Welcome to my most favorite European capital – Vienna! It is the only capital I keep on coming back and still fall in love with every time. How could I not? It is dubbed as the City of Classical Music where Mozart, Strauss I, Strauss II, Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, and Beethoven reigned. It is where the world’s most famous ball, the annual Opera Ball, is held. It is known as the City of Dreams where Sigmund Freud, the world’s first psychoanalyst, was born. Vienna is synonymous to Baroque and Rococo architectural styles, as well as unique designs of the likes of Hundertwasser. It is the perfect mixture of the rich former imperial Vienna as well as its modern and stylish version.
To properly introduce you to The Imperial City, I made a list of the Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna. For sure, there is a lot of information to be found over the Internet over the capital, but I am highlighting here the most important details I think that travelers have to know beforehand to have a more enjoyable and enriching experience.
Pronounce the capital’s name properly
The national language is Austrian-German and the locals call Vienna as Wien. To pronounce it correctly, simply exchange “W” in to “V” and read the rest /veen/.
Know how to get around
Vienna has a very extensive public transportation system including subways (U-bahn), city trains (S-bahn), trams, and buses. If you would like to explore the city through public transport (and I highly recommend that you do), I suggest getting a ticket suitable for your needs instead of buying a single ticket every time. For instance, a 24-hour Vienna ticket is valid to almost all-public transport within Vienna for only 15.40 Euros as of this time of writing.
Be prepared to walk! I used to think I love walking back home, but I am challenged here in Europe. Stretch and prepare those feet of yours.
TIP: You are allowed to bring your bicycles and pets (usually dogs) in the trains. Also, wear your most comfortable footwear.
Standard and cost of living
Vienna is either the first or second most livable city in the world, depending on various international studies ranking different factors such as safety, healthcare, education, and infrastructure. It is also the capital of the one of the world’s richest countries. At first, I find living in Vienna expensive compared to its Eastern neighbors, but compared to 100 cities in Europe, Vienna only falls #37 in Expatistan’s Cost of Living Index in 2016. It is 35% more expensive to live in Vienna than Manila, but 45% cheaper than living in Zurich.
Get discounts for students
Almost everything is discounted for youth, students, and senior citizens. Just don’t forget to bring your appropriate identification card. I’m always a happy student for a reason!
Access free public WLAN in key places
I did not appreciate it before, but when I travel outside Vienna and Austria, I feel disappointed to note that many European cities do not have available, strong, and free WiFi. For travelers who want to check maps or hotel bookings, bloggers who want to post a quick entry, or social media rockstars who want to update their followers, this information is really important.
Coffee lovers, rejoice!
Coffee is more than just a liquid to start the day for Austrians; it is part of their heritage. Vienna is known for its coffee house culture, which originated in 17th century. It became a huge and important part of Vienna and Austria that in 2011 UNESCO listed it as “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Go out and try the traditional but pricey coffee houses where even Mozart, Schubert, and even Hitler frequented.
TIP: Go to my favorite Café Central and imagine conversing with Trotsky and Freud over kaffee!
Classical music and opera fans, rejoice too!
There are year-round Mozart and Strauss concerts offered in Vienna. As for the State Opera, it offers 50 to 60 operas, 10 ballet productions, and 300+ performances every year.
Mind the stores’ opening and closing hours
Most places in Vienna still follow the traditional working hours of 0900-1800. The evening off is an important freedom for Austrians. Also, stores and many establishments are closed during Sundays and holidays. This information must be kept in memory when traveling to Vienna. I didn’t know this before and ended up with nothing to get my necessities from since the supermarkets are already closed.
TIP: Spar is usually opened late (around 2000) in Hauptbahnhof and Landstrasse.
Spend (or not) at these shopping haven
Go to Kärntnerstraße and walk along the most famous shopping street in Central Vienna. Do not forget to go to the exclusive Graben for luxury shopping. Also, many shops can also be found along Mariahilferstraße and main trains stations.
TIP: Although not in Vienna, Parndorf is the nearest luxury outlet store located in the boundary of Austria and Slovakia.
No stress for vegetarians and vegans
There are a lot of food options for vegetarians and vegans in Vienna. From supermarkets, restaurants, ice cream salons, the list is endless! No wonder it was very easy for me to start a vegetarian lifestyle when I was in Vienna.
Beware of carbonated water!
Back home, it is not usual to drink carbonated water. Apparently, Austrians love drinking this. Imagine my surprise when I accidentally bought sparkling water from the supermarket. If you are also not a fan, stay clear of this type.
TIP: If you are buying bottled water, look for “still” or “ohne”. The ones with gas are usually labeled with “prickld” or “mild”.
But drink tap water!
Vienna and the entire country have excellent, potable and clean tap water. You can drink straight from the tap and from many drinking fountains around the city.
TIP: Bring a drinking bottle so you can easily refill it later during your trip.
However, do not order tap water!
When you are in restaurants, it is generally (but not officially) considered rude to order tap water in Austria. For a country with an extreme high quality of tap water straight from the Alps, this may sound weird. I still don’t know why this is practiced, but ordered tap water is usually charged (except in traditional cafés), so why bother.
TIP: I see many tourists do this, but it is also rude to drink outside beverages while inside a restaurant.
Recommended food to try
Wiener Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel, Sacher Torte, Kaiserschmarrn, Käsekrainer, etc.
There are the regular ones – postcards, ref magnets, and t-shirts. However, I highly recommend these: Sachertorte (chocolate cake “invented” in Vienna), Manner Schnitten (Viennese Neapolitan wafers), Mirabell Mozartkugeln (chocolate ball), Freywille and Swarovski jewelry (Austrian brands), and snow globes! Yes, they seem like a typical souvenir, but you would want to get one from Vienna where the first snow globe was invented.
Say “Prost” when you clink your glasses and don’t forget to use eye contact for sincerity and proper manner.
Be the Belle of the Ball
Waltz was introduced in Austria, so it only follows that the country/city hosts hundreds of balls in a year. This Viennese ball culture has its roots from the Congress of Vienna. When you find yourself going to Vienna between New Year’s Eve and Shrove Tuesday, you may as well try to attend at least one winter ball. You have around 200 – 400 balls to choose from: from the annual glamorous Silversterball on 31 December at Hofburg Imperial Palace to the world-famous and internationally well attended Opera Ball. Alles Walzer!
TIP: Attendance does not come cheap! From ball gowns to tails, a grand ticket festsaal at Silversterball costs 680 Euros while 25, 000 for double stage boxes at the Opera Ball!
Will you invite me?
When Viennese say they want to invite you for dinner, it means they will treat you. Likewise, when you tell that you are inviting them for dinner, then get your wallet ready. Oops, learned from experience there.
I hope this list helps you get a better picture of the lovely city of Vienna. If you are a Filipino passport holder wishing to visit the city soon, I have written a detailed and step-by-step guide on How to Apply for Schengen Tourist Visa for Filipinos. More details on Top Places to Visit in Vienna, Free Things to Do in Vienna, among others, will soon be available at wheremonicagoes.com. Stay tuned!
DISCLAIMER: All thoughts written are my own unless stated otherwise. I do not pretend to be an expert and everything posted here are based only on my experience. The purpose of this article is to only give a brief orientation to first-time travelers in Vienna. More tips are welcome in the comments below.