Austria is the 20th largest country in Europe by area. Its small size and convenient location make it a great year-round destination for travelers who wish to enjoy the continent’s renowned culture, while also experiencing some of its breathtaking countryside.
PART I: VIENNA
My trip began in Vienna, the capital of Austria, and city of about 2 million people set along the Danube River. The imperial city is known for its historic architecture, café culture, appreciation of the arts, and former famous residents (including Mozart and Beethoven). The metropolis was recently named the “Most Liveable City in the World” for the 2nd year in a row by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
WHERE TO STAY
Given that I was here for a work study trip, I had the opportunity to visit 7 different properties, all in the heart of Vienna:
- Hotel Imperial – This is where I stayed personally and I loved it! The building dates to 1863 and was originally built as a palais by a Duke as a present for his wife. In 1873, it was converted to a hotel for the World’s Fair and is now part of the Luxury Collection. The decor feels very royal with chandeliers everywhere, rich fabrics and grand staircases.
- Hotel Sacher Wien – Dating to 1876, this hotel is still family-owned and has an excellent location right in the city center. The atmosphere is very boutique and intimate – you feel as though you’ve been invited to stay in a grand family home. The name may sound familiar to you, as the hotel is also the producer of the famous Sacher Torte – a delicious chocolate cake that tourists line up around the block to taste (Bonus: as a guest, you can try the cake any time you like, even for breakfast!)
- Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna – On the opposite side of the Ringstrasse, you’ll find the Kempinski Vienna, which has a more modern feel, having just opened as a hotel in 2013, though the building is still historic as are most of the structures in Vienna’s first district. My favorite part of this hotel is the lobby which is lovingly referred to as “the largest living room in Vienna.”
- Park Hyatt Vienna – Another newer property, the Park Hyatt opened in an old bank and gives a subtle nod to its roots with the original ceilings in the lobby and event spaces, vault-style minibars in the rooms and a spa pool built in the old bank vault in the basement! This location is also perfect for Christmastime as it’s right in front of a square that hosts one of the main Christmas markets in Vienna.
- Hotel Bristol Vienna – Another Luxury Collection property, the Bristol’s design is also very traditional, with the exception of 10 more modern rooms that were recently added and designed in a 1920s style. Opera enthusiasts will flock to this property which is adjacent to the famed opera house. In the summertime, a screen outside the opera building offers Bristol guests the ability to enjoy the performances from their open windows, perhaps with a bottle of champagne and some room service.
- Palais Coburg Residenz – This is such a unique and special property. If you dream of staying in a palace, then you better hop on a plane to Vienna. This 117 year old palais was built atop the old city walls of Vienna and the traditional imperial design now incorporates both this extremely historic city wall and modern touches of glass. The wine cellars here are to die for, as are the state rooms, which practically feel like Versailles. And with only 32 suites, you’ll definitely feel as if you’re a royal guest.
- Ritz Carlton Vienna – Last but not least, the Ritz Carlton Vienna is a great option. I love the Ritz’s club lounge which provides a nice gathering area (especially for families), but the hotel is most famous for its rooftop bar (in the summer) and rooftop Christmas market (in the winter).
WHAT TO DO & SEE
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral – This gorgeous cathedral has a beautiful mosaic rooftop. Visitors can also climb the towers for a birds’ eye view of Vienna.
- Spanish Riding School – Home to the famous Lipizzaner dancing horses.
- Viennese Cooking Class – We learned how to make strudel from Chef Bianca of Cook in Vienna. Austrian cuisine is so unique, I highly recommend a cooking class!
- Bosendorfer – The official Austrian piano maker has a salon in Vienna where you can view the famous pianos and learn more about their history.
- Schönbrunn Palace – Just outside the city, you’ll find the 1,441 room summer palace of the Hapsburgs. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance.
- Belvedere Museum – Set in another former palace, this museum now houses the largest collection of Klimt paintings in Vienna, including his most famous one, The Kiss.
- Hofburg Imperial Palace – This was the main residence of the Hapsburg rulers and the center of the city. It is now home to the Spanish Riding School and the crown jewels.
- Museum Quarter – Have no fear of a rainy day in Vienna; there are plenty of museums to visit in the Museum Quarter!
- Vienna Boys Choir – Known as one of the best boys choirs in the world, the Vienna Boys Choir performs regular concerts and is a joy to listen to.
- Vineyards – Just 20 minutes or so from the city center, yet still within the city limits, you’ll find Vienna’s vineyards and the Heurige, taverns that produce and sell their own wine.
- Beethoven Museum – in Grinzing, you can visit Beethoven’s summer home, which is now a museum, and learn more about his life.
- Christmas Markets – From mid-November to Christmas eve, you’ll find Christmas markets all over vienna, complete with punch and gluhwein.
- Café Culture – Vienna is also famous for its coffee houses, many of which are 100s of years old and were frequented by famous people in history.
- Vienna Woods – Just a hop skip from the city, you can visit the large green area known as the Vienna Woods, a Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO. Enjoy one of the hiking paths or visit Heiligenkruez, an old monastery.
- Vienna State Opera – Enjoy a performance at the Vienna Opera House – or two or three, they put on a different one every evening.
WHERE TO EAT
- Plachutta – Famous for its Tafelspitz (boiled beef). Don’t be fooled by the name – it’s very flavorful and delicious!
- Café Landtmann – one of the most famous cafes in Vienna.
- Demel – A lovely patisserie right near St. Stephen’s. Austrians love their sweets and you will find plenty here.
- Restaurant Vestibul – A gourmet dining venue in the Burgtheatre.
- At Eight – A relais & chateaux restaurant on the Ringstrasse. It’s a bit out of the main hub but totally delicious.
- Heurigen Mayer am Pfarrplatz – A lovely wine tavern in Grinzing with down-home Austrian fare, local wines and a beautiful outdoor seating area.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 on Salzburg!