Travel: Vienna - the cool capital suited for all ages, budgets and varied tastes
It is a burgeoning city with sights-a-plenty, slick public transport and a culture and music scene that's surely among the world's best.
It may not have many of the beautiful cobbled streets and riverside sights as other great European cities, but boy does it pack a punch in terms of art, architecture, cafes, restaurants and shopping.
The mix of things to do – combined with its very easy to use public transport (get a travel pass valid for the underground, tram and buses) – makes Vienna a top destination for all ages, budgets and tastes.
And there has never been a better time to visit. 2018 is the year of Beauty and the Abyss – a celebration of the titans of Viennese Modernism: the artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser and architect Otto Wagner. In honour of the centenary of their deaths, the city will host a series of exhibitions highlighting their work. The quartet were ahead of their time and unafraid to break taboos. And their influence on the city remains to this day.
Seeing Klimt’s work close up – The Belvedere – was one of the highlights of our five-day trip. With 24 works, it holds the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by the iconic artist, including the two captivating erotic masterpieces from his Golden Period, Kiss and Judith, and a range of his portraits and landscapes. It is a lovely gallery with a laid back feel and beautiful gardens.
Another of Klimt’s key works, Death and Life, is on show at the Leopold Museum, situated more centrally in the funky Museumsquartier.
The art is awesome. But you can only take so much. For something completely different, we headed north of the city to a Mayer am Pfarrplatz heuriger, a rustic wine tavern which is part of a vineyard.
There are about 1,700 acres of vineyards in Vienna and 630 different producers, and this has been named as one of the most scenic and tasty. It got an A+ for both from us. My partner and I loved partaking in a 12-glass wine tasting (£20 each). We gulped down huge measures as winter sun set on the rustic vine-covered courtyard area as we sat outside a former home of Ludwig van Beethoven (where he lived working on his Symphony No. 9). Wine has been produced here since 1683 and its Gemischter Satzs and Rieslings were outstanding.
We then dined on an extensive Austrian buffet – heavy on meats, pickled veggies and cheese. Live Austrian folk music played as we watched dozens of families and groups of office workers gather to enjoy a glass or two.
In fact, we enjoyed some superb food in the city. A must stop is Lugeck, where my partner had the typical Viennese dish of Wiener Schnitzel (veal) – he loves his meat and said it was “the best ever”, and my boiled beef with horseradish was divine. Situated in the heart of the city, it serves an array of local dishes at Michelin-star standard.
Coffee, too, is huge in Vienna, with dozens of traditional coffee houses which serve all types of coffee and cakes, including the delicious chocolate torte called Sachertorte. Most serve their goods in classic crockery with bow-tied waiters – showing how serious the Viennese take their coffee breaks.
We loved our daily walks in stunning Stadtpark, the city’s biggest and most beautiful green area with a glorious floral clock, promenade (with great cafes) and famous golden statue of Johann Strauss. And the nearby shops were varied and interesting – everything from ceramics and glassware to alcohol, leather goods and one dedicated to the five-layered hazelnut cream filled wafer biscuit now synonymous with the city, Manner’s.
And a must for shoppers is Naschmarkt outdoor market where wonderful bars and cafes zig zag beside stalls of cheese, fruit and veg, wooden gifts, clothes...almost everything, in fact.
Vienna is a great place to wander about. From the famed streets and apartment where parts of the 1948 classic movie The Third Man staring Orson Welles was filmed – there is also a Third man Museum – to famous amusement park Prater with its iconic Giant Ferris Wheel, there is a sight for everyone. We loved it.
We were lucky enough to have our very own tour guide for three hours whose knowledge of and passion for the city was infectious.
As for the best place to stay, we were hugely impressed with four-star Falkensteiner Hotel Wien Margareten. It is just three stops from the heart of the city and next to bus, tram and underground stops. It is modern and classy. Our room was gigantic. It had a huge, comfy bed and massive seating area and TV area. The bathroom was minimalist (in a trendy way) and the three of us – we were with our young daughter – fitted in the huge shower.
On the top floor there is a sauna and steam room and open deck area with city-wide views. The breakfast was a varied and fresh buffet – with all the usual suspects, as well as fresh waffles, an enormous cheese selection and even Prosecco. There is a chilled bar and more formal restaurant area serving Austrian and Mediterranean dishes as well as burgers and fries.
The staff were super helpful, the hotel has a laid back yet efficient vibe and the decor has a sparse Nordic chicness to it.
To us now Vienna is far more than just an Ultravox song. It is a cool capital with something for everyone. And 2018 is surely the year to see it.
Where to stay: Falkensteiner Hotel Wien Margareten, Margaretengürtel 142. Go to: http://www.falkensteiner.com/de/hotel/margareten.
Two night package deals for room and an extenive buffet breakfast start from £184 per room with an early bird discount available. Flights from London from £64 (February).
Travel/Sights information: For a comprehensive list of what is on in Vienna including art special events for 2018 and public transport deals go to: http://www.wien.info/en