After a few days in Prague, we drove a rental car to Vienna for New Years. I was excited to finally get to Austria and to see Vienna. This beautiful city has a more modern feel (relatively, of course). Our recent city visits prior to Vienna were in more medieval, Romanesque cities. It was refreshing to see some new architectural styles (more Baroque) and to soak in a different city vibe. Plus, I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t realize this when we were booking the trip, but Vienna is known for its large, city-wide New Year’s Eve celebration, so it was a great time to be there.
We got around the city by walking and metro. We found the metro to be very convenient and user-friendly. One observation we had about the people in Vienna was that in situations of lines/queues, people tended to be quite pushy and did not respect any sense of rules or order around a line/queue. One on one, they were friendly and service was good, but we remarked a number of times about the lack of respect for lines, for some reason.
Things We Did
New Year’s Market
Because we were in Vienna between Christmas and New Year’s, we were able to visit Christmas and New Year’s markets.
We visited the New Year’s Market on the Maria-Theresien-Platz a couple of times. We enjoyed different varieties of hot punch, glühwein, and egg nog and were sure to collect one of each of the collectible mugs as souvenirs. We ate kaiserschmarrn, a warm, pancake-like treat covered in powdered sugar and chocolate. It went well with the hot drinks! Of course, when I saw hot pretzels, I had to have some. We also ate some Italian arancini (fried rice balls with meats or vegetables inside).
At this market I bought a paper Moravian star Christmas decoration. I already have one from North Carolina, so I look forward to decorating with both next year and remembering the fun time we had on this trip!
We also passed through the Christkindlemarkt in the Rathausplatz, once during the day, and once on New Year’s Eve as the festivities were beginning. This was a perfect spot to snack on cotton candy and candied peanuts.
In addition to enjoying the Christkindlemarkt in the Rathausplatz, we of course enjoyed the view of the Rathaus, and enjoyed some time ice skating in the seasonal ice rink set up in the Rathausplatz. It was cold and rainy, but we tried to pretend it was snow and not let the rain dampen our spirit.
Historic Center and Wiener Silvesterpfad
We went into the Historic Center for the Wiener Silvesterpfad, the New Year’s Eve Trail. This huge event in the city includes multiple stages in most of the city’s squares that hosted performances all night. There was a walking route that connected all of them. We started at the Stephansdom and Stephensplatz and walked the New Year’s Eve Route back to Rathausplatz.
Along the New Year’s Eve Trail, we stopped on Graben (a street) for free, public Viennese Waltz lessons. My son – a more willing dance partner than my husband – and I enjoyed those while my husband watched. This was one of those moments in life where I tried to be very present and to take a pause to really appreciate it and savor it. There we were, on New Year’s Eve, on one of the most famous and popular shopping streets in the city, standing under outdoor chandeliers, learning the Viennese Waltz. With all the hardships of living abroad, I have learned to appreciate special moments like these even more. They make up for the hardships and make this whole experience worthwhile. I hope my son will always remember and cherish moments like this, too, maybe every New Year’s Eve if he hears a Viennese Waltz.
Because I hate crowds and still carry a healthy dose of fear of attacks during big events and in big crowds, I was the buzzkill of our family and asked that we be back in our hotel room for the midnight countdown. We got cozy in our jammies and watched the televised countdown from Berlin. At midnight we opened the hotel room windows and listened to fireworks ring out all over the city. Surely some were coming from the city-sponsored fireworks shows along the New Year’s Eve Trail, but some were also definitely non-sanctioned! I admit, as we listened to them but couldn’t really see them, I felt a little guilty for keeping the family in and away from the big festivities, but I am nothing if not responsible!
Spanish Riding School
If you are a horse lover like me, you already know about the Spanish Riding School. This centuries-old riding school is famous for its classical equitation style and performances. The school is home to Lipizzaner Stallions, the only breed the school uses. It is still an active, exclusive riding academy which produces horses and riders for their performances.
There are a few ways to visit the Spanish Riding School. You can take guided tours, or you can attend one of their performances. By the time I looked into tickets, the show times were sold out, but we were still able to purchase tickets to the facilities tour. To be honest, this was even more interesting to me! I loved being able to see the stables and arena and horses up close. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pet them, but it was all really cool to see.
If you don’t manage to get tickets to any part of the School, you can still catch a glimpse of some of the horses. There is an exterior pedestrian passageway along the side of the school’s building, emptying out onto the Michaelerplatz. In that passageway, there are windows onto the stable’s courtyard and you can see the exterior stall doors of some of the horses.
Our hotel was located just off a big shopping street (Mariahilfer Strasse) near the Museums Quartier. We walked around this area quite a bit. We walked through the Museums Quartier which is a mix of museums, arts venues, cafes, and open spaces in what used to be the Imperial Stables.
Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum)
This is a huge museum and there was no way we were going to be able to really enjoy it all in one day, but we tried to see some highlights including some Viennese treasures and the Ancient Egyptian exhibit at the request of my son. He is really interested in ancient Egypt right now.
The real highlight was the special, temporary exhibit, Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures, curated by filmmaker Wes Anderson and his creative partner Juman Malouf. Basically, the museum gave them access to their entire collection and let them curate an exhibit of their favorites. How cool would that be to do?! The exhibit was interesting and did give off a Wes Anderson vibe. Apparently, this is an ongoing exhibit format at the museum and I have to say, I like it. What a fun and creative way to feature items from the museum’s gigantic permanent collection.
The Prater is a huge park area on the outskirts of the city, with one huge section being the Wurstelprater, an amusement park with the famous Riesenrad (a ferris wheel). The Riesenrad has been seen in movies like The Third Man, The Living Daylights (a James Bond film), and one of my all-time favorites, Before Sunrise.
We took a ride on the Riesenrad and then spent a few hours playing games and walking around the Prater. We had beautiful weather that day. I really enjoyed taking pictures of the bright, colorful attractions under a sunny, blue sky. There weren’t very many people there so despite being a little cold, it was quite pleasant! I bet it gets pretty crowded in the summer months.
Haus des Meeres Aqua Terra Zoo
This was a completely unexpected stop on our trip. On New Year’s Day, when our plan to visit the Naschmarkt failed because it was closed (more on that below), we had passed the Haus des Meeres Aqua Terra Zoo on the way. Our son loves aquariums, zoos, animal parks, etc. so we decided, since it was open and was likely one of the few places that was open on New Year’s Day, to visit.
It was a decent sized aquarium and serpentarium. My son enjoyed it. It was pretty crowded because I think a lot of people, like us, figured out it was open, but it was a nice way to spend some time. One thing that makes it interesting to visit is that it is located in one of six Flak Towers in Vienna. The Flak Towers were constructed by the Germans in World War II for the purpose of shooting down Allied aircraft. A small part of the zoo is an exhibit about this. So, in addition to our zoology lessons, we also learned some history!
We tried to visit the Naschmarkt on New Year’s Day but it was closed for the holiday. I checked in advance but couldn’t find a schedule that would’ve helped us predict that.
We went back the next day, however, and had our chance to enjoy the market stalls and a lunch before leaving town.
What We Ate
We normally opt for the hotel breakfast option just to make our lives easier. Even if it is slightly overpriced, we will often overlook that if it adds convenience, but this hotel’s breakfast was too overpriced to overlook! Instead, we grabbed breakfast at a nearby Starbucks or another café, Ströck, each morning.
I mentioned above that we did our share of snacking in the markets. I also enjoyed fried potato pancakes from a street vendor on Mariahilfer Strasse.
We had meal near the Rathausplatz at Café Einstein. My son and I had schnitzels and my husband tried their Tafelspitz, beef boiled in a broth with vegetables.
We had lunch near the Prater at Zur Grunen Hutte. There, we compared the chicken schnitzel to their “Ausgelöstes Backhendl”, basically friend chicken. Both were good!
We had another lunch at Ocean’sky, the café of the Haus des Meeres Aqua Terra Zoo. It was on the top floor and offered great views of the city. I honestly don’t remember what we ate here. It wasn’t an extensive menu and I failed to get pictures. I think it was paninis. Nothing particularly Viennese!
We had an Italian meal of pasta and antipasto at Osteria Del Mercato in the Naschmarkt.
We enjoyed another traditional Viennese meal at Bierhof, again trying the schnitzel and also a beef dish with spaetzle in a skillet. We can’t remember the name!
One night we also had a very casual street meal with my husband getting Japanese buns from Bao Bar and my son and I getting pizza and pitta from a Turkish Kebab place.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the NH Wien City. It was in a good location near the Museums Quartier.
What We Missed
One cool place I read about was the Dorotheum auction house, one of the oldest and largest auction houses in the world. Apparently, you can often tour the building and the collections that are awaiting auction. This just sounds really cool to me because I love viewing antiques and old and fancy things, and I think auctions are really fun.
Though we walked by the Stephansdom, we did not go inside, which is a shame because I am sure it is beautiful. It was shoulder-to-shoulder crowds since it was during the New Year’s Eve Trail so it just really didn’t feel practical at the time, and we didn’t have time to return.
A popular tourist “thing to do” is to eat the Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel. It wasn’t high on my list of priorities because it’s not really a style of cake I enjoy and we did plenty of other treat-eating. But I am sure it is enjoyable for visitors who like that sort of thing!
A lot of people also like to see the architectural delight, the Hundertwasser Haus, but we didn’t have a chance.
There were a lot of other sites to see around the Hofburg Palace, like museums and the imperial apartments, but we didn’t get to them. I think we would have also enjoyed the Haus der Musik (Museum of Music), the Die Wiener Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Museum of Armor), the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum), and the Austrian National Library (especially the Globe Museum there).
You can’t get very far in Vienna without seeing ads for classical music concerts. I really would have liked to have seen one, but again, it just didn’t work with our schedule and the time we had.
We only had a few short days in Vienna and the New Year’s celebration took up most of our time and focus, though we still were able to see a few great things while we were there. I enjoyed the city and found the Baroque architecture quite appealing, certainly different from what we have been seeing in other cities. I would love to go back one day to experience more of the city, and to see more of Austria outside of Vienna as well.