The entire city center of Vienna is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site.
Day 1: First Opera: We crossed over from the Czech Republic by land and the countryside in the Czech Republic and Austria was beautiful. We arrived in Vienna around 2 pm and checked into the Hilton Vienna hotel. Great hotel, even better location. We spent the afternoon walking around the Stadtpark, a cozy city park in the middle of Vienna. Besides the flora, there are various monuments to the great musicians from Vienna including a golden statue for Johann Strauss.
Our grand evening began with dinner at the Kursalon, where maestro Johann Strauss II gave his first concert. The 4 course meal, accompanied by strong wine was an excellent prelude to the 1.5 hour concert of Strauss and Mozart gems. The orchestra and performers were excellent and Trafalgar organized great seats. All in all it was a great evening, not to forget the champagne at interval.
Day 2: City Tour: We started the day early to beat the crowds at Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. The palace and surrounding gardens are one of the most visited tourist spots in Austria and showcase the grandeur and artistic tastes of the Habsburgs. Guided tours are allowed before the palace actually “opens” to the general public, so we got a chance to explore the complex in leisure. The gardens are modeled along the Versailles Palace in France.
Next thing on the agenda was a guided tour of the city. Again this is a fairly small city and is best seen on foot. Most of the historic monuments, buildings, squares and statues are within the “Ringstrasse” or ring boulevard, a 4 km ring round. These include the State Opera House, Parliament building, Museum of Applied Arts, Museum of Natural History, Stadtpark and in the center, the imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We ended our guided tour after viewing the Imperial Crypt or Kapuzinergruft that is the resting place for most of the Hasburgs.
We then had a leisurely lunch at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most popular market. It is about 1.5 km long and is dotted with small restaurants with cuisines from all over the world, fruit, vegetable and meat shops. The evening was spent exploring Vienna on foot and a few hours back at the hotel for some well deserved rest.
Dinner was organized by Trafalgar at a family run alehouse, Viennese Passauerhof, Grinzing. We got to sample traditional Viennese cuisine which included a vegetable strudel (for our family) and Apfelstrudel (hot apple strudel). Dinner was accompanied by some local music, which translates to songs from Sound of Music.
Day 3: Museums: We started the day leisurely by visiting Hundertwasserhaus, a building designed by the famous Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and KunstHausWien, a museum housing his famous works. It was really unusual and a visit is highly recommended.
This was followed by a refreshing meal at the Rosenburg across the other end of town. After lunch we went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and saw the sights of the city atop the bell tower. One of our must do things in any city is to try to see it from a higher vantage point. It opens up a whole new perspective. We also got to witness the graduation of the Police academy right outside the square adjoining the cathedral, presided by the Austrian Interior Minister.
Then we went to the Albertina museum and got another glimpse into the lives of the Habsburgs. There was also a permanent exhibition of the works of the Impressionists artists and and a temporary exhibition showcasing works from Monet to Baselitz. One of the best exhibits was the Alex Katz’s works.
All this culture and history left us parched and we decided to relax with a cup of traditional coffee at Sacher house, a very famous Viennese Coffee House. The Sacher Torte is a must eat.
Our next stop was the Prater, the amusement park that houses The Giant Ferris Wheel (Riesenrad). This was an easy metro ride from Sacher house.
The Riesenrad was one of the earliest Ferris wheels, erected in 1897 to celebrate Emperor Franz Josef I’s golden Jubilee and has featured in many Hollywood movies. The ride takes 10 minutes and offers a different view of the city. We ended our Vienna trip with another delicious meal at Naschmarkt.
Tap water is potable. The coffee houses serve unlimited water.
Best places for restrooms are in Starbucks and the Swarovski stores.
The EU has a great way to get back your tax on exit so ensure you get the store to give you the required forms for big purchases.