Ah! Vienna. There is so much to see and do there that it was hard to narrow down our options. (I made a “to see” list, and it was long.) This city is expensive, to be fair, so we tried to keep costs low while still enjoying everything we wanted to do. In the end, we spent seven days there and loved every minute.
We arrived on October 16 and, after dropping our stuff at our Airbnb, immediately joined a free walking tour. Such tours have become our standard first step in each city. On this tour, we walked around the Old Town and saw the major sights, including the Vienna State Opera house, the former Habsburg Imperial residence and gardens, and the Spanish Horse-Riding School, to name but a few. The architecture all around the city is sublime; it’s often so ornate that it seems a bit surreal.
The next day I ventured off on my own while Scott worked. I visited an exhibition of the works of Gustav Klimt, whose works were on display at the former imperial Belvedere palace. Klimt is a famous Austrian artist whose work you probably recognize even if you don’t realize it; he’s best known for his golden-hued pieces, including what’s likely his most famous work, The Kiss. In person, this painting was spectacular! It is far more beautiful than the Mona Lisa, to my mind (and also far less popular an attraction, so you can get up nice and close to see it in all its golden glory). The palace itself, now called the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, is also a stunner, and like all things Habsburg, it was very ornate.
After that, I took a Hitler tour. The German fuhrer was originally Austrian, not German as I had thought. He came to the city in his teens and fell in love with its culture, the art and the opera, and had dreams of becoming an artist. He tried two times to get into art school there, but apparently his human forms weren’t good enough. (There has to be a joke there, but Hitler isn’t a laughing matter.) I guess it might have been at that point he decided that the only thing left to do was become the world’s most notorious mass-murdering war criminal.
At the end of the day, I took a tram around the “Vienna Ring,” which travels along a route that was once occupied by the medieval wall of the city. During this quick ride, I saw more glorious architecture, including a few universities, museums, and the parliament building. However, my recommendation for anyone interested in this experience is to just walk around, rather than take the ring tram; there are maps that you can use to see all the sites, and you can do the whole ring easily on foot.
The following day was another alone day. I started off at the Sigmund Freud Museum, dedicated to another famous Austrian of the twentieth century. There I got to see the rooms where Freud treated patients and devised his theories, many of which form the foundation of modern psychoanalysis. The tour guides glazed over the id, ego, and superego, but they did discuss the Freudian theory of the unconscious mind in a bit more detail.
An interesting note: Freud was Jewish, and as such he was detained by the Nazis until many of his influential friends lobbied for his release (such as Albert Einstein, who had already escaped at that point); before he was allowed to leave, though, he had to pay the equivalent of $200k to the Nazi party.
The rest of the day, I went shopping for a new outfit to wear to the opera that night. I found the fanciest H&M I’ve ever seen; it was an outstanding building, inside and out. After finding a dress, I had a hard time picking out a pair of shoes; unfortunately, I ended up buying the most uncomfortable ones ever. I threw those away the next day.
At the opera that night, we saw The Marriage of Figaro. Trying to be cost-conscious, I had bought the cheapest tickets (about $40) — and, boy, did we get what we paid for! The seats were considered to have an “obstructed view,” but in actuality that meant no view whatsoever. We powered through, though, and by the end, we agreed to never buy such crappy seats ever again. Fortunately, unlike the viewing experience, the Vienna State Opera building, outside and in, was incredible.
To cap off the night, we had dessert and drinks at the famous Café Central, which was frequented by the elite and the intelligentsia, including poets, scientists, and other famous Austrian personages, throughout the 19th and into the 20th century.
On Friday, Scott and I spent the day together. Our first stop was to tour the Habsburgs’ summer home, Schönbrunn Palace, and its gardens. We saw about forty rooms, and wowza! Those imperials really knew how to build a palace. This palace was once a “simple hunting lodge,” later enlarged and redesigned by Empress Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette.
After our tour, we went to see a baking show on how to make the famous Austrian apple strudel. It was performed in Austrian, but we got the gist. For dinner that night, I found a Pakistani restaurant called Der Wiener Deewan, a pay-what-you want buffet-style restaurant. (How great is that?!) The food was pretty good, too.
Saturday was another Scott-and-Connie day. We went to the overly crowded Naschmarkt flea market for about 30 minutes, which was about all Scott could take (he hates crowds). After that, we made our way to the Habsburg Imperial Crypt, where the entire imperial family is buried. Some of the sarcophagi were intricate, while others were very plain. As we learned, each represented how the occupant viewed themselves both in life and in death. We really loved this site and highly recommend it for a visit!
We then went to the Hofburg Treasury Museum, which houses all the treasures collected by the imperial family. Man, did they have some amazing, priceless stuff! The Habsburgs were also the Holy Roman Emperors for many centuries, so they also had a lot of religious relics. The most shocking to us were the items that relate to Christ, all supposedly real relics validated by the Vatican. The most jaw-dropping among them were a stake said to have been used to nail Jesus’s hand to the cross; fragments of wood supposedly from the cross; pieces of material purportedly from his loin cloth and from the table cloth of the Last Supper; and a large bowl made from one massive piece of agate (which we learned is stronger than steel!) that is said to have held the blood of Christ.
We aren’t at all religious, so we took all of this with a large grain of salt. Still, it was pretty cool. We ended the day at the Brunnenmarket and Hofer grocery market, where we bought yummy cheese, veggies, and other snacks.
Sunday was cold and rainy, and I had a very slow start to my day. Once I finally got out of the apartment, I went to an amusement park inside the city and rode the Prater Ferris Wheel. There were some cloudy but nice views of the city from the top. After that I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and saw even more items from the Habsburg Treasury, as well as some beautiful paintings (they also had a lot of unique, priceless relics and works of art). The building was also beautiful, so the architecture alone is worth a visit.
I spent our final day in Vienna on the couch, planning our upcoming travels in Thailand. Sometimes it seems to take forever to find the right accommodations.
In all, Vienna was a great time in an amazing city. There is so much more that we didn’t see! We could easily go back for another full week and still wouldn’t see it all.
Connie & Scott