Growing up in California has made me rather accustomed to warm-weathered winters. A palm tree Christmas where I wear my Rainbows and a hoodie to help my dad put up lights outside is the norm. Moving to New York made me appreciate actual seasons much more as December is definitely one of the best times to be in the city with all the lights and cute christmas markets. However, I was blissfully ignorant about just how magical the holiday season can be before I stepped foot into Vienna in December. And now, I fear that Christmas back in SoCal has been ruined for me.
I wasn’t supposed to go to Vienna. I have been wanting to explore Budapest ever since I backpacked through Europe and decided to skip it in exchange for Kraków (which, by the way, is quite the charmer itself.) So when my New Yorker-turned-Berliner friend Robert and I decided to finally meet up in Budapest for a long weekend, I eagerly opened up a map to see what nearby places I could also visit. Vienna wasn’t exactly on my list of places to go, but considering I’d never been to Austria I figured I’d handle it with a quick overnight trip. I mean, no one talks about Vienna like they do about Paris or anything. I won’t need more than a day in Vienna right?
From the moment I stepped off the u-bahn onto Kärtner Strasse and came face to face with the State Opera House I was in awe. THIS is Vienna? How come no one told me how beautiful it is here? And how does this city keep its streets so pristine? I guess I’m not in Milan anymore (love you, Milano!) I quickly dropped off my stuff at my hotel and took a stroll down the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s Ring Road, which is lined with some of the city’s most impressive landmarks. Ringstrasse was created by order of Emperor Franz Josef in the 19th century because he wanted to create the most majestic street in the world. Well sir, Bravo. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked down a street and been that amazed by the magnificence of every building. Some of them were fitting – of course Hofburg Palace where the President resides should be grandiose. But how come the Natural History and Fine Art Museums look like palaces too? At one point I even realized that my jaw was actually hanging open. Tourist fail. I am soo not blending in like a local. And then I arrive at the Rathauspark Christkindlmarkt, a Christmas market set in front of City Hall which is so festive that it is sure to warm even the grinchiest of hearts. As for me, a bonafide Christmas chump, I was in heaven walking around with my mug of gluhwein taking in all the wonderful sights and smells. And once again I have to ask, How come no one told me about Vienna before?? Well, I am telling you now that if you happen to find yourself in Europe in December (or even in the summer) then a weekend in Vienna is a must.
For those of you that will be visiting Vienna, here is a cheat sheet of some places to check out. Unfortunately its not an exhaustive list because, as I found out the hard way, 24 hours in Vienna is just not enough!
As mentioned earlier, Vienna has a ringed boulevard (4 km long!) in the 1st district which will lead you to many of the city’s main buildings. I started at the State Opera House and made my way clockwise on foot, but there’s also a Ring-Tram you can take which will get you around in a half hour.
Hofburg (Imperial Palace)
Located right in the heart of the city, the Imperial Palace is a great spot to visit not just for the architecture, but to also stroll around the adjacent Heroes’ Square, Heldenplatz, and through the park.
Kunsthistorisches Museum and Natural History Museum; MuseumsQuartier
Since I only had one day, I didn’t have a chance to visit any of the museums, but it is a must for the next visit. Museums that seem to be popular are the Albertina, Natural History Museum, Leopold Museum and the Fine Art Museum.
Beautiful building built in the Greek-Roman style with an impressive fountain in the front which includes a statue of Athena.
This was my favorite place to visit during my trip – when I first saw it I was instantly taken back to Disneyland giddiness. Not only is Vienna’s City Hall building beautiful, but at night amidst the bustling Christmas Market the whole building lights up and calls you from afar. The park is decorated very festively with lanterns in the trees and even with a cute penguin (fake) ice skating rink for the kids. This is a must see when you’re in town.
Where the imperial family used to live – the palace is a bit of a trek outside the city center but its beautiful and has a park and even a zoo! Not to mention its also home to a Christmas Market in December.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
While every European city seems to have a rather impressive cathedral, I thought Vienna’s cathedral was particularly beautiful and unique because of its multi-colored tile roof.
Ankeruhr – Hoher Markt Clock
This beautiful clock, located in what is said to be Vienna’s oldest square, has twelve historical figures that move on each hour. Make sure to go at noon to see them come to life in a parade (I went around 10am or so and lets just say I was less than enthused when the time came and one figure moved all of 5 inches. Should have done my research.)
Espresso Break: Hotel Sacher
Take a coffee break at Hotel Sacher for the infamous Sacher chocolate cake only made in Vienna and Salsbury (regardless of the criticisms, you have to try it!)
Where to stay: I stayed at Opera Suites, a small but cozy hotel on Kärtner Strasse diagonal from the Opera House. While my room had no view and was small, the location was perfect for a Vienna newbie like me, was very clean and came with free wifi. If I was staying for several days I would probably look for something a little nicer with a view, but as I was out by 9am it was more than fine.
Already looking forward to the next visit!