We have a confession to make: we have this secret competition with Vienna. Many of the guests who join our food tours visit Prague and then continue to Vienna and Budapest, or start in Budapest and get to Prague via Vienna. And we always want them to enjoy Prague more than Vienna. (Budapest, you’re cool.) We don’t know what it is. Maybe because the people and the culture are so similar. We just feel this rivalry and we cannot put our finger on it.
But don’t get us wrong. We love Vienna. Maybe because the people and the culture are so similar. Vienna is really like Prague, just one story higher, and not as gothic. Also, when you look at the names of the businesses, Czech surnames show up everywhere. So there is historical and cultural affinity between the two towns, and we like that. We do visit at least once a year, driving along our favorite route we have described recently. We revisit the places we love, and check out the new ones we have heard about. And that’s exactly what we did last weekend, too.
WHERE TO STAY?
Our hotel for the weekend was the 25Hours hotel. We liked it a lot. The location was perfect, right on the edge of the centre and Josefstadt near Museumquartier. To describe it shortly, imagine the Soho House hotel in Berlin, but more budget-friendly. The room was on the smaller side but very nicely designed and used quality materials. Strong branding, lively lobby and restaurant, sauna in the basement. Loved the curated tips for Vienna and the city bikes available for free. Dachboden, the bar on the rooftop was sadly closed during our stay. The staff should smile more, we think, but we will be back.
On our previous visits, we stayed at a few other hotels. Those young at heart will enjoy Hotel Daniel a bit off the centre. The well designed cafe and bakery on the ground floor has a pleasant atmosphere and offers bar foods, lots of freshly baked cakes, and a refuge for the whole day if you feel like it. Don’t be surprised by the bare concrete walls in the rooms. Also worth your attention is the Urbanauts project that reclaims old commercial spaces and converts them to tourist accommodations. A really cool idea by a group of young architects. We wished for a bit more interaction with the people behind the project, but we liked it nonetheless.
For the more seasoned… and comfortable travelers, we would recommend the Hollmann Beletage hotel. Great location near Stephansplatz. Spacious rooms with clever design and one of the comfiest beds we’ve ever slept in. Lots of nice, quirky touches, incl. a communal bottle of whiskey in the library and an in-house theatre! Nice breakfasts, too. The Guesthouse Vienna with marble-laden bathrooms and Bang & Olufsen stereos would also be a great alternative if your Couchsurfing days are definitely behind you.
WHERE TO EAT?
On our first day, we had a quick breakfast at our favorite Joseph bakery, a place that serves killed sourdough breads and delicious, buttery croissants. Taste any of their products and you’ll understand the long lines. You’ll be actually standing in them. Again. And again. You should also check their fairly new bistro that has a large seating area and serves sandwiches and simple foods. We had our first coffee of our stay at POC - People on Caffeine, a small cafe run by our friend Robert, who sadly was not in town. He recently remodeled the place, getting rid of the bar to engage the customers more in the process of coffee making. If you like Nordic-style coffee, ask for the lighter roast. They do have it.
For our first lunch, we finally went to Steirereck. We had wanted to visit for a long time - heck, it's the 16th best restaurant in the world according to the World's 50 Best Restaurants. The restaurant has lots of natural light inside and the tables are far apart. A great place for a fancy date. How was the food? Technically perfect, but we lacked a sense of thrill and more punch. Also, the service was rather cold. They give small cards that explain the dishes, but we think they should be an addition to, and not a replacement of, the dishes' presentation by the staff. If Steirerei is above your budget, visit Meierei downstairs, their sister restaurant with a fantastic selection of cheeses and nice, albeit slightly simpler dishes. Also, Meierei can be a great weekend breakfast tip, especially in the summer given its location in a park.
We always skip coffee in Michelin star restaurants (it's never that great), so we had coffee at ZAMM Coffee Collective in Josefstadt. A nice, small place that serves good coffee. Bonus: lots of great magazines on the communal table to read with your coffee, incl. Standart, the Slovak coffee magazine run by friends, who will soon start publishing its English version. For dinner, we headed over to Mochi, a super-popular, super-busy restaurant that serves smart, Japanese-inspired dishes. Make sure you have a reservation for this fun but very small place with an open kitchen. We finished the day at Loos American Bar near Graben. A hidden gem? Look elsewhere: this is arguably the best-known bar in town, and it shows. Just focus on the drinks and maybe you’ll forget that you’re in a cramped bar where smoking is allowed... and practiced.
We started our Saturday with coffee and a freshly baked cake at Kaffemik cafe. We really liked the coffee and the English barista who had moved there from Berlin because “he grew out of it”. From there, we followed on to Naschmarkt and had a few small tastings in Urbanek bistro and other shops. We also stopped at Babette’s nearby, a kitchen/bookstore that focuses on cookbooks and offers a daily lunch, always based on a printed recipe from one of the books they sell. However, we decided to have lunch at Neni. We love their simple, Mediterranean-inspired dishes full of flavor. They use lots of vegetables and spices, and the concept is clearly doing well because now you can find Neni’s ready-to-eat products in various supermarkets around town. It would be great to have a place like this in Prague, too.
After a fairly big lunch, we were in dire need of another coffee, so we checked out the Jonas Reindl cafe. It was jam packed but we managed to snatch the last table. The place was busy and for good reason: the coffee by Drop Coffee (“it’s sour” said the waiter when we wanted “the lightest roast you have”) was great, and the poppy-seed and lemon cake wasn’t bad, either. A great place for people-watching, as young hipsters mix in with elegantly-dressed grandmas. On our way to dinner, we paid a visit to the Julius Meinl shop at Graben, whose Prague sister opened a year ago only to close a few months later. We always like to look at things at that place. But this time we did have a glass of wine at their wine bar. A nice place if you like to blend in with smartly-dressed, affluent locals.
Our dinner was at Tian, a vegerarian restaurant with a Michelin star. A nicely designed room, again great for a date (not our idea - we had one on each side). Clearly, the interest in vegetarian cuisine is huge: the place was packed. We ordered a smaller tasting menu and liked the food: the menu is focused, uses local and seasonal ingredients. Their lunch menus are fantastic value, we think. A great vegetarian place, which is a thing that is still sorely missing on the Prague food scene. The last place we visited was Roberto’s American Bar. A nice, small bar with strong branding… and drinks. Deceptively strong, especially their Old Fashioned. We did get back to the hotel safely, but we may have acted merry on the way. (Whatever that means.)
Choosing a place for Sunday brunch is fairly easy in Vienna: you just go to one of the two places with specialty coffee that are open on Sunday. We chose Coffee Pirates. They have expanded since the last time we’ve been, and now roast coffee inside, too. They offer some breakfasts sets, which we have nicknamed “mainly bread”. Luckily, it was from Joseph bakery. The atmosphere was great and we snatched the last place that was not reserved. The last place we visited before we left Vienna on Sunday noon was Pure Living Bakery. Not the best cakes in the world but they're good enough and served in a really nice place full of young moms and younger locals. The bakery also features arguably the nicest waiter (owner?) we have found in Vienna.
Guess what? We did eat in Vienna before this weekend, too. Plachutta is a classic. Tafelspitz, schnitzels, goulash and so on. We like their new location near the Opera (Gasthaus zur Oper) the best. Don’t expect to eat alone. They are in all the guidebooks and for good reason. Really strong Austrian cooking. On the other end of the flavor spectrum, Kim Kocht is a Korean-inspired eatery where local yuppies eat their lunch over one huge communal table, only to be replaced by elegant diners for the dinner next door.
For a nice, fancy dinner, we would recommend Mraz und Sohn, a Michelin-star restaurant with really playful, creative and fun food. We ordered the tasting menu and were totally stuffed by the end of it. Their cheese selection can only be rivaled by that of Steirereck/Meierei. Restaurant Konstantin Filippou is another recommendation for a fine dining meal: compared to other Austrian fine dining places, it is more fun and daring: no tablecloth and more relaxed atmosphere. We loved the snail ragout out of their tasting menu, which is the only thing you can order there. We also ate at Hollmann Salon, a restaurant affiliated with the Hollmann Beletage hotel, and we liked the food and the design of the place. Skopik und Lohn is a popular local neighborhood restaurant with uncomplicated dishes and strong design: an artsy place dominated by a white ceiling covered by wild black scribblings.
For drinks with a difference, head over to If Dogs Run Free. The ambiance is nothing like the two American bars mentioned above. Also, Vienna now has a nice coffee scene, light years away from the classic melange that has plagued the classic Belle Epoque Viennese cafes (we're sorry, but someone had to say it.). In addition to the cafes described above, we also like KaffeeModul, arguably the smallest espresso bar in Vienna… and the world, and CaffeCouture, which now has two locations: one in the centre, and one in the ninth district. Oh, and for ice-cream, there is no place like Eis Greissler.
WHAT TO SEE?
It is hard not to like the museums and galleries in Vienna. We absolutely love Museumquartier, a large courtyard near the Rathaus that brings together several institutions. Visit the Leopold Museum for the largest Egon Schiele collection or works by Klimt or Kokoschka. Continue to mumok, a space dedicated to modern art from the 1950s until the present. Follow on to Kunsthalle Wien or Architekturzentrum Wien. And finally finish in their bookstore, a place we can honestly spend hours in, just browsing through the racks and reading. We end up buying lots of books there. They also have the largest selection of Wallpaper city guides we have ever seen, which isn’t really helpful if you're on a budget.
Other museums and galleries we like include MAK, the museum of applied arts. A walk through the museum really shows the history, the development and the present of many crafts. They also have a great design shop and a nice cafe (more for the design than anything else). The Albertina gallery is a place you go to to see exhibitions by the likes of Picasso or Warhol, simply the biggest names in art. On the other end, if you wish to see up-and-coming artists, have a look at Ankerbrot-fabrik, a former bread factory in the Favoriten district that has been converted into a multifunctional space showcasing young, modern art.
We also really like the parks in Vienna. The Stadtpark is Vienna’s response to Central Park in New York, but with kitsch Mozarts and landscaping. We still like to sit on a bench for a while and just enjoy the moment. The same thing applies to Volksgarten and the entire Hofburg area. Just sit for a moment, enjoy the scenery... and then go somewhere to eat.
WHERE TO SHOP?
Vienna offers some really nice shopping opportunities if you like smaller, independent shops. Feinkoch is one of our favorite places: a tiny shop that sells recipes and the ingredients that will allow you to make the dish at home: fresh vegetables, stocks, spices and so on. Die Sellerie is a great shop run by four Viennese designers who have designed and curate a selection of nice small gifts to take home. And Tongues is Jan’s dream place: a delicatessen shop and a vinyl record store in one, to fully reflect both meanings of the store’s name.
District 6 and 7 are the best districts for fashion and accessories shopping. We recommend that you just stroll the streets and walk into any shop that you like. That said, we like Comerc, We Bandits, Eigensinnig or Brillen manufaktur, to name just a few. Just walk around and we're sure you'll won't come back empty-handed. And for food, Naschmarkt, of course.
Enjoy Vienna! That’s what happens now. We hope you will enjoy these few tips just as much as we did. If you have tips of your own, please let us know via email or on our Facebook page. We will be happy to check them out on our next visit.