Travel Guide to Vienna
If you asked me to name my favorite city in Europe, there would be no hesitation before the word “Vienna” left my mouth. My mom’s side of the family is from Austria, both her mother and father living there in childhood before moving to America in the 50s. I have been fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country multiple times over the years, seeing Graz, Innsbruck, and Vienna among other towns. Between feeling a strong familial pull, the Viennese coffee shop tradition, and the beautiful buildings and museums, the city has easily become my favorite to visit. Plus, I have never felt so safe in a city, feeling completely comfortable walking around at night by myself during my week of solo travel. Oh- and did I mention that it is actually pretty affordable for a European city? Perfect for all the eating you are about to do ;)
The past two times I visited Vienna (just two weeks ago and for a few days alone when I studied abroad in 2016), I really was able to explore the city. For hours on end, I walked around with no direction in sight, eager to find those coveted hole in the wall restaurants, shops, and attractions away from the mass of tourists. These are always my favorite finds, and I was so excited every time I came across a new treasure. If I could give advice to anyone exploring European towns for the first time, it would be to aimlessly wander. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a map on hand (I love downloading Google Maps Offline) in case you get lost, but wandering shows you so much more than you would otherwise notice. I remember the first time I watched 500 Days of Summer and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, the architect, tells Zooey to “always look up” at the buildings. This advice has stuck with me and if you ever see me wandering the streets of any city, you will find me with my neck craning upwards, seeking out beautiful architectural details.
I am so excited to share my travel guide to Vienna, providing you with my favorite eats, neighborhoods, and rare finds. If you are a fan of coffee shops and cake and warm, comforting foods, Vienna is the place for you.
Have you ever visited Vienna? What are your favorite spots in the city or in any city you have travelled to?
- Vollpension: Hands down my favorite place in all of Vienna, this pastry shop has great vibes, great treats, and a great mission. The café is run by grandmas, aka “omas,” and every day these women bake new recipes for their display case. They taste homemade and the recipes are both traditional and innovative. I had a rhubarb crisp with fresh whip and was blown away by the balance of savory and sweet, the texture, and the freshness. The café itself has painted brick walls, reupholstered vintage furniture, and neon lights, making it the perfect blend of old and new. I could have sat in this room for hours, reading, eating cake after cake (trust me- I was tempted, especially when they brought out a raspberry chocolate pie loaded with whip). Thankfully, they had a cookbook I was able to purchase and bring home to keep the party going. It is in all German, but you can bet I will be spending a solid weekend translating all the recipes into English.
- Erich: Erich is a café in one of my favorite neighborhoods, the 7th district. It has a great terrace, perfect for people watching, and has both a delicious breakfast menu (eggs benedict, acai, and customizable breakfast bowls) and a lunch/dinner menu (mix and match tacos, grain bowls, and various grilled cheeses). One of the best desserts I had, the Hot Love, came from this spot- vegan vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries and hot raspberry compote.
- Phil Coffee: This trendy coffee shop is off the radar for most tourists, captivating the local university students instead. I love cafes in Europe because in addition to a drink menu, they always tend to have full dining menus. Phil has baked goods, vegan options, and traditional European brunches as well. The space blasts great music and is overwhelming with old books and old couches, shouting for visitors to take a seat and mingle with the locals.
- Heindls Schmarren & Palatschinkenkuchl: One of my favorite Austrian desserts has always been Kaiserchmarren, a traditional dessert that consists of cut up pancakes cooked in butter and topped with loads of powdered sugar and stewed fruit. This spot is in a random alley-way, totally off the radar. But once you step inside, they have a huge central kitchen and a menu filled to the brim with variations of the popular dessert. I ordered a few “samplers,” testing a variety of toppings. My favorite is stewed plums, but I had a difficult time picking one!
- Café Eiles: Café Elies is on a main road running between the 7th district and the MuseumsQuartier, a quarter of Vienna loaded with, you guessed it, museums. The interior is decorated in traditional Viennese fashion with gorgeous crystal chandeliers, deep red booths, and dark wooden tables and floors. The space is huge with tons of windows to people watch out of. Like most cafes in Vienna, they have a full drink and meal menu, so pick up a book or a newspaper and get comfy for a few hours at this special spot.
- Ulrich: Sister sites with Erich, Ulrich is the restaurant just around the corner. Their menu is more expansive, but just as delicious, including innovative recipes and traditional Austrian cuisine. Make sure to reserve your table in advance, however, because this spot is a hit among locals in the trendy neighborhood.
- Amerlingbeisel: Located within the center of an apartment building and a kindergarten, this restaurant is a hidden gem. The outdoor seating area is covered in ivy, but a cover sits on the roof to ensure you can be outside rain or shine. From traditional cuisine such as goulash to schnitzel, and contemporary offerings such as vegan curry and salmon teriyaki, this restaurant takes on a lot, but does a great job.
- Loca: I visited this spot for dinner alone when I studied abroad and was blown away by the incredible service and innovativeness. I sat down and took out my book, ready to order off the menu and read, but the chef and owner came up to me personally, introduced himself, and explained the concept of the restaurant. Diners can either order off a set menu, or they can be more adventurous and have the chef create a personalized order, taking into consideration dietary restrictions and preferences. I opted for the second option and was presented with four courses that blew me away. From a light veggie broth filled with delicious veggies, a spring salad with burrata, a flaky piece of cod, and a mango sorbet with puff pastry, I was pretty content when I walked out the door. I also had a great conversation with the chef, learning about his visits to San Francisco and his life in Vienna!
- Grains: This tiny, tiny restaurant is truly a gem. I found this while walking to another restaurant on the street and was compelled to stop after seeing the two tables inside and the open kitchen placed right behind them. After looking at the menu and realizing there was no English option, I asked the two women in the kitchen what they were serving. Every week, the restaurant presents a new menu. They offer five or six breakfast dishes, but come afternoon, they offer only two lunch options: a weekly soup or a daily grain bowl. On the day I stopped in, the dish was a millet bowl filled with kohlrabi and asparagus and topped with fresh strawberries, arugula, and a lemon vinaigrette. When I asked what the dish of the day was, the women, unable to fully explain in English, invited me back into the kitchen to take a peak into the pot on the stove. The cooking millet and veggies looked delicious, so I promptly took a seat, eager to dive in. Every dish they serve is vegan, making it a perfect spot for those with dietary restrictions!
- Corns n’ Pops: Okay, we all know I am obsessed with oatmeal. So when I stumble upon a muesli café, there is no way I am NOT going in and ordering a bowl of my beloved grain. This café has a make your own muesli bar, filled with various cereals, grains, dried fruits, and even chocolate and candies for those with a sweet tooth. The café also has their own specialized blends if the process of creating is too overwhelming! But, beyond muesli, they have delicious waffles, shakes, and pastries for your pleasure.
Ice cream/Sweet Spots:
- Veganista: Whenever I visit any city, I automatically search for the number one ice cream spots. I was really intrigued to find that the top spot was, in fact, a vegan one! I was eager to hit it up, especially after seeing they use all organic ingredients and no fake stuff to make the vegan ice cream taste good. After multiple visits and testing various flavors such as basil, poppyseed, matcha, pistachio, and more, I can safely say: this place ROCKS. And they make their ice creams with various types of vegan milks to ensure everyone with any restrictions can find one they like.
- Schelato: So, after getting my scoop of basil from Veganista, my friend and I proceeded to walk and eat our ice creams. As I was finishing my last bite, we came across a super cute gelateria with brightly colored walls and wooden floors. The line was out the door. Given all of these facts, how could I not stop in for a scoop? When it was my turn to order, I first asked to sample the pistachio, and with one bite, I knew it was the flavor for me. It was exactly how I like my pistachio ice cream: smooth, a tad saltier than sweet, and with a delicious crunch. This plus a bit of fresh whip on top was the perfect way to end the night!
- Neubau (Seventh District): This district of Vienna is known for being the “hipper” area of the city. Filled with pop up shops, trendy cafes (including many of the ones listed above), cute alleyways, and little parks filled with tiny toddlers in oversized backpacks, its hard not to like. The district is a close walk to tons of museums and the city center, as well as situated near the outdoor food market. How could you ask for anything more?
- Babettes: When walking to Vollpension, I stumbled upon this gem of a shop. Selling an endless amount of cookbooks (in both German and English) and spices (some of which come with recipes- a great souvenir for loved ones!), this place is a must visit. In fact, they have a second location with a full service café. I didn’t get the chance to visit their café, but I looked at their menu and was drooling by the end of it.
- Kunst Haus Wien: Not only is this one of my favorite spots in Vienna, but it is one of my favorite spots anywhere. This unique museum is in a home designed by the artist, poet, and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who was devoted to creating sustainable and innovative towns. He believed in the concept of a “Tree Tenet,” which was the integration of plants into the home in order to promote co2 and fertilization. He also wanted humans in general to live a more natural life. The museum is styled to his concept, featuring trees peeking through windows, floors rounded due to vines, and rooftop gardens. There is even a delicious café with traditional desserts and delicious flatbreads at the base. Take a peak at the site- I promise you’ve never seen anything like it!
- Schönbrunn Palace: I would be crazy to not mention the Schönbrunn. While it definitely is a tourist stop, the palace is huge, with acres of gardens, sculptures, fountains, and even a zoo. The palace itself is gorgeous, bigger than anything you expect. After wandering around the gardens for hours, I stumbled upon a cute café in the middle of their gardens which had a delicious menu for all types of eaters. A great way to escape the crowds and take in the beautiful surroundings!
- Belvedere: Closer to the city center than the Schönbrunn sits the Belvedere Palace, a gorgeous building that is now a museum filled with revered works, including those of my favorite artist Gustav Klimt. If you are a fan of art, I would highly recommend checking this spot out. Klimt’s work is incredible- you may have heard of “The Kiss”- and the museum has many other prominent artists and instillations as well. But even if you aren’t an art fan, the grounds are beautiful and definitely call for a photo opp.
So there you have it- my favorite spots in Vienna! Look for more of these travel posts soon on my favorite spots.