I've wanted to visit Vienna for a long time. It's an often overlooked city, but it's one that is thought of as a quintessentially European city - regularly topping the rankings of the most liveable cities in the world. I finally understood at least some of the hype when I visited. The city is incredibly beautiful - the architecture, the history, the culture - there aren't too many places in the world I've visited more aesthetically pleasing than Vienna. However, as a brown person, be ready for stares. These guys don't have too many Sikhs (I saw one!), and they have a tendency to stare...a lot. Other than that, I'd be hard pressed to say too many bad things about the city. You can read my detailed review of the city here, but here are the 5 things I most loved about Vienna.
5. Getting close to the Austrian Crown Jewels
If there is one museum you need to definitely visit, then the Imperial Treasury should be at the top of your list. The Imperial Treasury is where the Austrian Crown Jewels are kept. It costs €12 for a ticket (not exactly cheap), but it's worth the money.
I spent just over an hour in the Treasury, and could have easily spent more. My favourite bits were the crowns belonging to the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire as well as numerous weapons from throughout the history of the country. One display that garnered a lot of interest allegedly houses the Holy Lance (that was used to prod Jesus while he was being crucified) and a fragment of the One True Cross.
The Imperial Treasury was definitely a highlight of my visit, and one I would absolutely recommend. For me, it ranks somewhere between the Scottish Crown Jewels in Edinburgh and the ones held in the Tower of London.
4. Admiring the architecture of the city
The architecture is where Vienna comes into its own, and in all honesty, might be aesthetically one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Many of the buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and their uniform height and almost uniform colour makes the city feel as one, rather than a patchwork of places awkwardly rolled into a single city (London, I'm looking at you!).
That's not to say there aren't any surprises. After all there is the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building constructed in the expressionist style by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It's very in your face, and totally distinct from the uniform buildings around it. It's a multicoloured, multi-textured building covered in plants.
But walking through areas like the Museumsquartier and looking at buildings such as the State Opera House, the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum make you realise just how special this city is. That's not to say the amazing architecture is restricted to one area of the city. There is something hauntingly beautiful about Prater - the famous amusement park, or the Karlskirche an 18th century Baroque style church., or the entry below...
3. Walking the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace
The 18th century Schonbrunn Palace is about as continental European as a building gets. and was once the primary residence for many of the country's Habsburg rulers (one of the more infamous European royal dynasties).
The palace itself has over 1,000 rooms, but that's just part of its size, the gardens extending around its perimeter are even larger. I walked into the ticket office, and guided tours ranged from roughly €10-€25 but I decided that I'd tour a tour of just the grounds myself, having got palace fatigue.
The Neptune fountain provides for great panoramic views of the palace as a whole but it's the hill behind the Neptune fountain that is worth visiting. It contains a structure dating from 1775 known as the Gloriette, symbolising the glory of the Habsburg ruling house. The Gloriette was significantly damaged during the Second World War, but has been rebuilt perfectly. The view from the top of the hill is great, overlooking the entire city, but you can climb higher still.
The structure houses a cafe, and for a small fee of less than €5 you can climb to the top of the Gloriette. I decided to do just that and it's worth the money. The view overlooks the hill, fountain, palace, and most impressively, in the distance, the city. You can make out the spire of St Stephens Cathedral, and it's one of the places I would definitely recommend you visit. This would be the Viennese equivalent of Bunkers in Barcelona or Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.
2. Eating dessert at Cafe Central
I've often mentioned that I feel like I sometimes need a holiday from my holidays. I have an inability to switch off, and my brain tends to go into autopilot, dragging my tired body around for miles, even though I don't always enjoy it. In Vienna my moment of serenity came in Cafe Central.
The cafe was built in 1876 and since opening has seen many famous people walk through its doors including Freud, Stalin and Hitler. It's very beautiful on the outside and very friendly and welcoming on the inside.
I waited a couple of minutes to be seated, and ordered a chocolate cake with ice cream. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but this was so good. Best of all, it was very reasonably priced. However, more than just the food, and the architecture, is the sense of history. The interior, although moved and renovated, has retained its feel from when it opened, and you could easily imagine the people I've listed above, sitting at a table, drinking coffee, making plans for world domination. If I ever went back to Vienna - it would literally be for Cafe Central.
1. Views from St. Stephen's Cathedral
I'm always conflicted when I see beautifully constructed religious buildings (of any religion). I'm pretty sure some of that money could have been used to practice what most religions preach and fed someone needy. Yet, there there's a mosque constructed in Istanbul from a then rare blue stone, a Sikh Gurdwara covered in gold (and don't get me started on the money spent in the UK), a Hindu Temple in London that transported a shedload of stone and marble from India - and pretty much every cathedral in a capital city in Europe.
For all the questions around whether or not the money could be better used, these cathedrals are pretty damn spectacular. I have my favourites - St Paul's, Notre Dame, Sagrada Familia, St Peter's, the cathedral at Rio are just a handful - but this is right up there with the very best.
Rising over 400ft, the part Romanesque, part Gothic cathedral is almost a thousand years old, and is jaw droppingly beautiful. The first thing that catches your attention is the scale of the building, it is genuinely large - and then you begin to notice the detail, the colourful roof, the carvings and you begin to appreciate it on another level.
You can visit either the south or the north towers. Despite the south tower being twice as tall, almost every online review pointed to the north tower as being the preferred option. Firstly the south tower is considered a pretty taxing climb, and secondly you only see views from inside of a room looking out four relatively small windows. The north tower, on the other hand, uses a lift to get you to the top, and you have a 360 outdoor view. At €5.50, it's slightly more expensive than the south tower, but definitely worth paying a little extra (remember to bring cash, as it's no cards).
The view from the top is incredible. You are right next to the multi-coloured tiled roof which features almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles. On the other side you have a great view looking across a city that has an almost uniform height when it comes to its architecture, giving almost unblocked views across Vienna.
If you're in Vienna - be sure to make sure you visit cathedral!
And that's pretty much it.
There's a lot more to the city - so many palaces you could lose count, museums that are as good as any in Europe and the food is generally very good and reasonably priced. There aren't many Sikhs in Vienna so be ready for a lot of stares. The country is going through a bit of a right-wing revival (as are many other places), so there were times I felt uncomfortable but never unsafe.
It's a city I would definitely recommend - in terms of beauty, you won't visit many places more beautiful than Vienna.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.