48 Hours in Vienna: Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

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48 Hours in Vienna: Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

It was a gorgeous summer Saturday and a perfect backdrop for my first trip to Vienna, Austria’s capital city. As the taxi took me from the train station to my hotel, I squinted beneath my dark glasses from the bright sun reflecting off of the pristine buildings of the Ringstrasse.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

The 5.3-kilometer long circle that encompasses some of Vienna’s most historical and beautiful buildings is the epicenter of tourism and culture in the city. The patchwork of architecture styles of the Ringstrasse {Flemish Gothic, New Baroque, Neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau, etc.} has one common element–grandness. This was no coincidence. In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph called on the wealthy and noble of Vienna to build ostentatious palaces along this now storied road.

Eight years later, Emperor Joseph declared Ringstrasse open with an equally elaborate ceremony. And after 150 years, which included extensive bombing during World War II and subsequent reconstruction, Vienna’s Ringstrasse is still impressive. I discovered that visitors are only getting a glimpse of the city if they don’t venture outside of the circle.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

One thing that I’ve made abundantly clear is the fact that I loathe guided group tours. In fact, I rarely take tours of any kind on my travels, until I discovered Kensington Tours, a company that curates private trips to over 80 countries. Since I wanted to make the most of my limited time in Vienna, I enlisted the help of Kensington. My only request was that I wanted a trip with a food, wine, and cultural focus. Then I gave them carte blanche in the planning.

For two days, I experienced Vienna with local experts—one was a wine aficionado, while the other a history savant. I was chauffeured around the city in a Mercedes—no crowds and no fuss. All I did was sit back and soak up my stupendous surroundings.  Here are some of my favorites from those 48 luxurious hours in Vienna:

Stay

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

If you’re going to visit the Imperial City, why not stay in a palace? After all, it’s only fitting. In reality, the Ritz-Carlton is four historical nineteenth century palaces combined to make one luxurious hotel. Located on Schubertring, part of the Ringstrasse, the Ritz-Carlton is at the doorstep of some of Vienna’s best attractions, parks, dining, and shopping.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

In true Ritz-Carlton fashion, guests are afforded the finest amenities and first-class service. I felt like I was the beloved Empress Elisabeth, aka Sissi, as soon as I walked through the door. The first thing I noticed in the Melounge Lobby Lounge was the ceiling. Artistic, ornate, and modern, it must be seen. With plush chairs and sofas scattered about, Melounge is the perfect place to enjoy breakfast, a light lunch, cocktails, or afternoon tea. And for something a bit more sweet and spectacular, a chocolate sommelier is available in the lounge each afternoon.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

My club level room was exquisite. A carved floor-to-ceiling wooden wall served as a backdrop to the king sized feather bed, while beautiful sliding art served as the closet door. A cozy nook of two club chairs, floor lamp, and an impressive selection of magazines provided the perfect place to curl up with a cup of coffee from the in-room Nespresso machine.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

The gorgeous black and white marble bathroom sits very close to the top in terms of my favorite of all time. Though not particularly ostentatious, the design is classic, yet modern. Sleek glass shelves, polished chrome fixtures, and a separate tub and shower are just a few of the things that I appreciated. A large window over the bathtub allowed the morning light to pour in. I’ve found that a window in a hotel bathroom is definitely an underrated amenity.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Since I was staying in a club level room, I had access to the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge on the 7th floor. To say that I practically lived in the lounge would be an understatement. With the five food presentations each day, I enjoyed a bounty of delicious offerings.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

And don’t get me started on the open bar and wine-dispensing machine. That’s right, folks. With the press of a button, white or red Viennese wine flows into your glass. I can’t imagine a much better invention. In addition to the splendid food and drink variety, the staff in the club was simply superb. Courteous, friendly, and helpful, I was addressed by Ms. Walker on each of my visits. I can’t say enough about the ladies in the Club Lounge.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

The Guerlain Spa, the first in Austria, is beyond luxurious. Massages, manicures and pedicures, facials, and body treatments are just a few of the indulgent offerings available. An 18-meter long indoor pool with underwater music is available for all guests, as is a steam room and sauna. The spa and fitness facilities are an oasis in an urban setting.

Eat & Drink
Heurigen

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

The hills surrounding Vienna are filled with vineyards. In fact, there are 1,680 acres of urban vineyards and 630 wine producers in the city. And as just as you’d expect, the wine culture is a very important one. White wines dominate, but there are delicious reds as well.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

A tradition unique to Vienna is the heuriger. Essentially a wine tavern akin to the German biergarten, the heuriger began in the 18th century as a place for wineries to sell tax-free their newly fermented wine directly to the consumer. These places were nothing fancy—just tables set up in the vineyards. And as a signal that the wine was ready, an evergreen bough was hung outside heuriger.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

At first, heurigen were forbidden to sell food, as not to compete with restaurants, but over time, that changed. Eventually, a variety of hot and cold items were available to customers, something that continues today.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Now, traditional Austrian food is ordered and served from the counter. Pre-made favorites such as faschiertes, wiener schnitzel, boiled potatoes and cabbage, and schweinebraten are common at most heurigen. And, of course, the wine. Lots and lots of wine. For more, check out the slide show on Huffington Post featuring my Vienna food and wine photos.

When in Vienna, check out these fabulous heurigen:

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Mayer am Pfarrplatz: Wonderful wine, food, and history can be found at this heuriger in the hills of Vienna. The unassuming white villa with the beautiful courtyard was once home to Ludwig van Beethoven. In fact, he composed his 9th Symphony in one of the rooms. Try the wiener schnitzel and Gemischter Satz for a quintessential Viennese experience.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Wieninger: Founded in the 18th century, Wieninger is a family affair. Run by Fritz Wieninger since 1987, it was his great, great grandfather who founded the winery. The lovely tasting room and courtyard are delightful places to sip on multiple glasses of the 2012 Grüner Veltliner Herrenholz. Try to get a peek at the wine cellar. It once was part of a monastery that was converted by Fritz and his father. You can read about my private tour of Wieninger here.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Heuriger Hirt: This secluded heuriger in the hills of Vienna sits right in the middle of a vineyard. It’s a favorite among the locals for its stunning view of the city and Danube River, laid-back atmosphere, and inexpensive menu.

DSTRIKT

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

For a casual, yet refined lunch or dinner, DSTRIKT in the Ritz-Carlton fits the bill. Acclaimed Austrian chef, Wini Brugger, presents an innovative menu. Not only are there traditional Austrian dishes, some of which are made from Brugger’s grandmother’s recipes, but also unique twists on French and Italian favorites. How about foie gras crème brûlée and ice cream as a starter? Check out the tasting menu for a little bit of everything.

Café Gloriette

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Located in the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace, this grand, open-air pavilion was once lookout point for the garden and used as a dining hall for emperor Franz Joseph. Now, Café Gloriette occupies the space and not only offers fantastic views of Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace, and the gardens, but also serves delicious bakery items, coffee, cocktails, and traditional a traditional Viennese menu.

Atmosphere Rooftop Bar & Lounge

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

For one of the best views of Vienna without heading to the hills, look no further than Atmosphere on the 8th floor of the Ritz-Carlton. Only open during the summer months, Atmosphere’s attracts locals and hotel guests alike for its 360-degree views of the city, as well as the extensive cocktail and wine list. A selection of small plates is also served on the rooftop. And because this is the Ritz-Carlton, guests are given a personal-sized Evian misting spray for those rare hot days. In addition, sunglasses are provided should you have forgotten yours.

Experience
Schönbrunn Palace

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

This massive baroque complex was a gift to Empress Sisi and served as the summer residence of the Imperial family. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most popular points of interest in Vienna.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Insight into the imperial family’s way of life can be found by taking an audio tour. In addition to the palace, there’s also a zoo, giant hedge maze, carriage museum, gloriette, and gardens that are worthy of visiting. An entire day could be spent exploring here.

Hofburg

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

After seeing the Habsburg’s summer residence, it’s only fitting to explore their winter residence. Hofburg was the epicenter of the Habsburg Empire, and today visitors can get insight into the life of the monarchy by visiting the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Imperial Silver Collection.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

A stop at the Spanish Riding School is a must. Here the world-famous Lipizzan horses can be seen by guided tour or in the morning during their exercise time. Albertina is the most visited Viennese museum. With artists such as Cézanne, Klimt, Renoir, and Picasso, it’s easy to understand why. And visitors can’t forget the Imperial Treasury. Here’s where the priceless possessions of the Habsburgs are on display, including emperors’ crowns.

Belvedere Palace

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Located in the third district of Vienna in a beautiful park are two magnificent palaces built by Prince Eugene of Savoy in the Rococo style. Both buildings contain works by Austrian artists. The surrounding park is the first alpine garden in Europe and contains over 4000 kinds of plants.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Also a historical point of interest, the Marble Hall of the Upper Belvedere was where Austria and the four occupying powers of France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States signed the Austrian State Treaty, which ended ten years of foreign occupation.

Music

As home to Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss, Vienna has for centuries been synonymous with music. Continuing this tradition is the Vienna Philharmonic and the world-famous, Vienna Boys’ Choir. The Vienna State Opera is not only one of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna, but it also houses some of the best operatic performances in the world. The Museum of Sound celebrates the works of famous composers and also allows a hands-on experience for visitors. Get a closer look into the life of Mozart’s life in Vienna by visiting Mozarthaus, the only remaining apartment of the famous composer. Also, take one of the musicians’ walks created by the Vienna tourist board. They’re free to download here.

 Highlights of Austria’s Imperial City

Oh, how I am completely smitten with Vienna. The culture, food, wine, history, and people have me dreaming of returning, specifically in the winter. Although I loved seeing the city in bloom, walks along the Danube, and the awesome Film and Food Festival on Rathausplatz, I long to shop Vienna’s legendary Christmas markets, drink mulled wine, and try my hand at ice skating. I can only imagine that the city is even more magical with a dusting of snow.

I was a guest of the Ritz-Carlton and Kensington Tours. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the endless supply of Viennese wine, exemplary knowledge of Vienna, or the endless sunshine. As always, opinions are mine.

 

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