If Copenhagen is the cool girl with the burgundy lips and goofy grin, and Budapest is the eclectic hipster bedecked with Iris Apfel jewellery, then Vienna is Julie Andrews (and not just as the Austrian Maria von Trapp); beautiful and of distinctly regal bearing.
Vienna is the place for imperial history. You feel the grandeur of the Habsburg empire as you saunter along the Ringstrasse (ring boulevard), and as you crane up at bronze quadrigas and golden angels that perch like wedding cake toppers on fondant-white edifices. Even stopping for a snack break feels stately, as you eat your sachertorte (a royal favourite) in an old coffee house to the dulcet strains of Mozart and Haydn.
In my only full day in Vienna I aimed to hit up as many of the central museums and sights as possible, like a frenzied round of (enjoyable) speed dating. After a traditional Viennese breakfast at Café Mozart (a perfect soft-boiled egg, coffee and sugar pelleted brioche) I started at the impressive Hofburg Palace complex.
I expected to dash impatiently through the Imperial Silver Collection (the first of the 3 museums included in admission). I mean, I appreciate dinnerware as much as the next person, but the idea of having enough interesting crockery to fill a whole museum seemed to be a load of…crock. I was happily mistaken. The collection was like the Be Our Guest scene from Beauty and the Beast, on crack. Think many-metres long centrepieces, elaborate gold- and silverwork, and porcelain galore filling floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets.
The Sisi Museum provided a fascinating glimpse into the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who at the age of 16 married her 23-year-old cousin Franz Joseph I. Catapulted into Habsburg court life for which she was ill-prepared and unsuited, she took to emo poetry, extreme dieting and exercising, dangerous horse riding feats and indulging her wanderlust. Stabbed by an Italian anarchist while travelling in Geneva in 1898 at the age of 60, Elisabeth’s life and beauty (her ankle-length hair was not considered an OHS issue, but her literal crowning glory) have become the stuff of legends. The tour of the Imperial Apartments was another whoa-inducing insight into royal life.
Imperial Silver Collection, Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), Imperial Apartments, Hofburg
The Albertina houses not only a smorgasbord of incredible works by artists like Klimt, Dürer, Degas and Chagall, but staterooms decked out in classical Viennese style; Jordan almond coloured marble, glittering chandeliers and white surfaces with intricate gilding.
Albertina staterooms, Water Nymphs by Klimt
For me, one of the highlights of Vienna was visiting the National Library. As if I hadn’t belaboured the point already, my favourite childhood film was Beauty and the Beast (because I bought completely into the Disney fairytale, but identified more with the bookish brunette of this story than the simpering yellow-haired princesses), and my favourite scene is where the Beast gifts Belle the castle library. I was cursing myself for not allowing an extra day to visit Admont Abbey (3 hours from Vienna) which inspired the Disney setting, but Vienna’s National Library was a damn close match. One of the happiest places on Earth, for sure.
State Hall, National Library (credit: Christoph Seelbach)
Art and Music
I got my musical fill at a performance of the Vienna Mozart Orchestra at the Musikverein (Golden Hall), which offered a great smorgasbord of single movements, and my favie Papageno-Papagena duet.
The Golden Hall, a veritable Wolfgang of Mozarts
And viewed even more stunning art at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which I loved as much for its main hall as incredible Arcimboldos and Brueghels.
Kunsthistorisches main hall, The Hunters in the Snow by Brueghel, The Water The Water by Arcimboldo
Dining like a Queen
I interspersed my drooling over art and architecture with drooling over Viennese sweet delights (it was a tough day for the salivary glands). In the same ridiculous way that one eats gelato in Italy (multiple times a day, as though you can’t get it anywhere else in the world), I ate cake in Vienna. I quickly realised that sachertorte is not really that great (apricot being possibly the only fruit that doesn’t go with chocolate) so abandoned it in favour of Klimttorte (as beautiful as The Kiss) and Nusstorte at Gerstner KuK Hoflieferanten and Demel. On a sugar high, I didn’t bother with the popular savoury street snacks like würstel (hotdogs) or käsekrainer (sausage oozing with cheese) aka eitriger (pus-sticks).
Gerstner, stuffing my cakehole with Klimttorte, studying tortes at Demel
One of the most special experiences of my time in Vienna was spending Easter Sunday at Schönbrunn Palace (a close second to spending it at home with my family, where I’d typically eat a gold Lindt bunny for breakfast, feel guilty for not buying ‘Save the Bilby!’ merch and wonder for the umpteenth time what exactly a bilby is). Undeterred by travel blog posts warning about crowds, or the questionable description on Tripadvisor (Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours; Fee: Yes; Activities: Getting married), I arrived before 8am. I felt a bit stupid lining up for 30 mins before opening (I was first at the ticket desk, with a whopping 5 people behind me), but was vindicated when I emerged from an incredible tour through the Palace to see a queue of thousands that extended out of the Palace grounds, all the way down the street and down to the metro platform (with time-controlled entry…suckers!). I spent a couple of hours exploring the Palace gardens, and the Easter markets where I was surprised to discover that Austrians celebrate Easter with gingerbread, tree ornaments and morning beers.
Hall of Ceremonies, Easter market, Gloriette, interesting Tripadvisor description
Turning down a beer in favour of apfelstrudel, I found a peaceful spot in the sunny Schönbrunn gardens. Gazing out across the manicured lawns and reflecting on all the beauty I’d witnessed over the last couple of days in Vienna, I felt as spoiled as a princess.