How to spend 48 hours in Vienna: Work up an appetite for awe-inspiring art and scrumptious strudel in the Austrian capital
- Vienna is one of the world’s great art destinations and perfect for a winter break
- Visit the Leopold Museum to see Gustav Klimt’s famous Death and Life painting
- Rathausplatz Christmas Market has a huge ice rink and more than 150 food stalls
Arrive in the Austrian capital and you can sense the relief that winter is here. The Viennese grudgingly put up with the summer months and the edelweiss until the days shorten and the real business of life – schnitzel, strudel, schnapps and skating – can begin.
The streets and grand public places are thronged with Christmas markets and the air carries the smoky tang of wurst stalls. But as one of the world’s great art destinations, Vienna is also home to outstanding galleries. The city still bears the marks of the two early 20th Century painters, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele (currently wowing the Royal Academy in London) that defined the cultural turmoil at the end of the Hapsburg Empire.
So if you’ve got an appetite for art, or just an appetite, Vienna is the perfect winter destination.
Grandest of them all: The Schonbrunn Palace (above)
Few self-respecting locals will wait until lunchtime before eating a second meal of the day. Trzesniewski (trzesniewski.at) is technically a sandwich shop but really it’s a fourth emergency service for unfortunate Viennese caught between main meals. The earliest surviving outlet – on Dorotheergasse in the Inner Stadt, the area bounded by the grand boulevards of the 19th Century Ringstrasse and the Danube Canal – has changed little since it opened in 1904. The house special has stayed pretty much the same too: a slice of dark rye bread spread with rich egg and mayonnaise and chased down with small glass of beer called a pfiff.
One pfiff is enough as it’s time to catch a U-Bahn subway train to Klimt Villa (klimtvilla.at) in the 13th District suburbs. Buy a 48-hour travel card (viennapass.com) and you’ll get unlimited public transport journeys and discount or free entry at most museums.
The Unter St Veit station is just 100 yards from the villa and you can walk in the garden where Klimt’s naked models outraged the neighbours, and wander through the studio. There are reproductions of his paintings and the Japanese prints that inspired masterpieces such as Death And Life.
You can see Death And Life itself at the Leopold Museum (leopoldmuseum.org) in the ostentatiously grand Museum Quarter. Vienna is littered with Hapsburg palaces but this huge complex is actually the former imperial stables. Once occupied by Napoleon’s troops, it is now a lively cultural centre with some great cafes, bars and restaurants.
Festive fun: The Rathausplatz Christmas Market has more than 150 food and drink stalls
Go for lunch at Glacis Beisl (glacisbeisl.at/info/). Hidden away at the back of the Museum Quarter, this traditional Viennese cafe serves big portions of warming Austrian grub such as Grammelknodel auf Gabelkrut (dumplings filled with pork crackling, served with steamed cabbage) and plate-sized Viennese schnitzel.
If the day is drawing in, you can stay where you are – the cafe terrace is festooned with lights and there is a gluhwein stall. Alternatively, enjoy a brisk walk through the Volksgarten, a world heritage-listed public park, and back to the Inner Stadt and the Freyung Christmas Market, the place to buy candles and organic farm products.
The really big market is on Rathausplatz, between the Burgtheater and the looming neo-Gothic city hall. From November, Rathausplatz has a huge ice rink and more than 150 stalls selling drinks and food from different regions, although I saved myself for dinner at Vestibul (vestibuel.at) in the Burgtheater.
The theatre’s ceilings are decorated with scenes from drama, including Romeo And Juliet, and were painted by Klimt between 1886 and 1888, for which he was awarded a medal by the Emperor.
The food is good too: by Viennese standards, ‘saddle of pigling’ is dainty fare, though elsewhere the menu translations can be a little startling. Lobster with creamy cabbage is billed as a dish ‘the chef has been cooking for two decades’.
Have breakfast on the eighth-floor balcony of the Grand Ferdinand hotel (grandferdinand.com) on the Schubertring. This building was once the headquarters of the Austrian secret service. Somewhere, there will be a room where captured Soviet spies were force-fed strudel until they talked, but I filled up on bircher muesli – yogurt, oats and berries – which is as close as locals come to health food.
After an ultra-strong Viennese coffee, I took a super-charged stroll along the Ringstrasse past the Opera House (wiener-staatsoper.at) towards the Albertina art gallery (albertina.at), with an ultra-modern elevator at one end and a butterfly house at the back. Its remarkable collection includes works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Renoir.
Klimt’s Death and Life painting (above) can be viewed in the Leopold Museum
After a hectic morning, you’ll need to rest your legs and there are two floors of tables just around the corner at the Sacher Hotel (sacher.com), home of the famous chocolate concoction sachertorte, created by Franz Sacher in 1832.
Suitably refreshed, you could decide to take on one more palace. Schonbrunn (schoenbrunn.at/en/), the grandest Viennese palace of all, sits in rolling parkland that features ornamental lakes and Roman remains, and is open all year.
The locals’ favourite palace is the Belvedere (belvedere.at/en), easily reached on the regular tram from the Ringstrasse. Another world heritage site, this elegant baroque palace with astonishing interiors is set on a hillside amid beautiful formal gardens.
Inside there are white marble halls, fabulous state rooms and 24 Klimts, including his most famous work of all, The Kiss. What better way to seal your trip?
British Airways (britishairways.com) flights to Vienna cost from £43 one-way. Rooms at the Grand Ferdinand (grandferdinand.com) cost from about £150 a night. For more details on visiting Vienna, go to wien.info.
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