A Girls weekend in Vienna (Wien)
The home of Mozart, café culture, beautiful architecture and extensive history are all part of Vienna, the Austrian capital's charm. Just under a two-hour flight from Zurich, it’s a great weekend getaway, especially with friends. Recently two neighbours and I boarded an early morning flight to Vienna to enjoy a 2-night stay.
As we had chosen a hotel in the city centre, we started our adventure by taking the CAT, an express train which brought us directly from the airport into the city centre in just 16 minutes. Once in Vienna, we were able to walk to our hotel. The service at the Motel One Staatsoper, our hotel of choice, was spot on, with its proximity to public transport, restaurants, and its charming in-house bar. Inside, the décor and overall feel was light and modern and melded nicely with the original marble, oak and plasterwork of the older, stately building. At €185 per night (breakfast included), the single room had enough space and thanks to the crackling fire image on the TV, a cozy vibe.
After dropping off our luggage, we were ready to explore. Austria’s capital city is stylish, impressive and relatively easy to navigate. With the neighbourhoods designed in a circular fashion, one fun way to experience the city is to travel around The Vienna Ring, a grand boulevard that encompasses the centre where the ancient city walls used to exist. There is a yellow tram that makes stops around the ring for those who want to see as much as possible in a short amount of time.
We, however, started our visit with a walking tour, which was an excellent way to get a feel for the city and learned interesting facts while getting our steps in. We used Goodviennatours, and although it is free to register and take the tour, guests are encouraged to tip at the end based on what they think the tour is worth. Our guide was licensed, knowledgeable and also very enthusiastic about providing information and insight during the 2.5 hours.
The tour ended, and we were ready for a break, figuring it was the right time for some coffee and dessert. We met up with a local friend who suggested we enjoy our treats at Café Central. When we arrived, we were shocked at how long the line was to get into this very popular Vienna institution (they don’t take reservations). The weather wasn’t great (windy and sprinkling rain) so we were hesitant even to wait, but happily the line moved quickly.
And it was worth it! Café Central was beautiful and bustling, and we felt as if we’d stepped back in time upon entering. The dessert selection from the in-house patisserie was a feast for the senses (I can recommend the apple strudel and Café Central torte). Aside from counter service, they also have restaurant service. The best part is, once we were at our table, we could sit and enjoy for as long we wanted. (This is the beauty of Vienna cafes: no pressure to move along or continue consuming.) In the past, certain cafes were known as meeting places for artists, authors, intellectuals and politicians.
Upon leaving the café two hours later, it was time to consider dinner (on a girls’ weekend, it is perfectly acceptable to eat your dessert before!) We chose Ali’s Grill, a Turkish restaurant close to our hotel, due to pouring rain and our tired feet. The mezze and grilled meat selections were deliciously authentic.
Saturday had us up early and taking advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet. There were a nice variety of continental offerings for everyone, including fresh fruit, local cheeses, breads and strong coffee.
After breakfast, our first stop of the day was the Spanish Riding School training session. You can reserve online, get a printout confirmation, and then pay on your scheduled day.
We learned that this classic style of Spanish equestrianism dates back to the 16th century during the time of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I.. He grew up in Spain and was so taken with this elegant way of riding that he brought the horses from Iberia to the court in Vienna. As a representative of the Hapsburg Monarchy, this made perfect sense to introduce his Iberian horses to the dynastic capital of the time. To this day, the horses are world-renowned. The white Lipizzaner stallions are taught based on their natural movements and dispositions, resulting in a graceful harmony between rider and animal. The horses themselves are treated very well, and the riders must undergo extensive training to be part of this elite school. Born dark, over time the pigment of the horses begins to change until they are eventually white as mature animals. They say it brings luck to have at least one dark horse amongst them.
After sitting for almost two hours, we wanted to stretch our legs, and what girls’ weekend would not be complete without time for shopping. The stroll down Mariahilfer Straße was just what we needed, not only to break out the credit cards but also to enjoy people watching. As the longest pedestrian shopping street in the city, the mixture of designer boutiques and high-street options offers something for everyone’s budget.
All this walking, talking, and spending demanded a hearty lunch—and where better than a restaurant boasting “The art of the perfect Wiener Schnitzel”? Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper was busy and not easy to get into, but proved to be the right lunchtime stop. Our plates overflowed with the tender cuts of golden fried meat with an entire half-lemon for squeezing over the top and a side dish of potato salad (warm with a vinaigrette). Everything was wonderful. The bread, butter and spread (a chivy, soft cheese) that comes with a cover charge of €2.30 per person was equally enjoyable and staved off our hunger while waiting. One thing to mention is that eating out is less expensive than in Switzerland and the portions are generous. We paid under €40 per person, which included water and drinks.
On our way back to the hotel for some rest in the later afternoon, we strolled through the lanes of the Naschmarkt (in existence since 1774) right before closing time. I would definitely want to spend more time there on another visit as it offers many gourmet food options as well as fresh produce, seafood and charcuterie, restaurants, flowers, and more. We finished off our Saturday evening with a nightcap in the hotel bar (try the Moscow Mule), satisfied with how much we had seen and done in one day, despite the rain and wind.
While I had to leave very early, my girlfriends had a bit more time on Sunday morning before flying out and chose to visit St. Stephens Cathedral. In addition to admiring the amazing architecture (this Romanesque structure dates back to 1137), they were able to experience the music and beauty of Mass in real time. There are also guided tours to get the most out of this Vienna landmark. Appropriately on a Sunday, before heading to the airport, they also stopped into St. Peter’s Church, a Baroque gem in Vienna’s Petersplatz. The green domes stand out, beckoning visitors to investigate the art and beauty of this beloved church, which was completed in 1733.
The many majestic buildings of Vienna will delight and impress. I couldn’t get over how so many of the buildings were much taller and grander than those in Switzerland’s larger cities. Simply put, there is much to see and do. On my next visit, I will definitely explore the Vienna State Opera, Schönbrunn Palace, Albertina Museum, and if it the warmer cooperates, stroll along the Danube Canal (Donaukanal), where trendy restaurants, bars and infamous graffiti await!
Austrian and Swiss Air offers a variety of nonstop flights, starting at CHF 218.50, round trip. For more information about Wien: https://www.wien.info/en
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Freelance writer and mom of three grown sons, Abbie has been in Switzerland for over a year. A seasoned expat, she’s had fun in the past as a preschool teacher, marketing rep and magazine editor. She loves traveling to get to know and better understand new cultures. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org