The Austrian capital is a vibrant hub of art, food and museums and culture. Regular visitor to Vienna Hfu Reisenhofer shares his favourite spots to indulge in both.
If art, culture and music are your pleasures, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been to the Austrian capital, there’s always something interesting or novel going on to keep you coming back for more. It’s impressive how such an old, history-rich city can keep reinventing and reinvigorating itself.
My most recent trip to Vienna was in early June, catching the tail end of the annual Wiener Festwochen, or Vienna Festival, when the city is especially alive with daily performances, concerts, exhibitions and more. But you can visit any time of year and still find plenty to keep you occupied over a long weekend. Spring, early summer and early autumn are probably the most comfortable in terms of weather, but late November and December bring Christmas decorations and markets – a particularly magical time to be in the city.
First-time visitors to Vienna needn’t venture far beyond the innermost ring road, the Ringstrasse, which makes exploring on foot an easy, enjoyable experience. The 14th-century St Stephen’s Cathedral is a useful landmark from which to navigate, Hofburg (what used to be the Hapsburg’s winter home) and the Spanish Riding School (famous for its white Lipizzaner horses) being just a short stroll away, as well as the Opera House and adjacent Albertina Gallery. The latter is a real favourite of mine, invariably exhibiting masterful works alongside its permanent modernist works, including Monet and Picasso.
During my visit, the National History Museum was showcasing the slightly macabre Body Worlds exhibition – which made an appearance not so long ago in James Bond flick Casino Royale – so I felt compelled to stop by (it runs until Sunday August 11).
The nearby MuseumsQuartier, however, is far livelier and home to Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art (known as the MUMOK) and Leopold Museum, where a permanent collection includes works by artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.
Art and culture builds an appetite and Vienna boasts a thriving Kaffeekultur (coffee culture), with more than 200 independent cafés scattered throughout the city. These offer not just great coffee – ask for a ‘Melange’, a Viennese favourite – but also snacks and, more importantly, the finest pastries, cakes and sweets you’re likely to find in Europe.
Some of the oldest, most atmospheric coffee houses are conveniently located in the centre of town. Family-run Café Hawelka – somewhere I insist on dropping by each time I’m in town – is on Dorotheergasse, just off Graben, and oozes character and classic charm. I imagine Dubaians will be in for a shock, the dark, almost dingy interior a far cry from the flat pack coffee chains of the globalised world. But Hawelka has been a cosy home away from home for the capital’s thinkers, philosophers, poets, musicians and artists since 1936, which gives it a unique aspect that can’t be replicated.
Other must-visit coffee houses include Demel, Hummel, Alt Wien and Café Braunerhof. Those with a sweet tooth should order a Mohnstrudel, made with ground poppy seeds, or a Topfenstrudel, which is an irresistible concoction of pastry made with sweet, soft quark cheese. Purists will tell you to head to the Hotel Sacher for a slice of world-famous Sacher Torte in the spot where the recipe originated from, but the truth is that plenty of other Konditorei (patisseries) will serve just as delicious a version of this chocolate cake.
Warm summer evenings are best spent at Vienna’s beautiful art deco Palmenhaus in the leafy surrounds of the Burggarten park. It’s perfect for people watching, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and enjoying a bite to eat. (Incidentally, they also serve a rather decent breakfast and even winter visits are warm and cosy).
Alternatively, for a taste of typical Viennese cuisine, wander over to the quaint area of Spittelberg. Described as a ‘village in a city’, this pedestrian-friendly district of historic buildings boasts numerous traditional eateries with tables spilling onto tree-filled squares. Here’s where you try a Wiener schnitzel, while sampling the best of Austria’s hops or grape.
For a few days of art galleries, classical music, historic architecture and laid-back stop-offs sipping coffee and biting into exquisite pastries Vienna cannot be beaten.
Need to know
Austrian Airlines flies direct to Vienna from Dhs6,900 return. www.austrian.com.
Dubai to Vienna
Flight time: six hours
Time difference: two hours behind Dubai
Dhs1 = 20 Euro cents