11 Nov Oh, Vienna! Coffee, castles and craft beers in Austria’s capital
Sophisticated, stylish and utterly enchanting, Vienna is the perfect city break location for food and drink fans and architecture aficionados. Discover my Vienna travel guide, tips for a surprisingly budget friendly and beautiful European capital.
I love getting away in the autumn. There’s something peaceful about cities where normality has resumed after a summer of visitors and visiting. It’s cold enough to justify hand and heart-warming hot drinks, yet warm enough to explore. And streets and spaces are alive with the bold colours of turning leaves, just before the first frosts step in.
Vienna hadn’t been on the cards. We stumbled across some great value flights and something piqued my curiosity. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Austrian après ski in the past, but it it hadn’t crossed my mind to explore the country’s cities before. Delightfully Vienna turned out to be fantastic little city for a short break, packed with great places to eat and drink, stylish architecture and graceful green spaces.
We spent four nights in the Austrian capital at the end of October, when the weather was cool but comfortable enough to be outside all day. Two days were about right for exploring the city streets, another was spent walking in the vineyards close to the city limits and strolling the gardens of the city’s spectacular palaces. On our last full day we visited nearby Bratislava. A packed but perfect itinerary. Here’s my Vienna travel guide, a whistle-stop tour of this delightful capital.
How to get to Vienna
We flew to Vienna from London Gatwick with Easyjet. Getting from the airport to the city is easy. Simply take the non-stop CAT train to Wien Hauptbahnhof or the regular stopping service for a fraction of the cost.
We mostly explored Vienna by foot, but a 24 hour travel pass (which can be brought throughout the city) is handy for exploring beyond the centre.
Where to stay in Vienna
We stayed at the smart and comfortable NH Hotel Belvedere. It’s handily located a ten minute walk from the Alt Stadt and slightly more from the Wien Hauptbahnhof main station. It’s also a hop, skip and a jump from Renwegg station and a just one minutes walk from the beautiful gardens of the Schloss Belvedere.
Start with Vienna’s old town
In a new city, I love to get started by finding by bearings.
Vienna’s easy to explore, with the old town or Alt Stadt the metaphorical and geographical heart of things. Circumnavigating the Alt Stadt is the ring road, or Ringstraβe. Don’t be put off by the less than glamorous sound of a ring road. The name doesn’t do it justice, as here you can find Vienna’s grandest palaces, parliament, town hall and museums. Just follow the road, or hop on the tram to discover grandeur in abundance, as well as the real life workings of a major European capital city.
Within the ring road you’ll find a living, breathing city centre. Winding cobbled streets jostle for room amongst patisseries, high street and high end stores. Cathedrals sit next door to cafes. The city centre isn’t the preserve of tourists, there’s a little bit of Vienna here for everyone. Take a couple of hours to meander your way around. You’ll find the stables of the Spanish Riding School a few doors down from department stores, craft breweries round the corner from offices. We found ourselves in the Alt Stadt several times during our few days in Vienna and loved soaking up the changing, but always enjoyable, atmosphere at different times of day.
And whatever you do, follow your feet to the Cafe Alt Wien. With the walls plastered with posters for art shows and waiters with old fashioned aprons, this place oozes charm and a sense of the real old city. It’s not a get up for show – the décor really is stuck up with sticky tape. It’s a proper cosy, smoky, cafe that serves beer in steins and real coffee. Oh, and their hot chocolate’s not bad either.
Discover coffee culture, cafes and bars in Vienna
Whilst we’re on the subject of coffee, Vienna is the place to come if that’s your cup of tea. Whilst the France and Italy might be the first place you think of when it comes to cafe culture, but the Viennese know a thing or two. Add into the equation a coffee shop on every corner, and you’ll find a cuppa hard to resist. And if it’s a tad chilly when you visit, curling up inside with a coffee at every given opportunity will be irresistable.
Viennese coffee shops
In all seriousness, Vienna has an amazing number of cafes – from the old fashioned like the Alt Wien, to hipster coffee roasters and even a cycle cafe in between. Give the cycle cafe a chance, the owner seems a terribly nice man in spite of our best attempts to confuse him. Four days wasn’t enough to even scratch the surface, but I enjoyed enough cups of coffee to be confident there’s no such thing as a bad brew in this city.
Craft beer bars
When something a little stronger is needed, Vienna is a gem of a city.
Maybe we just hit the jackpot, but we found several amazing little brauhauses in the city centre. We enjoyed vast bowls of gulasch with our weissbiers and bocks at 7 Stern Brau, a scaled down version of a Bavarian bierkeller. Looking for a little more local atmosphere, we found great home-brewed beers (and pretzels) at the 1516 Brewing Company in the old town. From the outside it looks a little like a generic chain restaurant, but step through the door and it’s quite the opposite. Rammed with locals on a Wednesday night, it’s dark, loud and brimming with people having a good time. Expect to fight for a seat, but it’ll be worthwhile.
A little further out from the centre we found The Brickmakers (nope, we never got to the bottom of the English name). Brewing on site, they always have at least 20 craft beers (including their own) and ciders on tap. And they do barbecue. Really good barbecue. Don’t underestimate how much some good pulled pork, slaw, mashed potato and Austrian-brewed beer can be after a long day exploring! Next time I’m in Vienna, I’ll be back in a flash.
What to do beyond Vienna’s Alt Stadt
Whilst it might be tempting to stick to the enticing old town, this wouldn’t be much of a Vienna travel guide if didn’t share some of the delights a little further afield. Vienna is a large city, but it’s limits are within easy reach, and there’s a myriad of interesting places to explore across it’s many districts – and beyond.
Exploring Vienna’s vineyards
You weren’t expecting that, were you?!
Grab a travel card and take tram out to Nuβdorf, a suburb on the outskirts of the city. Here, the houses dissipate into rows of vineyards as you enter Austrian wine country. If I’ve led you astray to think that beer is always the beverage of choice for the Viennese, I’d be very wrong.
Small family-run vineyards dot the low hills surrounding the city, and are beautiful to explore. In the autumn sunshine, we were greeted by a cacophony of golds, coppers and greens. We followed the Stadtwanderweg 1, which weaves for 5-6 miles along largely paved routes through the vines to the top of the Kahlenberg and back to Nuβdorf. From here, you can look down over the city and the river below. Unless of course, you manage to visit on a distinctly hazy day. Gorgeous as it was, our view from the Kahlenberg resembled a game of guess where the city is!
If time is short or you’d rather stay central, there are plenty of enjoyable green spaces closer to the city centre. The Prater park is one of the largest, squeezed between the languid river Danube and the Donaukanal. With it’s long, straight avenues of trees drizzling autumn leaves on us, it was a good spot for running or just a stroll. It’s famous for it’s vintage pleasure park, featured in film noir classic The Third Man, although this was a bit of a damp squib in October.
For something rather more sophisticated, the gardens of Vienna’s two largest palaces – the Schönbrunn and Belvedere – are the ideal spot for a promenade or picnic. Schönbrunn may be a little further from the centre but more than makes up for this with it’s vast scale. We spent a pleasant hour or so getting lost in the gardens. Follow the crowds to the Gloriette glasshouse for a panoramic view of the palace.
The Belvedere is only a few minutes walk from the city centre, and was one of my favourite spots in all Vienna. What it lacks in size compared to Schönbrunn, it more than makes up for in elegance. If you’re an early riser, head here for a morning wander or run to see first light falling on the city below.
Near neighbours: Bratislava
We also headed to Vienna’s Slovakian neighbour, Bratislava, for a day. Less than an hour away by train, it’s a colourful, chaotic little city that’s a fantastic contrast to Austrian elegance.
Find out more in my city guide Bratislava in a day: Cobbled streets and cafes, Slovakian style.
Head inside for a little culture
On any trip, no matter how much I enjoy being out and about, there’ll always come a time when it’s too cold or dark to be out any longer.
My recommendation? Enjoy the Albertina. Purely from an architectural perspective, it’s worth a visit. The decadent state rooms on the first floor offer a glimpse into what life was like for previous residents of the palace. Interiors aside, I was blown away by how well curated the exhibits were, and loved the Pointilism exhibition running whilst we were here.
And finally, breakfast
I beg your pardon, I hear you say.
One of my favourite things we did in Vienna? We enjoyed breakfast out.
Vienna has some outstanding cafes and brunch spots, best enjoyed in the early morning. Most cafes offer breakfast, ranging from a simple croissant and coffee to a more continental affair with eggs, cheeses and meats, usually with some sort of healthier granola-type of affair thrown in. I could dedicate a whole trip, or travel guide to the joy of breakfast in Vienna, but I’ll restrain myself to sharing just one stellar choice.
Our last day, we went to town (literally) and treated ourselves to breakfast at Josef’s bakery in Wien-Mitte. Josef’s is an organic bakery and food store that also has a sit-down breakfast menu – if you can find a table. I could wax lyrical about how amazing the food was, but to give to give you a better idea, it came with a steak knife and looked like this;
It’s not traditionally Austrian (actually, it was called an Italian) but it was delicious. The perfect way to set us up for one last day pounding the streets. If we’d had room after our huge breakfasts we’d have grabbed a sweet treat to take away.
So that’s a wrap, my city break guide to Vienna. It’s a city that charms and leaves you eager to return. And that’s the best kind of destination, the one that you don’t want to leave.
Come for the art and architecture, stay for the coffee culture and craft beer. I think you’re going to like it.