To the few of you who are connected to me on social media you will have already received newsy updates of my recent trip to Vienna with a great friend of mine. We had THE most incredible visit and Vienna completely and utterly met and exceeded both of our expectations.
Please note that through this blog/article several places have the relevant websites embedded into the name for you to click on and find out more should you be interested in doing so.
I originally booked this trip through one of my favourite luxury suppliers, Kirker Holidays. The entire pre-trip process, culminating in the delivery of our two sets of documents, was super efficient. We received the services of Charlie, one of Kirker’s Concierges, who kindly recommended and booked dinner for us on our first evening (more of that in a bit). He provided all sorts of other inside track information and recommendations which supported in even more detail, the very useful contents of our document wallet which included great local maps and guide notes for the city, not forgetting the Euro coin stuck onto a Kirker card for our luggage trolley at the airport. Attention to detail. Love it…….
Day one – We arrived into Vienna late afternoon and our Kirker transfer was waiting to whisk us into the city to our home for the next four nights.
HOTEL ALTSTADT (click on hotel name for their website)
It was rush hour ish and the transfer probably took us a little over half an hour. We knew that what I had booked for us was a boutique, arty and possibly slightly quirky hotel, but nothing prepared us from the rather unprepossessing approach/entry/hallway. The locale of the property was clearly rather eclectic but oozing character. The appearance of the property was more residential than that of a hotel. We easily located the lift to take us up to the first floor and from that moment everything changed. All of a sudden we were in this lovely modern reception area with the most incredibly friendly and welcoming staff. The check in process went like a dream and we were then given a quick tour of the other areas on this level, being the lounge/small bar, breakfast room etc. Subsequent to this we were taken up to our neighbouring rooms on the floor above. Currently the hotel has just 45 individually and uniquely designed rooms, suites and apartments of various sizes. We were in what’s classified as a ‘Reloaded’ style room which were beautifully designed with everything you can need and more. The view wasn’t great as it looked into a quadrangle – but it didn’t matter – we spent little time there as there was so much on our agendas to do. The doors were monumentally heavy and while there were 8/10 rooms in this particular area of the hotel it was lovely and peaceful. In the image below you can see the fabric tag on the room key. There were a selection of different designs on these which related to where abouts in the hotel your room was. On the walls here and there were decodes of the different designs and room/suite numbers.
Later during our stay having asked a few more questions to feed back with, I discovered that in fact the building this property is accommodated in still houses a few residential apartments. As they become available the hotel are buying them up it appears. I had spotted mail boxes on the ground floor which is what had caused me to ask the question. Further explorations & the experience of staying at this hotel quickly confirmed why this property is part of the Small Leading Hotels of the World group – and justifiably so. It does only have 4 stars and this may be partly attributable to the fact there is not a fully operating restaurant. They do provide THE most incredible spread in the mornings for breakfast – possibly one of the best I have ever experienced. During the day/evening, there is a small menu for lighter style meals. Between 4 and 6 each afternoon they lay on afternoon tea which simply consists of a couple of delicious cakes to tempt you with and their always available, incredible selection of leaf teas.
I can’t emphasise strongly enough, how friendly, professional, courteous and generally amazing the staff were.
Our first evening, as touched on earlier, we had arranged with our Kirker Concierge, to book us a local restaurant for dinner as we knew we had a late ish flight arrival. With the modern day advantage of Google Maps on my phone, we easily found our way, about a 5/10 minute walk, to the Kristians Monastiri restaurant for an early dinner. We’d actually booked for 8 but arrived half an hour or so earlier. What a great start to our culinary adventures. We were served with a little sausage amuse bouche. I started with fois gras (Annie had a meat platter) and we both had Wiener Schnitzel as our mains. The latter was such an enormous portion that we had no room for pud ! All swished down with a lovely bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Our waiter was amazing – very charismatic, helpful and amusing.
Day two we had in mind to head to off into the main part of the city which, with the aid of our maps as provided by both the hotel and Kirker along with my friend Google-Maps, was pretty straightforward and it transpires, only about 20 minutes walk away. We were making a bee-line for where we had understood the main Christmas Market location was – outside the Town Hall – Rathausplatz. It opened at ten (as it turns out does pretty much everything in this city), so we found ourselves somewhere for a coffee. Turns out our early arrival (more by luck than planning), was a good decision as after an hour or so wandering about it was getting packed and not that pleasant to try and navigate around any longer. From here we then wandered a short distance to find the Kuntsforum where Georgia O’Keeffe was exhibiting her works of art which my friend Annie really wanted to see. This was the first time she had exhibited in Austria. During our subsequent wanderings we stumbled across a really unusual little coffee come gift shop called The Old Pharmacy where we had another delicious coffee (melange – which is the local style of coffee very similar to a cappuccino) and some scrummy apple strudel. This eclectic little place was also right on the doorstep of the Spanish Riding School, my venue for day three and the reason this whole trip was arranged in the first place……
On this evening we had plans which I had pre-booked, to go to an early dinner and subsequent Strauss and Mozart concert at the Kursalon venue. Our ticket advised we should arrive for dinner at 6 pm, that the concert started at 8.15 pm. We did wonder how they would manage to eek out the service of dinner for two and a bit hours. Transpires that not everyone turned up at the restaurant at the same time. We were seated and offered drinks while waiting. Convivial surroundings in which ultimately, once they obviously had everyone they were expecting, we were all served at the same time (having placed our main course order choices). After dinner we wandered out into the main reception hall area on the same floor, which was chockablock with what appeared to be quite a large coach group/s. Not wanting to queue, we deposited our coats and I noticed a lift that could be taken upstairs thereby avoiding the queues ! We had preferential seating in the second of the front rows. Annie and I were also, fortunately, seated at the end of the row which made getting up for the interval and disappearing at the end of the concert, very easy and hassle free. The concert of two halves was excellent and well performed with a chamber-style orchestra who were very entertaining along with two dancers (ballerina style – male and female), also a Baritone and Soprano singer. All in all – fabulous and much enjoyed evening. Grabbed our coats on way out and straight into a taxi to take us back to our lovely hotel. When we got back we popped into the lovely lounge area where the fire was a-glow and had a nightcap before heading to bed.
Day three – my head is full of this life-long dream of seeing the Lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School (the oldest in the world) and the hope that having waited so long I wasn’t going to be disappointed. This I had pre-booked and paid extra for a good seat (not that I knew exactly what this was going to constitute). After a wonderful breakfast Annie and I headed back down into the city so I could get my dream underway. This incredible historic building was fantastic. Having already booked I didn’t have to join lengthy queues and my seat was front row right up in one of the corners. No pictures or videos were allowed during the performance which lasted approximately 80 minutes. It was INCREDIBLE and I loved every moment and whether you are horsey or not, I would say is worth a visit when you stay in this fantastic city.
While I was doing this, Annie went off in search of more artistic culture, visiting Albertina – another fantastic place to soak up any one of a number of culture-filled elements. There was a particular Pointillism exhibition that she was keen to see and was very impressed with. After our time of independent experiences we met up again to continue our wanderings. We were going to try and experience the infamous sachetorte at Hotel Sacher but this proved impossible (on more than one occasion), due to the extensive queues involved at the multiple venues within this hotel. Their ‘loss’ (not that I’m sure they felt it), was our gain, as we found another wonderful venue for another coffee and cake : Schlumberger Sparklin Bar – location within/above Gerstner Shop – located very near the Opera House.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement for day three we subsequently bought ourselves a Big Bus Tour ticket for 48 hours and set out on the Red Route trip. We set off from the Opera House area and hopped off 30/40 minutes later having headed across the river, at the park Prater which comprised quite a large amusement park. What we were heading for was Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel (this did come at a supplementary charge – think it was about E8 each). We more by luck than judgement again, caught it timing wise, when the sun was starting to go down, so that was a bonus. The journey time on board was about 20 minutes.
After a short wait of about 10 minutes max, we picked up the Big Bus again to head back to the centre of Vienna. After such an action packed day we really fancied a quiet and low key dinner and after a little ambling around, ooo-ing and ahh-ing at all the wonderful Christmas lights/decorations, we found a rather hidden away, rustic and authentic restaurant with an extensive but ‘simple’ food menu, this place is called Muellerbeisl. Now this was our third or fourth attempt at getting seated in the central hustle and bustle area of Vienna, given it was a Saturday night and everywhere was busy. We were seated downstairs as this restaurant too was pretty hectic, but they did at least have space for us. Speed of service wasn’t great as they had a couple of large groups in but it was quiet and relaxing so we didn’t mind a little wait. I selected a goulash which was divine, with some healthy fries on the side instead of the dumplings I was supposed to have with it. After dinner we picked up a cab to take us back to our Viennese home again.
Day four – our day started in a leisurely way again with a fantastic breakfast. There really is no point rushing in the morning (however much of an early starter you may be), as the city doesn’t start waking up until 10 am. Annie had suggested she fancied visiting the Butterfly House and attached ‘greenhouse’ coffee shop/restaurant – so that’s where we headed as we started our now regular journey down into the city. I keep saying down – it wasn’t that much of a gradient – but were definitely slightly ‘up’ as opposed to the city being on the ground/Danube level so to speak. The Schmetterlinghaus was located around 200 metres away from the Opera house. Now I don’t know much about flutterbys and when they are (or aren’t), in season – if indeed there is such a thing. It was a nice enough way to while away a short time but honestly we didn’t see that many butterflies and the ones we did see appeared to be, in the main part, the same. Perhaps they were well camouflaged or hiding somewhere – who knows. Oddly also, per a sign by one of the plants – a lot of them were artificial and sprayed with honey to attract the butterflies. All seemed a little strange to me but hey ho. We popped next door as planned, to the Palmenhaus for our morning coffee out. Lovely venue which I think may be seen to its best advantage in the spring/summer, or perhaps in the evening.
After the butterflies and our Palmenhaus coffee we were heading down to the Danube to pick up the river boat tour which left at 12.30 pm for an approx one and half hour duration. COMPLETE AND UTTER WASTE OF TIME – don’t do it. The short journey wasn’t on the Danube, but on the Danube Canal which runs in parallel to the actual River Danube. There was pretty much zero of interest on the journey apart from the spectacular graffiti. We had a reasonably priced Gluwein to tide us over and couldn’t wait to get off. This is the only activity we selected that I have anything negative to say about it.
Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a relax before our planned evening of going out to the smaller local Christmas market within striking distance of our hotel. This was very enjoyable indeed. We went out about half five ish. It was spread out across a few different streets with plenty of food, drink and christmassy gift stalls. Many of the little boutiquey local shops were also open in the immediate vicinity of the market stalls.
Once again on this evening we struck gold finding a restaurant slightly off the beaten track in our hotel’s local vicinity, that was open on a Sunday evening – Restaurant Wiener. All you need to know about this restaurant is that the food is superb but the portions are ENORMOUS. Annie and I ordered different starters – mine was the caesar salad with spicy chicken, hers the Spinach strudel with sheep milk cheese. We then each planned to finish off the way we started, with Wiener Schnitzel. When the waiter came to take our order he advised against having a starter each or main course each, instead recommending that we shared one of the courses. We took his advice and Annie agreed to share my starter. This came served up so we each had our own plate – which was definitely already a large portion (but half what it should have been). The main course was two crazy large pieces of veal of which we each only ate one! In summary – loved the restaurant – but watch out for the portions. The chap who looked after us spoke great English, had a fab sense of humour and looked after us very well.
Day five – our last morning. Having got ourselves packed and eaten our last lovely breakfast, we got our luggage locked into the hotel’s secure storage area (though we could have hung onto our rooms until noon had we wanted to). We decided after all the activity over recent days that we would just mooch around locally and explore our more immediate area, which really was lovely. Plenty of shops, restaurants, coffee shops etc. without the hustle and bustle of the main centre of Vienna. We had a small snackette at the hotel prior to our taxi picking us up and taking us back to the airport. This all went without a hitch.
I haven’t mentioned in detail about the incredible shopping available in this fantastic city. Plenty of designer shops, loads of more individual little shops dotted around about and a vast selection of other more ‘mass market’ retail outlets. You could do some serious damage to your credit card here. When it comes to the market shopping you are better off dealing with cash unless they are stalls selling particularly pricey items and then you may strike lucky and find someone with a facility to take cards. One thing I did notice is that I tried on a few occasions to use my Amex without success – Visa and MasterCard appeared to be their cards of preference (certainly the case in the restaurants/shops that we made purchases in).
One thing I was totally unaware of was the presence of chestnuts in all their forms, wherever you turn or look in Vienna (Wien). Had I known this I’d have visited much much sooner as they are one of my favourites.
The weather during our stay was unseasonably warm (bit like the UK), and day time temperatures ranged from about 6>12 degrees centigrade. The nights weren’t really going down below 1/3 degrees centigrade.
As we were staying over a weekend we did find that the Saturday and Sunday were quite literally heaving with people. I would love to go back and will probably plan to revisit perhaps in the Spring time and will if possible steer away from the weekend. It occurs to me however, that the weight of people may have been more to do with it being Christmas market time……..
I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Vienna didn’t end up being as expensive as I’d thought it would be. Of course there are always going to be places that you pay a premium to eat or drink at – as with any city. However, if you are prepared to delve a bit deeper and seek the advice of a travel Concierge service such as is offered by Kirker and/or tap into the on site advice from the hotel you are staying in, it’s easier enough to quickly find alternatives. Our experience was that we found the places we found quite accidentally and all worked out really well.
In summary I would whole-heartedly recommend a visit to Vienna. It may be that you’d like to do this via a Danube river cruise (in which case I’d urge that you extend your trip with a few nights in Vienna on land as well), or simply as a land holiday. Four nights flew by and there was so much more to see and do. You could easily do a week here, specially if you’d like to get a little further afield into the wine regions and the like.
For reference, aside from Kirker who I’ve of course, already mentioned, other companies who offer some fantastic river cruise itineraries taking in this fascinating part of the world, could be Scenic, Emerald Waterways, Viking River, Uniworld, Amawaterways, to name but a few. Possibly the only luxury all inclusive company doing round trip Vienna would be Crystal River Cruises with their wonderful vessel, aptly named Crystal Mozart. I did actually spot her elegantly sitting on the Danube bank in Vienna as we were flying past along the bridge on our ‘Big Bus tour’.
If you’d like to know any more about my trip and/or like to discuss the possibility of visiting this fascinating part of the world yourself, don’t hesitate to let me know. I do hope you have enjoyed reading this – feel free to like, comment and share with anyone who you feel it may be of interest.