Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: May 2019
Vienna is often referred to as the City of Music and was once home to many famous composers, including Mozart and Beethoven. It is also referred to as the City of Dreams and is regarded for its high quality of life, which may have something to do with its famous Viennese coffee houses and cake, and has been ranked the most liveable city in the world for the past decade. The city centre is free from skyscrapers, dotted with historic buildings, and is great for walking around.
Day 1: St. Stephen’s Cathedral
We left Salzburg earlier in the morning and took the train straight to Vienna. We arrived at our accommodations around lunch time. We dropped off our bags and were eager to get back outside to enjoy the lovely weather while we could as the forecast for the remainder of our trip was calling for rain. We walked down to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, located in the heart of the historic town centre.
We purchased an all-inclusive ticket, which provided access to the inner part of the cathedral (along with an audioguide), catacombs, South Tower, and North tower.
We started off within the cathedral and wandered around while listening to the audioguide, which provided a detailed account of the history of and fun facts about the church.
We then went on a guided tour of the catacombs. Our guide lead us through the tombs of bishops and royals underneath the cathedral square. It was a little eerie to see a bunch of chambers filled with human skulls and bones.
Afterwards we took the elevator up the North Tower, which is slightly smaller than the South Tower. The line to get up and down the tower was nuts as the elevator can only hold five to six people at a time. As soon as we got up to the top of the tower, I waited in line for the first half while K explored around the platform. As soon as I got midway through the line, we switched positions.
The top of North Tower houses the largest bell in Austria and the second largest swinging bell in Europe. The viewing platform also provide fantastic views overlooking the city.
We finished off our visit to the church with an ascent up the 343 steps of the South Tower. In our opinion, the North Tower provided much better views overlooking the city as the viewing platform on the top of the South Tower was indoors and only some of the windows were open. This resulted in limited views of the city. And the inevitable wait to get to the front of the window.
After finishing up at the cathedral we wandered around the downtown city centre to enjoy the lovely day. We went on a stroll through Stadtpark.
We then made our way over to Karlskirche, another fancy looking church in the city. Apparently it was an hour wait for the elevator up into the dome that provides a panoramic view of the nearby area. Given that the church itself closed in less than an hour and a half, that would give us less than 30 minutes to explore the church and the dome. It didn’t seem worth it given the price (8 € a person) and the time.
Instead we leisurely strolled back through the city to our accommodations.
Day 2: Hofburg Palace
We started our day off at the (insanely busy) Hofburg Palace, which includes a visit to the Silver Collection, Imperials Apartments and Sisi Museum. Despite arriving soon after it opened, the place was insanely busy. It is considered one of the highlights of any visit to Vienna and given that it was a (long) weekend and raining outside, you can only imagine how much busier this place would get throughout the day.
The Hofburg Palace was the residence of the Hasburgs, one of the most influential and important royal houses of Europe, for over 600 years. Historically it served as the seat of government and residence of the imperial family. Today it is considered the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.
We first toured through the Silver Collection, which showcases lavish centrepieces, dishes and cutlery that were (and some are still being used today) for special dining services. Entrance into this exhibit, as well as the two other exhibits, included an audioguide so we could learn more about the history and significance of certain table silver, table linen and other porcelain and glassware pieces.
We then walked through the Imperial Apartments, which consists of 24 rooms that were occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth (better known as Sisi).
To finish up our visit, we visited the Sisi Museum. The museum contains a number of personal items and objects that provided a glimpse into the life and history of Empress Elisabeth (i.e. Sisi). Sisi married Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of sixteen thus was thrust into the political spotlight at such a young age. She was well known for her incredible beauty, long hair, and extensive physical regime. She was considered quite the mystery as she withdrew from her court duties and instead travelled abroad, unaccompanied by her husband or children. She was later stabbed to death when travelling to Geneva.
To refuel from our morning adventures we stopped at the Palmenhaus, a coffeehouse in a glasshouse greenroom. I don’t usually drink coffee, but I made an exception since Vienna is famous for its coffee (and coffeehouses). It was quite tasty, but I’m not sure if that was because of the coffee itself or the three packets of sugar I needed to pour into that tiny cup. Naturally, we also ordered a couple of slices of cake.
We then walked to the Franciscan Church, a highly ornate church that holds the oldest organ in Vienna.
From there we visited the Albertina, which houses an extensive collection of drawings, prints, and paintings inside the imperial palace complex.
We managed to squeeze in a visit to the Imperial Treasury prior to closing time. The treasury contains an impressive collection of gems and relics that were acquired by the Hasburgs over a number of centuries, including the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Imperial Crown.
Along the walk back to our accommodations we stopped briefly at St. Peter’s Catholic Church and popped our heads inside for a bit. We then scampered back to our accommodations as the promise of rain lingered on the horizon.
Day 3: Schönbrunn Palace
Our final day in Vienna. So what better way to spend it than by going to the Schönbrunn Palace, the main summer residence of the Hasburg rulers and Austrian emperors, including Franz Joseph and Sisi. You know this place is legit as the palace and gardens are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is strongly recommended to purchase your tickets online, which we should have done, but didn’t because we (are dumb and) were debating about coming here either on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather. Plus, we also thought it wasn’t quite high season yet and if we arrived when it opened, it wouldn’t be too bad. Turns out the next available time to enter the palace was in three in a half hours from when we arrived.
Luckily, the palace gardens are quite extensive. We ended up purchasing the Classic Plus ticket, which included entry into a few of the other gardens and buildings scattered around the grounds since we had some time to kill.
We first went through the Maze & Labyrinth. The maze was surprisingly pretty challenging, even for us adults. The labyrinth was geared more towards children and contained a few puzzles and games.
We then walked up a hill to the Gloriette, which contains a cafe inside as well as an observation platform on the top.
Located nearby is the Palm House Gardens & Botanic Garden, which is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and features many exotic plants. This wasn’t included in our Classic Plus ticket, but we purchased a combined ticket to go inside the greenhouse as well as the neighbouring Desert House. The greenhouse consists of three different pavilions which contained different climatic zones: a “cold” house in the northern part of the greenhouse, a temperate zone in the middle, and a tropical zone in the southern part.
Afterwards we went to the Desert House, which features a collection of succulents such as jade plants and various different kinds of cactuses. It also housed some reptiles and other small animals that reside in an arid climate.
We then headed back towards Schönbrunn Palace, stopping first at the Orangery Garden, which housed citrus trees during the colder months of the year and then the Privy Garden.
At last, after three and a half hours of waiting, our tour was about to start. We picked up our audioguides and strolled through the forty rooms. The self-guided tour is just under an hour in duration. It includes the state rooms and private apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi as well as an additional few rooms from the time of Maria Theresa who was the only female ruler of the Hasburgs.
After our self-guided tour finished, we took the train back in the city centre and spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Once we finished up, we headed back to our accommodations to make some dinner and to start packing for our return trip home. Our flight back to Toronto was scheduled to take off at around 10:30a.m so we packed as much of our stuff as we could the night before so we could sleep in a bit later. This marks the end of our two-week adventure to Eastern Europe.
L & K