Vienna, would you believe, a friendlier version of Paris…?

It’s hardly a little known fact that those of the Germanic and Austrian persuasion may be a bit more renowned for being abrupt than approachable. And although I’d hardly suggest they’re up for a podium finish in the competition for the world’s friendliest nations, I’d wager they’re a lot more welcoming than their fellow Europeans in not-so-‘Gay Paree’.

It’s no surprise really…Café-style culture abounds in Vienna, as it does in Paris, but in Vienna, you are relaxed, it feels easier and you feel like you belong.

Vienna makes you feel special… It’s an indulgent, sophisticated city; a cultural destination and that’s certainly not a cliché. You can walk in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest (and not so great) figures and marvel at the never-ending kaleidoscope of classical concerts, opera, schools of thought and art, all powered by the local coffee mélange. And the coffee really is outstanding… imagine your quick Wimpy fix with actual coffee under the foam.

The Kiss… of Vienna

The Vienna Secessionist Movement began in Vienna at the turn of the last century and one of its most famous members, who just happened to have been one of the world’s greatest artists, was symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. You cannot visit Vienna without seeing his work, and especially “The Kiss”, at the Belvedere Museum (upper). Well worth a morning visit, it will cost you only €14 per adult to gain access to his outstanding exhibition of works. Don’t forget to watch the film “Woman in Gold” (2015) before you travel for some better insight into the power of this man’s work and some of Austria’s more delicate history.

Pack on the pounds

For lunch, you simply have to visit one (or two, or more) of Vienna’s most famous and fabulous coffee houses that are sewn into the fabric of this city’s culture, and indeed its heritage, as so many famous historical figures would habitually frequent their “local” in days gone by. Sample the savoury and sweet strudels, devour a schnitzel or gobble down a goulash… all traditional dishes are served with half a smile from a server, who incidentally all happen to be Austrian (we couldn’t find one foreigner in the mix).

Fancy some Freud? Café Landtmann is your destination (and several others to be fair… he got around). Lenin and Trotsky? Café Grand and Café Central were their watering holes of choice. Our recommendation? Café Central is interesting and one of the most aesthetically pleasing or if yester-year charm is what it’s about, don’t miss Café Sperl. But our absolute favourite of course is Café Mozart, which as it would suggest, is located right next to the State Opera House, itself a fine building. Wash your fine meal down with a Ottakringer draught and if you’re there for a late lunch, get stuck into the myriad of cakes and pastries that accompany the coffee house tradition. Believe it or not, some cafés even have a happy hour on cakes at 15h00 every day.

Hitting the ‘burbs…

If you are up for a little journey, Schonbrunnen Palace, located outside the Ringstrasse, is well worth a visit. The Palace is over 400 years old and has more than 1,400 rooms with a maids’ roster I’m sure that fluctuates daily. It’s currently a museum and has beautiful, manicured gardens. It’s where Franz Josef (Austria’s longest serving premier) was born and where the infamous meeting between John F Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev took place in 1961. If you are there in the late afternoon, pop in to Café Residenz for a quick bite. You can also buy a ticket to a classical music concert at the Orangerie (it’s one of the many locations in Vienna), although we suggest the State Opera Theatre as your first choice if you are not there in July, August or September.

Daytime Danube…

The Danube flows through Vienna. It’s not at its best as it flows through the city, but if you have time, and especially in the summer months, there are several beach-style bars and restaurants on Danube Island (Copa Cagrana). People actually swim in the river, and seem to treat it much in the same way they would a beach break in the Seychelles. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are even extended nudist beaches. Definitely worth a sundowner if you have time.

All things opera and…

The highlight, and most unmissable experience, of any trip to Vienna most certainly is an opera at the State Opera House. There are regular productions and one of the most popular is Don Giovanni by Mozart. They have translations at the back of the chairs for you, should you not speak German or Italian and be warned, the dress code is very smart. In the summer months, the operas close down. That doesn’t mean there are no concerts. Rather, the heavy-hitting professional productions are in recess. There are theatres, and concert and music halls scattered across the city, all of which host nightly renditions of classical masterpieces. For obvious reasons, Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss are the most popular choices. Dress code at these events in the summer months is not as formal as at the State Opera House, but taking a VIP ticket, which we strongly suggest, puts you in the front row, so you may want to ditch your sandals for something a little more formal. End of your evening with a trip to one of the many clubs and bars in the inner city. We liked Jazzland, a great jazz club not too far from Shwedenpaltz, that belts out contemporary and classical jazz tunes every night.

Where to stay?

Staying in Vienna is quite difficult to get wrong. Rule of thumb? Stay inside the Ringstrasse and the closer to Stephen’s Dom, the better. If you move to inside the inner ring road, you will be within walking distance to all the attractions and experience you’ll want to see, as well as cafes, clubs, bars and restaurants. Staying near Schonbrunnen Palace will cost you extra to get into the city and its wise not to stay in the area of Westbahnhof, unless you have to, or have a penchant for seedy suburbs that put on a half-baked attempt at a Red Light District. Taxis are fairly inexpensive, the public tram and underground network is good and cheap, and the CAT (City Airport Train) is frequent and easy.

Vienna isn’t first on everyone’s bucket list. In fact, it’s lucky if it features on one in 10. It is, however, a place that should not be overlooked if you get the opportunity. And even if you have only 24 hours to discover it, you most certainly should because it’s a city that will deliver a beautiful moment in your life.

Updated – January 2018

Mark Buck is the Managing Director of United Europe Travel Services (Pty) Ltd, a travel wholesaler based in South Africa

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