Vienna surprised me. Born of a long history of wealth and empire, modern-day Vienna struck me as likable, livable, underrated—a city that wears its historical, artistic and cultural treasures with an easy, quiet grace. Though I was there 10 years ago and stayed a full week, I don’t remember liking it as much as I did on my recent trip to meet up with my friends from the Ateneo Chamber Singers.
Apart from being a choir groupie, I got to explore Vienna on my own and was pleasantly charmed. A list of things to do in Vienna should be way longer than this, but for a quick city trip or weekend break, I’ve chosen my personal top five.
See Klimt’s The Kiss at Belvedere Castle.
As a lifelong fan of both Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimt, I couldn’t miss seeing Klimt in his hometown. Nestled among manicured gardens, Vienna’s Belvedere Castle houses the largest collection of oil paintings by Klimt, including Lovers, more popularly known as The Kiss.
Taking photos of The Kiss is forbidden, but I couldn’t stop the goosebumps. Seeing Klimt’s masterpieces up close, it’s amazing how bright and bold they are—just as if they were painted yesterday.
The Belvedere Castle is also a wonderful introduction to the art of the Vienna Secessionists, and the haunting pieces of another famous Austrian artist: Egon Schiele.
The Belvedere consists of an Upper and Lower part, with separate admission fees for each. If it’s Klimt you’re after, head straight to the Upper Belvedere.
Have a Viennese kaiserschmarrn and a Turkish coffee at Cafe Central.
Vienna is a star of turn-of-the-century European cafe culture, like Paris, Prague and Budapest. Built over 130 years ago, Cafe Central is the city’s most famous cafe, where intellectuals such as Freud, Lenin and Trotsky were regulars.
For a royal experience, combine a visit to this empress of cafe culture with the emperor of Vienna’s dessert scene: the Kaiserschmarrn. Plainly said: you have to try the Kaiserschmarrn, and you have to have it here.
The modest description “shredded pancake” did not prepare me for this fluffy mountain of cake, crowned with crunchy jewels of burnt caramel and a glossy, ruby-red sauce of stewed plums. It was my first meal of the day, so I attacked it with gusto; however, faced with a serving platter that could easily feed two or three (for just €8.50!), eventually I surrendered to the mighty Kaiserschmarrn.
Why a Turkish coffee and not a cafe Vienna? Personally, I found the Wiener Melange, a kind of Viennese cappuccino, kind of bland. This Turkish coffee, served in a copper pot, is the real stuff—a potent brew worthy of the magnificent Kaiserschmarrn.
It’s also a nod to Viennese history: at the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire attempted to capture Vienna twice, with two sieges 150 years apart. If the Turks had managed to capture and rule Vienna, who knows how Europe might look today?
Oh, and hey, Cafe Central is gorgeous too.
It’s a celebrity in the cafe scene, but there are many others worth visiting in Vienna. Check out this great guide to Vienna’s cafes—I’ve bookmarked it for a return visit.