Vienna, Austria. Two Days is not enough time.
I confess that I wasn’t naturally attracted to Vienna at the beginning. I needed a place to stay, that was a quick train ride from the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, and Vienna fit the bill. it was big, had lots of stuff to do, was easy to get in/out of, and was a straight train ride from the race track. Admittedly, I could have stayed in a half-dozen places that met this criteria. At the end of the day, I’m super happy that I chose Vienna.
How happy, you ask? so happy, that the city features in the newest Kristin Hughes adventure novel that I’m currently working on. Yup, that happy. The city is amazing, on every level. It’s an old city, which I approve of greatly. It’s also layered with multiple layers of history. It’s easy enough to find. The architecture is amazing, and the food/beer is excellent. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the place.
That being said, The city is a little pricey, especially if you’re coming out of Eastern Europe as I was. It’s also congested, or it was before the COVID shut everything down. I hear Europe is kind of empty right now. I kind of blew into town in the first part of summer of 2019, which didn’t help either the prices or the tourist density. Still, the city’s charms far out-weighted any of its issues.
In the open space of the Michaelerplatz, fronting the opening which leads to the Sisi Museum, you will find a pair of imposing fountains. This fellow in the picture here is the base of the one to the left-hand side of the entrance. I like the look of determination on his face. It’s truth speaks to me.
Vienna is overflowing with excellent sculpture. Walking the street of the city will give a budget traveler an easy and enjoyable art exhibit. If the weather is nice, it’s an excellent way to spend a day.
Weather I landed in Vienna at the end of June. The weather was excellent. Warm to hot during the day, and warm at night. It was t-shirt weather, all around. I packed a rain jacket, but it wasn’t necessary. I had several days of blue sky and sunshine. If you are travelling during the other months, definitely check the weather. Austria can be very cold, at times.
Money: Austria sits on the eastern side of Western Europe. As such, it uses the Euro. Currently, the euro is trading at $1.18 to 1.00 euro. Austria (and Vienna) is also not a specifically budget-friendly travel stop. Using bank ATM machines for cash withdraws will get you competitive exchange rates. Utilizing credit cards will also help you get the bank exchange rate on transactions. Otherwise, plan on spending a little more money on things than you would in other locations.
Passport/Visa: If you’re coming from the United States, you won’t need to worry about a visa. You’ll need a passport that is in good repair to enter the E.U., and Austria requests that it be valid for at-least six months after your stay. They also request that you have proof of a return plane ticket or onward train ticket, though I’ve never been asked to show one to a customs agent anywhere in Europe.
Language Barrier: As has been the case with all of this adventure, I found not speaking good Dutch be not be an issue in Vienna. There are enough English-speaking people and bi-lingual signs to make navigating Vienna pretty easy. Being polite and friendly will get you the rest of the way. If you do speak Austrian, even better.
As is the case with all people trying to help you out, English won’t be their first language. Speak slowly. Use easy to understand words. Be patient. And, smile. Being happy and polite won’t kill you. Your traveling after all. It’s supposed to be fun, not easy.
COVID-19 Situation: Let’s face it, COVID-19 is sucking the soul out of the travel industry. It’s also not going away anytime soon. Please check with the Austrian government before making any travel plans, as countries allowed to travel to Austria (and any of the other E.U. countries) change frequently.
Race Tickets: I purchased my race ticket when the tickets went on-sale at the race track, and had them shipped to my home in the United States. I purchased the ticket straight from the Red Bull Ring’s website. It was easy and problem-free. I wanted the race ticket in-hand before committing to this piece of my travel itinerary.
As a side note, I’ve used ticket sales agents in the past (for the Monaco race specifically). Where they all work fine, I find it easier to deal directly with the track at this stage in my life. Tracks are also more apt to help you with information/problems, if they can see that you purchased a ticket straight from them.
Getting In and Out.
I made it in and out of Austria by train. On my way to Vienna, I took the train straight from Krakow, Poland, to Vienna. It was a smooth journey with no complications. On the way out of Vienna, I also took the train east to Bratislava. This too was smooth and with out complication. I utilized a EURail pass for both journeys.
Setting up the reservations for the individual legs of the journey down from Krakow was done at the Krakow train station. The service counter there was quite helpful. On the way to Bratislava, I just found a train that didn’t require a reservation, and hoped on. No muse, no fuse.
In truth, I also flew out of Austria. After the side trip to Bratislava, I came back to Vienna to fly to London. Vienna’s airport was a better choice for that leg of travel. Considering it was only a forty-five minute train ride from Bratislava to the Vienna airport, it seemed the best choice. Crossing the border was not a problem, as many people do it each day, and didn’t slow down my trip. I made it from my hotel in Bratislava to the airport Vienna without issues.
Moving from Eastern Europe back into Western Europe, my housing choice became one of cost over location. Eastern Europe is significantly cheaper and allows for more centrally located hotel options. Western Europe, especially the big cities, is definitely more pricey. This needs to be taken into account when you are planning your stay.
If I had of planned this one stop from back in America, I would have researched numerous options and probably chosen something more-expensive than I really wanted. It happens. I like to think of it as a facet of over-planning. (As a side note: You can definitely over-plan things. truthfully, I think most westerners over-plan things greatly. There is too much information available, and too many opinions on the internet about what to do (like this one…) that it’s easy to develop a plan that is both too busy and too expensive. You need to actively temper that idea.)
My housing choice for my time in the Austrian capital was made from my phone, while sitting at a bar in Krakow. I scrolled the list of options on Booking.com, found one in my price range, made sure that it was close to a metro station, and booked it. I didn’t over-think it, I just moved on and tracked it down, once I was in Vienna. Truthfully, it was a great choice. The hotel was in a quiet part of the city, and very-low key. It had a nice restaurant and bar, with outside seating. The staff was friendly and very helpful. I would definitely stay at the Ibis Wien Messe on a return trip to the city. The four nights came out to $329.00, which equals approximately $82.25 a night. I think, A reasonable rate for the Austrian capital.
The Ibis Wien Messe.
Located much closer to the Danube than any of the attractions in the city center, the Ibis was a good economical choice in a pricey city like Vienna. The hotel was located in a quiet section of the city, not a good two blocks from a metro stop. The metro made getting around the city quite easy, and the hotel a good deal for travel on a budget.
A second side note: If anyone reading this knew me from my early days living in Germany, on the government plan, they would find the same humor in me staying at an Ibis hotel which I found. It provided great nostalgia for me.
It is safe to say that people travel to Vienna for a variety of reasons. There’s sports, politics, and Mozart, to name just a few. many people stop by because its part of a larger itinerary; river cruises, bus tours, and the like. That being said, I think it’s completely safe to say that the vast majority of people who travel to Vienna for any type of culture actually travel to visit the Hapsburgs. One cannot encounter any part of the city without encountering a piece of the Hapsburg Empire. Its cultural footprint in the city is literally everywhere.
Hapsburgs aside, there is a lot to see and do in the city. It’s historical presence as a crossroads of humanity is well-established and on display. There are numerous layers to the city that could be explored, given sufficient time. With only a couple days to get around, I decided to stick to the highlight items. Or, what I considered to be the highlight items, while researching things to do from my bar stool in Krakow. The options are all but limitless. Here are some of the best parts of my stay.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Located conveniently in a section of the city center known as Stephansplatz, must all local transport will get you here. Dating from the 12th century, the cathedral is an amazing building to view. the interplay of light inside the building is excellent, and produces a emotionally warm interior for such a large space.
Upon entering you will be greeted by the ticket sales. I mean, these things don’t maintain themselves, do they? there are different tickets available, and the main section may be closed off, if church services are being conducted.
If you have time, don’t miss the chance to visit the crypt. It is a guided tour and well worth the your time. I had to hang around about twenty minutes to catch it. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Hapsburg Palace.
When you’re a Hapsburg, big isn’t good-enough. The Hapsburg Palace Complex is a massive affair, and encompasses some five different museums (the palace being only one of them.)
In front of the semi-circular entrance you will find the ticket stands. You will need tickets for each of the different museums, so I recommend buying the combo-ticket and being done with it. The palace complex itself is worth a good day’s time, though I didn’t do it justice in a mere morning.
The Austrian National Library.
By-far, my favorite piece of the palace complex is definitely the National Library. There is a bit of a scavenger hunt to find the entrance, following signs and markers around the various courtyards of the complex, but once you do find it, it’s truly magnificent.
The library is a linear, multi-room affair, which leads you from one section to the next. There are numerous statues and displays. Hidden sections of the library stacks are open to show how different collections were kept. The display gives you a good feeling for the true depth and breath of the Hapsburg Empire. In my opinion, the best of the museums in the palace complex.
Crossing Burgring from the Hapsburg Palace complex, you will come to Maria-Theresien-Platz and Memorial. It’s an open space centered by a monument. It is also bookended by two buildings, the left one being the art museum.
The art museum shouldn’t be missed. It’s collection is very good and well-displayed. The atmosphere of the museum is open and airy, making it quite enjoyable. Plan on spending some time in the building. The collection spans several floors and will chew up a couple hours of your day.
Natural History Museum.
Across the courtyard from the art museum is the the natural history museum. It has a grand an imposing collection that spans all the facets of the natural world, from gems to dinosaur bones. It is well laid out and basically self navigated. Due to it’s size, plan some time. You’ll burn a couple hours going through the whole collection.
Under the well-hidden Capuchin Church in downtown Vienna you will come across the Imperial Crypt for the House of Hapsburg. The church is located on a quiet side street, and is not an ornate affair. it well hides the magnificent collection resting underneath it.
The House of Hapsburg was long-lived, and that is reflected by the number of caskets on display. They range from simple wooden affairs, to the bizarrely macabre. It should definitely not be missed.
A Day at the Races.
This is where I probably should confess that I had no great force drawing me to Vienna. I needed a city where I could get straight to the race track. That could have been many places in Austria, but really gave me Linz or Vienna as options. Vienna seemed more interesting, so that’s where I ended up. I knew that I was going to the Austrian Grand Prix before I left America. I had my race ticket in-hand before I got on the plane. The accommodations and travel were made up on the fly. I find it works just as well as worrying about things in advance.
The race track is located just outside the town of Spielberg, Austria. The train can get you to Spielberg with little complication. It’s better to take the train in than to pay the outrageous hotel prices in the small town charged during race weekend. Once at the train station, there is a free shuttle bus service that moves people from the train station to the race track. the buses unload in a hayfield a short walk from the race track, and the walk over is quite enjoyable.
I had an excellent day for a race. Blue skies and warm-hot temperatures made for a great day at the track. If I go back for another race, I’ll plan this part a little better. (See the picture caption below.)
My view of the Red Bull Ring, from the cheap seats around the backside of the circuit. It was a great day at the races, weather-wise. If you are a real Formula 1 fan, buy tickets in the grandstands. The track layout isn’t really conducive to watching from the grass. Also, their is no money exchanged at the track. You have to get a track-side credit card (Available at the track) and load it with money to do anything. It was a really big pain in the butt.
There was a shuttle service that ran straight to/and from the train station, so getting to the track was easy. You just lined up in the queue outside and waited for the next shuttle bus to load up.
I have to say, Vienna is an excellent travel choice. I had an amazing time there. As the title of this little novella implies, two full days of exploring the place, or its many layers of history, is far too-short a time to do it all justice. I like to think that my effort was more of a highlight reel than it was a true exploration. Still, any time in this fantastic city is worth it. You won’t be disappointed making a stop here.
If you’re wandering through Austria to attend the Grand Prix, as I was, I recommend staying in Vienna as well. It’s a direct train from Vienna to Spielberg, and everyone along the route understands where you’re headed. Also, unlike some countries I’ve been to, getting back away from the track after the race isn’t a big deal. The lines are short and move fast.
Yours truly, standing next to a fountain, somewhere in downtown Vienna. The city is replete with ornate statues, fountains, and buildings. I’m sure that, if you stay around long enough, you can use them as landmarks to navigate. I, sadly, wasn’t in town that long.
I plan on returning to Vienna, one day, to pick up where I left off my explorations. It’s a world-class city. Now, that being said, you should get out there and do some exploring of your own! Soon! After COVID!