Turns out there is a lot more to Vienna than a crowded tourist centre full of stunning architecture. We discover some alternative things to do in Vienna…
In this article, we eat our way through some Viennese classics but also discover some unexpected flavours… We experience Vienna’s 19th century Prater amusement park in a unique way that few others have… Plus our Vienna history lesson takes a stormy and adventurous turn.
Austria’s capital, Vienna, has some serious historical pedigree. It’s role in European culture and politics has been massively influential for over 800 years since the Babenberg dynasty made it their home in 1145.
Following that, it was the centre of the Habsburg empire. One of the most powerful families to rule over central Europe.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you this. That’s why the internet invented wikipedia.
When we visit a city, we may want to learn about the history but we also want some food, fun and adventure!
Things to do in Vienna: Food
The more we travel in central and eastern Europe, the more we realise that a lot of cuisine we associate today with America, is really just an updated form of central European cuisine.
It’s no surprise that American cuisine was brought about by European immigrants, but visiting Austria and surrounding countries, their influence on American cuisine becomes strikingly clear in abundance.
Sources disagree on the invention of the hot dog, for example. That the sausage may have originally been made with dog meat, is one proposed possibility. That it was first wrapped in bread is likely an innovation first tried on American shores (Possibly on Coney Island in the 1880s) but the sausage style, the Wiener sausage, arguably has roots in Vienna.
Regardless of the history, eating sausage at a street cart is one of the essential things to do in Vienna.
We ate at the “GrillWurst” on the corner of Schottenbastei & Schottengasse, just north of Vienna’s historic centre. For a few dollars you get a giant sausage, and unlike the American open hot dog, with the Vienna variety the sausage is slipped inside, with the bread acting like a sleeve.
My favourite was the Kasekrainer, the Austrian interpretation of a cheese filled sausages. The grilled and crispy outside of the sausage gives way to melty cheese pieces dotted throughout the meaty centre. Meaty cheesy wonder!
Also the Debreziner – a smoked sausage with paprika – is a smokey and meatier alternative.
Other than GrillWurst, a sausage stand that is more central is the popular Bitzinger Wurst.
Before we get onto the “unusual” flavour we discovered in Vienna… one more classic.
Deep fried cheese! I thought only the Americans could have invented deep fried, breaded fat. Nope. History suggests it was the French in the late 14th century. This practice clearly became popular across Europe. I mean, why wouldn’t it?
Pretty much any creamy cheese that melts evenly can work. We opted for deed fried emmental cheese. This was served with a tartar dip and a cranberry sauce. Both great accompaniments in their own right.
And to wash it down? Well that’s where we found a surprise.
Micro-brewing is an Austrian tradition from long before the words “craft brew revolution” were ever uttered. But unlike some traditionalists, The 7 Stars Brewery, to the west of the city centre, is offering up some pretty quirky choices for your palate.
These included “Hemp beer” and a “chilli beer”. Both golden in colour, the flavours could not be more different.
I’m a chilli lover so had to try the chilli beer. It actually packs a kick. Getting through a whole litre would be a struggle. The malt of the beer hit’s your taste buds first and then as your typical beer flavour fades it is replaced with a lingering heat that you are going to need a hemp beer to quench.
The hemp beer is a truly floral and fruity experience and probably my favourite of the four beers we tried at the 7 stars. It punches of an IPA but without the bitterness.
Visit the 7 stars brewery.
Things to do in Vienna: Fun
For fun times in Vienna we sought out the most alternative experience we could.
WurtzelPrater is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. The giant ferris wheel that still stands in the park was built in 1897. The area is a major tourist attraction, perhaps not so alternative you might think…
Well, we went to experience Prater in a whole new way. Through the lens of a Polaroid camera.
Sophort operate tours around Prater as well as Vienna central and Warsaw (Poland). The focus is on helping you use and understand the polaroid camera that is loaned to you during the tour. Also on finding the unseen photo opportunities and learning how to be selective in what you shoot. And, of course, to explore the destination in an alternative way that regular tourists miss.
When you only get 8 photos, you have to make them count! This limited quantity makes you really think about what you are shooting. It gives you a new perspective on photography that our unlimited digital photo generation has forgotten.
Prater is a truly quirky and curious location to explore with a camera. From the striking images of the 19th century ferris wheel, to the mind-bending retro stylings of the mid-20th century house of horrors.
Novelty is everywhere.
We took a lot of tours during our extended time in Europe. Sophort is the most unique and memorable experience we had. Our guide, Gilbert, was extremely passionate about helping us get the most out of our polaroid shots and about finding us the best angles and most interesting subjects. It’s more than just a photo walk. It’s about discovery.
You get to keep your polaroids at the end of the tour too, and they seem like an exclusive, custom and valuable prize. The experience of collecting these photo treasures, of waiting for them to develop and of the process of finding the shots in the first place, make them better than any shop bought souvenir.
To create your very own, limited edition polaroid pack at the Prater Amusement park – check out the prater Sophort.
Things to do in Vienna: Adventure
Since our first Segway tour in Spain, we’ve been hooked! In Vienna, we were ready to explore the city from the effortless convenience of this 2 wheeled modern miracle. So we hooked up with pedal power segway tours.
If you haven’t been on a segway before, trust me, you’ll love it. It’s an intuitive machine that, after a minute or so practice, feels like a new set of legs. But, legs that let you float around a destination at 15 Km/h. With a slight lean in any direction you can manoeuvre with ease.
Sounds a little too easy to be an adventure? The tour runs rain or shine, and our experience in a rain storm, wearing ponchos certainly gave it some edge – especially when riding over wet cobblestones.
Still, the segway is a remarkably sturdy steed. For those who want to take it easy, you can roll around calmly. For me, I was terrorising cyclists, burning up and down cycle lanes with reckless abandon. Well, cyclists deserve some payback…
The best benefit for this tour? You can see a lot of a city in no time – and it’s fun! Simply taking photos of architecture gets a little tedious after you have visited a lot of European cities – there are only so many church photos I need.
But, spinning around Vienna on a Segway, getting historical and cultural information from a multilingual guide who shimmy’s up to you periodically on their 6,000 euro anti-bicycle… It’s great.
To be a guide in Austria you have to be certified. So, you have a guarantee your guide is going to know their stuff. If you have questions, you are going to get detailed answers.
Vienna’s city centre is surrounded by a giant ring road – perfect for segwaying around! Along this road, some of the most impressive landmarks in Vienna. Including the Heldenplatz – a huge public square and garden in front of the Hofburg palace – with plenty of space to get up some speed on the segway.
You pass the state opera, the grandiose looking Parliament building. The Karlskirche – a green domed 18th century cathedral. And the Musikverein – Where Vienna’s new year concert is held and broadcast to over 50 million people worldwide.
You cover some serious distance in the 3 hour tour. Doing this on foot would involve some serious sore feet. On the Segway it’s easy.
You also head into parts of the central old town. Bouncing on the cobble stones, marvelling at golden gilded fountains and taking a break for a coffee of beer at a traditional cafe – with some unexpected 19th century style peep-show pornography on the walls.
A visit inside the Jesuitenkirche, with it’s iconic, pink marble interior columns displays mind-bogling craftsmanship. Sadly, they don’t let you ride your segway around inside the church, but I guess that’s to be expected 😉
Even in the rain, exploring Vienna by Segway is fantastic way to see the whole city when you have limited time. Plus, as I said, Segway beats walking!
Where to stay in Vienna: Accommodation
We stayed at wombats hostel. It’s known as the cleanest hostel in Europe. I could see why. It’s spotless. Everywhere.
They have two locations in Vienna and we stayed at the lounge – which is a little further out of the center, but more affordable and right next to Vienna’s westbahnhof (West rail station) so if arriving on a Eurail pass like we did, really simple walking distance.
Wombats are really consistent at all of their hostels across Europe. Aside from the cleanliness, expect fun and friendly staff as well as a hostel bar with happy hours and interesting decor.
Actually, the cellar bar at Wombats the lounge was one of the best designed bars of all the hostels we stayed.
They also have their legendary all you can eat buffet breakfast so you can fill up in the morning and save money on needing lunch.
Vienna Tourism Card
While we were in Vienna we also tested out the Vienna card – which is provided by Vienna Tourism. I will use pricing of the 72 hour card for my examples below, all prices based on 2015 price.
The card can be good value for money:
If you are going to use public transport and were going to buy a transport card anyway.
If you were planning on entering a number of key attractions.
Essentially, a single ticket on the metro costs 2.20E. A 72 hour transport card costs 16.50. The Vienna card costs 21.90.
If you intend to use public transport at least 6 to 8 times in 3 days, and visit at least 2 attractions where the card gets you a discount, then it’s definitely good value.
Our slightly unconventional visit to Vienna meant we definitely got value from unlimited public transport, but did not take advantage of any of the attraction discounts. So, just the transport card would have been best for our trip. But that’s just us.
Discounts vary from attraction to attraction. So, take a look through their website to see things to do in Vienna that are discounted with the card to see if it would work for your visit.
Learn more about the Vienna Card.
Transport – Getting in and out of Vienna
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Food, fun or adventure? What would be your top pick if you could only choose one in Vienna? Leave us a comment below.