Vienna is a city known for its classical music, cafes and Christmas markets. As these associations might suggest, it’s a city that is steeped in tradition. The palaces of the Hapsburgs and the Vienna State Opera House stand in the same places as they have for centuries. Beautiful cafes once frequented by luminaries such as Freud and Klimt are still serving the classic dishes of wiener schnitzel and sachertorte. Mozart’s former apartment is somewhere around the corner. You come to Vienna to step back in time and live a life that you read about in great novels and old history books.
That was all that I wanted out of my Christmas weekend in Vienna. I wanted to drink mulled wine at the market, watch The Magic Flute and eat some festive and traditional meals. And I got exactly what I wanted. If you find yourself in Vienna and want your trip to be filled with a little night music and lots of good cheer, read on for a list of places that will help you do just that.
Day 1 in Vienna
Steirereck // Am Heumarkt 2A, 1030 Wien, Austria // +43 1 7133168
You’ve just landed. No time to waste, head straight to your lunch reservation at Steirereck, a 2 Michelin star and No. 9 restaurant in the world. The elegant restaurant’s exclusive allure is enhanced by its isolated location in Stadtpark. Be prepared to have your breath taken away by a bread cart with 23 different loaves, a cheese cart that is equally deep, and a char that is cooked in front of you in melting beeswax. If the tasting menu seems too much, go for the lunch set menu, which is cheaper but still lovely and leisurely. For a more in-depth review, click here.
Park Hyatt Vienna // Am Hof 2, 1010 Wien, Austria // +43 1 227401234
After a long plane ride and an epic meal, you’ll want nothing more than to unwind and relax. Check in to the luxurious Park Hyatt and make your way to the spa, where you can swim in a gilded pool located in a former bank vault and detox in the steam and sauna rooms. Paradise is wearing a thick robe while eating fresh apples and cashews. You could stay here all day, but it is worth getting dressed up for The Bank Brasserie & Bar on the ground level and having a cocktail.
Buxbaum // Grashofgasse 3, im Heiligenkreuzerhof, 1010 Wien, Austria // +43 1 2768226
6 hours can pass by very quickly. Before you know it, it’s already time for dinner at Buxbaum, a restaurant that serves classic Viennese dishes in a cozy, apres-ski setting. Judging by the plates around you, wiener schnitzel appears to be the people’s choice, but be the contrarian and order the chestnut soup with mushroom foam and the hearty Buxbaum salad. You will thank us later for finding some leafy greens in a city full of meats. And in all seriousness, the side of cabbage that tastes like kimchee sauerkraut might be the best thing ever.
Day 2 in Vienna
Kunsthistorisches Museum // Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010 Wien, Austria // +43 1 525240
Now that you have a full night’s sleep under your belt, it’s time to explore the cultural gems of Vienna on your two feet! You can walk through the vast grounds of the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace of the Hapsburg empire. There are a lot of interesting buildings in the complex that you could explore, but one of the best is the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It’s similar to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but on a smaller scale, however, there is still lots to see. Look out for the Cellini salt cellar and the painting Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress by Diego Velazquez.
Cafe Central // Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Austria // +43 1 5333763
Looking at all that art is making you hungry. Time to have lunch at the oldest of institutions, the Viennese coffee house, where one can eat, drink and linger for hours. Cafe Central, which once served as a meeting place for famous intellectuals like Lenin and Trotsky, is an especially popular one. The only thing to debate here is what you should order for lunch. There are a lot of options, all of them classics, and they are especially well done. The wiener schnitzel was top notch, and the “Viennese style” soup with chicken and dumplings was soulful and filling. Save some room for the broken pancakes, which takes ~20 minutes to prepare.
Zum Schwarzen Kameel // Bognergasse 5, 1010 Wien, Austria // +43 1 5338125
Nearby Cafe Central, you’ll see crowds of people spilling out into the street, drinking, smoking and socializing with each other. At first, you might think this is where The Real Housewives of Vienna hang out, because you will see lots of well-heeled ladies in mink coats air kissing one another. But what they’re really here for are Zum Schwarzen Kameel‘s delicious open-faced sandwiches. There are an overwhelming number of options to choose from, and you can’t really quite tell from the colors of the creams and spreads what the flavors are, but if it’s dark purple, go for it.
Vienna State Opera House // Goethegasse 1, 1010 Wien, Austria
In Vienna, culture is a way of life. The city feels so strongly that the arts should be available to everyone that storied institutions like the Vienna State Opera House offer day-of tickets for every performance, which start at 3 euros a piece. Note that these are for standing room tickets only, hence the cheap price tag, and you have to line up early if you want space in one of the center blocks which have the best views. But it’s easy to get a standing room spot, despite what the lines might suggest, the red velvet railings you get to lean on are comfortable and come with their own subtitles, and 3 euros to hear one of the best performances of the Queen of the Night killing her solo is totally worth the discomfort.
Stephan // Schönbrunner Str. 98, 1050 Wien, Austria // +43 1 5441550
Dinner tonight will be at Stephan, a modern steakhouse that will involves, yes, more meats, but it will be a nice change of pace from the traditional schnitzels and sausages. While the restaurant is known for its steaks, there are other dishes like soup (the carlos “special” soup is really special!) and paella on the menu, which are quite good. The downtown atmosphere is nice, it feels like you are in a modern, stylish bistro and something about it is very hygge. Pull up a chair and reward yourself for all that hardcore opera house standing with a beer and a beef tartare.
Motto // Rüdigergasse 1, 1050 Wien, Austria // +43 1 5870672
It’s your last night in Vienna. You could call it an early night, or you could see how the young Viennese live by checking out the hipster nightlife, which is a surprising but refreshing find in a city that seems so old school. You have to venture out into the seventh and eighth districts for the scene, and a good one is at Motto, a bar with lots of pink and neon lights, and lots of pretty people, most of them gay. The drinks are amazing–I ordered two of the holidaypunsch–and the men’s bathroom apparently is really special and prime for cruising.