We recently celebrated my 27th birthday with a few days in Vienna, Austria. This was all of our (mine, Colin and Ellie’s) first visit to Austria and I think we all really enjoyed our time in Vienna. But unfortunately, we didn’t do everything like we should have. We made some mistakes.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like Vienna. I actually really liked it! The city is beautiful and it seems like there’s lots to do to fill more than just a couple of days. The mistakes we made were mostly our fault, not Vienna’s. So I definitely want to go back to correct some of our biggest Vienna mistakes.
If you’re heading to Vienna, learn from our mistakes and don’t do any of these things:
Mistake #1: Visiting Vienna in the summer
For many places in Europe, the ideal time to visit is in the summer when the weather is great and everything is happening. The only downside is the crowds. In Vienna, you have the downside of the crowds but you don’t get the upside of everything happening. In fact, many things are shut down!
If you visit Vienna in the summer, you won’t get to enjoy some of the most iconic Viennese activities. The famous Vienna opera? It takes a break during the summer season. The angelic Viennese Boys Choir? They have summers off. Even the Lipizzaner, Vienna’s famed stallions, don’t perform in the summer.
So sadly, we missed out on all of these things. But we still had to deal with tons of tourists and the gross heat of summer. I’m already planning for us to come back in the fall or spring when we can catch some of these Viennese shows without the heat or crowds.
Mistake #2: Not booking Schönbrunn Palace tickets online
Vienna has three main palaces: Hofburg (the winter palace in the city centre), Belvedere (now converted into an art gallery) and Schönbrunn (the summer palace just outside of the city centre). After doing some research online, I decided that with only a few days in Vienna, we should see the Schönbrunn Palace.
I’m really glad we picked Schönbrunn. But I’m really disappointed that I didn’t think to book the tickets online. Instead, we rocked up around 11:00AM on a Wednesday in the middle of July, and found out the earliest we could enter the palace would be 1:30PM! We had no idea the tickets had timed entry and suddenly found ourselves with over two hours to kill (and a poor pup waiting back at the hotel).
Luckily, the best part of Schönbrunn Palace is actually the beautiful grounds and gardens. If you’re visiting Vienna, I would say you need at least two hours to explore this place. We walked through the beautiful gardens, admired the Neptune Fountain and headed up the hill to take in the view of Vienna. It was all so beautiful! And the best part was another fountain that Colin found, the Obelisk Fountain, that was super cool and practically deserted.
In fact, I think our biggest mistake may have been paying to enter the palace at all, since it’s free to wander the grounds. The actual palace was a bit of a letdown. It’s like any other European palace – and there was only one room that really wowed me. On top of that, it was incredibly hot inside and super crowded with big tour groups blocking the way. And, they ran out of audio guides so Colin and I were just handed pamphlets to read.
Bonus tip: Most of the bathrooms at Schönbrunn require you to pay to use them. The free ones are at the entrance to the palace, before you have to show your ticket. So my suggestion would be to skip the palace, explore the beautiful grounds for free, and use the free bathroom at the palace entrance instead of the paid ones elsewhere.
Mistake #3: Didn’t eat Viennese food
We learned on our walking tour that Vienna is one of the only capital cities that has its own food. Paris has French food, but not Parisian food. There’s Czech food, but there isn’t Prague food. But Vienna has its own special Viennese food. Sadly, we didn’t get to try nearly enough of it.
At our final meal, Colin did order a wiener schnitzel, made of veal and served with cranberry jam – the Vienna way. I tried a bite and it was pretty good! But we missed out on other Viennese specialties like Tafelspitz (boiled beef fillet), pancake soup, liver dumpling soup (apparently it tastes better than it sounds), and Kasekrainer (cheese-filled sausage). I’m not sure I would have enjoyed all of these, but I would have liked to try them. We didn’t even spend any time at a traditional Viennese coffee shop, which seems essential to Vienna’s culture.
Mistake #4: Went on a walking tour on our last day
Speaking of our walking tour, we made the mistake of not doing it until our last day in Vienna. In our defence, we did have one booked for our first day, but after the delay at the palace, we had to skip it.
A walking tour is a great way to orient yourself in a new city and get a taste of the culture and history. I’m not a huge fan of museums or reading a bunch of dry signposts or pamphlets. But I really love a walking tour where the history and culture come to life right in front of me.
While our walking tour was awesome, it was definitely a mistake to do it last. We got so many recommendations for foods to try, places to visit and things to do – but couldn’t do any of them because we were heading home that day.
Mistake #5: Ate bad sachertorte
Sachertorte is Vienna’s famous chocolate cake. As a big fan of chocolate, this was reason enough for me to want to visit Vienna. And since we were there for my birthday, it only made sense that we had a slice (or two or three) of sachertorte.
Confession: I didn’t love it! Which is almost blasphemous for me to say because I love chocolate. Sadly, I found the cake really dry and kind of boring.
But I’m not ready to totally write off sachertorte. According to our walking tour guide (yet another reason why we should have done the tour first!), the best sachertorte is had at the bakery Demel or the Sacher Hotel. There, the cake has more layers of apricot jam and is served with cream. Sadly, we didn’t have time to try either but Colin and I have already planned to do a taste test on our next visit to Vienna.
Mistake #6: Didn’t make a reservation for dinner
You would think we would have learned from our palace ticket debacle, but we didn’t and so headed out for dinner that night without booking anything ahead. Big mistake! We found a really cool Thai restaurant for dinner. I know, Thai food in Austria sounds like an odd choice but the food was delicious and the garden/patio area was really nice.
Sadly, we didn’t get to eat in the lovely garden because we didn’t make a reservation. We ate half of our meal at bar stools inside the hot kitchen area, and the other half at an outdoor table that we partially shared with another person. It was still a great dinner, but it would have been so much better with a proper table reservation in the garden.
Mistake #7: Didn’t stay long enough
Our biggest mistake in Vienna? Not staying long enough! We left Prague on a Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Vienna just in time to walk to our hotel and head to bed. And then we returned on Thursday night. So we really only had a day and a half in this city, but I wish we had spent way more time there.
It would have been great to discover the other palaces. Hofburg Palace includes a few museums with the price of admission and the Belvedere Palace was right next to our hotel. Our walking tour guide also mentioned a very cool cemetery that sounded like it would have been interesting to visit. I wanted to sit in the coffee shop where Mozart and Freud used to sit. And I wanted to spend more time in the Old Town, since we were only there for our guided walking tour. We visited the Naschmarkt food market, but only for lunch and didn’t spend any time browsing the stalls.
Overall, the trip felt rushed. But at the same time, it also felt like we were wasting the hours we did have. Because our Schönbrunn Palace visit took longer than expected, we had to miss our original walking tour. So we ended up having a few hours to kill before dinner, but after walking Ellie, it wasn’t enough time to do anything we wanted to do. The same thing happened on Thursday after we checked out. Our train wasn’t until 7:00PM, but we had Ellie with us and couldn’t figure out a good place to go with her.
Next time, we’ll definitely have to stay in Vienna for longer than two nights!
However, it wasn’t all bad news in Vienna. Despite our mistakes, we did manage to do some stuff right.
Things we did right in Vienna:
Ate delicious baked goods
While we didn’t get the best sachertorte, we did eat some very delicious apple strudels. Maybe it’s just harder to mess up an apple strudel. We also stopped by a bakery for breakfast before our walking tour and I had a very delicious chocolate croissant and lemon meringue tart (breakfast of champions!).
Explored the Schönbrunn grounds
By far, the best thing we did in Vienna was take the time to explore the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace. When we showed up, we didn’t even know the beautiful gardens existed as they are blocked by the palace. We were originally thinking we’d just have to spend two hours sitting at a cafe before our ticket entry time. I’m so glad we asked about the gardens and were told that most of them are free to walk around and discover. A morning well spent!
Had dinner at Mamamon Thai Eatery
Even though we didn’t have reservations, our dinner at Mamamon was so good! I’m a huge fan of Asian food and wanted something Asian for my birthday dinner. I was really happy with the food here and highly recommend it. Just don’t forget to make a reservation! There’s also a cupcake place next door that looked adorable.
Went on the Welcome to Vienna walking tour
So while we did mess up by going on our walking tour at the end of our stay instead of the beginning, I was very happy with the company we went with. After some Googling, I found the Welcome to Vienna free walking tour. What stood out to me was that the guides are all Vienna natives, having lived in the city for over 10 years. Our guide was great! She was really informative and added some cool colour to her stories that I think only a native would be able to add. It definitely felt like a richer experience compared to some other walking tours we’ve been on, like the one in Munich led by a Kiwi.
The biggest lesson we learned from our time in Vienna: We need to come back! I would love to come back in the fall and watch performances of the opera, the boys choir and the Lipizzaner horses. I want to eat more Viennese food and check out all of the sights we missed. I’d love to stay for a couple more days, and check out the Christmas Markets in Vienna in December.
Have you ever been to Vienna?
What did you love or what would you love to see or do there?
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