I come from Vienna, so, after living there for 18 years, I would like to share with you my five must-do’s in this lovely city, without which you should not leave, local, expat and tourist alike.
The oldest zoo in Europe, open since the late 18th century, it fell into disrepute for lack of investment and modernisation when I was little.Over the last 20 years it has benefitted wonderfully from its previous and current management, who have moved it from the 18th century, where animals vegetated in tiny cages and care-takers spent more time drinking than doing their job, to the 21st, and in some cases, in my mind even 22nd century, making the continued safe-keeping of endangered species a priority of this establishment.
The original cages, way too small, but spectacularly ornate, have been renovated and incorporated into new habitats for all manner of animals. Particularly worth seeing: the wild cat area and the Jungle house. They bred one of the first panda babies born outside of China here and have continued further breeding efforts successfully.
I always like going past the giant turtles, as the Father of one our neighbours’ kept them safe in his little garden place during WWII and I like to imagine her playing with them when she was little. If you happen to live in Vienna and have children, or really like the zoo, get the yearly ticket. It is incredibly cheap and definitely worth it once you want to go more than once a year. We have even considered getting it for ourselves, as it is cheaper to fly to Vienna from Hamburg and use that ticket than get a yearly one at our zoo.
The best ice cream in town. We have known the family since I can remember. The open their shop in spring and close it in autumn. In that period they make beautiful Italian gelato, better than anything I have ever had in Italy, with gorgeous creamy dark chocolate, lusciously minty After Eight, and beautifully fresh and tart lemon ice cream. Easily missed, it is in the Himmelpfortgasse, off one of the main drags in town, the Kärtnerstrasse. Make sure you pop in and have a taste.
For those of you who like ice cream sundaes, the spaghetti ice cream with hazelnut and cream ice cream, topped with chestnut mouse spaghetti and amaretto cherries is to die for.
Haus der Musik
In the building formerly known as the Student dorm for Stanford, where my Mother lived in the 70s, an extensive renovation and much thought and love have been put into what is now the Haus der Musik, in English, the house of music. It is a beautiful place to go on your own and with children, with plenty to discover, from musical history to all manner of sounds and musical experiences.
Particularly enjoyable: the exhibit that allows you to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, and their hilarious reactions if you do not live up to their very high standards.
Markets – Brunnenmarkt & Naschmarkt & Neni‘s
So, I am cheating a little bit here, as I am presenting two markets, but I just can’t make up my mind, so two it is. First of all there is the Naschmarkt, the most central and oldest market in Vienna, which you will find in many tourist guides. My advice, particularly in the first sections, look around and check out the historical huts the stalls are housed in as well as all the beautiful wares for sale. Go past ‘Gurken-Leo’ (pickle Leo) in stand 246-248 – at a corner, you can’t miss it – for the best preserved vegetables, sauerkraut and pickles in Vienna. The grandson of the second largest salted pickle producer of the monarchy, Leo presents his product proudly and welcomes the uninitiated to have a taste.
Also great: the dining stalls in the second row and the middle section, which have developed in the last ten years and offer everything from oysters to middle eastern specialties.
Particularly worth a visit: Neni’s, Viennese home of the Ruben sandwich, which serves a gorgeous mix of Jewish & middle eastern specialties. Oh, and avoid the flea market at the end, unless you really like that kind of thing. It is mostly full of cheap mass-products and lacks the feeling of the rest of the market.
Then there is the Brunnenmarkt, less known amongst tourists, but all the more so amongst the locals, who have benefitted from its renovation and enlargement in the last few years, taking it all the way up from the Thaliastrasse to the Yppenplatz. It is one of the last markets in Vienna made up almost purely of street stalls, and is frequented by plenty of locals for their weekly shopping and their dose of the colourful hubbub. If you want to see real Viennese, then come here.
The little nooks and crannies in the 1st district
Leave the beaten path! By all means, go see the sites in the guidebooks, the cathedral, the Hofburg, the Graben (the ditch, literally translated) and the Kärtnerstrasse. Once you have done that, put away your guide (apart from maybe the map), leave the crowds behind you and have a little adventure, wandering through the back-allies – although ally seems not quite the right word for these picturesque little streets – of the inner district, where you will find beautiful buildings, peaceful courtyards and a feeling of the real Vienna. Particularly the area between the Kärntnerstrasse and the Seilerstätte are beautiful, but pretty much coming off any of the main tourist drags – the Graben, Kärntnerstrasse, Rotenturmstrasse – will reward you with some lovely impressions of the city that you will not find in everyone else’s photo collection.
That brings my big five to an end. Hope you enjoy!
Cary is in her mid-thirties, living in her third home country, Germany, in Hamburg, with her Irish husband and little boy. Their little family is a true MischMasch, part Austrian, American, Irish, with some British flavour thrown in, for good measure. Writing is one of Cary's passions, as well as travelling and learning, and she enjoys pursuing it in her blog MyMischMasch.