The heart of Vienna oozes old-world charm and style, epitomising everything about the city famed not only for its historical love affair with music (Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert all had roots here) but also its elegant coffeehouse culture, grand Imperial palaces, world-class museums, breathtaking architecture and its famous culinary specialty – the wiener schnitzel. And yet the Austrian capital is in tandem a thriving centre for contemporary art, design, dining and fashion. For the perfect winter break destination, Vienna is quite simply an unrivalled choice. From its fusion of modern and traditional grandeur, to the glistening backdrop it provides for some of the finest Christmas markets in Europe – the city’s reputation for cultural wealth and historical magnetism really does precede itself.
I had the absolute pleasure of travelling there for a few days last month and I was instantly won over by this beautifully compact city. Given the unfortunate rainy weather I encountered during my stay, I was grateful for the many fine museums and galleries on hand to while away my time in between downpours. The Albertina and the Leopold were definitely my highlights and reflecting on this trip I can honestly say I would have no hesitation planning a return visit to discover more. With so many fabulous exhibitions on show at any given time, if you’re a culture vulture like me, you’ll never be stuck for something to see.
On top of that, the coffee and cake culture so ingrained in the daily lives of Viennese locals, was very much to my liking and it became my favourite afternoon ritual. Of course Vienna has some very touristy parts and the guidebooks usually all point you in the same direction, but I discovered it wasn’t too hard to find something a little different, especially in the more local neighbourhoods. I would certainly recommend seeking out some of the unique and interesting restaurants and cafes I have listed below for more of a genuine taste of Vienna. There are some really exciting new culinary finds dotted around the city that are moving away from the more traditional fare and I was really pleased with my dining experiences, Labstalle, which I mention below, being the star of my trip.
Overall Vienna is perfect for a solo trip. It’s an incredibly safe and relaxed city, easy to walk around and I found people to be friendly, polite and welcoming. Below are some of my top finds, all of which I visited myself and can highly recommend (apart from the Michelin starred Tian, which was obviously out my price range but is deemed exceptionally good by many and all of the hotels, although I did visit the bar at the 25 Hours Hotel which was great and the others are the top picks by most visitors to Vienna).
I hope you find some useful ideas if you are thinking of travelling to this Austrian wonderland and if you have been yourself do share your best finds!
Until next time…
One of the best contemporary dining experiences on offer, Labstalle has set new highs in the evolvement of the recent wave of modern Viennese restaurants popping up around the city. Every dish on the menu is crafted with a combination of urban flair and a keen regional knowledge of their food sources. It’s a buzzy spot and popular with locals keen to sample farm-to-table, innovative dishes such as their home-smoked trout starter, mains of veal three ways or crunchy suckling pig and pumpkin and poppy seed strudel for a sweet closing chapter. Book in advance.
Mochi is an exceptionally popular Californian-style Japanese restaurant located in the city’s 2nd district and with good reason. The small, satisfying menu of freshly prepared sushi, nigiri, udon soups and Japanese-style tapas are a must for Asian food lovers and it’s the perfect spot to soak up some sake at one of the capital’s trendiest eateries. If you can grab a seat you’ll be lucky as the restaurant operates on a first come, first serve basis (reservations are available for Saturdays) so if queuing you might want to keep in mind the reward for your patience that awaits in the form of the finest sushi in the city.
Ansari is becoming less of a well-kept secret these days thanks to the fabulous Georgian-Oriental fusion menu and stylish, yet casual surrounds which make it one of the most popular establishments in the city located across the river from the main tourist hub. Matched by a stunning interior designed by renowned Viennese architect Gregor Eichinger, the food is impressive with dishes such as delicately grilled aubergine with mango yogurt and a breakfast menu, that besides the traditional egg dishes, includes a Russian variation which comes with a shot of vodka and a Georgian plate accompanied by hummus and pita bread.
Mama Liu & Sons
Located in the hip Mariahilf area of the city Mama Liu & Sons is another Asian star thanks to its scrumptious Chinese food and relaxed, pared back interior design. The menu offers extremely satisfying and steamy dim sum alongside hot-pot dishes which exemplify the traditional Chinese method of boiling raw ingredients at your table. Although only served in the evening, the hot-pot selection is delicious with different stock bases to choose from in which you then boil your accompanying vegetables and meat in. Non-carnivores can choose from a good number of vegetarian choices.
Motto am Fluss
Serving modern international cuisine with an Austrian twist and rewarding diners with fantastic views overlooking the banks of the Danube, Motto am Fluss is a sleek and popular spot in the evenings with a beautiful bar area that attracts the local after-work crowd. A night here can be a glamorous affair and therefore not necessarily the cheapest, but if dinner alludes you then their set lunch menu is an excellent choice and the adjoining cafe serves highly recommended breakfasts, snacks, lunches and a delectable selection of patisserie throughout the daytime.
Vienna’s only fine dining Vegetarian restaurant is a real gem on the city’s culinary circuit with a Michelin star to prove it. Eating at Tian is a high-class affair with extravagant cuisine and decor with the prices to match. Diners can choose from one of three set menus which are all executed to the standard one would expect from any restaurant that has been bestowed with such renowned accolades. Experiencing the food here is a delight for both veggies and carnivores alike especially given the quality of the ingredients, most of which are sourced from Tian’s own organic market garden ‘Bio-Naturfair’ in Corinthia.
There will be few visitors to Vienna who won’t fall in love with the city’s elegant coffee and cake culture, and treating yourself to a slice of the famous Sachertorte (an indulgent partnership of dense chocolate icing, sponge and an accompanying layer of apricot jam) is the ultimate satisfaction for that sweet tooth. Nowhere beats the original offering to be found at the grand Hotel Sacher in the centre of the city, where waiters wear sleek black uniforms with crisp white aprons. These days the trade here is aimed more towards tradition-seeking tourists but it’s nonetheless a worthwhile box to tick off Vienna’s ‘must-do’ list if one is so inclined.
Skopik & Lohn
Something of a Viennese institution ever since opening in 2006, Skopik & Lohn is always packed with locals and visitors alike, so be sure to book your spot ahead of arriving. Its success stems from an appealing modern European and Austrian menu, great wine pairings and in particular it’s eye-catching and quirky interiors – the white arched ceiling has a mesmerizing black maze of scrawl painted on it by Austrian artist Otto Zivko.
When craving a nice, simple cup of tea or coffee pared with delicious homemade cake without the usual Viennese grandeur, then Vollpension is a unique rest stop for those tired feet after a day exploring the city. Homemade really does mean homemade here as the heartwarming selection of cakes and treats are made on the day and throughout the day right behind the counter by a cheery group of grannies and granddads who you can see baking everything right before you.
Loos American Bar
A not particularly well-kept secret on the Vienna nightlife scene, but with good reason, cocktail hour at the Loos Bar oozes glamour from a bygone era. With an emphasis on modernist architecture from acclaimed architect Adolf Loos and built in 1908, the bar has been designed to wow clients with an ingenious use of mirrors that create the illusion of a much larger space than what actually exists within its cosy interior. Nabbing a table may not come easily, but any spot in this architectural wonderland will be worth your while for an evening tipple.
With its original 1950s interior boasting high ceilings draped with magnificent chandeliers and seating areas decorated with simple soft furnishings, Café Prückel is a popular haunt for an arty Viennese clientele. The coffee is strong, a wide selection of newspapers are on hand for a morning or afternoon of relaxed reading, while a slice of their speciality strudel ticks all the boxes for a little indulgence, especially if ordered with cream! Things get livelier in the evenings and on some nights there is live Piano music to accompany drinks.
Book lovers will be right at home at Café Phil in a space that feels more like someone’s living room and which is in fact a bookshop, come library, come bar. Furniture is pleasingly mis-matched and there is a good selection of English and German book titles to browse through and buy if you so wish. Start the day with a choice from their simple breakfast menu or see through the afternoon with one of their lovely cakes and fresh coffee. In the evening it’s the perfect spot for a drink accompanied by a background of chilled soundtracks.
If Dogs Run Free
The sleek interior of this trendy cocktail bar is an appealing alternative to some of the more traditional bars around Vienna. Drinking in the city has historically been dominated by beer, wine and schnapps with a small cocktail culture usually restricted to the more luxury hotel bars, but places like If Dogs Run Free have ushered in a new trend in Vienna’s bar scene. The cocktail menu is short but every glass is expertly made while the simple seating areas contrast starkly with the innovative ceiling installations which change periodically to showcase the work of local artists and designers.
Naschmarkt is a great place to browse local food stalls and perfect for a wander and a snack throughout the day. The inner aisles are adorned with an abundance of Middle Eastern stalls selling bountiful stacks of dried fruits and nuts, freshly made stuffed dates and roasted peppers, and falafels. Along with some permanent restaurants (try Neni for a superb all day menu), shops and bars, the strip is a gem for tasty food and becomes a lively place for drinks in the early evening.
Vienna is a paradise for chocolate lovers and a stop-off at one of the two Xocolat emporiums (or both!) is a must in your quest for some of the finest handcrafted chocolate in the city. The address in the 9th district, Xocolat-Manufaktur is also a workshop where you can catch a glimpse of their chocolatiers at work and try some samples to ease the mouth-watering temptation given off by the chocolate aromas wafting by. Take things one step further and book a masterclass workshop (by appointment only) led by chef Christian Petz or pastry chef Thomas Scheiblhofer.
If you visit just one museum in Vienna then you won’t be left disappointed by a trip to the Leopold. The museum centres mainly on the fascinating life-story and works created during the brief life of Austrian artist Egon Schiele (he died at just 28 years of age). The extensive Schiele collection is held here courtesy of the Viennese ophthalmologist named Rudolf Leopold who fell in love with his work and amassed an impressive number of his paintings. The galleries at Leopold are spacious and bright, conducive to a relaxed stroll from one exhibit to the next and the halls house many works from other modernist Austrian artists including Gustav Klimt, as well as temporary exhibitions.
A real gem on Vienna’s contemporary art scene, the Albertina is the perfect place to while away your morning or afternoon. It houses up to three temporary shows at a time. From Monet to Renoir, Cezanne to Picasso and Klimt to Matisse, the list of works from the international greats housed here is impressive. The building itself is incredibly beautiful and ticketed admission includes entry to the grand Habsburg state rooms.
Located right beside the Leopold Museum (discounted entry if you buy a combined ticket for both), MUMOK has a fine contemporary collection that includes works by Warhol and Lichtenstein which sit alongside rolling temporary exhibitions. The basement level is home to a permanent collection of art devoted to Viennese actionism. The galleries within the building itself are airy and the central modern lift shaft makes for an obscure photography opportunity when viewed from the lower or top levels. If you need a culture break then their onsite cupcake cafe is the perfect place for your caffeine and sugar fix.
This is where books go to heaven. Try to avoid straining your neck while trying to catch every detail of the simply breathtaking interior of Austria’s largest library. There are over 200,000 works housed here and the space is an architectural feat with marble pillars, floor-to-ceiling opulent bookcases and an incredible frescoed dome, adorned with the painting of the Apotheosis of Karl IV by Daniel Gran.
25 Hours Hotel
A quirky, concept hotel that wouldn’t be out of place in trend-setting East London, the 25 Hours Hotel has everything the modern traveller could ask for. Interiors are inspired by the world of the circus so expect exotic designs and concepts throughout with each of the 217 rooms individually decorated and extremely comfortable. The ground floor lobby has a fun 24 hour kiosk selling gifts and souvenirs unlike those you’ll find in other tourist shops around the city, plus drinks and snacks for your room. Its location next to the museum district is the perfect base for your daily excursions and come evening time you can soak up panoramic views at its chic rooftop bar or dine downstairs on Italian inspired dishes in the relaxed hotel restaurant.
Right next to the iconic St. Stephan’s cathedral in central Vienna, DO & CO is all about the small luxurious details. The 43 rooms are immaculately designed and very spacious for an inner city location. The top floor restaurant is an extravagant location with wonderful views of the city and extremely popular thanks to its Asian inspired menu that stays faithful to some classic Viennese flavours and ingredients.
A home away from home, The Guesthouse is a wonderfully cosy and sophisticated location with the interior concepts courtesy of British designer Sir Terence Conran. Its central location boasts close proximity to the Vienna State Opera House and is literally metres from the Albertina museum. Rooms are furnished to a high standard with small touches like Molton Brown toiletries and Bang & Olufsen TV and audio.
Set in an old palace, the Ring stakes its claim to the casual luxury concept and is designed with an ode to the traditional and an embrace of the contemporary. The restaurant delivers a modern take on traditional Viennese cuisine and is a casual area in the daytime but becomes more formal for evening service. There’s also a day spa for some pampering and numerous luxurious treatments and massages are on offer to relieve tired bodies after sightseeing hours.
Wombat’s City Hostel the Naschmarkt
With a superb location right beside the famous Naschmarkt, this hostel is renowned for its budget-friendly quality service and facilities. Rooms are simple but with contemporary design and plenty of space with dorm or private options available. There is free Wi-Fi, breakfast, comfortable seating areas and a bar, plus the opportunity to meet and chat with other visitors.
Ruby Sofie Hotel
The philosophy at this hotel is ‘lean luxury’ with an emphasis on laid-back comforts with character and soul which in no way means there is any compromise on standards. Rooms are simple yet stylish and although there is no restaurant, the bar is open 24/7 serving an organic breakfast and Italian snacks at other times of the day and there is also a Galley Kitchen where you can help yourself to complimentary hot drinks. The library on the second floor is the perfect relaxation spot and boasts fast Wi-Fi, while the yoga and meditation room is available for those in need of a complete recharge.