JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH ANCA TIGAN FROM VIENNA, AUSTRIA!
Anca Tigan and her husband Sinan are molecular biologists living in Vienna. Over the past seven years, they have spent most of their free time planning trips and travelling. Through their blog Dream, Book, and Travel they offer personalized itineraries in Vienna and Europe, book/reading recommendations, and their insights on traveling as a couple and, more recently, as a family.
Vienna, the capital of Austria, lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. The German name for Vienna is Wien. Vienna is often called ‘The City of Music’ as it has been home to famous composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Straus and Johannes Brahms. When in Vienna don’t miss The House of Music where you can discover the fascinating world of sound and Viennese music. Also, Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, or Spanische Hofreitschule, has kept the renaissance tradition of Haute École equestrian alive for more than 450 years. Take a look behind the scenes in the guided tour through the Spanish Riding School.
When is the best time to visit Vienna?
There’s more to Vienna than classical music, Habsburg history, or turn of the century charm. With a vibrant international community and plenty of opportunities to enjoy life and make the most of every season, Vienna offers something different all year round. I would simply recommend to pick your favorite season and come experience it in Austria’s capital.
My favorite season is autumn, so I’ll start with that. Even before the first yellow leaf, the city turns peaceful as the busy routine of school and work sets in after the summer holidays. People still enjoy drinks and dinner outside, but the re-opening of all major concert houses drives a lot of them indoors.
You see, there is something for every taste in Vienna, from classical concerts at the State Opera to musicals at the Ronacher or jazz concerts in Porgy and Bess. Cinephiles should definitely come around this time as the Film Museum starts screening again after the summer break and the Vienna International Film Festival (Viennale) takes place at the end of October.
The new wine (Heurige) brings good cheer in the taverns, while plum, pumpkin, and chestnut specialties in restaurants and pastry shops will conquer every foodie out there. Here’s our list of suggestions for a perfect autumn day in Vienna.
On 11.11 at 11.11 o’clock the Ball Season officially opens with waltzing in the city’s main square (St Stephen Square) and by the middle of November, every Viennese has already had his/her traditional St Martin’s goose dinner. Christmas Markets open all over the city, mulled wine and punch keep the spirits happy, and shopping opportunities arise everywhere.
My favorite thing to do in Vienna during this time is to go ice-skating, after all those cookies and gingerbread. On New Year’s Eve at midnight there’s waltzing in the city center again, with booths selling items meant to bring you good luck in the new year. They will definitely put a smile on your face! And if you did not make it to Vienna during the winter holidays, January is ideal for it too as you can still attend a Viennese ball and enjoy the sales season.
In spring, the first rays of sun bring everybody out in the open, for good reason. There are, on the one hand, excellent parks and gardens in Vienna. From the Prater amusement park to the historically relevant Turk’s Ditch Park, the former imperial hunting grounds in the Lainzer zoo, or the Schönbrunn palace park, there are really endless options. On the other hand, restaurants offer outdoor seating either in their own gardens (Gastgärten), or on public spaces such as sidewalks, squares, or pedestrian zones (Schanigärten).
The Wiener Festwochen festival marks the official begin of the tourist season with art and dance performances and workshops across the city. The famous Summer night Concert of the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra takes place in the garden of the Schönbrunn palace and you can still watch some live streamed performances from the State Opera on the giant screen placed outside the building.
Summer brings the Viennese closer to the Danube and its many waterfront swimming facilities and bars, while the city comes to life mostly after dusk. Movies are screened outdoors in many locations around the city while the World Food and Movie Festival at Rathausplatz takes place on the square in front of the City Hall.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Vienna? What are the different modes of transport available from the airport to the city?
To paraphrase Gustavo Petro, Vienna is a very rich city, not because its poor people own cars, but because its rich citizens use the public transport.
Be it the tram, bus, or metro the city’s public transport network is fast, reliable, clean, and relatively uncrowded. I have relied solely on public transport for eight out of the ten years I lived in Vienna, and only purchased a car when my baby was born.
There is absolutely no need to take a cab to reach the city center from the airport. At the most, there are several providers of airport transfer at a fixed rate (around 30 euros). The most convenient way of transport is to take the train, a one-way ride costs around 5 euros. Depending on where you want to go, there are trains going to either the city center (Wien Mitte) or the Main Station (Wien Hauptbahnhof). They each run at half an hour interval.
What are the top three must visit places in Vienna?
This question is really tough to answer. Moreover, around the city center, Vienna’s residential districts have each maintained a certain atmosphere and charm, so I strongly suggest one reserves time to walk in at least one of them.
To choose three places, I would say firstly the St Stephen Square and the pedestrian area around it, including a stop for coffee and cake and/or a traditional Austrian dish at Café Central, a favorite of Freud’s among many others.
Secondly, I would advise to visit the Schönbrunn Palace/Zoo. The Schönbrunn Palace is a 1,441-room Baroque palace which was the summer residence of the Habsburg emperors. It is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country. Also, the zoo in Schönbrunn Palace is the oldest zoo in the world.
Thirdly I would cheat and recommend a Vienna Ring Tram ride. The 5,3 km long boulevard that surrounds the city’s historic center (the Ring) was built in the second half of the 19th century and many of Vienna’s landmark buildings are located on it – the City Hall, the Parliament, the State Opera to name just a few. I always recommend a three days itinerary for first time visitors, as there are so many facets to Vienna.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Vienna?
I have to mention that Austria is a relatively small country thus almost every other destination is a few hours’ drive away from Vienna. So much so that Bratislava, the capital of neighboring Slovakia, is a mere 60 km away from Vienna. Many people enjoy to take a day trip there taking the Twin City Liner on the Danube. Therefore, I’ll focus on locations less than two hours away in my answers below.
For nature lovers the Vienna Woods offer endless opportunities for hiking and walking trails of different lengths/difficulty. The nice thing about this area is that several wine-making villages are scattered there, so one can make stops for wine tasting and a great authentic meal. The largest underground lake in Europe, in the Seegrotte Hinterbrühl (a former gypsum mine) is located in the Vienna Woods. History and ballet lovers would be familiar with the Vienna Woods because of the Mayerling incident, in which Crown Prinz Rudolf (the direct heir to the Austro-Hungarian trone) and his mistress were mysteriously found dead in the imperial hunting lodge located here.
Culture aficionados such as myself would take a day trip to Melk Abbey, with its famous Benedictine Baroque library, dramatically situated atop a rocky cliff overlooking the Danube. From Melk, one can take a boat trip along the Wachau Valley (extraordinarily beautiful in spring when apricot trees are in bloom) to the charming small town of Krems. Direct trains connect Krems/Melk to Vienna.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Vienna?
In Vienna, Christmas markets open in the second half of November and go on for more than a month, bestowing a magical atmosphere upon the entire city. Most central European cities have one such market on the main square, Vienna however has many. Every square, historic location, or even neighborhood main area has a Christmas market or at least a booth selling mulled wine and punch. It is quite customary for locals to stop by for a drink with colleagues or friends almost every evening during this season, great opportunity to catch up before the holidays. To avoid the overcrowded markets in the center, try going to the ones at Spittelberg or the Altes AKH. The first one is located in an area of cobblestoned pedestrian streets lined by charming baroque houses, an intact piece of old Vienna. The second one is in the university district, and it’s where students generally hang out.
Which is the most happening area in Vienna and why?
As mentioned earlier, as soon as you cross the Ringstrasse you will find yourself in neighborhoods (called districts) of unique personalities and charm. In this respect Vienna is more or less a collection of small villages/towns. Like any other proud local would, I am going to go ahead and recommend Vienna’s fourth and fifth districts, which is where I have been living for the past ten years.
Located right across from the Vienna State Opera, behind the beautiful baroque St Peter’s Square, these districts offer the option to walk in a circle up on Margaretenstrasse, then Reinprechtsdorferstrasse, and come back on the Wiedner Hauptstrasse to your starting point. Such an undertaking should still leave enough time in your day for a visit to the most famous Viennese market – the Naschmarkt.
I love this area as there are great authentic shopping opportunities, many trendy designer shops right next to vintage sellers, unique ethnic restaurants, and if you pay attention countless historic landmarks off the beaten path.
You can include in your visit a stop at Schubert’s last residence or the Third Man Museum, or you can have dinner or drinks in a labyrinth of inner courtyards that used to belong to a castle (the Schlossquadrat).
Depending on your tastes, you could have a traditional Viennese dinner at Rudi’s Beisl, a great burger at Omnom burger, or the best burritos in town at El Burro. We love it at Dai Golosi, a charming Italian gourmet close to our home and strongly recommend Sinhor Vinho for an upscale authentic Portuguese dining experience.
Is Vienna a vegetarian friendly city?
Austrian cuisine is strongly meat-based, but Vienna itself is rather accommodating to vegetarians and most restaurants have a dedicated section in the menu.
That being said, our favorite locations to get a bite are neighborhood markets off the beaten path, such as the Brunnenmarkt or the Karmelitermarkt, which also offer a wide range of ethnic food options. Best but busiest times are on Saturdays, but they are open all week long except for Sundays.
If you are not a vegetarian, you have to try the traditional sausages while in Vienna, and several stands called Würstelstand are scattered across the city.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Vienna?
If you come as a tourist, you should try the Viennese Schnitzel, the Appel Strudel, and the Sacher cake. Every book will advise you so.
We seldom eat schnitzel, but gladly go for Tafelspitz (veal boiled in a broth of vegetables and aromatic spices) or Käsespätzle (egg noodles with cheese).
Our favorite spot is the Zwölf-Apostelkeller, where you can experience live music and Austrian good cheer with your dinner. Whatever you choose to eat, go there.
It is very difficult to recommend one Austrian dessert over the others, the choice is endless. But to go beyond the traditional strudel, pancakes, or gugelhupf (sponge cake), you could try Mohr in Hemd. This is a sponge cake with chocolate filling served with whipped cream. My personal favorite location to try out all Austrian specialties is the Heiner pastry shop.
Where to head for affordable shopping?
The city’s most famous shopping street is the Mariahilferstrasse, where you can find a great atmosphere as well.
Luxury shopping is mostly confined to a handful of streets in Vienna’s first district around the Graben, Tuchlauben, and Kohlmarkt. Golden Quarter in Vienna’s Old City offers exclusive flagship stores of most luxurious brands.
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Vienna?
If you want to go for a sweet souvenir, I recommend spending some time in the Manner waffle shop on St Stephen Square.
I myself would go for a musical souvenir, maybe a recording of a historic performance from the Vienna State Opera. The Arcadia shop in the opera building itself offers great options, so does the Emi Store on Kärntner Strasse.
Viennese Augarten porcelain, Europe’s second oldest producer, is also quite famous among the connoisseurs.
The local craft that mostly goes unnoticed by visitors, except for the rare cases when it is qualified as rudeness, the typical Viennese humor called Wiener Schmäh combines charm, subtlety, innuendo, self-deprecation, and unfriendliness. To get a feeling for it, I highly recommend you pay a visit to the Viennastore souvenir shop and look into their unique collection of memorabilia.
Do you recommend any walking tours or travel photography tours in Vienna to the visitors?
Good Vienna Tours offer free tours on a daily basis in the city center.
My favorite providers are Secret Vienna Tours, they offer themed tours by very passionate connoisseurs and you can find out a lot about the city while visiting both the classical and the off the beaten path attractions within the time frame of two hours. For example, there are tours dedicated to the dark side of Vienna, to its musical or literary history, or to its links with the freemasonry.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Vienna?
I don’t really use apps that much, but whenever friends visit, besides plenty of professional personalized advice, I recommend the Vienna Map and Walks app, as it also provides self-guided tours and plenty of info on hidden gems.
The app of the Wien.at website is a must have in terms of the latest local news, as well as providing a lot of information on the city itself.