It’s no secret I love this city, but few visitors here take full advantage its endless charms, because you don’t find them highlighted in the guidebooks. I want to correct that, so here, in no particular order, are 5 things you must do in Vienna just because they’re fun, they’re what the locals do, and there’s only one place on earth you can do them:
- Watch a world-class opera outdoors-I’m sitting in front of a giant TV watching a live feed of “Don Carlo”, which is the opera playing this evening at Vienna’s Opera House, a neo-Renaissance masterpiece designed and built when Europe was still European. It is a nice, cool, early summer’s eve, and the audience, seated in neat rows in front of the screen, discreetly applauds between scenes as if they were viewing the performance inside rather than watching it al frecso. Only in this, arguably the most civilized spot on the planet, could I imagine such a scene , and if you visit Vienna, I highly recommend this activity, which is absolutely free!
- Eat a Vienna sausage in the park-There are kiosks selling these famous treats all over the old city, usually near major metro stops or tourist attractions-anywhere you find lots of folks. I can’t resist buying the garlic version with mustard and a dark bottled beer, then sitting down on a park bench to people watch. Best way in the world to spend your time. Bite into this juicy treat, and your trip to Vienna hasn’t been wasted.
- Make a day trip to Bratislava-The underrated capital of Slovakia is just a short (75 minute) boat ride away. Sure, you could take a train, but where’s the fun in that? Leave after breakfast, cruise down the Donau (Danube) until you see the “UFO bridge”, spend a day exploring the city, including it’s impressive castle and Museum of Arms, eat dinner within eyesight of the gorgeous and grand Opera House, and return in time for a nightcap back in Vienna.
- Sample chocolate at Michael Reimer’s Bon Bon Museum-Everybody’s heard of Sacher chocolate, and they’re not only justifiably famous (I wrote about them here), they’re also easy to find. After all, they’re right on the Kartnerstrasse directly across form the Opera House. But if you’re fond of history, a centuries-old family tradition, and fine chocolate, go just a little bit off the beaten path to visit Michael Reimer at his chocolate shop. Like an ersatz WIllie Wonka, he’ll greet you in a confectionary hat topped with something silly. On the day I was there he had a soccer ball attached to it. But his creations are seriously delicious, and they are amazingly inexpensive. Bite into a free sample of these dreamy candies and you’ll realize why he’s been featured twice on national television. Better yet, take the time to tour his factory for an in-depth look at the history of his family and their company.
- OK, I admit this was a close call, because Vienna’s riverfront is full of great bars, so a case can be made that a pub crawl on the river is a great choice for my fifth option. Or, maybe a bike tour of the Wachau Valley wineries, but that seemed like cheating a little, since I’d already recommended one activity that wasn’t strictly Viennese (the Bratislava boat tour). Or maybe even enjoying a cup of fantastic coffee at any one of Vienna’s great coffee houses….but no, somehow, the idea of viewing the city from above, rising in leisurely fashion atop a 19th century ferris wheel in one of its luxurious cabins, seems in my mind to epitomize perfectly all that is Vienna, the city of music and the home of emperors. So yes, by all means, have some fun, ride the Reisenrad…it’s part of the magic of Austria!