Vienna has been at a crossroads for some time, lingering somewhere between the imperial grandeur of the Habsburg-era and a modern European city finding its way in the new millennium. In the last several years there is a new energy flowing through Vienna. It’s alive in the new and renovated museums. It’s thriving in the refreshed menus of the reinvigorated gasthäuser — a tavern with accommodations for rent. And it’s buzzing in the nightlife, which can be found in an array of eclectic spots around the city, from decommissioned subways, boats on the Danube and rooftop terraces with million dollar views.
The First 24 Hours
Do: The Innere Stadt
The First District or “inner city” is one of Vienna’s liveliest areas. It’s also one of the most historic, with monumental Baroque structures acting as a testament to this fact. This is where you can get a firsthand look at the glory of the Habsburg Empire. Take some time to wander the streets and narrow medieval alleys past the shops, restaurants and cafés that often occupy the ground floor of bourgeois town homes.
Once the confectioners to the Habsburg Court, Demel (Kohlmarkt 14) has a great selection of café fare, including delicious salads and an amazing selection of pastries and cakes. Better yet, visitors to the coffeehouse can watch the bakers as they create their masterpiece sweets.
Visit: Hofburg Palace
From the 13th Century to 1918, the Hofburg was at the center of the powerful Habsburg Empire. It’s a majestic palace and permanent reminder of the once glorious empire. There’s a lot to see the in the complex, including the Spanish Riding School and more than a dozen art collections like the one in the Albertina Museum. Among the grandiose architecture are harmonious squares such as Heldenplatz and Josefsplatz.
Eat: Gasthaus Pöschl
Order up a glass of Riesling and indulge in some seriously good Viennese cuisine. Gasthaus Pöschl (Weihburggasse 17) is a small gastropub in the Inner Stadt offering excellent food for a relatively good price ($10-$25), considering its location in the heart of the city.
Drink: Sky Bar
Finish off the evening with a cocktail or a coffee on the roof terrace of the Sky Bar (Kärntner Strasse 19), while you look out over Vienna’s glistening skyline. The lounge is located on the top floor of the Steffl Department Store in the Innere Stadt.
The Next 24 Hours
Eat: Café Drechsler
Located near Naschmarkt, Café Drechsler (Wienzeile 22) serves up hot food and breakfast 23 hours a day. Yes, that means you can even get Sacher sausages and goulash early in the morning if your heart desires. Renovated in 2007, the café continues the Drechsler family tradition it started in 1919. The coffeehouse offers patrons a relaxed atmosphere and features a nice selection of Viennese fare.
Overflowing with all kinds of goodies, the century-old Naschmarkt stretches out between Karlsplatz and Kettenbrückengasse U-Bahn stations. This mile long open-air market is full of baked goods, produce, spices, flowers and restaurants serving an eclectic mix of international cuisine.
Visit: Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
The cathedral, which is located in the center of Vienna, is dedicated to the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, and is considered by many to be the soul of the city. Despite being more than 800 years old, the present day cathedral is mainly late gothic in style with the Giant’s Doorway and Towers of the Heathens being the last remaining pieces of the original 13th century Romanesque church. For about $10, you can climb up one the cathedral towers (343 steps in all) to the viewing platform, which offers incredible views of the city.
Eat: Café Hawelka
Just around the corner from Saint Stephen, Café Hawelka (Dorotheergasse 6) is one of the most famous coffeehouses in the city. Still a meeting place for writers and artists, the atmosphere feels like it’s been ripped right out of the mid-20th century. So sit back, grab a paper from the rack, and order up a coffee and Sacher torte as you relax the afternoon away.
This heuriger (“winery-style tavern”) in the 19th District is one of the best ways to close out a trip to Vienna. The house wine has been flowing at Schübel-Auer (Kahlenberger Strasse 22) since 1711 and the heuriger features a traditional Viennese buffet with lots of Austrian goodies.