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The last time I strolled the cobblestoned streets of Vienna, I was backpacking with a friend after college. Clad in trekking clothes and looking somewhat bedraggled, I recall feeling out of place in the elegant city.
I also recall being smitten with Vienna. Decades later, I returned. Here’s how I discovered Vienna all over again.
1. Discover Vienna with app, ivie
Prior to cell phones and QR codes, the only information we garnered on our budget trip in the 80s came from a dated guidebook.
To discover Vienna, today’s visitors can download the Vienna Tourist Board’s official city guide app, ivie, which offers ten different walks and guides. They include an LGBTQ guide, an Unusual Museums guide (think snow globes!), and Beethoven’s Walk, where you’ll learn about the composer’s life and homes.
I chose a two-and-a-half-hour audio walk along the tree-lined Ringstrasse, the most famous boulevard in the city. The app led me on a stroll where I learned that the “magnificent road, built in the 1860s, follows the loop of Vienna’s city wall.”
Some of Austria’s most famous buildings line the Ringstrasse, including the Vienna State Opera. The app asks quirky questions such as, “How many nights would you have to stay overnight in Schönbrunn Palace to have slept once in each room?”
You can also personalize the app, add the location of your hotel, and even check out sites in advance and save your favorites.
2. The Leo Grand, a Sumptuous and Historic Hotel in a Trendy Neighborhood
Years ago, I could have only dreamed of spending the night in such an elegant, ritzy hotel.
After extensive renovations to the historic hotel, the “Leo” opened in April 2022. The Leo Grand, named for Emperor Leopold I, offers 76 rooms and suites with names like the Leopold Suite.
Even breakfast differed from the traditional morning buffet routine. I used a QR code to order Eggs Benedict one morning and Musili the next.
Location, Location, Location
My room, decorated in a soft rose and aqua color scheme, a lampshade with feathers, and opulent down covers, offered a view of the busy street below. Horse-drawn carriages maneuvered along cobblestones and shoppers carrying bags with a Gucci logo strolled arm-in-arm.
The best thing about The Leo is its location, just steps from trendy shops, boutiques, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
On my final morning in Vienna, which happened to be a Sunday, I was up at dawn to catch an early train. I wandered a block from the hotel in the dark to the empty plaza, where only the street sweepers and an early morning jogger were out and about.
I saw a person enter St. Stephen’s Cathedral and decided to follow. Mass was taking place, so I took a seat in the back. The sermon and songs were in German, so I couldn’t understand a word. But I loved watching and listening to the service.
3. Explore Belvedere Palace
The stunning Belvedere Palace recently turned 300 and received a refresh to prepare for celebrations.
Today, visitors stroll through the museum, galleries, and gardens. Set amidst a lush landscape with fountains and Baroque sculptures, the estate also offers a quiet place to relax and reflect.
One of my travel companions said she would come to the gardens to eat lunch when she was a college student living in Vienna, partly because it was free but mostly because of the setting.
Galleries at the Belvedere house important works such as the famous oil-on-canvas painting, “The Kiss,” by Gustav Klimt. The piece is one of the most famous in the extensive collection which dates back to the Middle Ages.
4. Drink and Dine at a “Heuriger,” or Wine Tavern
One man played a waltz on the accordion while another strummed the violin when my travel companions and I walked into Schreiberhaus, a “heuriger” or wine tavern.
I instantly loved the lively vibe of this family-owned establishment, where couples, families, and groups of friends gather around tables laden with bottles of wine and food.
Schreiberhaus sits within the city limits of Vienna, but it felt like the countryside.
The sun was just setting as we walked outside to the vineyards. Across the street, homes on a hillside with lights shining through windows looked inviting.
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Inside, a server offered a glass of “sturm,” which translates to storm. Sturm is made from young grapes and tasted like juice, but it has a kick. I heeded the warning to, “Go easy on the sturm.”
Four of us sat at a table and tasted sips of wine poured by the host of our table.
I am more of a beer connoisseur, but after a few sips, I could distinguish between the wines. We sampled three whites: a Riesling, a Grüner Veltliner, (Austrian’s signature wine and my favorite) and a Gemischter Satz as well as three reds. Our table host continued to pour samples as we wrote notes of our impressions on a paper placemat.
Discover Vienna by Sampling the Local Wines and Culture
The more wine the guests sampled, the livelier the room became. A musical duo entertained and charmed throughout the evening, taking requests from visitors from Vienna, the UK, Canada, and Australia. The two performed everything from “New York, New York” to “Waltzing Matilda,” as we sang along.
The lively, welcoming atmosphere reminded me of my hometown (pop. 2,000) in western Kansas where the community often gathers on Saturday nights to dance to polka music at the local VFW hall.
We helped ourselves to schnitzel and brats at the buffet, which also offered vegetarian and vegan choices. Then, we topped it off with the country’s signature dessert, Sacher Torte.
Locals love the tradition of a wine tavern as much as visitors. As we left, a couple of people—still sampling—bid us goodbye in German and wished us well.
5. Let There Be Cake!
When my friend and I were backpacking through Europe, we could only peek through the windows of the famous Café Sacher in the heart of Vienna. But, on my recent trip, I indulged.
You really can’t go wrong going into any coffee cafe. But, I wanted to have my cake in the birthplace of this rich chocolate confection.
On my last day in Vienna, I sipped a café crema at an outside café as shoppers strolled past arm-in-arm, with well-groomed dogs in tow.
I had fallen in love with the city all over again.
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