Vienna was recently voted the most liveable city in the world, a title the Austrian capital has claimed on multiple occasions in the past. On the surface it has the appeal of classic European destinations like Paris or Prague, with a wealth of historical landmarks to explore and grandiose places to stay at surprisingly affordable prices, but it’s some of the city’s more modern innovations that make it a great place to visit on a short break too.
‘Tap water’. That’s the surprising answer when asking locals about one of the best things about Vienna. How good can the tap water in a major city actually be? Well, having sampled it at every opportunity on a recent short break here, we can confirm that it really is worth pointing out as a highlight. We’re not suggesting you should book your next trip based on this alone, but it is one of the practical things that make Vienna a great destination for anyone looking for a short break.
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Obviously if you live here permanently you want a bit more to make your life easier. Clean, safe and straightforward public transport, affordable rent thanks to city ownership of many private buildings and an abundance of exhibitions, art and public attractions certainly enhance life here for everyone. There’s a real sense of history when walking down the wide boulevards and stepping on the cobblestone streets in the centre of town too, yet it all feels aimed towards modern living.
In 2023, Vienna will celebrate 150 years since it hosted the World’s Fair and the city is one of the rare examples of a destination that has captialised on this event to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
Where to stay in Vienna
You’ll want somewhere close to the centre and you’ll struggle to find anywhere to match the location of Die Josephine Hotel. What elevates the property is that it also has a boutique look and feel which is remarkable given how close it is to the main shopping street that runs through Vienna. Don’t worry about noise as you’ll be facing away from the crowds, and to be honest this is such a well behaved place that general rowdiness isn’t a concern at all.
Hotel Josefine has 49 rooms whose exquisite details make each one special. Glamorous Art Deco design meets Viennese wickerwork, crystal chandeliers, surrealist art and analog furnishings, transporting guests back to another time. Each of the six room categories offers a cozy retreat and supreme comfort. Velvet, brass, and green marble from Italy are the predominant materials and, paired with gold details, mirrors, and handcrafted retro elements, create a very special flair.
The hotel opened in 2021 so is still something of a novelty. The prices per room are in keeping with the affordability of Vienna and you can grab a room for as little as $110 / £95 per night.
Things to do in Vienna
One of the more obvious attractions in Vienna is also one of the best. The iconic – and for once the use of ‘iconic’ is entirely appropriate – Wiener Riesenrad is located in Prater amusement park. It’s a short ride on the metro or about a 30 minute walk. If you have the time definitely go on foot as you pass a number of incredible buildings and get to travel along the banks of the Wien river. If you’re still wondering, yes this is the famous ferris wheel featured in The Third Man (1949). The movie starred Orson Welles and was set in post WWII Vienna. It has gained popularity since its release and is so beloved that there is even a museum in the city dedicated to the film and its production.
To get a good idea of the city layout, a walking tour is your best option. Brother and sister duo Basti and Gabi can tailor a tour around your needs, and also have an infectious, fun energy that only enhances your trip. In winter Vienna is bustling with Christmas markets and illuminated streets, and you’ll want an expert to show you around if you want to get a sense of place before exploring on your own. Elisabeth Wolf also offers a variety of tours to help you get into the swing of things. If you’re looking to get an insight into a particular aspect of Vienna, her guided tours are perfect whether it’s an insider look at the film industry or luxury shopping.
Music is the other thing Vienna is famous for. The Ludwig van restaurant is situated below a room once occupied by the famous composer Beethoven, but the main attraction is actually the food being served. It’s a combination of traditional cuisine from the region and a few choice selections from the chef. From offal to snail croissants, you’ll often feel challenged by what is on the plate in front of you but the results are always delicious.
Don’t think that vegetarians will struggle for dining options here either. There’s a real movement for sustainable dining in Vienna and one unmissable highlight is vegan restaurant JOLA. Named after the owners Jonathan and Larissa, the restaurant forgoes standard à la carte menus and instead offers several courses similar to the elaborate tasting menus you get in high end eateries in other countries. The best compliment we can pay to this interesting concept is that we left feeling utterly satisfied and forgot that the menu was fully vegan from start to finish.
For the ultimate ‘feel-good’ addition to your trip make sure you research Vollpension. This social enterprise looks to employ locals who are facing old-age poverty or the loneliness of living alone. Book a class to ‘bake with granny’ and you’ll get an informative, entertaining and tasty chance to spend time with a cook who can show you how to make your own sweet treats. The stories you’ll hear while baking also give you a chance to find out more about the Vienna from previous decades.
Two other things to do in Vienna on a short break would be visiting one of the many exhibitions and trying to catch a concert. Both are integral to Viennese weekends and you’ll find locals enjoying their time off in a museum followed by an afternoon/early evening musical performance.
The Heidi Horten Collection has just opened to the public and features art, costumes and other objects that were previously held in private locations around the world. This is an accessible space so even if you don’t usually feel comfortable wandering around an art exhibition this is a relaxed affair. Classical concerts are admittedly a more formal affair so you’ll want to dress up for the Vienna Philharmonic. Book in advance and head to Musikverein to catch some of the best musicians in the world in a remarkable hall that transports you back in time.
Apparently locals like to get back to reality by heading to a food stand on their way home. You can find people in their Sunday best downing a hot dog and washing it all down with some cheap local beer on the kerbside. If you want, you can also go for tap water instead…
For more information on visiting Vienna go to www.vienna.info
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