermuseum, which has tonnes of great activities for children to do, but it was being renovated during the month of September so Jack missed out. However, if you want to keep your children occupied while getting a little cultural education, then we encourage you to go. Click HERE for more information.
From Marie Theresien Platz you walk through a city gate which opens up to the Palace Garden and a host of magical sites such as the Hofburg Palace and Sissi Museum. Through another arched thoroughfare takes you into Michaelerplatz where you can take in the beauty of the Imperial Palace and the Spanish Riding School. This is where you can get a horse drawn carriage ride around the city, if you’re into that sort of thing.
At Karlsplatz we gave Jack a run around in the playground where he made some friends and chased after some girls for a while. Here you can also visit the impressive St Charles’ Church, or sit around the large pond and relax for a while.
There’s so many impressive buildings to see either within or lining the RingStrasse (ring road around the city centre) it would need a whole book to explain all of them in detail, rather than a simple blog post. But some of the more impressive sites not mentioned already include City Hall, Votive Church, Belvedere Castle and Gardens (just outside the RingStrasse), and Freyung, the charming little triangular public square.
The palace and it’s gardens are absolutely breathtaking (surprise, surprise) and it’s no wonder it’s been classed as a World Cultural Heritage site. Depending on your tastes you could either spend an hour or two here, or the whole day. There’s a range of guided tours you can pay for taking you through the palace and surrounding gardens, or you can just wander around the gardens for free. At various locations around the gardens there are additional places you can visit for a fee, and we decided to head into the Garden Maze so Jack could play and have a run around before his midday sleep. It only cost 3 Euros to enter and apart from the garden maze there’s a playground for children to play on as well. From up on the hill by the Gloriette, overlooking the gardens and palace, you get a great view over the city and is well worth the effort even if you are pushing a pram!
One place we didn’t get to which would have been great to take Jack is the Prater Amusement Park, just to the east of the city centre across the Danube Canal. Among other offerings they have the Riesenrad (giant wheel), a 65 metre high ferris wheel that gives spectacular views back over the city. In 2000 I bungee jumped here on my first visit to the city, the first and only time I have done it!
Despite the fact many of the attractions were covered in scaffolding, especially City Hall which was totally closed off to the public, Vienna still captured our hearts with its amazing buildings and squares. I can’t praise the city enough and I strongly recommend you make sure it’s on your European itinerary. My last visit was in 2000, but I have the worst memory in the world so I literally couldn’t remember much about the city. To be honest not many memories came rushing back apart from our visit to Schonbrunn Palace, so it was like visiting for the first time which was great!