Given that it was my first return to Vienna in over twenty years, I saw Austria's gem of a cultural city with very different eyes. From history and architecture to classical music and food, I was in heaven.
I stayed near the ever so historical St. Stephen's Cathedral, which stands like a majestic empress controlling the city center.
Of course, if you're into history and museums, Vienna has no shortage of either. It is not only the capital of Austria, but also one of its nine federal states. Unlike many large urban centers, half of Vienna is made up of grassland, parks, gardens and woods.
Urban Green is joined by woods and Prater grassland and sections of Vienna Woods, and vineyards, farmland and the wetlands run along the legendary Danube River. Prata Stern is a square in the Prata area of Vienna, which is a trendy area and fun to walk around. Nearby is an amusement park, a football stadium, a fairground and the most exclusive golf course, where you can also horseback ride. It's very green, a bit like Central Park in that it's large, running 6 square kilometers long.
Outside my hotel I marveled at the colorfully adorned horses in the main square, not far from St. Stephen's Cathedral -- it's a great option if you're not in the mood to walk and it doesn't get much more romantic than seeing a historical European city in a carriage.
Since I didn't have time to explore some of Vienna's lesser known neighborhoods like I did in Berlin earlier this year, I primarily took in the the foodie and cultural scene. It's hard for me to miss a city market if there is one, and so I headed to Naschmarkt, Vienna's most famous market and the nearby Freihausviertel area, which is a hip neighborhood, full of shops, art galleries and cafes. Below are some fruit and vegetables which line one side of the market, although you can find everything from oils and herbs to spices and wine.
Naschmarkt & the Foodie Scene
You can also get homemade Gluvine, which is a hot punch made with red wine, cinnamon and orange juice which was a welcome retreat on those brisk late Autumn days.
Also in the market is Umar Fish, a well known eatery in the city and apparently has delicious fresh fish, which I didn't have time to try out. While in the market, don't miss sampling Kriecherllikor, which is a sweet traditional drink that is popular in Austria. The cafe below is not quite open for the evening...
Walking down a side street - Vienna, like most urban city centers in Europe has a lot of street art and graffiti.
A more modern urbanscape of the city despite the fact that there are plenty of old world places to shop, dine and drink coffee or beer.
Below is the Gegenbauer Shop, which is known for their brewed beer and vinegar production. It was a fun place to visit since you could see the volume of oils and vinegars on-site and could even taste them. Flavors included asparagus, tomato, saffron, cucumber, elderberry, black currant, sour cherry, red pepper, fig and a host of others. Also known for his oils, he had fresh pumpkin oil on-site, which is famous in Austria. Others included chili, basil, fennel and sweet pepper to name a few.
Also in this neighborhood, you'll find authentic coffee houses - caffeine only I learned after asking for a decaf since it was late afternoon.
I also hit up Babette's Spice & Books, which does cooking lessons and Blumenkraft, which is a hip flower store. Along the Danube, you can take boats up and down the river, another great way to see the city. The Generations Coffee House housed at the bottom of an urban building with authentic brick walls was also a fun stop -- the idea is that grannies make baked goods and sell them in the cafe.
Along the Danube Canal sits the Uniqa Tower Building, which is unique in the city. Not only do they do light shows every night, but there's a cocktail bar, cinema, restaurant and historical education center for adults. You can also take a boat cruise up and down the Danube, which is another great way to see the city.
Fashion and style are not after thoughts to the Viennese -- you see snippets of it throughout the city, whether that be at a top end designer's shop or mall, the beautifully designed style of a cafe or a shop window.
On my city walk, I also hit the Stilwerk Design Center, which was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The building itself is only black, white or gray and the Sofitel sits on top of the building which includes its ever so trendy Das Loft cocktail bar. You can see a vibrantly-painted ceiling as you climb to the top of the design center; this art installation is from Swiss designer Piplotti Rist. (below) Each year, the Stilwerk Design Center hosts Vienna Design Week, which is a popular annual event for locals.
There were tons of upscale designer shops in the area, which we took a meander through, stopping to chat with the proprietors to learn about the masters behind the fashion.
Also worth noting is district called Freihaus, just south of Nieumarkt, an interesting area to walk around.
Art is an integral part of both old and new Viennese culture so much so that you can spend a couple of weeks alone if you have that much time just exploring museums, art galleries and exhibitions.
Magnificent edifices, predominantly in baroque, historicism (Ringstrasse) and art nouveau styles extend throughout the city. The city has so much to offer, you can easily re-live the romance of a long-lost empire and you feel it by merely taking a long walk.
Vienna is known for its museums and art galleries. On the list of must visits include Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts), which houses the world's largest collection of Bruegel paintings. At the Belvedere, you can see numerous works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and the Leopold Museum is also well known.
The Museums Quartier has 60,000 square meters of usable floor space on eight different levels, making it one of the ten largest cultural complexes in the world. Other Austrian artists work can be found throughout the city, including Klimt as mentioned above, Kokoschka, and Gerstl.
Close to the opera house, the Albertina houses the world's largest collection of graphic art, spanning 60,000 drawings, millions of prints and an extensive collection of photographic and architectural material.
The Belvedere palaces and formal gardens make up one of Europe's most attractive Baroque ensembles and Upper Belvedere is home to the world's leading collection of Austrian Art. The Sisi Museum at Hofburg Palace show Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) and her life, from personal belongings to other artifacts, including the dress she wore on the evening of her wedding, and the monarch's parasol, fans and gloves.
Vienna is an obvious visit for music lovers as every classical musician knows. Vienna boasts 50 theaters, including four opera houses and several stage musical theaters, numerous galleries, and renowned drama, music and dance festivals throughout the year. No other city has been home to so many composers of international renown, including Schubert, Strauss, Schoenberg, Berg, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms and Mahler.
It also has one of the world's top orchestras -- Vienna Symphony Orchestra. While I didn't have a chance to see them, the Vienna Boys Choir is also globally known. You need to plan to get tickets weeks in advance, if not months in advance to be sure to get great access and views.
They also have a Life Ball and the Festival of Electronic Music, which is more appealing to those with a modern music taste.
All photos taken by Renee Blodgett