In college, I traveled to Vienna with my study abroad group for a three-day educational trip. We were based in Prague, and our program focused on the political climate of Central and Eastern Europe from the end of WWI to the present. I knew nothing of the region before I found myself physically there, but that only served to create a trip that was full of pleasant surprises and more learning than I’d ever done inside a classroom. With this mini Vienna travel guide, I hope I can inspire you to travel to Vienna and experience the incredible history it has to offer, yourself.
[ezcol_3quarter][/ezcol_3quarter] [ezcol_1quarter_end]The first activity on our agenda was to circle the Ringstrasse, a wide boulevard that encircles Vienna’s historical center and separates it from the rest of the city. This is a great way to get oriented with the city, whether you travel by foot or tram.[/ezcol_1quarter_end][ezcol_1third]
We walked past the Austrian Parliament Building, Rathausplatz, the Hofburg Palace, and Museumsquartier (where the Kunsthistorisches Museum is located), and the State Opera House, among other famous sights. I was taken aback at the grand vibe of the city.[/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_2third_end][/ezcol_2third_end][ezcol_1half][/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]With so many imposing buildings located right next to each other, it was easy to imagine the wealth and prosperity that Vienna enjoyed at the height of its power just a couple of centuries ago. After a quick tour of the serious attractions, it was straight to the Prater Amusement Park for some good, old-fashioned fun. We had a great afternoon riding the Riesenrad, one of the oldest and largest Ferris wheels anywhere, and bringing out the inner child in us on some of the crazier rides.[/ezcol_1half_end]
To finish off the day, we headed inward toward the heart of the city. Starting at St. Stephensplatz, we saw the cathedral by the same name, the beautiful Baroque St. Peter’s Church, and finally stopped in at the historic Café Central. Famous and controversial individuals from the past century are known to have met here, including Lenin and Hitler, and Vienna native Sigmund Freud is said to have spent much time enjoying coffee here. Vienna’s cafes are elegant and timeless; our food was served on silver platters and the waiters were dressed in professional tuxedos. I’d love to return one day and have this experience again, but wear something more appropriate than my scrubby shorts and flip-flops.
On the following days we scoured the Hofburg Imperial Palace, explored the vast grounds of the Schonbrunn Summer Palace, and met with an American diplomat working at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We discussed the way that Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) has been made into an icon for Vienna, though there were many other historic figures who accomplished much more than she did for the empire. Our professors attempted to balance what they called (in better words) “false advertising” in Sisi’s fame with a visit to the Kunst Haus Wien, a museum celebrating the life and work of artist and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It was certainly memorable and worthwhile for anyone with an interest in art, architecture, or the environment.
I think that I got more out of my time in Vienna because my professors worked hard to uncover layers of history that most tourists don’t get to see. While the Hofburg Palace is full of historic significance, we knew to dig deep to look for it, past the romanticized story of Sisi and her struggles with depression and perfectionism, which had little effect on Austrian history. I think I enjoyed the Kunst Haus so much because Hundertwasser wanted to make a real impact on the world in a practical way, but I never would have come to this strange museum without experts to guide me through it. If I could go back, I’d seek out more museums featuring Gustav Klimt and spend more time eating Sachertorte. But really, I think it would be pretty hard to go wrong in such a regal, sophisticated city.