It’s officially a new year, and I’ve been fortunate enough to already have been on some adventures. To celebrate the new year and get out of town for a while, my husband and I decided to spend a couple of days in Vienna, Austria.
Some of my initial thoughts while planning this trip were:
Wow, the architecture!
Oh, thank goodness they speak German (so my husband can translate).
I want to know if this famous cake everyone keeps mentioning is really that great.
We decided to drive from our home in Southern Germany to Vienna, which took us somewhere around seven hours. We stayed in a very cute Airbnb outside of the city in a little town called Bad Vöslau, which upon leaving, we both regretted not exploring more. I would suggest looking in this area if you’re also someone who doesn’t want to stay in the rush of the city but wants to have quick access to the sites!
We only had two days in Vienna, and so we did not get to see everything on our list. Regardless, we had a beautiful time and I want to share some of the highlights of our time there.
The State Hall of the National Library of Austria
When one thinks of Vienna, I think most draw up an idea of opulence, intricate architecture, and awe-inspiring sights. The State Hall Library encapsulates this perfectly. Of course, I am a library lover, so nearly any room with books is likely to impress me to some degree. But this library was truly awe-inspiring. After walking the full length of the room— with its soaring painted ceiling and seemingly endless shelves of books— I just sat and stared in awed contentment.
While this room is an amazing thing to witness, I want to be forward about the fact that entrance was rather expensive— though I found this to be the case with nearly every tourist destination in the city. Entry to this room cost 16 euro per person! So as a library lover, this was a location that I prioritized and therefor splurged on the entry. If you’re someone who loves the visual beauty but doesn’t have a particular affinity for libraries specifically, there are plenty of other breathtaking sites in the city that you may prefer instead!
It was freezing when we were in Vienna. The sky was white with a light sprinkling of snow, and the breezes that whipped across the large open city squares were chilling. Stepping into the large glass building that contains the Schmetterlinghaus felt like a blessing.
For those who may not know, schmetterling is the German word for butterfly. Being from a tropical climate, paying to see butterflies is not usually something I would do, but a wonderful traveler friend of mine highly suggested it, so we figured it would be a worth while experience. Thankfully it was more affordable than the State Hall, at 7 euro per person. After buying our tickets we stepped through the large glass door, and pushed through the plastic blinds that separated the humid glory of the butterfly room from the rest of the world. It was just like suddenly stepping foot back in Hawaii— it was warm and full of flowers and even a waterfall at the center of the glass domed building.
All I can say is that if you’re in Vienna, and want a few minutes to relax somewhere beautiful and warm, the Schmetterlinghaus may be the stop for you.
The Belvedere is actually a set of palaces and the connecting garden. Both palaces have an art gallery inside, and tickets can be bought separately or as a pair which would allow you to see both palace galleries for a discounted price. My husband and I decided that we were only interested in seeing the Upper Belvedere due to the costliness of the tickets— which were 16 euro per person for the Upper Belvedere alone— and because this was the gallery that contained most of the work we were interested in seeing, such as Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, as well as paintings by Monet, Munch, Van Gogh, and other illustrious artists.
The Belvedere is said to be the most visited art museum in Austria, and from the length of the lines and the crowds, I would say this is not a false statement. If you are an art lover and would like to visit, I highly suggest that you get your ticket online beforehand to avoid the lines. I also suggest this approach because the Upper Belvedere uses time slots for entry. You buy a ticket for a particular time slot and can only enter the gallery when that time arrives. Sometimes this time can be set for hours after you arrive, if you haven’t ordered your tickets online beforehand. So don’t make the mistake that we did! (Though honestly I don’t regret it because we spent our two hour wait in a Greek restaurant eating pasta, listening to the many languages being passed back and forth, and embracing the warmth.)
Inside the Belvedere was all you would imagine an Austrian palace to be— chandeliers, marble, intricately painted and carves walls and ceilings, and an overall feeling of opulence. I would say it is worth the admission price as you could spend an entire day in this gallery, and we pretty much did.
A heads up for my backpack travelers— if you enter the museum with anything more than a small purse you will be forced to check your bag in with the coat check or use a locker located in the basement (which takes one euro which you will get back upon returning the key to the slot of the locker). I personally did not feel comfortable with this, so I feel that others may have a similar feeling.
Friedhof der Namenlosen (The Cemetery of the Nameless)
This is not a tourist site but was one of the highlights of our time in Vienna for me. Located outside of the city— and rather difficult to get to without the use of a car— this cemetery was originally created for those who drowned in the nearby river or committed suicide. As suicides were not traditionally allowed in most religiously affiliated cemeteries, this plot of land was put aside to honor those who lost or took their lives. Many are nameless— hence the name of the cemetery— but all graves, those with names and those without— have graves decorated with a cross and candles, plants, and other forms of silent acknowledgement.
I thought that this was beautiful. When we arrived it was lightly raining, and as we neared the graves we saw that many of the candles on the graves were lit, flickering in the gloom. On site there is also a small chapel, which was closed while we were there. If you are a sentimental person interested in things out of the ordinary, I believe that this is an excellent place to visit and pay your respects.
I must add a note that this is a cemetery, where people actively mourn the loss of those who have passed. If you choose to visit, please be respectful and aware of your presence there.
Other Spots Worth Mentioning
If you want to avoid some of the heaviest tourist crowds but enjoy Vienna and what it has to offer, I suggest visiting the gardens, cafes, tea shops, and chocolate shops.
The gardens at the Belvedere were impressive even in the winter, and Vienna is known for having many gardens, those affiliated with its many palaces (such as Schönbrunn Palace) as well as public ones.
Demmer’s Teehaus— recommended to me by the same lovely friend that recommended the Schmetterlinghaus— is a tea shop with several locations in Vienna. One of these shops was a wonderful little place on the same road as the well known Naschmarkt, where we were able to pick from a wide selection of loose leaf teas for adorable prices.
We passed more than one chocolateria with vibrant window displays and racks brimming with delectable goodies. Confiserie de Vienne caught our eye, and stepping inside was similar to that candy shop scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The woman who owns the shop doesn’t use preservatives in her chocolates, and has wonderful flavors. I tried a pomegranate-white chocolate truffle and I can say with certainty that this stop is worth a visit if you’re a chocolate lover. (Though a heads up for those who may be thinking about buying these as gifts— since there are no preservatives these chocolates are meant to be eaten within a couple of days, so enjoy!)
Cafes are also abundant in Vienna, and are worth visiting if for no other reason than to get yourself a Sacher torte! We stopped by Demel, a fancy little café in the shopping area of Vienna. The cake was delicious, but be aware that this seems to be a very popular spot and the lines can be insane. Thankfully we just ordered a piece of cake to go, as the line was nearly out the door and there was a 45 minute wait minimum for a table!
Final Thoughts on Vienna
Vienna was gorgeous, busy, and expensive. The streets and buildings were works of art. The tourist attractions were all much pricier than what I am used to and extremely crowded, but as I joked with a friend of mine, I just chalked it up to being the tax you pay for all the breath-taking sights all around you.
If you are planning on visiting Vienna, research the places that you are thinking of visiting beforehand and see if you can get tickets online, as they may sometimes be cheaper and you can avoid the long lines that seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Even places like libraries and churches have entry fees, so budget accordingly.
Upon arrival I expected everything to be in German (or the Austrian equivalent) but I came to learn that Vienna is a very multicultural place in terms of culture and language. It seemed that every customer service representative I interacted with could speak at least German and English. Italian and French also seemed to be widely spoken.
The city itself was very confusing for me geographically, but many of the big tourist destinations are in a walkable distance. For the things that are not, Vienna has a pretty good intercity transportation system. We were able to get a 24 hour ticket (which included busses and trams) for less than 10 euro per person.
Lastly, I tried the famous Sacher Torte, the cake that Vienna is famous for. A chocolate cake with a thin layer of jam, often decorated with a little chocolate topping, I thought that the Sacher Torte would be a real treat, and it was amazing. Spongey, and not too sweet, it was a lovely way to end our time in Vienna. If you have the opportunity to pop into a café and try one, I highly suggest it!
There are so many places I wanted to visit that we didn’t get to this time, such as Prater, Café Central, and Schloss Schönbrunn . If you’ve been to any of these locations please feel free to leave a comment— I’d love to hear about your experience!