Where to go, what to see and where to eat in Vienna in winter time
The first time I ever visited Vienna was in January 2018. The occasion? Celebrating my mom’s birthday by attending the Bank Austria ball. And with that excuse, I also had the opportunity to get a taste of beautiful Vienna. We arrived to Vienna late afternoon on Friday, and immediately started exploring the city center. Vienna is a city that screams Imperialism. From the stunning Baroque architecture, to the Art Nouveau buildings and Neo-classical palazzi, Vienna is truly a marvellous and beautiful city. Here’s how I spent my short time in the Austrian capital.
Day 1 in Vienna: what to see and where to eat
Tasting the original Sacher-torte at Café Sacher
The Bank Austria ball was on January 20th, so we had a bit more than 24 hours to explore Vienna’s city center. After walking by the opera house, we stopped by the famous Hotel Sacher for, well, a Sacher-torte. What is Sacher cake? A beautiful-looking chocolate cake, fairly dry, with a layer of apricot jam, coated with dark chocolate. We were lucky enough to find only one person in line before us (I’ve heard the line usually goes all the way down the street to get a slice of Sacher cake)! While I’m not a big fan of sacher cake, I am a big fan of the typical Viennese coffee-house atmosphere, and this place definitely has it. As you step inside the cafe, you’re immersed in a grand and plush setting, with marlbe-topped tables and sumptuous red colors, you definitely feel transported back into the 19th century. I highly recommend it, even if you’re not a big fan of sachertorte, it’s a must-stop!
Exploring Stephansplatz and St. Stephen’s Cathedral
After warming up with some Sacher cake and tea, we kept exploring the center of Vienna and headed towards the beautiful Stephansplatz. The buildings are elegant, the lights are beautiful, the stores top-quality. But the true sight is the stunning Baroque-style cathedral – Stephansdome – or St. Stephen’s Cathedral, that rises in the center of the square. It’s actually one of the tallest churches in the world, and it’s where Mozart was married back in 1782! If you’re on a hunt for a panoramic view, walk the 343 steps all the way up to the north or south towers to get a fascinating view of the city. I truly recommend visiting the cathedral, it’s literally jaw-dropping!
Dinnertime: Turkish dinner at Ali’s Bar
I’ve lived four years in magical Istanbul. So you can imagine how hesitant I was when my brother suggested we have dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Vienna. Ever since my brother moved to Vienna, he’s become a regular at this place, so I decided to go with the flow and embrace the Turkish dinner in Austria. Conclusion? It was one of the best Turkish meals I’ve ever had, nothing to envy Turkish food in Istanbul. As you step inside Ali’s Bar, the smell takes you back to Istanbul, to the Bosphorus, to the genuine restaurants of the city between two continents. The service is absolutely top notch, friendly, kind and efficient. There is a giant charcoal grill where you see different kinds of meats and vegetables being grilled. As a starter, they arrive with a big trey filled with different kinds of cold Turkish appetizers served with yummy oven made bread. Definitely have the humus, the Abagganus, the Beyaz peynir and the patlican. As a main course, I had the spectacular Tatli sis, which is marinated spiced chickenleg fillet – to die for! If you like lamb, don’t miss out on the Pirzola, barbecued lamb chops served with olive oil. This place was really a treat, and the location is strategic: located in the first district, footsteps from the Viennese Opera House. Always make a reservation!
Day 2 in Vienna: late breakfast, visiting historical sights and attending the ball
Late breakfast at Café Central
I’m guilty, we kind of slept in on Saturday, seeing that we knew the Viennese ball would last well past the after hours. So instead of having a proper lunch, we just headed to Café Central for a late breakfast. And thank God we did that. Again, we had luck in the line, just two people before us and we were seated in no time! But when we left, wow, the line was so long! Café Central is an historic coffe house that dates back to 1876, known as Vienna’s literary café for being frequented by Arthur Schnitzler, Peter Altenberg e Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and so many more intellectuals. Its grand architecture, vaulted ceilings and beautiful artwork transport you back in time. As you indulge in fresh pastries, krapfens, coffee, cake and tea, you immerse yourself in the typical Viennese coffeehouse atmosphere with piano notes floating in the background.
Visiting Vienna’s Imperial Palace
I love history. Ever since I was young, I was so intrigued by it. If Vienna is such an imperialistic and striking city, it’s because of Austria’s history. During the centuries, the Habsburg Monarchy dominated millions of European people of different ethnicities and were one of the richest empires of all time. So you can imagine that for me, visiting the Imperial Palace, home to the political center of the monarch until the end of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1918, was on top of my to-do list. The Imperial Palace – or the Hofburg – is where the Congress of Vienna met, it’s where Emperor Franz Joseph held audiences, it’s where the residence of the Austrian sovereign was for more than 600 years. So how in the world could one miss this place? It’s so intriguing.
With just a single ticket, you get access to the Austrian silver collection (my grandmother would have loved this), the Sisi Museum and the stunning Imperial Apartments. The Silver Collection gives insights into the Austrian dining culture. Some of the silver is still used today for state dinners! The Sisi Museum gives detailed information on the world’s most famous princess: Sisi. There are more than 300 objects on display, including gowns, travelling equipment and letters, that will help you understand the Empress’s personality. And last but not least, the Imperial Apartments are striking. Apart from functioning as the seat of government and administrative centre of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Hofburg was also the winter residence of the imperial family. You’ll find furniture dating back to the 18th century, original beds, bathrooms, and so much more. The rooms are sumptuous. Prepare to be stunned! The audio guide is great and extremely informative.
Ice skating at Rathausplatz & enjoying a krapfen
After visiting the Hofburg, we walked to Rathausplatz to be completely mesmerized by the beautiful Winter Wonderland park set up in front of Vienna’s City Council – the Rathaus. If you want to show your stuff on the rink, two incredible ice skating rinks await you, including an ice skating path! It was definitely beautiful, along with the music and the lights. I can only imagine how magical it must’ve been during Christmas time! There are also numerous little wooden houses where you can purchase some traditional Viennese food! We went for the krapfen, and OMG this was the best krapfen I have ever had. It was so much better than the one in Café Central! The name of the small stand selling the creamy krapfen is Groissböck. They also have their own Café! I don’t know where it is and I haven’t tried it, but if their krapfen tastes like the one I had in Rathausplatz, it’s definitely a place I must go to in the future!
Attending the Bank Austria Ball in Vienna’s Rathaus
After our delicious krapfen, it was time to get ready. The Bank Austria Ball opened its doors at 8pm, but the actual dancing didn’t begin till 9pm. Still, we wanted to get ready and go to the ball as soon as possible. Once you arrive to the stunning Rathaus, and after walking up a few flight of stairs, you leave your coat and have your picture taken. Then it’s time to enter the elegant dance room, where you’re going to be swept off your feet. The ball is divided in two different areas, there is a dance floor, where at 9pm the debutants begin waltzing in their white dresses, and there are private tables. To enter the ball, you either have to work for Bank Austria, or you can simply purchase your ticket and participate.
Day 3: Going back to Budapest
On Sunday we had planned to visit the stunning Shönbrunn Palace, born as the imperial hunting lodge for Crown Prince Joseph I. It later became the imperial summer residence of the monarchy. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit it, and had to go back to Budapest a bit earlier. But no worries, I’ll be back in spring to visit the stunning imperial palace!