At this time of year, Vienna is typically overflowing with tourists, but in the year of Corona, the attractions in the city that typically have them wielding selfie sticks all over the place are uncharacteristically quiet.
We feel for the businesses that rely on tourism, but we also see the unique (most probably) opportunity this presents for the locals of the city to experience some of the magnificent things that inspires people to jet in from all over the world.
Here are 9 tourist-y experiences that you would typically avoid because of the crowds, but should absolutely do while they’re quieter:
1. Spend a day at Schönbrunn Palace
Ok, this one is obvious (it’s the most visited places in the city!) but the reasons why you should pay this wedding cake looking palace aren’t. Yeah, of course it’s beautiful, and yeah, a stroll in the palace gardens makes for a charming way to spend an afternoon, however, it’s also fascinating to learn about the history of the place, and visit the inside of the palace (which, when tourists crowds are here, can be like being at an overcrowded ERASMUS house party).
For many years, this Baroque beauty was the summer palace residence for the Habsburg Monarchy. But before it became the Habsburgs’ summer hang out, it was built with the purpose of being an Imperial Hunting Lodge. At the end of the Seventeenth Century, Emperor Leopold the First gave the project to the architect, Johann Leopold Fischer von Erlach, to design and build it for his hunting-savvy son, who just so happened to become Emperor Joseph the First.
The palace grounds spread out for 1.2 km from East to West, and approximately one kilometer from North to South. The gardens include a fascinating tropical greenhouse, a zoo, a labyrinth and neatly manicured Baroque-style gardens.
The longest reigning Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was born in the palace in 1830. He also died here in 1916, aged 86. Mozart also performed his first concert for Empress Maria Theresa in the so-called Mirrors Room, which led to him becoming a hit amongst the Habsburgs. Fascinating stuff, right?
2. Ride the mighty Prater Riesenrad ( ferris wheel )
It’s one of the most iconic features on Vienna’s skyline, and it’s starred in a bunch of movies. Yep, ye’ old ferris wheel in the Prater really is an experience worth having, no matter how kitschy it might seem. Kitsch can sometimes be good – that’s why we wear our ‘I believe in myself’ shirt every day to work. Yes, that’s right. It’s been a while since it’s had a wash. Anyway, a ride on the Riesenrad at sunset is highly recommended for y’all hopeless romantics out there. Also, if you’re the kind of planning world domination, everybody on the streets below look like ants from up there – perfect moment for you to let out your evil laugh.
3. Wear your stretchy pants out to a dinner at Figlmüller (the charming small one down Wollzeile)
In peak tourists season, this restaurant with the famous Schnitzel has lines out the door at most times of the day. It’s crazy how long people will wait in line with growling stomachs to be served a golden Schnitzel that’s spilling over the plate. Once you’ve had one, you’ll understand why. We’ll get our hands on their secret recipe one day.
4. Coffee and cake at Cafe Central
If you’ve walked past this incredibly touristy coffeehouse of late, you would have noticed that the long line of people waiting out front for a table is missing. Don’t get us wrong, you’d be surprised at the amount of locals that regular this place, however, it’s main clientele is normally tourists who are wowed by the opportunity to consume scrumptious cakes and coffee amidst its regal setting of chandeliers and portraits of the Kaiser.
While there’s plenty of coffeehouses packing their own brand of charm, if you’ve been meaning to try the well-known Cafe Central, we’d recommend you do it now before that line of people out front returns.
5. Visit the Stephansdom and its Crypt
Even if you’re not the religious type, a visit to this dimly-lit gothic church that has origins dating back to 1137 is well worth a visit. OK, it was a completely different church back then, but this is when the first foundation stones were laid for a church that stood in its place beforehand.
Stephansdom is fascinating for the secrets, and small details that hide in its exterior and interior facade – sooooo much history is written and etched into these walls in the way of symbols. For example, look at the front entrance and see if you can spot the letter “O” and the number “5” carved into stones. Found them? This is a secret code etched into the church during WW2. The “5” represents the 5th letter of the alphabet, “E.” When combined with the “O,” the secret message becomes “OE”, which is the abbreviation for Österreich, meaning Austria. This was a covert sign of resistance during WW2 that the Nazis totally missed. Fascinating, right?! And there’s a lot more where this came from.
Besides reading the history on the walls of this place, we’d also recommend you climb the southern tower, which is a whopping 136.44 meters, and check out the view from the top. Another must-see if you’re into history is to descend into the crypt that lies beneath the church. The Stephansdom crypt houses thousands of skeletons thrown in there after the Bubonic Plague hit the city around 1735.
6. Go for a walk through the first district without photobombing tourist’s selfies
Ok, so slipping yourself into a tourist’s photo, doing a funny pose, and imagining their response when they’re looking through their photos later, can be a whole lot of fun. However, it’s also quite nice to meander through the old streets of the first district without finding yourself suddenly caught up in a tour group. We’ve actually put together a self-guided tour for you that will take you through the most charming areas of the old city center.
7. Spend afternoons wandering through museums
There’s never been a better time to visit Vienna’s many museums and galleries. Without the tourists, you can walk through the likes of the Albertina and the Leopold museums without having somebody crowd you when you’re in the middle of immersing yourself in a work of art. We’ve got a list for you of the museums you absolutely must visit in Vienna.
8. Check out the Hundertwasser Haus
If you haven’t checked out the Hundertwasserhaus by now – and the Kunst Haus containing the Hundertwasser Museum just up the road from it – you absolutely should.
The painter and architect who designed the colourful and wacky apartment block, Hundertwasser Haus, named himself Friedensreich Hundertwasser Regentag Dunkelbunt. Hundertwasser was one of Vienna’s most fascinating artists in modern times. As you can tell by this building, he was also an original thinker. You see, one of the pillars of his philosophies of architecture was that humans and nature should live in harmony. Hundertwasser envisioned this to be “a home for humans and trees.”
Once you’ve visited the Kunst Haus and this apartment building, you’ll understand what he meant when he said, “The straight line is Godless.” Be sure to visit the cafe in the Kunst Haus upon your visit – we love the rainforest vibes and the wonky floors.
9. Eat your way through the Naschmarkt
Put a Saturday aside for some serious flea market hunting and a multitude of foodie experiences at the Naschmarkt. The Saturday flea market is happening up until 3pm every Saturday and we recommend you start off your visit by wandering through the stalls and stalls of interesting trash and treasure up for sale there. Then you can work your way through the food market. Typically, this popular market is stuffed with tourists, however, these days, you can stroll through it relatively comfortably, minus the crowds.