Budget Travel in Vienna
10 Tips for Exploring Austria’s Capital with a Thin Wallet
I had planned to spend two days in Vienna before visiting some national parks in eastern Austria. At the last minute, the nature days were cancelled, leaving me resigned to five days around the capital before my international flight. I am not much of a city holiday person; two days will usually do just fine, but this relaxed city of music, history, coffeehouses, and desserts created a convert.
Vienna is an expensive city, so I made it my challenge to find stimulating things to do within a budget designed for the countryside. Here are 10 tips that allowed me to have my Viennese sacher torte and eat it too!
Tourist Board office (see their Facebook page) was my
first stop to find out what special events were on during my
stay (including open air, free ones). I bought a Vienna Card.
This provided me with three days of free tram, bus, and underground
train travel around the city and discounts to dozens of the
best public attractions, cafes, restaurants, shops, and wine
taverns in the city. You can also buy the card at major hotels.
Many attractions offer a substantial senior discount, and a
passport is sufficient to prove age.
1. With Vienna Card in hand, I first oriented myself by riding the tram around the entire Ringstrasse Boulevard, completely encircling the city’s historic core. My Tourist Board map quickly identified all key museums, churches, palaces, and concert halls.
2. Vienna has more than 120 museums almost all with an entry fee. However, on Sundays, the 20 museums run by the city itself have free entry. Other museums combine their entry fee, with one ticket for two to four related museum collections (not always in the same place). Among my favorites was the 3-storey Clock Museum in one of Vienna’s oldest buildings at Schulhof 2 with miniature masterpieces and elaborately decorated Rococo grandfather clocks seven feet tall to framed oil paintings with working time-pieces built right into the canvas.
3. The Spanish Riding School in the Hapsburg Winter Palace sells tickets for performances of the famous white horses and for the morning exercise and training sessions. Performance tickets range from €165 to €18 (for standing room); reservations are essential. For a taste of the show at a fraction of the price and open seating too, attend a 2-hour morning exercise and training session instead, with elegant original chandeliers and musical accompaniment included. Training session tickets are €12 or €9 for seniors over 60, no reservations, Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 12 noon.
4. Hundertwasser Village and Hunder-twasserhaus in the Third District offer a whimsical, unique contrast to the precise, monumental architecture on a grand scale that defines most of Vienna. Opened in 1985 and owned by the city the 52-unit residential building and village mini-mall across the street attract a lot of visitors with cameras to stare in amazement at the brilliantly painted buildings with trees sprouting out of them, apparently making a statement about nature living in harmony with a man-made world. Across the street in the two floors of shops with equally quirky interior design, I found it impossible not to smile while browsing the shops and contemplating life’s surprises over a cappuccino!
5. Schoenbrunn Palace, the 300-year-old Hapsburg Summer Palace, is equivalent to visiting Versailles or Windsor Castle. One ticket (for adults starting at €9.50, including an excellent hand-held audio guide) gets you half a day cruising the fabulous reconstructions and furnished rooms of this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. There are also outdoor concerts, the world’s oldest zoo, enormous gardens, a puppet theater and collections of ceremonial carriages. For children there is a hands-on museum program where they can dress up as royalty and learn fan language. From the city, getting to the palace takes 30 minutes or less by tram or bus.
6. Forget Starbucks, though there are a dismaying number of outlets in the city. Ranging from elegant and pricey to humble and homey, traditional coffeehouses are a cultural experience that must be sampled and savored fully while in Vienna. Often they don’t look impressive but, if you linger for an hour, you soon detect the character and history. Dozens of newspapers are laid out invitingly near the entrance providing the cue that “drink and go” meets with disapproval; in fact, you will need to request the bill at least twice before the waiter of any reputable coffeehouse takes your exit seriously. Two of my favorites are Zum Schwarzen Kamel at Bognergasse 5, dating from 1618 (also a favorite of the composer, Beethoven), and Café Korb at Brandstatte 9, an artists’ hangout with one hundred years of history. Get a coffee house brochure at the Tourist Board.
7. Demels at Kohnmarkt 14 is the oldest pastry shop in Vienna, where you can watch the specialist chefs at work in the kitchen creating all manner of pastries and strudels. Before you buy a treat to go, sit down for a coffee and dessert in these historic surroundings. Try the heavenly-smooth custard slice encased in melt-in-the-mouth pastry, one of Demels’ most notable confections.
8. On many pedestrian-only streets and squares inside the Ringstrasse, there are accomplished individual musicians, mini-orchestras and choral groups playing or singing for donations or to sell their CDs. The perfect excuse to linger and listen while watching visitors and locals go by.
9. There are one-hour organ recitals by Karl Riedl at St. Peter’s Church on the Petersplatz, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. This is a gem of Baroque architecture abundantly decorated with frescoes and vivid stain glass, providing an acoustically perfect venue for a varied program ranging from familiar hymns and Bach or Mozart pieces to 20th century composers. Contributions are by donation.
10. If your feet and brain are tired from the density of Vienna’s activities and sensations, there is an historic gem of a movie theater, Artis International, at Schultergasse 5, tucked into a tiny sidestreet near the center of the Ringstrasse. With six screens, all first-run movies are in English.
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