Vienna Travel: ‘I am trying to convince a group of friends to visit Vienna Austria. We are planning our annual city trip. My friends love the good things in life and like culture. Which tips would win them over for a Vienna city break?’, my ex boss recently asked an unusually simple question.
I can actually write a book about the answer. Here are my key winning arguments that will provide the final kick to any culture traveler for visiting my hometown.
Two UNESCO World Heritage sites
If you love historic European cities, Vienna will fill a gap in your culture trip list. The whole old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of baroque architecture. The vast grounds of the Imperial Palace alone cover a weekend indulgence for classical culture fans: touring and brunching in fine museums, watching the art of baroque horse riding, musing over the (love) lives of the Habsburgs, shopping at former suppliers to the Imperial Court. The other UNESCO World Heritage site is Schonbrunn Palace and its baroque gardens, the Habsburgs’ former summer residence where even Napoleon had a (temporary) room.
Opera and Theatre Paradise
Vienna’s world of opera and theatre spreads a fine net across the town. The Vienna State Opera, one of four local opera houses and big on Mozart operas, is on average 99 percent sold out almost every evening. The Theater an der Wien has developed into a centre of excellence for baroque operas, operas in concerto and modern operas. The Volksoper (see photo) has Vienna’s widest repertoire of operettas. The Burgtheater shapes the local zeitgeist with bold plays. Some institutions let you do more than just watch – the Volkstheater’s Rote Bar (Red Bar) and the Burgtheater’s restaurant Vestibuel are well kept insider secrets. Best small opera and theatre stage: Theater L.E.O.
Vienna Coffee Culture
Vienna’s coffeehouses are legendary, and best known for their cosy interiors, their fine Vienna coffee and Austrian desserts, their heritage as an intellectual hub, and sometimes their waiters’ strong personalities (to put it mildly). Quite a few have regular live piano music and offer a fine selection of warm Viennese cuisine.
For a cross section of where and how we like our coffee, visit the traditional (Café Central, Café Griensteidl, Café Landtmann), the neighbourhood (Café Sperl, Café Ritter), the Bohemian (Café Prueckel, Café Hawelka, Café Jelinek) and the simply weird (Café am Heumarkt) coffeehouses.
Come carnival season and Vienna falls into a ¾ rhythm. Our more than 300 annual dance balls are rarely advertised. They are a fast-sell among local residents, and many travelers find it challenging to access tickets for the best balls, such as the Ball of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Ball of the Confectioners, the Ball of the Vienna Coffeehouse Owners, and the Rudolfina Redoute. The international flagship is the Vienna Opera Ball, a firm spot in the social calendars of the European jet set, and much loved by Austrian socialites. Best balls outside the carnival season: the lavish Fete Imperiale in the Spanish Riding School, and crazy Life Ball, the most extravagant ball event in Europe.
Booming Luxury Hotels
Vienna’s luxury hotel scene is booming. A few of Vienna’s traditional palace hotels, such as the Hotel Sacher and Hotel Bristol, re-gained their sparkle through recent makeovers. International luxury hotel chain Ritz Carlton opened its first location in Vienna in August, ahead of a pack of four other luxury temples which are expected to open in the next 20 months.
Luxury hotels in Vienna have modest room prices, compared with other European luxury hotels: While guests pay an average USD 400 (EUR 300) per head and room for a luxury hotel in Vienna, they need to pony up around USD 920 (EUR 700) in Paris (source: Kohl & Partner, June 2011). However, hotel experts see local luxury hotel prices move up towards an average EUR 400 in the future.