Tuesday 3 March 2020

Quick tips for a brief trip to Vienna

I was due to attend the European Congress of Radiology next week, but I learnt this morning that it had been cancelled due to the current coronavirus situation. I have cancelled my visit but a friend and colleague who was due to attend and present a paper has decided to carry on with the trip, and have a holiday instead. I've been to Vienna quite often, on the pretext of attending the congress, but it's her first time so here are a few very brief tips, off the top of my head, based on my own experience, and my personal inclinations.

Getting there from the airport

There is a special airport train, the CAT, but check out the regular Austrian Rail service which is much, much cheaper. Visitors from the UK will be shocked by fares of around 5€. It might even stop closer to your hotel.

Things to see

Imperial Vienna

The Habsburg Empire ended in 1918, but Vienna proves that you don't need a reigning monarch to wallow in full blown Royal and Imperial (Kaiserlich und Königlich, or K&K) tourism. The imperial palaces, starting with the Hofburg, are worth visiting. Among other things, you can see in the palace museum the folded dinner napkins, still used by the Republic for formal occasions, whose technique remains a state secret. Throughout the city there are establishments styled "K und K" for Kaiserlich und Königlich, or Royal and Imperial, including pastry shops, shoemakers, barbers and so on.


There is the great gothic cathedral of St Stephen, of course, and there are the grand baroque palaces, but unique to the city are the buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Viennese Secession, such as the Looshaus opposite the Hofburg (now a bank), the Secession Building (also an art museum), the Postal Savings Bank, and the Majolikahaus by the  the Naschmarkt, to name a few Which brings us to the museums.

Note: most museums are closed for one day each week

For an overview of early modern art and design, there are permanent displays at MAK and the Leopold Museum (you can get a combined ticket).

MAK is the museum of applied art, whose construction was inspired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and serving a similar function. The Leopold Museum has as its focus Austrian art of the late nineteenth century and Modernism. It is located in the MuseumsQuartier where there are other excellent museums with a modern or contemporary focus, notably mumok (modern art), Kunsthalle Wien (contemporary art), and AzW (the Viennese Architecture Centre).

The Albertina houses the worlds largest collection of graphic art and there are always big and excellent exhibitions. A modern art branch opens on 13 March 2020.

Across from the MuseumsQuartier, and facing each other, are the magnificent Kunsthistoriches Museum (Art History Museum) and the Naturhistorisches Museum Natural History Museum, both with excellent collections.

Food and Drink

The Viennese cafe has been listed by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural Heritage of mankind. They are places where you can sit for as long as you like with your coffee. Most have food and cakes.  Coffee in Vienna comes in a range of styles that you might not be familiar with: see this guide and this one. The visitor is advised to do a bit of online research and visit a few establishments. My list of famous Viennese cafes is on this google map.

Looking for something light and economical? The bread here is superb and there are bakeries everywhere which also sell sandwiches and pastries. The big chains like Der Mann and Anker are good value.

Close to St Stephen's cathedral, the unpronounceable Trześniewski, on Dorotheergasse serves delicious small open sandwiches with soft toppings at 1.40€ each which are highly recommended. I'm really fond of this place and I made a guest appearance on television when Rick Stein was filming there. Let's just say I didn't think much of his commentary when I watched the programme.

Don't forget the sausage stands. They are generally pretty good.

As for restaurant food, that's for another post. But before ending, I must mention the Loos American Bar, designed by the famous architect Adolf Loos in 1908. It's tiny, the smallest bar in Vienna, but beautiful, and the cocktails are excellent, if you can get in.