Where is Wien, you may ask? Well, that is the official German name of Vienna. Others also say Wien is wine spelled when drunk. Haha, jokes aside.
Before visiting Vienna, the thought of this city immediately led me to think of music, theatre and all things classy and baroque style.
Of course I wasn’t entirely right and wasn’t entirely wrong. I had very little knowledge of Vienna. Well indeed Vienna is a lot about those things mentioned earlier, but what made it even more outstanding and different is its cleanliness as compared to other smaller cities and towns we were at before like in Krakow and Bratislava. The difference is obvious because Vienna is the capital of what was the Austro-Hungarian empire. Basically they were the boss back then, and cities like Krakow and Bratislava weren’t - hence everything is more lavish in Vienna. (I’m making the comparison between Vienna and Krakow + Bratislava because we were there after visiting those two cities and there was a noticeably major difference.) The buildings are taller and bigger and longer in length, the roads wider, and well actually they have more buildings in general. They must have been bustling with life even from a long time ago.
So here are 9 things we think you should know about Vienna before you head there:
Viennese public transport is based on trust. Even though you have to buy a ticket and validate it to be able to get on a ride, this service is entirely based on trust as there are no gantries, except for the ticket validating machine at the entrance to the subway - the U-bahn. Do not take this liberal concept for granted as there might be random checks and you may get fined. Just buy the damn ticket and have a peace of mind.
Also, remember to keep to the right, unlike how it is in Singapore where we keep to the left. Commuters are pretty fast paced as they exit the trains and you may get snapped at if you do not follow suit and continue blocking them with your huge backpacks. Vienna is quite walkable too if you are up for it. I guess it is really up to you if you would like to take the U-bahn a couple of times out of novelty or convenience, if you do not mind the price. Mind you, it can get quite costly especially if you arrive here just after places like Bratislava - where the bus ride only costed 0.7€ as compared to Vienna’s 2.20€ for a single ride. 3 times the price. So you decide.
German is spoken in Austria. But, why? Don’t be mistaken, Austria in present day is not part of Germany. They were under German rule for 640 years during the Habsburg dynasty, and German is standardised to be spoken in the whole of Austria. Like how the Mandarin we are speaking now is one of the dialects in China chosen to be spoken across all of China.
Baroque style architecture is the most common style of architecture in Vienna. It is pretty much littered everywhere in Vienna, all thanks to the 47 year rule under Leopold I. However, there is a lack of Renaissance styled architecture due to the invasion from the Turks during the period where that style flourished. I am by no means a pro in recognising architecture styles but it will be much more significant when you see the various types in real and notice the difference. I love the baroque style because of how clean and classy it looks (it always makes me picture an Englishmen in a beautiful garden drinking tea from a beautiful tea pot eating scones! Very random and there is absolutely no link, I know! But thats the beauty of imagination). The amount of effort and time those people in the past put in to sculpt all the intricate facades and what not is just beyond me.
Vienna is considered the City of Music - think Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Strauss - as most musicians have resided in this city more than any other. In present day Vienna, music is really in the air. So many people carrying instruments around going to music school, and so much more people playing instruments on the streets showing their talent. Passerbys actually do stop and watch, clap and support local talent. What an absolute delight.
When in Vienna, you can't miss the schnitzel! It is THE Viennese dish and you have to try the best - which is from Figmueller. This schnitzel specialty restaurant is indeed the king of schnitzels. Be sure to remember to make a reservation or be prepared to queue for about an hour before getting a seat for walk-ins.
Cafe hopping in Vienna is a total different experience. Viennese cafes, or coffee houses, has a unique distinct style. Coming from Singapore where the cafe scene boomed in the last 5 years, the cafes we have are unlike anything in Vienna. Forget about the rustic look, recycled carton boxes as seats and tables and specialty coffee. Vienna's cafes' distinct atmosphere includes marble tables, lavish interiors, carpeted flooring - all this dating back to the 17th century. It is so different and important to their culture that it was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria under UNESCO since 2011.
Enjoy live music, sweet treats and a cuppa at Cafe Central - the most amazing cafe I have ever been to. Some key figures have visited this cafe in the past - Dictator of Nazi Germany - Adolf Hitler, Russian communist revolutionist - Vladimir Lenin, the father of psychoanalysis - Sigmund Freud, Viennese writer and poet - Peter Altenberg. Other notable cafes in Vienna includes Cafe Museum, Cafe Sperl as seen in the 1995 movie Before Sunrise, and the cafe part of Hotel Sacher. Breakfasts in these cafes will make you feel like a king, albeit the price being a little too over the top - a minimum of 10€, usually for a set of toast, eggs, a coffee, orange juice and 2 jams. A couple of must-try(s) for desserts are the Apfelstrudel and Sacher Torte.
Closing hours in Vienna is a pain because of how awfully early they close! Especially for a city girl like me or rather for tourists who are hoping to stay out a little later in the evenings to maximise the time. Most shops closes around 6pm, maybe even earlier when we went in the winter season. Sundays are probably the worst, as most shops do not operate and it was hard to even find a place to eat! However, even though like 95% of the supermarkets are closed, thankfully one or two of the outlets that are located near major U-bahn station are opened. Just check with your hostel/ airbnb host and they can direct you to one that is open more efficiently, if you were to be stuck in Vienna on a Sunday.
Lastly, let's not forget about the Christmas markets in Vienna, as they have one of the most gorgeous lighting decorations. Their markets are also larger in size in general, and the atmosphere is good with a big crowd.