Vienna: More Than Grumpy Waiters, Schnitzel and The Opera
January 1, 1970
by Laura Naïma Kabelka
Vienna is often perceived as a grey place with unfriendly service and overpriced coffee. But the Austrian capital city can be so much better and cheaper if you have a little insider knowledge about where to go when to visit Vienna and how to deal with the people’s character. I lived in Vienna for four years, which has given me plenty of time to figure out how to save some money and still enjoy Vienna’s stunning culture, eat out and get to know the locals! And now it is time to share this with you.
The Viennese Coffee House Culture
The coffee house culture in Vienna has attracted many visitors for a very long time, and it is a great part of Austrian culture and pride. The history goes back to the 17th century when Georg Franz Kolschitzky was the first person to have the license to serve coffee in Vienna, by using coffee beans that were left behind by the Turks. You will see his name very often in Austria, there is even a name called after him: the Kolschitzkygasse in Vienna! Anyways, if you are a coffee lover, you will be very satisfied in Vienna, because you literally cannot walk for more than a couple of minutes without seeing a cafe! Although obviously not all of today’s cafes were once the venue where literary figures would meet, there still are plenty of historical places where you can enjoy a Melange or Espresso, while indulging in reminiscences about Young Vienna and their multiple meetings to discuss their works.
Historical Coffee Houses in the heart of Vienna:
- Café Central (Herrengasse 14)
- Kaffee Alt Wien (Bäckerstraße 9)
- Café Hofburg (Innerer Burghof 1)
- Café Landtmann (Universitätsring 4)
Modern coffee spots in Vienna:
Having a coffee in one of the traditional places is definitely something you should do when visiting Vienna. But if you don’t feel like digging deep into your pocket, in other words, paying 5€ for a Cappuccino, then you could also go to one of the many modern and hip places Vienna has to offer. Lately, numerous coffee bars have opened their doors for coffee lovers. You will see a lot of Latté art, vintage furniture and bearded baristas who know their work very well! Although coffee in Vienna is never really cheap, you can expect a priceworthy and delicious selection at these spots:
- Phil (Gumpendorfer Straße 10)
- Ulrich (Sankt-Ulrich-Platz 1)
- Café Europa (Zollergasse 8)
- Wirr (Burggasse 70)
Also, don’t forget to order a Soda Zitron or Spritzer when you make your way to Vienna! The former is a very refreshing drink for hot summer days and merely consists of sparkling water and a lot of fresh lemon juice, and the latter is wine with sparkling water. A Spritzer can also be another variation, for example, wine with sparkling water, elder syrup and mint! You will be surprised by the many options of Spritzer awaiting you in Austria!
Places to Eat and Drink
Let’s face it, Viennese waiters a very special. But to be fair, one can not generalize all waiters in a two million city. In my humble opinion, the reason why people might think that most waiters are impatient or arrogant is that they serve you in a pretty harsh way. But you could also see it as their charming way to tell you that the guest is not the king, but all people are the same. Make up your mind before ordering, don’t give too many special orders and if you don’t like the menu, just go somewhere else. People who live in Vienna know where to go and they are used to the way they are served or treated as guests. Tourists might be a little offended at first, but just keep smiling and stay friendly – if you achieve to make a Viennese waiter smile, you can make anyone smile! Make it your goal for the dinner night and don’t give up too fast.
Actually, I am exaggerating a little bit. There are many extremely friendly people working in Vienna’s restaurants as well! And if you come to Vienna, you should really try other meals than Schnitzel with fries or a hotdog from the Würstelstand (literally: sausage stand). Don’t get me wrong, these meals are delicious and have the reputation to be Austrian’s traditional meals, but for me as an Austrian, it’s not really a dish you eat weekly. There are, however, great places to go if you want to try a really nice Schnitzel or other traditional meals, for example, Tafelspitz, Gulasch or Schinkenfleckerl. Also, don’t forget to try an Apfelstrudel or a heavy piece of Sachertorte, if you have a sweet tooth.
Vienna’s spots for traditional cuisine
- Schilling (Burggasse 103)
- Schnitzelwirt (Neubaugasse 52)
- Pfudl (Bäckerstraße 22)
Apart from traditional food, you can eat pretty much anything in Vienna! My personal all-time favorite is the Vietnamese restaurant Nguyen’s Pho House in Lerchenfelder Straße 46, where you feel like you just made a short trip to Vietnam. It’s always busy, but the waiters will make a spot for you if you are willing to wait for a few minutes. Whether you want to go for the Pho soup or a Vietnamese omelet – their menu is extremely varied and everything I tried was delicious. Another advantage is that it is located on the same street as an ice cream shop called Schelato, where you can find unusual flavors, such as peanut butter with cranberries or matcha tea!
Generally, if you don’t want to waste too much money on food and drinks, you should avoid the touristy and pricey first district. The stylish 7th district, home to Vienna’s hipsters, has restaurants and bars of all kinds at every corner and is more affordable!
Things to do in Vienna
Apart from visiting the many tourist attractions like the Opera, the castle of Schönbrunn or the Belvedere museum, there are much more sights to see and places to go! For grey days, visiting the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) or doing the hop on hop off bus tour is definitely recommendable. But Vienna actually has a beautiful spring and very hot summer, which is what most people forget! So if you manage to visit the Austrian capital between May and October, you can plan in a lot of open-air events! Whether it be a second-hand market in the Neubaugasse or a relaxed afternoon in the MQ (museum district) where you can bring your own drinks and food – fun is guaranteed! In Vienna, you should keep up to date with upcoming events, because you never know what could hide behind the beautiful doors!
Vienna is the place to be if you want to go to free music events! For example, the Donauinselfest, which takes place every year in June, is completely free of charge, and you can see many famous artists on different stages! A little smaller but also very popular is the Donaukanaltreiben (at the Danube canal) in May. If you want to have a little break and avoid the city when it is extremely hot, you can also go for a swim at various locations, for example, Gänsehäufel at the Old Danube.
Hopefully, it was achieved to make you discard some of your prejudices towards the gorgeous city of Vienna. And if not, you should go and find out about the Austrian culture and people yourself!