I’d say I graduated from the ‘tourist’ title a while back, and I definitely know how to avoid the overpriced touristy places like a pro. But here’s the thing – there are some experiences that would typically be labelled as ‘touristy’ that are sooooo good and addictive in Vienna that I still find myself doing them.
Here are 8 tourist things I still consciously indulge in after 8 years of living in Vienna, because they are just so damn fun to do:
1. Cake and coffee at Café Central
Every now and then I find myself standing in the lengthy queue on Herrengasse, waiting to be seated in one of Vienna’s exquisite looking coffeehouses where the staff is always dressed better than I am.
What keeps me coming back? It’s definitely the cake. But I also love cosying up in a booth here for the atmosphere… and the secret conversations I have in my head with one of its back-in-the-day regulars, like Sigmund Freud. Until the waiter that’s bringing me cake morphs into my mother. Then it’s time to leave.
2. Wine drinking in Grinzing
Ah, the Viennese love their wine. And so do the tourists, obviously.
Slap the quality wine together with some button nose cottages lining cobblestone streets and you’ve got yourself a Disneyland for adults.
While Vienna is surrounded by wine hills and hidden Heuriger (translation: wine taverns), I keep finding myself going back to the especially touristy wine area of Grinzing and getting stuck behind a crowd of tourists that just got off a bus and are following some brightly coloured umbrella. Not only is Grinzing a favourite for the lovely inner courtyards of its Heurige and delicious foods, but it’s also easy to reach (by public transport). Plus, there is always a Heuriger open serving hot food and good wine, all year round (which is not a given in the Heuriger scene).
Full disclosure: It’s a love-hate relationship. Every time I arrive there I find it too touristy and swear to myself it’s the last time I’ll even consider it. Then, before I know it, I’m hugging the waiters upon leaving while sobbing and yelling, “I love you Grinzing!” all the way to the tram stop. I know what you’re thinking and no, it’s not the wine, it’s the Grinzing magic! Ahem…
3. Nibbling through Naschmarkt
Naschmarkt is the place where I bump into the exact friends who complain about how overcrowded, overpriced and overrated this touristy market is. The awkward exchange when I ask, ‘ahhh, I thought you hated the Naschmarkt’ can be, likened to catching that friend of yours dancing like crazy to Despacito in a club when they’ve told you repeatedely how much they hate that song.
Anyway, we all keep going back to the Nachmarkt. There is just something about going there “just to have a look” and walking out having spent 40€ on falafels and veggies (we once bought an apple for 4.50€ there!) that I just can’t put my finger on.
I do this often, after which, to forget, I sit down for a drink and order the exact same plate of Mediterranean mezzes every time, admiring from afar the variety of cuisines that can be found in one single place.
Anyway, next time I’ll just go have a look at the market stands and only try something completely new and exotic. No, no, I really mean it this time – next time for sure!
4. Admiring the art on the walls at the Hundertwasser Kunsthaus gallery
Whenever I feel my Instagram account is in a funk, I head to the Hundertwasser Kunsthaus for a wobbly walk over the wonky floors in the mosaic-clad building, and to peruse the kick-ass exhibitions regularly happening in its gallery.
I can be excused for this ‘touristy thing addiction’ as there are a couple of massive drawcards. Besides the permanent exhibition of Hundertwassers work, which I personally find super inspiring every time I visit (that Hundertwasser guy was onto something! and I’m not talking about his hat), they also curate some great contemporary photography exhibits that make me look good on the ‘gram…and also evolve as an insightful human being, of course.
5. Riding my bike around the ring
The shade of the trees lining the boulevard, the historic buildings on my left and right, the smell of flowers and kebab – there are plenty of things that make a ride along the ring encircling the old city center enticing, especially in summer.
I used to be put off by the countless people walking all over the bike lane, completely ignorant of the fact that they’re strolling on the equivalent of a bike highway. My level of riding a bike is “always have a hand on the break” intermediate so there’s been some close calls with taking out a tourist. While this could frustrate some, I’ve bought myself a new bike bell shaped like a ladybug, and now there’s no stopping me – the ladybug bell is effective and cute.
6. Stuffing myself with a Schnitzel at Figlmüller
Look, there are touristy restaurants, and then there are ‘we have advertisements in the airport that are bigger than your living room’ kinds of touristy restaurants – Figlmüller belongs to the latter. Yet the people who queue outside these legendary restaurants in the 1. District aren’t wasting their time.
Allow me to pause for a minute for those insisting at this point to point out – “they don’t even serve up an authentic Wiener Schnitzel! I know. I’m also aware that the Schnitzel I’ll get there will be larger than my plate and I’ll struggle to eat it all, but I order one to myself EVERY. SINGLE. GOD. DAMN. TIME! And when the waiter serves it up, I still play the game and act all surprised – ‘oh look at this, oh, it’s huge, I can’t even, I won’t be able to…’ But I know for a FACT that I will finish the whole thing…every single time. What can I say? Figlmüller makes a damn good Schnitzel.
7. Getting standing tickets at the Opera
Most people living in Vienna know the drill, I suppose: you can queue up before an opera performance at the Staatsoper to get standing tickets for as cheap as 5€. It’s a nice little touch by the opera house to make sure everybody has access to culture.
This habit started out for me years ago when I was a student and couldn’t afford the full price of an opera ticket. Meanwhile, I now have a grown-up, 9 to 5 corporate job, meaning…well…that I still can’t afford full price for an opera ticket.
Funnys aside, for the undecided and underdressed, the standing tickets are still an awesome way to spontaneously show up at the opera when you decide last minute you want to win the “What did you do last night?” question round the next day amongst friends, or colleagues – ‘Ah, I just went to the opera, saw Madame Butterfly, ya’ know, what us cultured crowd do.’
Anyway, a night at the opera can be a goosebump experience, no matter how long you’ve been living here.
While Vienna’s charm goes beyond its historic city center, there’s no denying that a boat load of its charm lives within its old city center. While the first district is often so crowded it has us walking the streets like penguins, it also offers plenty of opportunities to disappear down a narrow, cobblestoned street, or into one of the many calm and tranquil inner courtyards.
There are few things that make me happier than aimlessly walking the streets of the first district on a sunny day, with an ice cream in one hand and (now I’ll ruin it) …my phone in the other – because this is the 21stcentury and how can I enjoy an ice cream in a nice setting without sharing it on the ‘gram. I mean, was I even there if I didn’t put it up as a story…? Anyway, also walking the city centre’s streets on a Sunday when its quieter is also one of my favourite pastimes. Call us hopeless romantics, if you will.