Vienna, A City Steeped in Royalty

Our time in Vienna was short – but I wouldn't describe it as sweet. Stunning, yes. Enchanting and alluring with its intricate buildings and royal palaces. Lively and bustling. Upscale at almost every opportunity it's given. But gritty in parts too. Authentic. Sweet is too diminutive a word for this metropolitan masterpiece. It doesn't do it quite enough justice. But don't take my word for it. See the photos for yourself.

Out of all the cities Laura and I were visiting on our trip, I was least excited for Vienna. I heard the nightlife wasn't all that great. That the locals had an airy, haughty nature about them. That everything was glazed with a "better-than-thou" patina. And yet... Vienna surprised me the most. 

One of our best nights out was here. We had the most wonderful tour guide in the form of Laura's friend. The weather was perfect. And while there were a few bumps along the way (every single restaurant in our area stopped serving food at 10 pm the night we hungrily arrived!), we both loved Vienna so much. Here's some things I recommend doing...

Walk Where the Habsburgs Did

So technically, the Habsburgs only walked here for half of the year. The Schonbrunn Palace was the official residence of the royal family, but only during the summer. Located just a few minutes outside of the downtown area, it shone brightest during Maria Theresa's reign in the 1700s. That's when Vienna was considered the cultural and artistic centre of all of Europe... and the Schonbrunn Palace was the jewel in their empire's crown.

Now it's teeming with tourists who are able to walk amongst the stunning gardens and glittery rooms. Laura and I stuck to the outdoor tour, but for more money, you can tour the interior which is said to rival Versailles. But even the landscaped and manicured lawns blew our breath away, and the sheer size of the palace impressed us as well.

We spent the morning walking the length of the gardens, making our final destination a hilltop that looked out over the palace and the city.

Getting back into the city, I liked imagining and fantasizing that royalty strolled down these streets as well. Each building was certainly elegant enough to be a backdrop for the higher classes, with their dripping jewels and fancy frocks. I attempted to fit in with my strand of pearls – it only felt right to dress up a little for a city that clothes itself in black tie every day.

Enjoy Vienna from a View

The beauty of the city definitely came through at street level, with flourishes framing doors and towering structures captivating us right where we stood. But we found ourselves craning our heads a lot in order to look up and try to appreciate even more of it.

So we decided to just go up ourselves. The most logical way to do this was to climb the cathedral's tower right in the city centre. St. Stephen's Cathedral is tucked into a square, crammed in amongst the other buildings that hug its conservative boundaries. This means we couldn't get an ideal photo of it from far away (because we'd just back into buildings if we tried)... but it did provide us with an intimate view from above.

One of my favourite moments of the day was walking towards the Cathedral and looking up at a rooftop patio that was just across from it. Laura exclaimed "Imagine eating there!", and her friend Daniel (our local tour guide) responded with "We are!". The two of us thought he was joking but a couple of hours later, there we were at Do & Co, eating like royals ourselves and looking out at the dazzling city cocooning us. The only thing that could get me to look away was lunch, where I had a twist on the traditional Viennese dish, the "Wiener Schniztel". Since Laura decided to order that, I went for the deconstructed version called the "Kalbsbutterschnitzel" which had minced veal instead. Just like butter, it melted in my mouth with a rich delicious flavour.

Another of my favourite moments was when Laura and I ended up on the "wrong" ferris wheel. I had saved this tourist location in my phone map, but was unaware that there were two ferris wheels at the same theme park. It wasn't until we got to the top of the one we were on that we looked over at the other side of the theme park and went "Oh... that's the one the guide books were talking about!". In case you're planning on going, the gondola ferris wheel from the late 1800s is the one that the tourists swarm to. But if you want some open air views and having an attraction almost all to yourself, go ahead and take a seat on the other one.

Dine on Delicious Food

Speaking of theme park... Prater also has a delicious beer garden that locals and tourists alike flock to. – Schweizerhaus. This was a Daniel recommendation, and it did not disappoint. Billed as Vienna's "most popular beer garden" it was insanely packed when we showed up on a busy Friday night. But a little bit of patience, and a lot of walking around in circles, rewarded us with a seat at a table. This place is known for its pork knuckle, but we opted for sausage, cheese, and a pretzel instead. Also they served their wine in an adorable glass mug, which spoke to me on all kinds of levels.

Right by our hostel was this sweet little breakfast place called Vollpension. Apparently some grandmothers from the neighbourhood got together with some hipsters and created this cafe where the older ladies bake yummy traditional cakes and the youngsters do all the running around and serving. I'm a sucker for ~aesthetic vibes~ and this place was no exception. Brick walls, ragtag vintage furniture, and an instagrammable exterior were all as important as the solid, good breakfast itself.

Eating sacher torte at the same place that Anthony Bourdain did gave all of us the feels. This thick, dense chocolate cake is the unofficial (or maybe even official?) dessert of Vienna, and there's only one place to really have it – the Sacher Cafe. We opted to sit outside and enjoy the ideal weather and people watch some locals while splitting a slice – which I recommend since it's so rich and sweet!

Drink on the Danube

We didn't think Vienna would be a "party city" (and maybe it isn't and we just had an anomaly of an experience) but one of our best nights out during our entire trip was here. It started with drinks on the Danube, where hundreds of Vienna's citizens congregated along the riverside with some sort of alcohol in hand. The sun was shining, the music was playing, and the drinks were flowing. We opted for a spritzer, a mix of white wine with with sparkling water. It was delicious and refreshing, and we enjoyed people watching as we strolled up and down the river. If you're here during the summer, it's an activity I highly recommend.

Party in a Palace (sort of)

Drinks turned into more drinks which turned into us looking for a place to go out and dance. We asked the staff at the front desk of our hostel where they recommended – which led us to Volksgarten. Like I mentioned earlier, we had low expectations for partying in Vienna, but maybe that's exactly why we had such a great time. This club is on the fancier end so there's a cover at the door. But the amazing music, indoor/outdoor aspect, and all around good vibes made the $20 worth it. Watching the sun brighten the sky at 4 in the morning while still hearing the beats and being surrounded by fellow partiers is one of the most magical memories of my entire trip. Oh yeah, and the palace part? The club is situated in the heart of a garden which is part of the Hofburg Palace complex. That's one way to feel like a royal. 

Vienna, you were wonderful and surprising. A true historical gem, a step back into the past when monarchs and rulers strolled the streets that we're now privy to. You took my breath away during so many moments, and you continue to impress those that visit you. Thank you for the good times. ❤️