It is known and visited for the glory of its imperial past, for the elegance of its avenues and historical buildings, for the luxurious testimonies of the Habsburg dynasty and for being the thriving homeland of classical music. But today Vienna goes far beyond its traditional image. Even on a visit of few days you can go and discover some more unusual sides of this city. With the Vienna Pass at hand, let’s alternate less expected places with some classic visits you can’t avoid to grasp the timeless spirit of the Austrian capital. With many, original, sweet, coffee breaks.
Vienna, the trendy and buzzing districts
According to the Viennese people, Leopoldstadt – the second district – is undoubtedly the most up and coming district of the city. It is known above all for the famous Prater – a must for evening visits, with its panoramic wheel symbol of the city – but it offers so much more.
Delimited by the Donaukanal, it develops like a teeming creative and trendy neighbourhood along the banks of the canal. Nowadays, far from its Jewish ghetto past, it is a district of contrasts. It preserves historic buildings such as baroque bell towers and beautiful époque stuccoes, whose modern counterpoint are the steel-and-glass buildings.
To savour it at its best, you can start from the old Karmelitermarkt market. This is a landmark for the gastronomic shopping under the sign of organic and short supply chain. An eco-sustainability imprint that reflects itself all around, perceptible in the boutiques and small noisy craftsmanship bazaars focused on production processes. A greedy environment for fans of objects, clothes and accessories made in Austria. To complete the picture (in every sense) you will find art galleries and showrooms.
In Leopoldstadt there are also opportunities for singular cultural visits. A rococo building – one of the oldest in the 2nd Vienna district, rebuilt in 1685 – houses the Crime Museum. This place promises to entertain with reports and documents of the most brutal murders from medieval days up to now, and with posters of the storytellers of truculent facts and “leaflets” that narrate the life of famous criminals.
From the Augarten to the Library & Learning Center by Zaha Hadid
Through the Karmelitermarkt, you can then head towards the Augarten, a less renown and mundane park than Prater, but equally deserving. In addition to the baroque imperial palace, it houses a 300-year-old porcelain factory, accessible to the public.
Moving to the eastern edge of the second district, towards the Danube, the new futuristic University Campus of the Economics will attract the sight, designed by internationally renowned architectural studios. Along with the Prater, it has become the new architectural symbol of Vienna. In the university citadel – which can be visited on request by booking in groups at email@example.com – the amazing Library & Learning Center designed by the untimely departed Zaha Hadid stands out. All around, the other buildings on the campus are grouped, realized according to the principles of Green Building.
Up in the clouds
To dive into the more contemporary side of Vienna, you can also get beyond the Danube. With metro U1 or with the blue line of the hop on hop off bus you’ll reach up to the Alte Donau stop, overlooking at what once was the main arm of the great European river. Here you will come across the futuristic Vienna International Center – also known as UNO-City – and in the large Donau Parc with the impressive Danube Tower (Donauturm). With its 252 meters, it is the highest building in Austria and among the 75 highest buildings in the world.
A visit is highly recommended: in just 35 seconds you can reach a first outdoor terrace at 155 meters for a (windy) breathtaking view on the city centre, the Vienna Woods and a large area of the Danube valley. To enjoy the show in a quieter way, further up there is also a café and an exclusive à la carte restaurant on a 360-degree rotating platform!
In addition to Leopoldstadt, among the trendiest and youngest areas of Vienna, there’s the seventh district. Here you’ll bump into small boutiques, art galleries and design furniture shops. Moreover, you may visit the historic Naschmarkt – the largest market in Vienna, dating back to the 16th century and teeming with restaurants (including ethnic ones) for fast, unpretentious lunches and food and antiquities stalls.
Alongside the noisy gastronomic hub, it is possible to admire the liberty buildings that bear the signature of Otto Wagner, one of the greatest Viennese architects of all time and a forerunner of modern urban architecture.
Vienna, capital of coffee. In a renewed version
Would you ever say it? Well, yes. Some Italians – for an innate patriotic pride – could turn their noses up, but coffee is actually a protagonist and almost an institution of the Viennese public daily life, where it was introduced in a distant past, with the latest Turkish invasion (seventeenth century).
In the common imagery, the consumption of this hot drink in the Austrian capital is associated especially with fine pastry-making and the elegant Viennese historical cafés. We are talking about places like the Café Central, the Café Mozart, the Café Imperial or the famous Café Sacher Wien, just to name a few of them. Icons whose identity is based above all on the atmosphere they create, as well as on the fine confectionery. So much so that, in historic cafés, the beverage itself does not seem to play a key role, but rather it has an accompaniment purpose. The very common mélange coffee – a sort of less foamed and “slower” cappuccino – is the most obvious proof of that.
Balthasar Kaffee and the Third Coffee Wave
But Vienna coffee culture has not stopped here. In recent years, coffee shops with a modern and essential design – to the detriment of flashy chandeliers, grand pianos and neoclassical wooden furniture – have started popping up. Here coffee is the real protagonist, giving the possibility not only to try many different types and blends but to live a real coffee-experience.
For example, this is the case of gastronomist Otto Bayer in his Balthasar Kaffee Bar, located in the trendy Leopoldstat, in Praterstrasse 38. The soul of his activity – says Otto – follows the philosophy of the Third Coffee Wave. This movement looks at coffee as a “noble” drink, focused on the concepts of sustainability and transparency from the origin of the bean to the steaming cup. On this basis, different preparation methods are proposed at Balthasar. From the filtrates (what we know as oriental or Turkish coffee) to cold drips and espresso (the machine used here is Italian), even to coffee-based cocktails. The roasting is delicate, in order to reflect and preserve the fruity notes and the variety of aromas of the different qualities of coffee.
A sip in the shop: Wiener Rösthaus
An alternative, again in a trendy key, can be to sip coffee directly in the shop that sells it, surrounded by colonial-style furnishings. This is what happens at the Wiener Rösthaus (Tigergasse 33), in the Josefstadt district. It’s beans come from a roasting house run by the same owners at the Prater. The shop displays the best quality coffee from all over the world, already grounded or in beans, as well as picturesque and variously shaped coffee grinders and jars, and different types of Moka. To complete the picture, a small desk allows customers to try on site the proposed coffee, which also includes cold drips. The slow and traditional roasting method promises to persevere each of the 800 aromas that coffee preserves inside.
Vienna, the imperial charm and the most classic attractions
Alongside with the trendy side, a visit to the central Hofburg is a must. The imperial complex, a real “city in the city”, has been the residence of the Habsburgs from the Middle Ages. The temptation (above all for the most romantics) to step immediately towards the imperial apartments with the museum path dedicated to Empress Sissi and to the popular emperor Francesco Giuseppe is strong. Still, take also the right time for the complete visit to the Silver Collection. The over 7,000 objects will not only give you an idea of the table culture at the Hapsburg court and its luxury, but they will also allow you to linger on the story of the precious handicrafts. In the huge golden centrepieces or in painted handmade porcelain services, it is possible to read important historical steps and facets of the power balance in Europe.
True treasures to seal, for example, the first rapprochement between France and Austria after the bloody Wars of Succession (see the green ribbons service of porcelain donated by Louis XV to Maria Theresien) or the domination on new territories (this is the case of the monumental Milanese centerpiece commissioned for the coronation of Emperor Ferdinand as King of Lombardy-Veneto in 1838).
Walking around history
A real dive in the history of the city – from its origins to the Second World War and with particular regard to the Habsburg dynasty and the peculiarities of its major exponents – yet in a comic-pictorial key, can be experienced at Time Travel – Magic Vienna History Tour. A one-hour journey designed for the youngest but very pleasant even for adults, thanks to the contribution of multi-sensory 5D movies and the unique and interactive “guide” that accompanies the visitor.
Among the “classic” attractions, finally, how can we avoid a visit to the Belvedere, the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy? Among the most famous museums in the world, it hosts the largest collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt – with the original copies of two Liberty icons, The Kiss and Judith – and important works from exponents of French Impressionism such as Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, and Renoir.
Public transportation. A single journey through Vienna costs 2.40€. The ticket is valid on the entire network of trams, buses and subways. There are also more convenient tickets available, valid from 1 day to 1 week.
For families. Children up to 6 years always travel for free and children up to 15 years travel free on Sundays and on public holidays.
For tourists, the Vienna Pass is very convenient, available for 1, 2, 3 or 6 days respectively at 59, 87, 109 or 136€. It does not include the use of public transport, but it allows free access to the main traditional attractions and more. All the venues mentioned in the article, except for the Crime Museum, are included. It allows free rides on all yellow hop on hop off bus lines too.
For a complete list of attractions – also rich in itineraries outside the city – and to book the card, see viennapass.it. Info on tourist bus lines can be found at viennasightseeing.at. For general info of historical, cultural and tourist type, check wien.info.
Where to sleep in Vienna
To stay in the trendy district of Leopoldstadt, the suggestion is the small family-run KUNSTh hotel. It is located just a few steps from the Pratestern metro station and 900 meters away from the heart of Vienna.
The hotel offers an excellent combination of trendy atmosphere, very affordable prices and convenient location. Double room with breakfast from less than 60€.