Austria’s capital will inevitably conjure thoughts of classical music, museums and imperial palaces and Vienna definitely has all of those in spades. But it also has cool hotels, trendy bars, amazing cakes and vineyards that are a mere cab ride from the centre. Put all of that together and you have the ideal ingredients for a great girls weekend.
Lets start with our hotel, which I think might be the best I’ve stayed in for a European city break. The strapline ‘We are all mad here’ features prominently above the entrance of the 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna’s Museumsquartier. But there’s nothing mad or bad about the service, or the standard of accommodation and facilities.
Rooms are circus themed and while the standard ones aren’t huge, they are beautifully put together with comfortable beds, lovely bathrooms and little extras like a boom speaker you can connect to and cool shower products with a sustainable message.
The common areas are fab too, not least the Mermaids Cave where you can relax in a sauna or steam room, take a yoga class or soak your feet after a busy day of sightseeing. Or you can just lie on a bed or rock gently on a hanging chair and enjoy the complimentary fruit teas and bottled water.
25 Hours also had what must be one of the best bars in Vienna. I’ve been to a lot of hotel bars and they are rarely the hottest place in town to hang out, but the rooftop bar at 25 Hours clearly was. Our weekend started with a Friday afternoon downpour, so we headed straight up to the bar for a late lunch and spent the rest of the day there. The perfect spot for catching up and planning our three night stay.
Museumsquartier is, as the name suggests, the heart of where Vienna’s many museums can be found. To be honest we didn’t spend time in them and stayed there because of the many restaurants in the area. But there are some fabulous museums in stunning buildings, not least the Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches which face each other across a plaza and house art and natural history respectively. Will definitely be going inside next time I’m in Vienna!
But for us our first sightseeing stop was the Hofburg, a 13th century palace that was once home to the Austrian monarchy. Nowadays the palace complex is home to the the offices of the president, alongside more museums, some very grand squares and the world-famous Spanish Riding School.
It’s best to book a few months in advance to see a performance of the Lipizzaner horses, the graceful white horses that ‘dance’ for an audience watching from balconies above them. The seats are pretty expensive so we went for the standing tickets which were absolutely fine as you just stand behind one row of seats and its not crowded. The performance only lasts just over an hour and there are some stones steps if you want to take a break between scenes.
I think it’s an on mass version of dressage which isn’t something I would normally watch, but I did enjoy it and its one of those classic experiences that you won’t get anywhere else. So when in Vienna…
From the Hofburg it was a short walk to Stephansdom, Vienna’s landmark Gothic cathedral. Walking there was when I was really struck by just how beautiful Vienna is. Even the shopping streets are filled with elegant buildings, statues and fountains, while Stephansdom itself is another must see sight, with its stunning roof and spire topped tower.
Inside the cathedral is a stunning Gothic stone pulpit and a high altar showing the stoning of it’s namesake St Stephen. Outside you’ll find an entrance to the south tower where you can pay a few euros to walk up 343 steps and see a spectacular view of the city.
Unsurprisingly the climb worked up an appetite, so we headed to Cafe Central one of Vienna’s famous old coffee houses. What an elegant setting for a lunch of salad, prosecco and cake. Yes, the coffee houses are actually most famous for the fantastic cakes they have on offer. So many to choose from but I opted for Sacher Torte, an iced-chocolate cake with apricot jam that was evidently a favourite of Emperor Franz Josef. Well, if it was good enough for him who was I to argue!
The coffee houses are also often in beautiful buildings and with so many architectural gems n Vienna a good way to see them is on a tram ride. The Ringstrasse Tram Tour runs from Schwedenplatz and its probably easiest to buy the tickets in advance online where you can also find out the times. Or you can do it yourself more cheaply and just hop on tram no 1 at Schwedenplatz. It follows the Ringstrasse round to Karntner Ring/Oper where you can finish the trip or change to tram 2 to go back to where you started. We got off there to admire another fabulous building, Vienna’s opera house the Staasoper.
From there you can take a walk along Karntner Strasse, Vienna’s main shopping street. There’s plenty of browsing and buying opportunities, or you could just do as we did and head to the glass elevator in Steffl department store for a very nice cocktail at the rooftop Sky Bar.
As well as the trams Vienna also has a good subway, the U-Bahn which makes it very easy to get to another of Vienna’s must see sights, Schloss Schonbrunn. The main entrance is nearest to the Schonbrunn stop and to see inside the palace I’d recommend buying tickets online in advance as there can be a long wait for a slot otherwise. But even if you don’t go inside the outside is gorgeous and the gardens are well worth spending time in.
We walked through the beautifully maintained formal gardens to the huge Neptunbrunne fountain and then climbed the hill to the Gloriette terrace where the views back to the palace and the city are stunning. There’s a cafe here too if its time for a coffee break.
Walking back a different way we discovered that Vienna Zoo is also in the Schonbrunn grounds along with a palm house that will look very familiar if you’ve been to Kew Gardens. Just near here is the exit to Hietzing U-Bahn station which is a good place to come out as there are some good spots for lunch, including Brandauers Schlossbrau, an Austrian microbrewery with a really good beer garden. I wasn’t expecting much from the food but the salads were actually really good.
Just along the street is a branch of Aida, which is an ideal place to pick up a pastry or cake. There was quite a lot to choose from in different sizes, but I couldn’t resist a mini Sacher Torte that was even better than the larger one I’d had the day before.
Another place that’s good for picking up delicious foodie treats is Vienna’s Naschmarkt. It started life as a simple farmers market back in the 18th century, but now has dozens of stalls overflowing with tempting snacks, spices, fruit, cheeses and meats. A definite feast for the senses.
There are also plenty of restaurants and bars in Naschmarkt with many selling Sturm, a cloudy year old wine that looks like apple juice. But we didn’t indulge as had a plan to taste it with lunch at a Heurigen, rustic wine taverns on the outskirts of the city. You can get to some by tram or bus but as we were short on time we picked up a cab outside the opera house and on the advice of driver headed to Das Schreiberhaus in the Neustift am Walde district.
We were a bit surprised to be dropped off in what seemed to be a village high street and walked inside and through the restaurant to a colourful courtyard with bench seating. All very nice but we’d thought we were going to a vineyard. But then after ordering our Sturm and lunch we went up some steps to explore the back of the garden and guess what, there were the vines!
We realised later that there were at least three Heurigen along this street, all just looking like nice Austrian restaurants but sitting in front of vineyards that rolled far into the hills behind. We also discovered, to our surprise, that cloudy, still fermenting wine is very drinkable.
We could easily have stayed for another litre of Sturm but our flight home was calling so it was back to 25 Hours to collect our bags and be driven back to the airport by the hotel driver. Yes another service offered is airport pick up and drop off which was super smooth and comfortable.
I mentioned that I picked the hotel because there were lots of places to eat and drink in the area and we managed to try a few different types of restaurant. On the first night we ate at Glacis Beisl, a traditional Viennese bistro pub in Breite Gasse. It had a lovely courtyard but as it was still damp from the rain earlier we stayed inside and had some great authentic Austrian fare.
Then afterwards we popped into Meeru, a cute little cocktail bar in Siebensterngasse. One word of warning is that smoking is still allowed in some bars in Vienna. We originally planned to go to Parisian style car bar Le Troquet but when we got there it was filled with smoke. They did allow smoking on Meeru too but we got a table right at the back with no-one smoking nearby.
On Saturday night we went for some delicious modern Austrian cuisine at Das Spittelberg on the cobbled Spittelberggasse, where there are plenty of other options too. And on Sunday we walked in other direction from the hotel along Lerchenfelder Strasse to Konoba, a fab Croatian fish restaurant. For any of these places I’d always recommend booking in advance. I never go out to nice restaurants in London without booking and I think the same applies in any city.
On Saturday we also popped into the very quirky Rote bar in the Volkstheatre, but we mostly had drinks at Dachboden, that fabulous rooftop bar at the top of our hotel. The cocktails are great, the decor is cool and the views are stunning. We loved it there and without doubt the 25 Hours Hotel is one of the main reasons this was one of our best girls weekends yet. Book it now, I guarantee you won’t regret it!
Click on an image below to scroll through more photos in the gallery. And why not check out the Europe section of my blog for more city break ideas.