Welcome to Vienna Austria - one of my favorite cities in the world! This was my third time in Vienna, but my first time in the winter. It was COLD! But still so beautiful and historic. Something I noticed as soon as we arrived is that people know how to dress warm here. Everyone has a warm coat, scarf, boots, warm hat and gloves. They have an excellent transportation system that everyone uses, because like lots of European cities most people don’t have cars. And speaking of transportation systems, we are taking advantage of them in spades on every leg of this trip. Leaving Paris early in the morning we took the RER (suburban train) to Charles de Gaulle airport which worked out perfectly and got us there so quickly. We flew to Vienna and took the CAT (City Airport Train) right into the Old Town in 15 minutes for about 12 euros - way cheaper and faster than a taxi. Upon arriving in Old Town we purchased a 7 day unlimited transportation pass for about 16 euros that allowed us to ride buses, the metro and the trams throughout the area. Then we headed over to check into our Airbnb.
Cheryl and I did a lot of research prior to this trip, and Cheryl in particular really focused on Vienna. We arrived on Christmas Eve and knew in advance that the Viennese have a particular fondness for Christmas Eve and celebrate it even more than Christmas, so our plan was to arrive, eat a late lunch and buy some food supplies to get us through till Christmas Day when believe it or not many restaurants and all the museums are open. We were banking on shops being open till 4PM but by the time we got in to the Airbnb and out to find food it was 2PM, and we had trouble finding anything open. Keep in mind we left Paris early so hadn’t even had breakfast. Cheryl and I were trying to stay calm as Ava and Meredith were looking at us in horror - what are we going to do?!?! We ran around and luckily found a Mediterranean restaurant that I can’t even remember the name of that was open, and the food was really good - just not what we were expecting in Vienna. Chicken kabobs and hummus for everyone! Now what to do for the rest of the night? We sent the girls back to the apartment to get some rest and Cheryl and I started googling convenience stores etc. We walked to a few and they were already closed so finally stopped at a hotel and a sweet concierge told us our best bet was to take the metro to one of the bigger train stations and hopefully a convenience store would be open. Those unlimited passes are already coming in handy!
In our quest to find food we did get to see a little of Vienna. The Hofburg Palace and lots of pretty Christmas decorations. They look even better at night!
We took the metro to a big train station and did find their equivalent of a 7-11 minus gas. Pretty sure we were the only people in there not buying large amounts of alcohol. We grabbed whatever looked edible and headed back to the apartment to reassure the girls we wouldn’t starve. Nothing says Christmas Eve like Paprika Pringle’s and what we discovered are a national treasure - Wanner Cookies!
The Wanner cookies are amazing! They even have entire stores dedicated to the brand and special recipes you can make with them.
Cheryl had researched churches in the area that had a midnight service and found us a wonderful one. The Augustinian Church is located right by the Hofburg Palace and is the church where the royal family were married and buried. We headed out in plenty of time to get good seats and got to see the gorgeous Christmas lights the entire way.
The church was beautiful and very old, and the music featured strings and brass. Oh and it was entirely in German! Of course it was! I admit I didn’t get much out of the sermon, but luckily the priest kept it to about 10 minutes.
Christmas Day! And we’re in Vienna! We had luckily gotten a reservation for brunch at the Cafe Museum so headed there in the rain. We were hoping for snow but no luck. The Cafe Museum was a traditional Viennese coffee shop/restaurant. Our spirits lifted immediately when we walked in and saw the huge case of pastries! And that in fact we did have a reservation and they escorted us to our table.
We were happy to see the rain had stopped by the time we were leaving, and as I mentioned the museums were open so we headed to our first one - Belvedere Palace. The palace was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy and is actually two palaces - the lower palace and the upper palace separated by beautiful gardens. The main draw is the upper palace which Prince Eugene used for entertaining. He had no heirs so the the country got it and turned it into a great art museum. It is best known for its collection of paintings by the artist Gustav Klimt.
The most famous painting in the museum is by Klimt and called The Kiss. Have you seen it?
There was a Christmas market right outside the palace so we headed there next. There is nothing not to love about the Christmas markets. Lots of great food, hot drinks and cute items to purchase. Cheryl and I loved the mulled hot wine. We drank lots of it. It is served in a cute ceramic mug that you put a deposit down on. You can keep the mug or return it and retrieve your deposit. Cheryl wanted to keep every mug so I had to council her often that she didn’t have room to bring them all home. But so tempting! Lots of the items are hand made. Christmas ornaments, snow globes, mittens, hats, socks, wooden items, tea, pretzels, candies, baked goods to name a few.
A few more Christmas market pictures because you can never see enough of them! When was the last time you were at a Wienerwurstelstand?
We didn’t have a dinner reservation but really wanted to eat at a famous restaurant we had read about called Cafe Landtmann. We hoped that if we went late we would be able to get in and our strategy worked. We got seated right away and had a great Christmas dinner!
And dessert of course! It’s Christmas people!
Our last day in Vienna was the 26th so we had lots of ground to cover. The girls wanted to sleep in a little but Cheryl and I were up early and heading out to another great coffeehouse. Vienna is known for its coffee culture and I couldn’t love it more. Most of them have been there for decades and can be a little shabby, but it’s really part of the charm. Newspapers, great coffee, pastries, and a “take all the time you want” attitudes.
First on our list was St Stephen’s Cathedral. You can’t miss it as it sits right in the center of Vienna and it’s enormous. I have toured it before and definitely wanted the others to see all the exquisite details inside. The plan was to meet the girls there but it was not to be. The day after Christmas is a huge holiday in Austria - St Stephen’s Day - the patron saint of Austria. Cheryl and I entered a side door and found that the church was packed! A high mass was just getting started with a full choir and orchestra, and more priests in the entrance procession than I think are currently working in the United States! It was standing room only so we stayed for a bit to sneak glances around the church, but ended up leaving to meet the girls outside. We are pretty sure the Archbishop was there also. It could have been a Cardinal - definitely not the Pope.
We met the girls outside and headed to the Hofburg Treasury. This is a must see if you’re in Vienna. One of the world’s greatest collections of jewels, crowns, gowns and religious items. To really see it in the detail it deserves takes a couple of hours, which we didn’t have so we did the best we could.
The Treasury is located in one area of the Hofburg Palace but it’s a huge complex. There are lots of different museums located within the palace so you need to pick and choose how to spend your time.
There were some more Christmas markets around the Palace so that’s where we headed next. More mulled wine please!
Austrian version of Pizza Hut!
We were full and shopped out so headed to our last museum of the day - The Kunsthistorisches Museum. Truly a world class art museum in an incredibly beautiful building built to house the Hofburg art collection in 1888. I had read about a special exhibit there put together by Wes Anderson and his wife Juman Malouf so that was the motivation for our visit.
We saw the Wes Anderson exhibit which was fun. They let him go through all the many museums in Vienna and pick anything he wanted for the exhibit so there were rooms that were put together focused on the color green. Another that was all animals, so definitely a different slant. One of my favorite artists is Caravaggio and they have a number of his pieces which was exciting for me. It’s a huge place and you could spend days there. The girls met us inside the museum and decided that a good idea was to have tea in the lovely cafe. Yes let’s!
Time to head to our dinner reservation. I had eaten at Restaurant Ofenloch the last time I was in Vienna and loved it, so had made a reservation there in advance. It’s on a cute little street close to the center of town, but a little off the main road. I hoped it was as good as I remembered and it was. We had a great meal and such a fun night.
That’s it for Vienna! An amazing city! Next up Salzburg. One last pastry picture courtesy of Ava!