Travel write Imogen Burgoyne shares her student’s guide to Vienna
Vienna is renowned for its rich culture; the city is steeped in musical and artistic heritage and whether visiting in the midst of summer or winter, like any great capital city, there is always something special happening. May it be ball season, free classical music performances, markets or a swim in the Danube, there is something for everyone. As a student in Vienna, you will never run out of things to do or new places to explore, and you will most certainly never tire of the cake on offer.
Vienna is a centre of the arts and classical music plays a huge part in the city’s culture. One of the most accessible ways for students to enjoy the traditional music culture in Vienna is the free outdoor concerts which take place across the city during the summer. The 2018 Sommernachtskonzert saw over 102,000 people flood the beautiful grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace to listen to incredible classical music and opera. For those sat on the hill stretching up to the ornate Gloriette in the palace grounds, the view during the concert is not only that of the stage and beautifully lit palace behind it, but a wonderful panoramic of Vienna stretching behind until only mountains are visible to the eye. Another free way to experience the infamous Viennese culture is to watch opera and ballet performances which are streamed live on a big screen outside the prestigious Staatsoper (State Opera House). The ‘Live am Platz’ shows encourage a buzzing atmosphere as people gather to sit on the streets and watch well-known and entrancing performances such as the opera La Traviata and ballet Giselle together. Vienna has a special knack for making the arts, still steeped in all the prestige and glamour that the talent demands, accessible to all.
Whilst it would be somewhat unfair to singularly characterise Viennese cuisine as rich meat and dumplings… such dishes do play a rather considerable role on traditional menus! The best place to try traditional dishes is a ‘Beisl’, an institution similar to the British pub with homely interiors adorned by heavy wooden tables and Steins overflowing with beer. It is thought that the word Beisl is originally Jewish, coming from the word ‘Bajiss’ for ‘house’, a nod to the homely feeling of the restaurants which often serve as a meeting point for locals and their ‘Stammtisch’. The food in Vienna is warm and filling and full of rich tastes, best accompanied by beer. If beer is not your tipple of choice, try a Radler, like a shandy, or a Spritzer, which are hugely popular in the summer in Vienna with every establishment offering Aperol Spritzes and the popular Hugo, an elder-flower flavoured sparkling drink.
Cafes and cake are synonymous with Vienna and are an absolute must-do for any visitor to the city. It would be absurd to visit Vienna without trying a range of the delicious selection of classical cakes, from the green marzipan-ed layers of the Mozart Torte, to the spider-webbed icing of the Esterhazytorte, and not forgetting the incredible, and hugely famous, chocolate Sacher-Torte. There are many famous cafes around the city which have been graced by famous thinkers throughout the city’s history, such as Cafe Central and Cafe Landmann. All of the traditional cafes have stunning interiors, such as the towering marble pillars and elegant ceiling of Café Central, and all boast the classical red leather or velvet booths to sit in. These cafes are synonymous with Vienna and so, for full cultural immersion, not trying out at least one of two would be remiss.
The Donau (or Danube in English) is a key meeting point during the summer for students to enjoy the sun and fresh air. People line the banks of the Donau to sunbathe and gorge on picnics, as well as enjoy a refreshing swim in the river. You can even hire rather fantastic-looking pedalos which come adorned with palm trees, slides, and even picnic tables. Donauinselfest is a free music festival that takes place each year on the banks of the river and attracts big music names and huge crowds. Another popular student spot is Strandbar, a man-made beach in the city centre on the riverbank which is dotted with sun loungers and bars, serving as a relaxing chill-out zone in the day, or a more energetic hub of nightlife in the evening (and makes the perfect venue for a silent disco). Cafes and restaurants stretch out onto the streets in the summer months, so you can easily lounge about with an ice cream and soak up the atmosphere of the bustling streets amongst fantastic architecture.
Vienna doesn’t only come alive in the summer – the city is perfectly suited for a snowy backdrop. Winter in Vienna means many things; ice skating outside the incredible Rathaus, wandering around traditional markets with warming Gluhwein, and one other very special time in Vienna, ball season. Whilst tickets to these balls are exclusive and pricey, there are other more informal ways to learn to Viennese Waltz in its place of origin, such as group classes. For days when you need to escape the chill, there are plenty of fascinating museums in Vienna, such as the Sigmund Freud Museum or the many art museums, such as the Belvedere Palace, home to famous works by Klimt which are the pride of the city (as evidenced by the varied memorabilia on offer – Klimt umbrella anyone?!).
Vienna is also a great location to be based that allows for further travel; longer trips to Prague or Budapest are very simple thanks to fantastic train connections. Day trips are also possible for instance, for only €16 you can get a round trip ticket to visit Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. Cheap bus tickets also means it is possible to explore Austria as a whole and hit up the mountains for a spot of skiing or Salzburg for a touch of The Sound of Music.
It’s no wonder that Vienna has been ranked the best city to live in for nine consecutive years; with the variety and prestige that the city offers, as well as the options for fun and new experiences, it really is a fantastic city to visit.