Back at the beginning of December, we finally got around to doing the weekend Europe trip we had in mind since June! For my birthday, we booked a four day trip to Vienna. Austria is somewhere that’s been on my list since I first saw The Sound of Music (albeit that was set in Salzburg, not the capital), and Christmas seemed the ideal time to visit.
Vienna fits all the expectations – very grand, very clean, and very Christmassy in December! It’s not the cheapest location for a European break – but it’s easily accessible and works well for a long weekend.
We flew from London Heathrow into Vienna, on Austrian Airlines, at about £200 each return – not pittance, but the airline quality was good, and our flight times were really convenient and allowed us maximum time in the city over our 4 days. The flight itself takes just over two hours. A really impressive and convenient train system (the City Airport Train, or CAT) is in place to take you straight from the airport to the city – a very pleasant way to travel, powered completely by renewable energy (a combination of wind and hydroelectric). This is well sign-posted and runs every 15 minutes, costing €19 return each. You can even check in your luggage and collect your ticket from the station on the way back, before reaching the airport!
A large new central station has recently been completed in Vienna (Wien Hauptbahnhof) but the airport train will take you straight to the ‘old’ central station (Wien Mitte). From here you have access to the tube trains, to take you into the actual centre of the city (or elsewhere!). We booked in to stay at Hotel Ruby Sofie. This was a fairly quirky but really enjoyable and good quality home for the weekend, and was a mere 10 minutes easy walk from this station. The rooms had good facilities, and even the option of borrowing an electric guitar from reception to plug into the amps supplied in each room!
For our first day, we didn’t plan too much – just enjoyed exploring the city by foot, and getting our bearings. It didn’t take long to come across the very recognisable St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Hofburg palace, and the Museums Quarter – all with their own Christmas markets adjacent at that time of year, the latter being by far the most large and impressive. It’s a city easily explored by foot, but equally just as accessible for touring via bus, tram or even horse and cart (a slightly steep €55 for 20 minutes if you choose the equine option!). For everyday travel, a multi-day tube pass is very well-priced, and saves a lot of hassle (and your feet!) when getting about the city (and can be used on trams too).
A mulled wine and much exercise later, we were ready for a short break after an early start. However, we ventured out again that evening to the Prater amusement park, where we took a ride on the Wiener Riesenrad ferris wheel (made famous for it’s appearance in the 1949 film The Third Man). While the area looks like a bit of a dive when first stepping out from the local tube stop, once reached by a short walk you’ll find the park located in among a little buzz of shops, and even a Madame Tussauds – and of course in December, yet another Christmas market. The wheel itself is vintage, having been built in 1897, and the wooden carriages are charming. Tickets are €9.50 each, and it was a lovely evening activity – albeit perhaps in some ways better enjoyed during the day when the views can actually be seen! A classic extortionate gift shop is attached to the wheel, and you will also be offered the opportunity to purchase an overpriced tourist photo of yourselves. If you really want to splash your cash, you could even book out a private carriage to enjoy a sit-down dinner in!
Before leaving for the evening, we joined some weary football fans drifting home from their match to indulge in the local delicacy kasekrainer (sausage with cheese infused through it – very tasty!) from a stall. Perhaps Vienna’s ever so slightly more elegant answer to a cheeky midnight kebab?
Hofburg Palace (first three images), Mulled Wine (gluhwein), and the Riesenrad wheel (outside and in)