This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
I have a new policy when I travel, especially if I end up hopping cities to get a cheaper flight: I book a night or two in the city I’m flying home from to get a taste of it. Last November, I stopped through Windsor for a night before I flew out of Heathrow and fell in love with the quaint English village. This summer, after exploring Greece and Croatia, and, because flying out of Mozart’s hometown was the cheapest option, I decided to spend 24 hours in Vienna, Austria.
24 Hours in Vienna Tip 1: Book Somewhere Fun
I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find the best vacation rental or hotel when I travel. I finally landed on Hotel Urania, which had whimsically-designed rooms and was fairly affordable. It’s located in the Inner Stadt neighborhood, which was more residential than touristy. Just how I like it. Positioned between an offshoot of the Danube and the central train station, I found the location to be perfect for meandering in a safe neighborhood as well as exploring other areas on foot.
I didn’t get one of the theme rooms at Hotel Urania (you can stay in a room decorated like the Middle Ages or in the Baroque Period), but I really enjoyed how richly decorated the halls and lobby were. And each room had its own special art on the door!
24 Hours in Vienna Tip 2: Ask Where to Eat
I asked the hotel clerk for a restaurant recommendation, and boy, was I glad I did. He pointed me to Gasthaus Wild, which was a five-minute walk from the hotel.
The restaurant had primarily outdoor seating on a street corner, with a wall of shrubbery to maintain a little privacy. I was happy to see it filled with locals, couples, and families. I was off to a good start.
After ordering a glass of rosé (at a modest $4), I perused the menu. I wanted something very Viennese, like maybe Wienerschnitzel, but then I saw it: bread dumplings in a paprika mushroom cream sauce.
Let me just say: that was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The bread dumplings, a very Austrian dish, were even better than the ones I first had when I hiked the Dolomiti in Italy. Two of them sat proudly in the center of a saucer of burnt sienna-colored sauce made of paprika, another Austrian favorite. In the sauce were chanterelle mushrooms.
Writing about it makes my mouth water. I tried to recreate this dish when I returned home, but it was a disaster. The memory will have to sustain me.
I savored the heck out of that meal, meanwhile, people-watching around me. I enjoyed watching a man and his young grandson at the table next to me. The grandson would toss a paper coaster on the ground. Grandpa would pick it up. Repeat. Kids are the same all over the world.
24 Hours in Vienna Tip 3: Go to a Viennese Coffee House
Because my trip was so short, I really had to decide what Viennese experiences were a priority. Anything involving coffee and cake you can assume made the list. Vienna is known for its coffee house culture, dating back to the late 1600s. I chose Demel based on its reviews and the fact that it seemed to be one of the most famous coffee houses in Vienna. Nothing but the best!
If you go to Demel, don’t be daunted by the fact that the outdoor seating will likely be full. There’s a gorgeous dining room upstairs that wasn’t full when I was there on a Sunday morning. The crowd was a mix of tourists, who, like me, wanted the special experience, and locals out for their Sunday brunch.
I was greeted by an older woman in a formal black dress with a white apron. She kept calling me “madam,” which made me laugh to myself. I ordered a franziskaner, an espresso with warm milk and whipped cream, and then asked what pastry she recommended. Her eyes lit up.
“Oh, madam. Come with me!”
She led me to a pastry bar, where every type of flaky, creamy delicacy you have ever dreamed of begged to be consumed. I knew that the sachertorte, a super chocolatey cake, was what Vienna was known for, but I asked my server what she liked. She pointed out a few options, and I chose a spongy cake with both cream and custard. Because: why choose between the two?
I relished my coffee and cake while taking in the opulence of the coffee house. Heaven.
24 Hours in Vienna Tip 4: Meander
Content with my full belly, I wandered around the neighborhood where Demel was. It was on Kohlmarkt, a pedestrian-only street filled with high-end shops like Tiffany and Gucci.
Without meaning to, I ended up in front of the famous palace-turned-museum, the Hofburg. I wasn’t in the mood for museuming, so I took a few photos and kept meandering. Right behind the Hofburg is a large park that houses at least half a dozen museums. I took in the beautiful sculptures and laid in the grass for a while.
On the way back to my hotel, I had a few other serendipitous discoveries. One was the Hundertwasserhaus. You probably won’t be excited when I tell you that it’s an apartment building, but it’s the architecture that draws tourists from all over the world. It looks almost Gaudiesque, with cupcake-colored layers and trees sprouting up all over the outside.
Then I discovered the Museum of Art Fakes. The idea of having a museum dedicated to forgeries was appealing, so I spent 6 Euros and half an hour learning about the differences between copies and forgeries. Now that was a unique experience!
Vienna is a wonderful city to roam around in. This Austrian city is safe and clean, and you never know when you’re going to find yourself along the banks of the famous Danube or spot some cool graffiti.
My 24 hours in Vienna made me want to return for a longer stay!