I went to Vienna in mid February, which is their low season. I got very lucky, however, because the weather wasn’t bad at all. For the most part it was in the low 50s meaning my husband and I could walk around and take in all of the city’s beauty. It’s hard to believe that so much of Vienna was bombed during WWII because the city was so meticulously restored. It’s stunning! And unlike most places in the world, Vienna is very traditional and true to its heritage – meaning that in this city, famous for schnitzel, pastries, and coffee, you won’t find chicken schnitzel or any unsweetened almond milk (so let me save you the embarrassment of asking!). Besides food and architecture, the city is obviously known for classical music and art. I did a ton of research before my trip. Here’s a look at what I thought to be the must-know essentials.
There are a ton of gorgeous luxury and boutique hotels, but the standout is Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna. I love the location. It’s central, but still relaxed. The service is tip-top and it blends traditional with modern. We stayed in the Junior Suite, which is sprawling and has a wonderfully comfortable bed and lot of light. Try to come for their weekend brunch if you’re not staying at the hotel or their high tea – their lobby is a hot spot and there’s live piano in the afternoon.
Food-wise, it’s hard to go wrong. Even the supermarkets in Vienna are filled with mouth-watering options. But the “must” are Hotel Sacher where everyone should go for the world-famous Sacher Torte (pictured on the top of this post). It’s kind of the cake version of a scone (read: dry) and, honestly, not my favorite dessert given that Vienna has so many great options (more on that later), but it’s so famous you can’t leave the city without trying it. Hotel Sacher has a cafe as well as two restaurants and I highly recommend the Rote Bar. It’s not as fancy as their Grune Bar, but still very buttoned up. It has a great view of Vienna’s famous Opera house (ask for a window seat) and the food is amazing and very reasonably priced given the atmosphere.
For shnitzel, apple strudel, and kaiserschmarrn (basically a shredded pancake), I highly recommend Cafe Central (two images above). Make a reservation and go for lunch. This spot was beloved by many artists and intellectuals – think Freud – back in the day. They have an extensive menu filled with Austrian classics.
Demel is another must for sweets/coffee (they have some savory bites as well if you want to come for lunch). They were the official sweets purveyor of the Austrian royal family back in the day and their version of the famous Sacher Torte is very well-known as well – but really all of their sweets will make your mouth water. Here too I recommend making a reservation so you don’t have to wait. If you come on Friday they have a downstairs museum that is quite interesting.
Out of all the famous cakes in Vienna, my favorite was at the Hotel Imperial (arguably the city’s most well known – and oldest – luxury hotel). Their Imperial Torte is a must as is their Opus restaurant. I’ve been to countless Michelin star restaurants over the years, but I can think of very few restaurants that blew me away the way Opus did both in flavor, presentation, and service.
Above is the bread which came to the table smoking – literally there was smoke over the yogurt-veggie spread. It’s worth going for their tasting menu. The perfectly cooked beef is also from Opus.
Nightlife isn’t that great in Vienna – which is fine with me – I prefer leisurely, relaxing vacations. But there are two “hot spots” One is Zum Schwarzen Kameel which is great for an afternoon/pre-dinner drink (below you can see a crowd outside – despite the cold – because it was so packed in side), small bites and people watching. Bar Campari is great for more of a late-night cocktail feel.
Lastly, I wanted to single out Dstrikt Steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton. You can choose your own steak knife which I thought was a fun touch. The lounge/bar at The Ritz is also a great pick and very much a local hot spot. If going to Dstrikt make sure to get the truffle-parmesan fries and I would split a salad and onion soup, both of which were great.
Food aside, there are endless museum options, so it’s really up to individual interests. The obvious choices are the Belvedere, which houses the famous works of Gustav Klimt, Albertina (also home to many works by Klimt along with those of many other masters like Cézanne, Kokoschka, and Picasso, Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna (Natural History Museum), mumok (Museum of Modern Art), The Leopold Museum (the go-to for Viennese art nouveau), and Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Art History Museum).
Lesser known, but equally worthy options include the Jewish Museum (there are two locations), the Freud Museum (I loved seeing his waiting room!), and Haus Der Musik (a fun, interactive option as relevant for children as it is for adults given Austria’s rich music culture…see my husband above trying his best at being a composer).
Lastly, book a stop at one of the city’s famed opera or concert halls. The city is closely associated with many of the biggest names in classical music including Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and Schubert and the concert halls are jaw-droppingly gorgeous in all of their golden splendor.