With buildings as white as snow and grass so well-trimmed that you start to wonder if it’s possibly fake, Vienna is easily one of the grandest and most beautiful places that I’ve visited in Europe.
On the evening of my arrival, my friend suggested that I try the famous Viennese schnitzel, particularly at this one restaurant that has been making it for over 100 years. I found it quite tasty, especially with a side of dill potato salad that helped lighten the heavier fried nature of the schnitzel. We also ordered the calf liver dish (on the bus to Vienna from Prague, I watched the No Reservations episode where Anthony Bourdain visited Vienna and tried dishes made with the internal organs of different farm animals, so I was very inclined towards trying it). The liver was served alongside baked apple, potato roti salad, and fried onion rings. The first few bites of the liver were amazing – chewy, yet tender and a little gamey – but it soon became really heavy and we only ended up finishing about half of this dish.
The highlight of my trip to Vienna was watching Swan Lake at the Vienna State Opera for only three euros. An hour before every show, standing tickets are available for purchase for less than five euros, and the entrance to buy them is on the opposite side of the main ticket booth. We got there half an hour before ticket sales began and there was already a queue, so I would suggest going around 17:00 (an hour before) in order to secure a good spot.
Other than the fact that standing tickets for a world-class production in one of the most beautiful theaters in the world were on sale for less than five euros, another thing that blew my mind about Vienna is the fact that you can save your standing position by tying a scarf around the railing. Where I’m from – and don’t get me wrong, Toronto is a super nice city with lovely people – but if you tied your scarf on a railing to “save your spot” and came back an hour later, you can definitely expect other people to have claimed your spot (and if you’re unlucky, your scarf either gone or trampled on the floor.) In Vienna, where my friend emphasized the importance of the implicit Viennese honor code, people respect the fact that you had claimed that spot first. That blows my mind. We quickly bought our tickets for the Gallery section, ran up the stairs to find a good middle section, tied our scarf on the railing, then left to stroll and take pictures around the theater. True enough, when we came back an hour later, our scarves were still there and our spot waiting for us.
Swan Lake was absolutely phenomenal. I was surprised by how clearly I could see the stage, and I was in awe of the ballerinas’ every moves. The orchestra was also amazing, and the entire production was just one of the most incredible shows that I have ever watched. When we left the building, it turns out that the entire ballet was being played on a large screen outside the theater for anyone to watch; many people were sitting on mats with a bottle of wine to enjoy the show. I really like how Vienna makes cultural art performances so easily accessible for anyone to enjoy.
Another place I really enjoyed was the Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence. Surrounding the palace are beautiful gardens spanning over 300 years.
I suggest walking up to the top of the hill for a scenic view of Vienna. We brought some radlers, pretzels, and salami to have a picnic here while enjoying the viewpoint.
There are also tons of neat coffee shops to check out in Vienna too. A well-known touristy spot is Café Central, a traditional Viennese cafe opened in 1876. The majestic interior of this cafe resembles a lot to the interior of a cathedral.
I got the Viennese coffee and an apple strudel, both delicious.
Vienna is definitely a cool place to visit, and while the city is largely known for its rich history and cultural activities, there are also tons of hip spots emerging throughout the city as well. Definitely worth a trip down!