Vienna. A city of 1.9 million people. And in December, a person to Christmas Market ratio of 1:1. Obviously not really. But it certainly felt that way when you couldn’t turn a corner without finding yourself face-to-face with one. However, I had heard big things about Christmas in Vienna, and choosing to visit on the first weekend of December, Emma and I were excited to get stuck in!
And nothing stood between us and this festive experience, except a very smooth thirty minute train journey from the airport into the centre. The airport is very well connected, with a direct train running roughly every half an hour. I was especially sold on the greatness of this service when I saw the name of the onboard magazine (it didn’t even matter that I couldn’t understand any of the articles).
When we bought our ticket, we opted to purchase the 72-hour transport pass, which allows for journeys on the buses, trains, trams and tubes within the core zone of the city (name a type of transport, they have it!). This was €46, fantastic value for two airport journeys, and the countless other times we hopped on and off public transport within that 72 hours. Not to mention the much easier life it led to, without having to make sure we had change to pay each time, or having to validate separate tickets.
Just a five minute walk from the very well connected and central Rennweg station, we checked into Hotel Enziana. We had been given this hotel as part of the package we had purchased, so we were not sure what to expect. But it was lovely! Already sold on it due to it’s ideal location, I wouldn’t have minded if it was (a little bit) hideous, but the room was spacious and well furnished, and everything was very modern. The best part of course was the breakfast they provided. There was nothing you couldn’t have and it was DELICIOUS.
Talking of food, our first stop after checking in was lunch. It was about a fifteen minute walk back past the station to our destination: Salm Bräu. A traditional style beer hall establishment, with long wooden tables, staff in lederhosen, and a very good reputation. So good that usually there is a looong waiting time (and we did walk past later on to see people queuing out the door, and congratulated ourselves on having been there, done that). We did only just manage to get a table in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday however.
If we didn’t feel like we were in Austria already, when our food came we certainly did. Wasting no time to get stuck in, we both opted for a pint of the local beer and schnitzel. And when they say they are going to give you schnitzel, they are not messing around: portion sizes are huge!
A walk was definitely needed to help us out of our food comas, and so we got a bus to slightly more central area of town, to the Museum Quarter and Hofburg Palace. We quickly learned that Vienna is a very walkable city, and we wandered the bustling streets, simply taking in the atmosphere and vaguely trying to get our bearings.
And it was just around the corner from the latter that we found our first Christmas Market of the trip (I can’t believe it took us almost a whole day given the volume we came across after). It was just starting to get dark, and the colours and lights emanating from inside the stalls was magical against the dusky background. We were sold. In we went.
Usually, if you’ve seen one stall in a market, you’ve probably seen 30 of them (why do they all sell the same thing honestly where is the business acumen), but this was different. It was a proper winter wonderland, and it was so easy to get lost amongst the smells, sights and sounds of Christmas. Amongst the usual stalls of Christmas decorations, gifts and general tat, there was the most delicious waffles, and mulled wine in the cutest mugs (which you can keep if you want because you pay a deposit for them; and in many ways it’s a lot easier to do that judging by the difficult process of getting said deposit back).
Have I mentioned how well located our hotel was? Not only was it a five minute walk from the main station, tubes and a selection of shops, but there was a tram and bus stop right outside of the front door! So after a chilly afternoon exploring we were taken straight home on the tram to warm up.
Planning to go back out, we just intended to have a quick recharge of our phones, and ourselves. But three hours later we were still in the room. Blaming it on the early start, and the now freezing outdoor temperatures, we promised ourselves we would make a better effort tomorrow. But who could really blame us when we were now three episodes deep into Switzerland’s Next Top Model (soaking up all the European culture).
Sticking to our promise, it was an early(ish) start on our only full day, as we had a packed schedule ahead! After the hotel breakfast of dreams, we headed to the tube to go to our first stop: Schönbrunn Palace. This is a good destination if you want to see one of the most important and stunning monuments in the country, and equally as good if you want to see a lot of other tourists in one place (it is tour bus central, but on the bright side, a lot of victims to take pics for you!).
Opting not to go inside on the palace tour, we wandered around the grounds, and oh my god were they huge. Unfortunately a lot of it was shut due to the time of year, but in the Summer there are even events held there!
The pièce de résistance though was the steep hill at the back of the gardens, which provided breathtaking views over what feels like the whole of Vienna.
After a very enjoyable morning, we moved onto stop number two: Prater. This is an amusement park in the centre of Vienna, known for the Riesenrad: the big ferris wheel that is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions. It turns out that is also home to a lot of other very fun rides, and is the perfect place to unleash your inner child for a few hours (something that I needed no encouragement for, although let’s be honest, I have more of an outer child anyway). Like the rest of the city, it was fairly pricey, so we selected two rides to go on: the big swing ride (very windy that high up), and go karts (I still maintain I lost because Emma doesn’t drive so was being more reckless).
Inner children fully unleashed, we ate another schnitzel (when in Vienna), and then turned our attention to the Riesenrad.
Very much like the London Eye, you queue up, and are allowed in in batches. It turns out they are well aware it is a popular attraction and have altered the price to reflect just that (however a lot of people had discount codes). Unlike the London Eye, you first walk through a museum showing you the history of the wheel, before finally being able to board it.
And people are not wrong. The views over the city are spectacular (even when it has just rained!).
Prater is definitely a must do for any trip to Vienna.
Our time there done however, we moved on to the Museum Quarter to spend the rest of the afternoon in the Mumok Art Musuem. Depending on the type of art inside, I’m not always a fan of art museums, however this one was very entertaining: to our surprise there was an art installation of a bouncy castle. This was a great bonus and was so much fun, albeit very hard to bounce on! After taking in the silent and pitch black room with a creepy video playing (and a creepy man that was standing behind us in the dark), and the many modern art exhibitions (and doing what we do best; making up stories and making sarcastic comments about each), it was time to get ready for dinner.
We found out the hard way that on a Saturday night in Vienna you must make a booking if you want to eat at a decent restaurant. In and out we popped of various Trip Advisor recommended establishments, each time with the same answer.
After almost ending up in one that was very empty, very smelly, and very much in a dingy basement (and VERY keen to let us in; that should’ve been a warning sign) (disclaimer: not Trip Advisor recommended), we ended up in another traditional little restaurant. There were a few other occupied tables, and the atmosphere and food were really nice, however the service was exceptionally slow. There did only seem to be one waitress, however the rate she was going it appeared she was also the chef, and the cleaner, and everything else (and we never saw the chef and her together: coincidence?)
Moving on, it didn’t appear there was much open for a drink which was weird, but maybe we just in the wrong part of town. We found a pub though, and despite the taxidermy on the walls and the all round odd decor, it was nice!
One waiter in particular kept coming over and asking us if would like some shots. And after us saying no plenty of times, some miraculously appeared on our table. Whilst we were wondering at which point ‘no’ had been lost in translation, he explained that they were free, and we explained that we still did not want to buy any.
When the time came to leave and we actually wanted his attention though (yes to pay the bill, but mostly to get this pic) he was nowhere to be seen!
Despite it being around midnight at this point, we walked back through the city to the central bus stop, and it felt very very safe. Which is lucky considering the amount of time we had to wait for the bus. There was one specific number we needed, and every other one came and went (MULTIPLE TIMES), before ours eventually arrived.
We were eager to get home because if we couldn’t find a club, we were going to bring the club to us. And that is how Vienna’s newest and best venue ‘Club 714’ came into existence.
For all of ten minutes, before we looked like this…
We had seen a lot of people opting to get around the city on electric scooters, and we were dying to have a go ourselves. Obviously we weren’t planning to use them to actually travel anywhere though, just purely for the fun. So, on our last day, we caught the tram back down to Prater (we had noticed the park opposite was a hotspot for hire scooter abandonment), we walked around until we found two scooters together and began the best hour of our lives. Honestly, zooming around an electric scooter is SO MUCH FUN. So much so, that we found two more in the afternoon and whizzed up and down the river (and thankfully not into it).
Soon, after sneaking one last free coffee from the hotel reception, it was time to head to the airport. After a very small wait for an airport bound train (these are very frequent), before we knew it, we were heading home.
Because we had opted for an evening flight, by the time we landed at Stansted it was quite late, and there was still a two hour journey home for me to undertake. Aware of this, we hurried off the plane, hoping to be through immigration first and on the first Stansted Express possible to London. Stage one of our plan worked perfectly, and we were soon boarding the shuttle from the gate to the main terminal building. And we had the perfect spot right by the doors so we could be first off as soon as they opened.
And we were!!!! What a result!!
…except, what we had failed to notice was that no one else had got off at all… and it took us to notice that there was no way to get up from the platform, only down onto it, to realise that we had got off too early and were at another gate instead HAHAHA!
We awkwardly boarded the next shuttle and hoped no one saw what had just happened to us. And then to top it off, that shuttle broke down in the tunnel. All hopes of an early night completely disappearing.
Despite this though, nothing could tarnish my view of the weekend. Vienna was such a fun city to explore, with lots of things to do, although a weekend is probably the perfect time frame to spend there.
It has managed to capture the perfect combination of being a modern city, whilst still preserving it’s old architecture and with it, the Austrian culture.
It has undeniably one of, if not the best, transport systems I have ever used. Everything is clean, clear and on time, and you are able to easily access every corner of the city.
Despite it being a little bit expensive, I would definitely visit again.