Destination Insight: Vienna
Vienna has long been a magnet for business travellers, thanks to its world class conference centres and hotels. Austria's capital is steeped in centuries of history and culture, offering some of the finest architecture in Europe, an idyllic setting on the Danube River and no shortage of attractions to enjoy on your next business or bleisure trip. Here's just a handful of our favourites:
Potter around the Prater Amusement Park
Sometimes known as the Wustelprater, the Prater is the world’s oldest amusement park, a vast outdoor space that’s now home to a narrow gauge railway, a planetarium, bowling alleys, cafes, cinemas, merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters and all the other fairground fixtures you’d expect to find.
The Prater Amusement Park is perhaps best known for its Giant Wheel, a true Viennese icon built in 1897. With its distinctive vintage cable-car-style cabins, it was made famous as the setting for a scene from the film of Graham Greene's the Third Man where Orson Welles as Harry Lime delivers his entertaining speech about the Swiss and their cuckoo clocks.
Have your Torte and Eat it
A visit to one of Vienna’s legendary coffee houses is an essential must-do. Vienna does café society with the same panache we reserve for pub culture and you’ll find them in all shapes and sizes.
These range from the quirky places like bikeshop-cum-cafe Radlager, to the urbane likes of Cafe Hummel and Café Leopold in the Museums Quarter where you can quietly nurse a bowl of ghoulash and read a newspaper late into the night, to rather more grand institutions like the ever-popular Central where Trotsky was once a regular. Some of the most historic cafes are those housed in the opulent hotels serving afternoon tea and cocktails, including the Landesman Hotel and Hotel Sacher where you can of course sample the tasty torte that was invented there.
Admire some Art Nouveau
Being home to Gustav Klimt, Joseph Hoffman, Koloman Moser and countless other masters of the form, Vienna is a prime hotspot for Art Nouveau art and architecture. Don’t miss Otto Wagner’s gilded pavilions at the entrances to Karlsplatz Metro Station and the Secession Building with Klimt’s stunning Beethoven frieze.
Once you’ve admired the multi-coloured hotchpotch of asymmetrical curves, pillars and arches of Friedensreich Hundertwasser‘s extraordinary apartment block (above) you might also want to visit its kitschy companion, the Toilet of Modern Art.
Go Underground with the Third Man Sewer Tours
Once you’ve been suitably dazzled by the dizzying charms of Vienna’s architecture overground, it could be time to explore the city from another angle. Descend into the murky underworld of post-war Vienna and follow in the footsteps of (yes, that man again!) Harry Lime from the Third Man, where he fled in the film’s dramatic chase scenes filmed in the city’s extensive sewer system.
Afterwards you can visit the Third Man Museum and see many artefacts, such as the zither used by Antony Karas to record the film’s memorable theme tune and watch clips from the film itself.
Rove around the Ringstrasse
Even by central Europe’s very high standards, Vienna offers up some remarkably opulent Neoclassical and Baroque architecture. Most of the grandest buildings including the Vienna State Opera House, the Hofburg Palace and the Reichsrat Parliament building can be found within the Ringstrasse, the central district ring road built during the 19th century that's a World Heritage site and is beuaitfully framed by a host of monumental buildings.
They’re especially impressive at night when they’re illuminated and seem to gleam like a series of giant white wedding cakes. You can take the Ringstrasse tram line to circle the ring.
Witness some Upscale Dressage at the Spanish Riding School
Just as Edinburgh has the Military Tattoo, so Vienna has its own unique performance visitor attraction, the Spanish Riding School. This is 'classical dressage', but delivered on a grand scale with much pomp and ceremony.
Where else can you watch skilful Renaissance riders ride their specially-bred Lipizzaner horses around to an energising classical soundtrack in a truly palatial Baroque venue, the world’s oldest classical horse riding school? The name derives from the Spanish origin of the horses which were first bred into the Lipizzaners in Ancient Greece.
Nose around the Naschmarkt
The Naschmarkt has been a culinary gateway between east and west for five centuries now and remains as popular as ever. You’ll find every kind of food imaginable at the 120 plus stalls on the ground floor of this truly international emporium, where Turkish butchers rub shoulders with Lebanese pastry vendors, alongside many delicious local breads, cakes and sweetmeats of course. The market is also home to Fish restaurant Umar, widely regarded as the city’s finest.
Meanwhile upstairs is taken over by a flea market which fairly bustles on Saturdays and is packed with quirky vintage clothes and homewares and other paraphernalia. In the warmer months it’s a key spot to just hang out and grab a drink while you watch the Viennese whirl by.
Grab a Hotdog
Banish all thoughts of those sorry, hygenically dubious late night vendors found in British cities, Vienna’s hot dog stands, mostly small, unassuming streetside kiosks, know how to cut the mustard.
Try a Käsekrainer, a rich, smoky Viennese specialty made with a little cheese, or an award-winning Blunzn (or blood sausage) from the slightly more eclectic Kaiserzeit Sausage Stand.
9. Tour the Viennese Vineyards
You might be surprised to learn that Vienna has scores of excellent vineyards to explore, with over 700 hectares of prime wine growing land found within the city limits. There are nearly 200 growers spread around the city busy cultivating the land around Kahlenberg, Nussberg, Bisamberg and Mauer areas, where the Danube and the Vienna Woods create the ideal microclimate.
Dedicated wine lovers can follow three specially curated trails around the vineyards, incluidng those not normally open to the public, seeing a good mesaure of the city while stopping in for tastings along the way.
Getting to Vienna
Vienna International Airport is in Schwechat, about 18 km south east of the city centre. The airport has four terminals called 1, 1A, 2 and 3.
The City Airport Train (CAT) takes 16 minutes from the city centre. It runs every day year-round from 5.36 am to 23.39 pm. To make things easy, you can even check your luggage in at the CAT terminal.
Vienna is easily reached by train too, with direct services (including high speed and sleeper trains) connecting you to numerous European cities including Bratislava, Frankfurt, Zurich and Munich.
Getting Around Vienna
Public transport is fast, efficient and well integrated. Flat-fare tickets starting at €2 are valid for trains, trams, buses, the underground (U-Bahn) and the S-Bahn regional trains. A 24 hour pass costs from €6.70 per day.
Taxis are plentiful with fares starting from €3.80 or between 6am and 11pm Mondays-Saturdays and from €4.30 at other times.
The CityBike Public Rental scheme offers bikes for hire at 120 stations. They’re free for the first hour, then €1 per hour.
Ride sharing services like Uber, Zipcar and Car2Go all have a presence in the city centre.