Prepare to be charmed. Vienna is rich with history, culture, and cuisine, and the city maintains a calm vibrancy that inspires each of its guests. (If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, it’s required viewing; Richard Linklater’s film showcases exactly how the city enraptures and incites romance.) After you’ve built a buzz, take note of these five things.
1 When in Wien… try the wine.
Yes, Vienna has some of the best (and cheapest!) beer in the world, but your visit is incomplete until you’ve sampled the regional wine selection. Head to a vinothek (we recommend the humble Weinfach), where you can taste wines from the city’s 1,700+ acres of vineyards. White grapes are the specialty here, so expect top-grade Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc. If you have a whole day to spare, then take a tasting tour of scenic Wachau Valley (just an hour by train or car) where you can try other white varietals. Or more of the same, which is fine by us.
2 It’s a recreational wonderland.
You probably associate Vienna with grandiose orchestras, world-class museums, and regal dining. Err lavish if you like, but Vienna also offers a variety of outdoor activities. If you visit in the hot summer months, pack a bathing suit and head to any one of the city’s 50 public pools, or to the southern banks of Danube Island for a more natural dip. If you want to hike, Vienna has more than 500km of trails, most of which are located in the Vienna Woods (in the northwest and southwest corners of the city). You might even stumble across some vineyards, if that wasn’t your intention in the first place. In the city itself, we recommend a walk or jog along the hip Danaukanal on Danube Island. Backdropped by graffiti, it’s the ideal place to watch the sunset; during spring and summer, the boardwalk is packed with food and drink vendors.
3 The cool kids hang in the seventh district.
Neubau (also known as the seventh district) is the pulse of Vienna’s creative culture, a popular settling ground for artists and young people. It’s teeming with big-name retail, but more importantly, Neubau houses the city’s best vinyl shops, thrift stores, wine taverns, smoky cafes, and no-frills restaurants. To round things out, the seventh is also home to some of the city’s grander sites, like the Belvedere Palace and Galleries. Where else would you want to display Vienna-native Gustav Klimt’s best work?
4 Those tall cement towers are painful reminders of a dark history.
There are a few cities round Europe that have flakturms – air-raid shelters once equipped with antiaircraft weapons – and Vienna’s are easily spotted; they’re the rare eyesores in an otherwise pristine town. In all, there are six concrete and steel flakturms, constructed between 1942 and 1945. Each is paired off (as command and control towers) to form a triangle around the city centre. The towers are as tall as 55 metres, with 2-metre thick walls, which explains why it’s so difficult to tear them down. Point yourself to Arenbergpark, Augarten or Esterhazypark to marvel at the structures; some remain closed, while others have been converted into public spaces, like an art museum and an aquarium. Leave it to the Viennese to bring light to the dark.
5 Sensitivity is appreciated.
It’s worth mentioning: be cautious with any references to Austria’s role in the Second World War. Says one local, ‘We acknowledge that the war happened, but like everyone else, we’re relieved it’s in the past, and we’d prefer if you don’t connect modern-day Austria to the one that was occupied back then.’ Noted. On a lighter note, he also says to spare any Sound of Music and ‘Edelweiss’ mentions. ‘We’ve heard it all before. Don’t be so predictable.’