Welcome to my first #WeekendCoffeeShare. If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about one of my favorite cities, Vienna. (Even if I laugh every time I remember that its actual name in German is Wien.) It’s been a heavy week and for me, travel lifts the gravitas. I’ve been to Vienna at least six times and thinking of visiting again always brings happy thoughts – especially since there are many places to find excellent coffee.
Puns! I’m immature.
But I’m so happy to live nearby because there’s always more to explore and I can easily return to discover it little by little.
If you’re new to Vienna, a good place to start, since it’s in the smack in the middle, is MuseumsQuartier:
Left: Kunsthistorisches Museum behind a statue of Empress Maria Theresa, in Maria-Theresien-Platz. Right: statue from the front.
Admire the statue with some history in mind: Maria Theresa was the only female ruler in the entire 300-year reign of the Hapsburgs. Her reign lasted 40 years. Now, as I live and work in a country that happened to be under her rule, I’m not endorsing her… but I’m just saying, if you’re gonna have an empire, you may as well have an empress 😉
Here are some of my favorite Vienna sites.
First, the Parliament building in the Innere Stadt, or Vienna’s Old Town. The Innere Stadt is circled by Ringstraße, or Ring Road (tons of trams run here).
I stop here whenever I can when I’m in Vienna. It’s one of the only buildings in the world I actively stare at and study. It’s so huge and grandiose, and the Pallas Athena fountain in front (finished in 1902) really gives it a regal feel. From Wikipedia:
The four figures lying at the foot of Athena are allegorical representations of the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They represent at the front the Danube and Inn, in the back the Elbe and Vltava (German: Moldau) rivers. On the sides little cupids ride dolphins. […] Athena, standing on a pillar […] is dressed in armour with a gilded helmet, her left hand carries a spear, her right carries Nike.
It’s massive, and you could spend an hour looking at it and admiring it.
Plus don’t miss the famous Volksgarten park across the street, full of beautiful roses (of which there are 3000 different types).
It’s a great place to relax after all that staring you’ve done. Then stare some more at the flowers. Then consider getting coffee (see below).
Venture further inward into the city to St. Stephen’s Cathedral at Stephansplatz, one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.
This cathedral was built in 1433 and at 136.4 m (449 ft) tall, is the 13th tallest church building in the world. It has a multicolored tiled roof (one of the most interesting parts about it, in my opinion) and gorgeous Baroque interior. The double-headed eagle tile mosaic (not seen in the picture) symbolizes the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty (remember: 300 years!).
The Baroque interior is pastel-colored with gold accents. Restoration projects occasionally take place. The last time I was in Vienna, there was one of those cheesy coverings over one of the Gothic spires and part of the roof which was designed to look like what’s under it, but really just looks tacky.
Right in the same square as St. Stephen’s is Pirker, a store for traditional Viennese gingerbread. Though expensive (€2.50 for small things to €10 or higher for fancier pieces), I think it must be tried because it’s so special! They put honey in the dough for a distinctly sweet – but not sugary – taste. They have tens of varieties, with nuts, candied fruits, chocolate coverings, icing…
The photo on the right is of the gingerbread I always buy. It’s two pieces of honeyed gingerbread with sugared nuts on top and with marzipan cream in the middle (€5.60 each). A decadent splurge with is worth it when you need to treat yo’self.
Speaking of treats, one of my favorites is going to all the coffeehouses (or shall I say Kaffeehauses) anywhere I travel, but Vienna is especially known for its sophisticated coffee culture. To name a couple:
Café Central opened in 1876 in the style of romantic historicism, which can be seen in its many columns leading up into vaulted ceilings, giving it an intimate yet grand atmosphere. It’s also got a literary reputation – more history from the Culture Trip:
Famous historical figures, such as Leo Trotsky, Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, were amongst their regular guests […]. After the Second World War, Café Central was closed for about four decades, but it was renovated to open again in 1986. It has lost nothing of its originality, charm and special style and still spoils their guests with traditional Austrian dishes.
Don’t mistake the word “café” – it’s got a full menu. My experience wasn’t great because the waiters basically overlooked me, though in hindsight I guess it’s not hard to when I was a short, sweating (I had done a lot of walking), young and penniless-looking person. As it was very busy, I was seated next to a British couple and we had quite a nice conversation, but I felt awkward since I only wanted coffee and cake while they had a full meal. It’s rather expensive here, and I wouldn’t recommend it for budget travelers unless you want the full cultural experience and are prepared to go all-out.
Kaffee Alt Wien
This one is an established coffee landmark. Also from the Culture Trip:
You can say Kaffee Alt Wien is already an institution in Vienna’s coffee culture. It is located in the city center, and was founded by the Viennese café entrepreneur Leopold Hawelka in 1936. Today, it is not just a café. It is like a mixture of coffeehouse and tavern. Guests can enjoy one of the coffee specialities or have a tasty typical Austrian dish for dinner and stay the whole night. The very extraordinary thing, which attracts students, artists and tourists in the same way, is the interior. The walls are full of posters and the lighting is dimmed. This causes this cosy atmosphere of Kaffee Alt Wien.
It has the honor of being one of my first espressos in Europe. Being an American filtered coffee drinker, it was very difficult to adjust to this in the beginning… Who am I kidding? I still can’t drink espresso 😛
And I don’t understand it. American coffee culture is about having a big cup, sometimes gulping it, sometimes sitting for hours writing your memoirs on a laptop in Starbucks. European coffee culture is also about staying for hours chatting, but over a tiny cup of rocket-fuel coffee! In some places (like Croatia), it’s even rude to drink it in less than 30min-1 hour, and in some (like France), it’s illegal to drink it without a beret and mustache! True story!
Of course, I had to have the famous Sacher-torte, a chocolate cake with apricot filling, in another of Hawelka’s café’s.
And do you know what’s remarkable? Another good place to get coffee in Vienna (at 10pm…), dare I say it, is… McDonald’s.
I could not believe how classy McDonald’s was in Vienna (and generally in Europe – talk about things that make you remember you’re American – but especially here). Its McCafé was full of macarons. MACARONS! Imagine. I never thought I’d have to lift my pinky finger in a McDonald’s. And wait… you can run your finger across the (wooden?!) table without picking up any grease?! I EVEN SAW PEOPLE ON DATES HERE. Man. Americans don’t really get McDonald’s.
While in Vienna, I stayed at Wombat’s Naschmarkt Hostel, which I would highly recommend. It’s right on the market, so it’s centrally located, not too expensive, and very clean.
The market is full of color, like the fresh produce in this picture. There are shops with fresh cheese, different kinds of oil, natural soaps, etc., as well as lots of trendy restaurants with many different types of national cuisines. You can find Asian fusion, hummus, Mediterranean, typical Austrian…
And on the weekends, when I was lucky enough to be there, there is a flea market of old vintage things. I wasn’t super impressed and didn’t buy anything, but it was interesting to look at all the old clocks, shoes and bent spoons. 🙂
One last thing: my experience at the opera
If you’re a culture fanatic, Vienna is the city for you especially because you can pay only €3-4 for standing room tickets in the nosebleed seats of the beautiful opera house. They have little screens in front of every seat with the translations in a few different languages – German, Italian, English and maybe more.
Honestly… I fell asleep. Standing. Opera is not my thing, but at least I tried it!
Have you been to Vienna? What do you think of the city?