24 Hours in Vienna
Dusting off dated impressions of the equally historic and modern Austrian capital.
Austria’s capital has long labored under its image as a dusty imperial city. And though modern-day Vienna does retain much of its old-world charm, it also offers many modern attractions, including world-class museums, famed clothiers and renowned restaurants. Vienna’s inner city is also relatively compact and thus easy to traverse on foot or via public transit. Whether you want to pop into a landmark cathedral between window shopping or sample a savory snack between gallery exhibitions, Vienna is an ideal city in which to spend a long day (or long weekend) understanding Central Europe’s unique cultural history — and its place in the contemporary world.
Wake up in style at the ① Ritz-Carlton Vienna, located on the historic Ringstrasse — the ring boulevard where the royal wall once enclosed the inner city. For breakfast, head to nearby bakery ② Joseph Brot to sample fresh-baked Viennese-style bread, a semisweet rye-wheat blend with a sprinkling of caraway seeds.
Take a leisurely walk or a short streetcar ride to the sprawling ③ MuseumsQuartier, a complex filled with first-rate museums and exhibition spaces. The ④ Leopold Museum plays home to a major body of work by prominent symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, as well as the world’s largest and perhaps most important collection of work by Egon Schiele, Gustav’s protégé and a 20th-century expressionist star in his own right. Shown together, the artists’ collections illustrate how various techniques evolved during Austria’s transition from a monarchy into its present democracy.
If you prefer contemporary art, don’t miss the ⑤ MUMOK, the Museum Moderner Kunst, located across the courtyard. The museum’s impressive permanent collection includes major works of the 1960s’ Vienna Actionism, a radical, avant-garde movement led by experimental artists Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler.
Break for lunch at ⑥ Zum Schwarzen Kameel (“The Black Camel”), where you can enjoy patio seating along with a mouth-watering array of open-face sandwiches, veal goulash (stew spiced with paprika), and beef tafelspitz, an Austrian specialty consisting of boiled beef served with apples and horseradish.
For dessert, pop into the historic ⑦ Hotel Sacher for its namesake torte. A dense chocolate cake with a ribbon of apricot and a dollop of whipped cream, the original Sachertorte recipe dates back to 1832, and every one of the delectable cakes is still made by hand.
Shop like an emperor (or empress) in Vienna’s city center. Several historic shops that once served the imperial court continue to sell some of the country’s finest goods. Start with the basics at ⑧ Knize, a century-old men’s couturier and boutique specializing in bespoke suits. Then get your footwear at ⑨ Rudolf Scheer and Söhne, Europe’s oldest custom shoemaker, where each of the several hundred pairs produced each year is made by hand over six to nine months.
⑩ A.E. Köchert down the block once designed bejeweled accessories for royals, and the shop remains open for the public to both view legendary designs — think ball-appropriate diamond tiaras — and purchase readymade contemporary pieces. For high-end home goods, check out the glassware and chandeliers at sixth-generation family-owned ⑪ J. & L. Lobmeyr. Lobmeyr is most famous for outfitting New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace — the former summer residence for the Habsburgs, Austria’s influential imperial family.
In between browsing, you can easily pop into typical tourist attractions such as ⑫ St. Stephen’s. A Gothic cathedral that dates back to the 12th century, St. Stephen’s is home to both the archdiocese of Vienna as well as the Ducal Crypt, which houses the remains of several dozen members of the Habsburg dynasty. If you don’t spot Stephansdom’s gleaming white steeples and colorful tile roof, look for the famous Viennese horse carriages lined up along the cobblestone streets that surround the Stephansplatz square.
Stop by your room at the Ritz-Carlton to freshen up and sip an aperitif at the hotel’s ⑬ Atmosphere rooftop bar (open May until September). The expansive deck offers a nearly 360-degree view of the city skyline dotted with palace gloriettes, church steeples and construction cranes in a few up-and-coming neighborhoods, and there are plenty of inventive libations from which to choose. Order a fragrant, refreshing Hugo — a classic Austrian cocktail that combines sparkling wine with a splash of elderflower syrup and a sprig of fresh mint.
Enjoy an early six-course dinner at one of Vienna’s finest restaurants, the Michelin-starred ⑭ Konstantin Filippou. Born in the nearby city of Graz to Austrian and Greek parents, chef Filippou combines earthy flavors from Austria — think lake fish and flavorful seasonal produce — with Mediterranean herbs and cooking methods. Try the signature bacalao brandade with char caviar, a whipped salt cod emulsion topped with a teaspoon of rich, buttery Arctic char roe.
Be sure to request to be seated in the main dining room to observe the chefs at work in the open kitchen, and follow the sommelier’s lead in choosing regional wines. Austria is known for its bright whites — many direct from Vienna’s numerous urban wineries — and the wine list abounds with local pairings to enhance the chef’s creations.
A visit to Vienna isn’t complete without a trip to the opera. ⑮ Volksoper,the people’s opera, offers an array of performances between September and June that are as accessible and enjoyable for first-time visitors as they are for season ticket holders — including Austrian classics Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Der Fledermaus (The Bat) and, of course, The Sound of Music. A program providing a synopsis in half a dozen languages, English supertitles displayed over the stage, and Champagne-infused intermissions all make this particular opera house a smart selection for every audience.
Head back to Ringstrasse for a nightcap at ⑯ Gulasch and Champagne, located on the ground floor of the Grand Imperial Hotel (directly across from the Ritz-Carlton). This charming café is one of the few establishments in the area open past midnight, and its classic Viennese sausages and goulash, chips with homemade mayonnaise, and sparkling wines make the perfect snack to bookend a day in Austria’s capital. Gute Nacht!
Brittany Shoot is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. Her favorite stories involve fascinating people and far-flung places. Find her online at brittanyshoot.com.