Vienna is like a walk back in time. The city flourished under the rule of the Habsburg and became a cultural icon of Europe, a status that it maintains to this day.
This city is best appreciated at ground level. Bring good walking shoes and to refuel , schedule frequent stops at some of the city’s historic coffeehouses for some kaffee und kuchen.
Get a sense of orientation of the city by walking along Ringstrasse. It’s a wide boulevard that encircles the Aldstadt and boasts a wealth of beautiful architecture like for example, the Austrian Parliament Building and the Rathausplatz ( City Hall square ) The beautiful city hall is home to the Vienna Film Festival and when I visited in October we chanced upon the annual ‘Game City’ festival, an event that attracts gamers of all ages and best of all is free.
Vienna has also served as the backdrop of a number of landmark films like Orson Welles ‘The Third Man’ which was set in postwar Vienna and recently, Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise.’ If you are a setjetter like me, one great way of exploring this city is through some of key scenes of these movies.
Just a ten minute walk from Rathausplatz will bring you to the first district and 8 Mölker Bastei. The doorway of this house is where Orson Welles’ Harry Lime hides from Holly Martins in the movie. This street also features in Before Sunrise movie. It is one of the most picturesque parts of this city. The Bastei has also one of the few visible remains of Vienna’s old city wall.
I also made a trip to the balcony of the Albertina museum where Jesse recites to Celine a few lines of WH Auden’s ‘As I walked out one evening.’ From here you get beautiful panoramic views of the Vienna State Opera House and the Hotel Sacher where the Sachertorte was invented back in 1832. Note: It is a beautiful cafe but is tad pricey here so if you are on a budget, go to the locals favourite , the pretty in pink, Cafe Aida for your fill of Sachertorte.
Talking about cake, Viennese love nothing better than to frequent their coffeehouses , discuss the social and economic issues of the day and drink their wiener melange. This experience will also involve being served by a grumpy waiter so be patient and don’t forget to tip. So do make time to visit some of the historic coffeehouses in this city. Just a short hop from Mölker Bastei is the beautiful Cafe Central which was frequented by Lenin, Hitler and Vienna native Sigmund Freud. My personal favourite in Vienna is Cafe Sperl partially because of the Before Sunrise connection. Moment you enter this cafe, you’re transported to a different era. I won’t say anything more. You have to be there to know this place. Also the wiener schnitzel here is damn tasty.
Continuing my Vienna for movie lovers tour, pay a visit to Top Kino (Rahlgasse 1, few minutes walk from Cafe Sperl ) an arthouse cinema with a cozy retro ambience. The place is famous for its venetian roasted coffee and single malt whisky selection. People love their breakfasts here. Top request here is the ‘directors breakfast’ – an espresso and a cigarette.
Just few minutes stroll from Top Kino is the Museumsquartier, Vienna’s exciting art complex right opposite the Imperial Palace. Go on a bingefest of world class contemporary art and unwind later at one of the numerous bars and cool cafes within this complex. This is the place for people watching. Highlights here include the Leopold Museum, with its numerous works by Schiele, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kunsthalle.
Plus if you are in town for the Weiner Wiesn or indeed any festival, do pop over to the Prater got for a ride on the Weiner Reisenrad -one of the earliest Ferris wheels of the world. It was built in 1897 by the English engineer, Lieutenant Bassett Bassett to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Josef. Commercially the wheel was a financial disaster and earmarked to be destroyed in 1917. Badly damaged in the WWII, the wheel survived and has become an icon of Vienna and etched into popular culture thanks to memorable appearances in’The Third Man’, ‘Living Daylights’ and in ‘Before Sunrise.’
Money Saving Tips
- Even though I walked a fair bit, 72 hour transport card, which comes in at €16.50 was handy and in the saved me a bit of money. You can also purchase the 72 hour Vienna Card for an extra €5 ( €21.50) which besides giving you access to all forms of public transport, give you 10% at a number of popular sightseeing attractions.
- While not in the heart of town, I really enjoyed my stay at the Meininger Hotel Downtown Franz in Vienna. Clean, comfortable, nice design and affordable compared to city centre hotels. Staff there were friendly and helpful. Wifi works throughout the building and is great. The all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is for an extra €5.90 and is a great way to start the day. Doubles start from €60 mark while a bed in a 6 bed room starts at just €14.
Did You Know?
- Vienna by day or night? Paris at midnight is every lovers dream but Vienna by night is something else. The city’s bountiful wealth of baroque architecture lights up at night and transforms this city into a magical world of light and shadows.
Everywhere across the city you will read this slogan: ’Don’t leave Vienna without a kiss.’ If you’re not been acquainted with the genius of Gustav Klimt and you are Art Nouveau lover like me, then do make time to visit his collection at the Belvedere Palace and Gardens. The gardens recall the pomp and circumstance of the Habsburg dynasty. With its decorative tiered fountains and cascades, baroque garden sculptures and majestic wrought iron gates, the gardens are in itself a visitor attraction. Best thing of all they are free to enter.
Inside the baroque palace, you can visit 24 strong collection of Klimt’s oil paintings. The highlight of the collection is ‘The Kiss.’ The painting is supposedly the depiction of two lovers but on a closer inspection, it is hard to tell if the woman welcomes the embrace. I will leave you to be the judge of that.