“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Vienna was another bit of a small adventure. Thanks to the Eurail pass, I wasn’t allowed to just board any old train I wanted. I had to be on trains that didn’t require reservations. My luck was, there was only one leaving that day. And it was early in the morning.
However, when I arrived and started waiting there was an announcement saying that reservations were mandatory. And I maybe began to panic a little more than I should have.
Honestly, travel is kind of always like that for me. Moments of panic before I can remind myself there’s always something else I can do to solve the problem. The reality was I realized I could always go try to add a reservation if need be. If no one would give me one I could simply try to buy a ticket and pay for it that way. And if nothing else…I could pay a little extra and spend another night in Budapest. Not ideal, but it would work.
So with that in mind I determined I would board the train and try to ask before making my decision about what to do. Worst case was they would tell me I couldn’t be on board and needed a reservation.
Thankfully there were a few other people as confused as I was. So glad that the world confirms that I am not the only one with difficulty following instructions given over crackly intercoms. I soon found out if I was going to be going somewhere in Hungary I needed a seat reservation. But to go to Austria or another international destination it was fine. Completely confusing.
Once in Austria further confusion began. I swear, figuring out public transportation… there are certainly times I understand why there are travelers who are unwilling to do it. Every place is different, and sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out. Thankfully, I did eventually find the right bus, and I was just glad I had enough time that it wasn’t a problem. Never try to figure out public transport in a new city in a rush. You will end up regretting it.
I arrived at my hostel. I stayed at H.I. Myrthengasse. I’d stayed at other Hosteling International branches before and had good experiences with them, so I figured this one would be okay too.
It ended up being my least favorite of my trip, and my lowest rating on Hostelworld. When I asked for a dinner recommendation the man at the desk simply pointed me to a region in town rather than a specific place or places. He insisted “everything was good” in that area. Sorry, but there are no towns where every single restaurant is good. I’m just lucky I have tripadvisor and a good sense of how to pick restaurants myself.
On top of that, the rooms were really outdated and did not have wifi in them and only had two outlets. The lobby was not very clean and was smoky and unappealing. The only real saving feature of this hostel was the fact that it had a really yummy breakfast included. It was also not too far from downtown, although more of a walk than I would have preferred. Mostly I’d recommend seeing if you could find something better that is closer to the city center.
After looking over a map I made my decisions of what I wanted to see for the day.
I began by purchasing the Vienna Card. Figured the unlimited transportation was a good deal in itself, and getting discounts on museums and such couldn’t hurt either. There’s also a pass that might be an option for more than one day, but I’ll leave you to research that on your own. So with the card in hand, I set off for the Belvedere Palace and Museum.
The palace and grounds were stunning. Absolutely beautiful to see. I think for me, this is what I picture when I hear Vienna. Grand palaces and opera houses and finery.
I purchased a pass to both the upper and lower Belvedere. Honestly, I’d just recommend the upper one. It has more of the famous works and is more interesting as a building too. Sadly no photographs inside, so I can’t show you what I saw. The most exciting was The Kiss by Gustave Klimt, but otherwise the museum mostly just had other fine works.
After exploring the whole place (again save your time and money and just go to the Upper Belvedere unless you’re a real art nerd), I decided it was time to try something else. So I set off for the Haus der Musik. In English it’s referred to as The Sound Museum.
It was highly recommended on a few lists of things to do in Vienna, and I would agree it seemed worth the money, especially as someone who was classically trained in music and wanted to feel I’d gotten the most out of Vienna. For any people with children, I also would seriously recommend this museum. Very interactive and interesting. Brought out the kid at heart in me, and I only wished I’d had someone to share it with at the time.
After exploring this museum it was getting late and I was feeling ready to eat. Again, since I hadn’t received any recommendations from my hostel, I did just take off in the area they’d indicated, pulling up my phone and searching tripadvisor to see what was nearby.
I ended up at a place called Glacis Beisl. I had some wine, a creamy mushroom soup, and some Wienner Schnitzel…because I was in Vienna and it’s one of my favorite foods anyways.
The food was very good and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Feeling very content, I headed back to my hostel. Actually had a chance to chat with my roommate who was a fellow English assistant from a different region of France! So that was very entertaining.
The next day I woke up fairly early to get a good start on the day. Headed down and had breakfast. Again, one redeeming feature of the hostel.
From there I set out for the Schonbrunn Palace. So for people looking for art, head to Belvedere, or to one of the many museums in the city center, but for those looking for history go to Schonbrunn. This palace still is set up as it was used by the royal family. You can do an audio-guide or a guided tour, I’d recommend audio-guide as it lets you go at your own pace and is easier in the crowded setting anyways. Get there early to help avoid more of the crowds.
There are lots of options on what tickets you can buy. I ended up wishing I’d bought the more simple one for just the palace, as a majority of the gardens are open to the public, and the few that are blocked off and required pay weren’t that interesting (especially in the fall).
Regardless the interiors were beautiful and it was a fun walk through history for me. The gardens were fun with the fall colors, but again don’t waste your money on the smaller ones. They’re not worth it.
After my palace explorations there was somewhere else I wanted to go.
Vienna has the oldest zoo in the world (or so they claim), and one that has very good ratings online too. So I figured I’d check it out and see some fun animals for the rest of the morning.
Turned out to be a good decision, although I will say I did feel a little weird at a place like a zoo completely on my own. But I had fun regardless, enjoyed the silly animals and the nice layout. It’s a good sized zoo and they’ve also just done a nice job of making it aesthetically attractive. Views from the boardwalk up the hill are fun too.
I saw all that I wanted and then caught the subway back into town where I was scheduled to do a free walking tour. I had signed up in advance, worried that I might not get a spot otherwise as it was a weekend. Turned out to be a good decision as there was quite a crowd and they had to turn some people away.
Our guide was very entertaining and insightful. I also really loved that she used a microphone and made use of her ipad to show images and videos and other material to help us understand. I thought that was a very clever addition to the traditional tour routine.
We saw a lot of good things. My only wish is that I’d taken the tour my first day because it would have given me some good insights on fun things to do in Vienna before arriving. I enjoyed what I had seen, but I wished I’d had time to see the Royal Treasury, and some of the other interesting sights she pointed out.
I asked for a restaurant recommendation from her and again received a vague area suggestion instead. Something weird about Vienna I guess, or at least the people I ran into at the time.
I had to head back to my hostel to charge my phone anyways. So I headed back there and did some more searches for ideas on restaurants. Found a good looking schnitzel place, but by the time I got there it had a line out the door. I decided it wasn’t worth it and went looking for something else.
I stumbled across Boheme by accident. It had good reviews and the food sounded good. Sure enough it ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip. I had a pumpkin soup, tortellini, and apple strudel. It was all so amazingly delicious, and I left extremely satisfied.
I headed back to my hostel feeling that for the most part I’d seen some good things in Vienna. Again, it’s a city I would definitely love to come back to someday.
My advice to fellow travelers is to give yourself plenty of time here. Rushing through it really does you no good in the long run. But here’s a bit of what I loved about this fun city in the meantime. Live and learn I suppose.