Exploring Vienna

I was in Vienna last weekend for the European Science Slam- an event aiming to communicate science to the general public. Science Slams are really popular in Germany and Austria but there are very few in the UK. Consequently the German and Austrian competitors had so much more experience than anyone else. I was on first, so I was really nervous, but it was still a fun event. It will also be on multiple countries' TV and radio, which is cool! The overall European winner was Simon from Germany, who delivered an exceptional presentation on Bioplastics. Very much deserved and the competitors were great people all around. After the Slam we headed for dinner, I had a lovely maize stew which tasted like savoury rice pudding, then went straight to bed as it was 1.30 am and we had been awake since 4 am!

On Saturday we slept in for a bit, then transferred over to our Airbnb apartment, which was precisely what we wanted- small, quiet, chic, with a good location on Gumpendorfer Str. We had elected Saturday as a walking around day, as it really is the best way to get a feel for a city. First we wandered through the Naschmarkt (occupies several streets around 1060 Wien). This open air market varies in size and content depending on the day, but when we went it had bric-a-brac, food stalls, and clothing or household materials (carpets, linens etc) stalls. I didn't take any photos but the falafel and hummus sold at the stalls was amazing. I didn't actually buy any though, as we got so many free samples. Instead I bought a spinach and feta pastry, S.O. bought a falafel wrap, and we sat in a nearby park, amusing some small children by acting like kids ourselves and having a go on the climbing frame (they had real climbing holds!). One small child was highly entranced and so spent the entire time gawping at these strangers speaking a funny language. 

We took a tram* to Prater Park (1020 Wien), again going for a long walk through the greenery to the amusement rides. We didn't intend to go on any rides (it's a little cheesy) but I wanted to see the old ferris wheel- the Wiener Riesenrad. This ferris wheel was built in 1897, designed by engineer Lt Walter Bassett, and was the world's tallest wheel from 1920 until 1985 (there were taller wheels from 1897-1920 but these were demolished!). Each passenger car is more like a small cabin and you can rent them for a romantic meal, which I have to say would be lovely. 

We took the tram back through the city and got off somewhere around Stephansplatz and the Stephansdom (St Stephen's cathedral, 1010 Wien). The cathedral has a stunning multi-coloured tiled roof and a dramatic Gothic tower, which now has an odd ombre effect due to the higher stones being newer and some restoration. We walked past a pond in which there was a sculpture and a moving water feature. The mechanism pushed a wave towards one end or the other and we watched kids race the wave. We also saw the opera house (Opernring 2, 1010 Wien), were propositioned with tickets to the Cinderella opera (we did not accept, Opera is not my thing), then went to a cafe for cakes and coffee. The man selling tickets guessed us as Kiwi, Australian, Canadian... English? He clearly spotted English language, but with a non-American and non-English accent. Close, mate! This cafe had very... Parisian-style waiters. Curt perhaps is the correct word? We ended up with the wrong cakes but decided just to go with it. 

After fueling with cake, we walked on past the museum quarter and all the art museums. Past The Secession (Friedrichstraße 12 , 1010 Wien) in Karlsplatz. Many of Vienna's buildings are sensationally beautiful, and many of these buildings don't even necessarily have an important use. The French embassy was amusing- it is absolutely massive and has an imperious sense of importance infused in its design. Down here there was also a random vegetable garden, from which it seemed you could pick your own vegetables and pay for them via an honesty box. A very cool thing to find in a square ringed by grand old buildings!

One thing to watch out for- in Vienna supermarkets are required to close very early. So when we went to buy food to make dinner in our apartment we absolutely could not. They are also closed on Sundays, and many places are closed Mondays (restaurants, cafes, some museums). Therefore, if you want to cook in keep an eye on the days and times. We ended up with Thai take out from Thai Isaan Kitchen (Gumpendorfer Str. 91, 1060 Wien), and it was excellent. 

The Kunsthalle (Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Wien) has a sign made of woolen rags.

On Sunday we had a much deserved long lie in and relaxed a bit- doing some reading on the soft leather sofa. We had planned brunch at Cafe Jelinek (Otto-Bauer-Gasse 5, 1060 Wien), which is an extremely old cafe full of locals. They had amazing looking cakes but we had no space for them in the end. My ricotta rye bread breakfast was filling and nutritious- 5 gold holiday health stars for me! Good coffee too, although mocha clearly doesn't mean the same thing in Austria as it does in the UK...  

We headed over to Schönbrunn Schloss (Schloßstraße 47, 1130 Wien) on the U-Bahn to wander the grounds and check out the zoo (Maxingstraße 13b, 1130 Wien). Zoos can be controversial, I know. I support them in the case of endangered species and I only visit zoos which have good enclosures, good animal care records, and which do not use the animals to perform any kind of party trick. The highlight for me had to be the panda bears- teenage Fu Bao ('lucky leopard') was pressed against the glass when the keepers appeared, hungry in anticipation of a bamboo lunch. He was also wrestling adorably with his mother. I just love pandas. They are quite a silly species, but they always bring home to me the impact humans have on the world- they are very highly specialised for an incredibly specific environment, and we started destroying that environment.

This zoo also houses Spectacled bears (aka the Andean bear) snoozing in the sunlight. I loved their honey speckled noses, and tufty ears. The big chap was curiously looking up now and again, whilst the female dozed away and the little one ran all over the place like a maniac - he was impossible to get a photo of!

Other highlights included the rainforest house- where you are placed in the animals' habitat. This greenhouse holds fruit bats, bird species, and small rodents. It's really interesting to be able to feel their ideal environment; the humidity on your skin and bats rocketing past inches from your hair. 

We then spent a long time meandering about the beautiful gardens gawping at the exterior of the Schönbrunn Palace. The palace was once summer home to the imperial families, including to Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The grounds are filled with tunnels made of trees and bright flowerbeds (which occasionally are shaped into a pattern or picture, so keep your eyes peeled!). We chose to go into the maze. My S.O. thought it might be a little easy, but ended up only finding the centre with my help. I did feel a little smug about that one given we were racing... 

If you go, it is completely worth the climb up the hill to The Gloriette. A Gloriette is a structure or pavillion in an elevated position in a garden. This one is beautifully placed on the crest of the hill looking down to the palace (this was the original proposed site of the palace too) and has open corridors at both sides. The cafe inside has waiters in full tuxedo dress and does a mean hot chocolate. As we are both runners, we had a very long conversation about how cool a race that hill would be- with two zig zag paths up both sides of the Gloriette, you could come up one side, down the other, then sprint from palace to fountain to finish. Yes, yes we are lame. 

After our revitalising hot chocolate, we grabbed the U-Bahn back into the centre and checked out the Rathaus (Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 1, 1010 Wien) and Parliament (Dr.-Karl-Renner-Ring 3, 1017 Wien) under the beginnings of dusk. Finally we jumped on the U-Bahn back to our apartment and relaxed for a half hour then headed out to grab sushi at Natsu (Gumpendorfer Str. 45, 1060 Wien). It was very casual, with great sushi at a good price. We got a taste of our own British medicine** as the waitress did not speak English (I asked in German if she did), and instead just repeated the German phrases VERY LOUDLY and Very. Slowly.

On Sunday we slept in a little, then went for more brunch at the Brass Monkey (Gumpendorfer Str. 71, 1060 Wien). GREAT coffee, but very little food on offer. We then wandered over to Haus des Meeres (Fritz-Grünbaum-Platz 1, 1060 Wien) which we had spotted the night before on the way back from sushi. It's an aquarium, but it was the stairs hiking up the 8 floors that we were interested in. Sadly building works had closed the stairway and our other option was to pay out the nose for an aquarium ticket just to take a lift to the top. We declined. But we did spot the immense climbing wall on one side of the building- looks AWESOME but terrifying. 

Our time was running out, careening towards home time, so we decided to walk to Landstraße (where the train to the airport leaves from). On the way we saw some other gorgeous buildings in the newly shining sun.

We were on the train to the airport by midday. Travel was a little stressful with some late landings, a pain in the ass at LHR security, and some intense queues. However the views on both air journeys were stunning. We were treated to the late afternoon sun bouncing off of the south of England then to a fiery sunset up near Scotland. 

All in all, Vienna was just gorgeous. We took it slow, but I'm glad I got in some proper relaxation. As always, the best way to see a city is on foot. We stayed for one night in the Science Slam hotel in Wieden district then two nights in an Airbnb in Mariahilf. We took the CAT (city airport train), which is pricier (€15) but incredibly fast and convenient. I'd probably pay it again for the ease of use. *The Viennese public transport is exceptionally easy to use once you get hold of a map, and if you are there on a short break definitely get a 72-hr ticket which allows you to go on any public transport endlessly for only €16 (buses, trams, U-Bahn; 24- and 48-hr cards also available). 


Have you been to Vienna or Austria?

What European cities have you loved?

** Please note, we don't do this. But Westerners are sort of infamous for it. By Westerners I mean Americans and Brits. True Europeans would never be so gauche.


  1. Sounds fantastic! I love markets where you can try before you buy food. And authentic local food as well. I've driven through Austria (on the way to Italy) but never looked around. Sounds really good though. The buildings look beautiful!

    1. If you go to Austria go to the mountains- STUNNING! But Vienna was lovely too!

  2. Glorious pictures! Sounds like a great place to visit. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. It was a lovely place for a short break :) I'd recommend!