I Heart My City: Lea’s Vienna

Lea Hajner grew up in Vienna, Austria with the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace on her doorstep and parents who dragged her to museums and plays. But it took a trip around the world to truly appreciate what her home town has to offer. Now Lea makes her living working for tripwolf.com, an online and mobile travel guide (see their 24 hours in Vienna). Check out her don’t-miss picks for this central European hotspot. Follow Lea’s adventures on Twitter @vanilleah and get great travel tips on the Trip Wolf blog.

Vienna is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to Stephansdom (Saint Stephen’s Cathedral). From the top you have a great view of the city — and a lot of the best sights are in walking distance.

They heart Vienna. (Photo: Sebastian Fuchs)

When I crave a good cup of coffee I go to Café Hawelka, (Dorotheergasse 6, just off Graben). The interior, which was designed by a student of Adolf Loos, still looks the same as in the mid-1900s when actor Oskar Werner or artist Friedensreich Hunderwasser were regular guests. Their traditional coffee, “Wiener Melange,” is the best in town and their pastries are heavenly delicious!

To escape my own four walls on Sunday afternoons I head into town for a leisurely stroll and some window shopping along the glamorous Kohlmarkt, followed by a visit to one of the museums’ current exhibitions.

If I want to buy great and affordable street art I go to gallery INOPERAbLE (Burggasse 24). The gallery also publishes an extensive Urban Guide (for free, in English) to the district, including Austrian fashion labels in the area.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in the Burggartenby the lake. It’s very central but its many trees and big lawn provide a perfect inner-city hideout.

Schonbrunn Palace as seen through the Neptune Fountain. (Photo: Eli Kowalski/My Shot)

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the pompous Gloriette on top of the hill behind you at Schloss Schönbrunn.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Plachutta it has to be Tafelspitz, boiled beef in broth with root vegetables on the side as well as apple purée and fresh horseradish. You can’t go any more traditional than that! (Well, maybe by ordering Apple Strudel for dessert.)

Meinl am Graben is my one-stop shop for exotic food cravings, fresh homemade pasta, and a wide range of cheeses.

Locals know to skip the concerts offered to tourists on the street by men dressed up as Mozart and check out the monthly program of the Musikverein instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I get takeaways from one of the food stalls at the Naschmarkt.

For a huge splurge I opt for a dinner at Österreicher im MAK, the restaurant at the Museum of Applied Arts. Enjoy classic Viennese cuisine with a modern twist as well as some of the best local wines from the huge wine bar.

Photo ops in my city include Saint Stephen’s cathedral. The best vantage points are from the Skybar, an exclusive roof-top bar on Kärntnerstrasse.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise. A hopeless romantic, living life to the fullest but sometimes a bit slow to wake up to reality.

The most random thing about my city is that it was recently called the smartest city on the planet for ranking in the top 10 of the following categories: innovative city, regional green city, quality of life, and digital governance.

My city has the most conservative men when it comes to opening doors, helping women in and out of their jackets, and following traditional manners at even more traditional events.

My city has the most talented women when it comes to visual video art and performances. If you’re interested check out the annual sound:frame festival in spring.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves a short trip down to the mountains Schneeberg or Rax. This is where the drinking water supplies for the city are drawn from, and they make for a perfect recreational area.

The Albertina Museum. (Photo: Alex Baguio/My Shot)

My city’s best museum is the Albertina, which has recently started to attract the young folks by combining art with music and by doubling as a stylish clubbing location for special exhibitions.

My favorite jogging/walking route is definitely Schloß Schönbrunn (free entry). The park surrounding the imperial palace offers many routes through the green and up to the Gloriette, from where you have the most stunning view over the city.

For a night of dancing, go to the Pratersauna, a club that used to be a sauna and now draws an international crowd as well as some of the world’s best DJs. Expect fresh electronic beats and wild parties ’til the early morning hours. Or, for live music, check out Porgy & Bess, the best Jazz club in town.

Cafe Drechsler, a typical cafe in Vienna (Photo: Sebastian Fuchs)

Café Drechsler is the spot for late-night eats. Their breakfast is also a great hangover cure if you’re craving ham and eggs in the early-morning hours.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Falter or listen to the event tips on radio FM4, which broadcasts in English every day from 1:00 a.m. ’til 2:00 p.m.

You can tell a lot about my city from talking to your huffy, rude, and yet charming waiter at a cafe.

In the spring you should do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis.

In the summer you should check out the ImpulsTanz festival, which, already in its 29th edition this year, successfully promotes modern dance.

In the fall you shouldn’t miss a glass of Sturm at one of the many Heuriger (local wine taverns, often with live music) in the outer suburbs (e.g. in Grinzing or Mauer). Sturm is a delicious and sweet semi-fermented grape juice, only available after the grape season. Be careful you don’t drink too many; the side effects can be torrential.

In the winter you should visit the Christmas market at Spittelberg for some delicious hot punch that will warm you up. Most Christmas markets get flooded by tourists very soon, while this one is also a popular hang-out among locals.

A hidden gem in my city is its widespread underground system. Get a glimpse of it on The Third Man walk along the sewer system, which dates back to the early Romans in 100 A.D.

For a great breakfast joint try Halle im MQ (Museumsquatier), which scores with an elegant atmosphere and superb tastes.

Don’t miss out on ordering a Wiener Schnitzel, with potato salad and a beer when you’re in town. 

Wiener Schnitzel, a must-have in Vienna. (Photo: Sebastian Fuchs)

Just outside my city, you can enjoy great views on the city from hillside vineyards. (Take the 38 tram from Schottentor to Grinzing and start walking uphill.)

The best way to see my city is by walking. If you get tired, hop on the tram that goes around the Ring (line 1 or 2) and enjoy the most impressive buildings along the route.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in an alpine town in Tirol enjoying breathtaking mountain views but missing the cultural diversity Vienna offers.

The best book about my city is a book that never quite made it as a book but still ranks as a film masterpiece. The Third Man was turned into a British film in 1949, starring Orson Welles. Beside its story and atmospheric cinematography, the film is also widely known for its unique musical score, which featured only the zither.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind isThe Blue Danube” waltz by Johann Strauss. Most of us Austrians dance to the sound of it once a year as it is broadcasted countrywide just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s tradition to welcome the new year with a dance.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Haus der Musik museum, an interactive sound museum which provides a new approach to music on a playful as well as scientific level.

Hosting the Vienna Opera Ball, which has a reputation for being extremely conservative, as well as hosting the Life Ball, one of the most spectacular charity events in the world could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because Vienna is not only worth a visit for its history and tradition, but also for its lively digital lifestyle and aspiring youth.


  1. Eva Uggla
    Helsinki, Finland
    August 10, 2014, 3:54 pm

    Hi Lea!
    Great picks to see in Vienna. I will definitely visit a lot of your suggested places next time there. Keep up the good work.
    Best wishes

  2. Hostel Ruthensteiner
    May 14, 2014, 6:41 pm

    This is a really nice article about the many things Vienna has to offer! And you seem to pick many spots we also send our guests to. If you ever need to stay on a budget in Vienna we of course recommend Vienna’s best Hostel Ruthensteiner :)

  3. SimplyVienna
    November 22, 2013, 7:24 am

    Ill be adding some of your recommendations to my list . also that Museums really do amaze me. Ill tell my readers about it. i have many compilations on my site to. you should go and check it out. here http://www.simplyvienna.org/

  4. […] Lea’s Vienna (Austria): Do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis. […]

  5. […] Lea’s Vienna (Austria): The Haus der Musik museum, an interactive sound museum which provides a new approach to music on a playful and scientific level. […]

  6. […] Lea’s Vienna (Austria): The Albertina, which has recently started to attract the young folks by combining art with music and by doubling as a stylish clubbing location for special exhibitions. […]

  7. […] Lea’s Vienna (Austria): The Albertina, which has recently started to attract the young folks by combining art with music and by doubling as a stylish clubbing location for special exhibitions. Admission is free at the National Museum of Scotland. (Photograph by Sirobhin Sundar, My Shot) […]

  8. M Brindlmayer
    March 23, 2012, 5:13 pm

    Great article. I’m Austrian too and my friends in the US sometimes ask me for travel tips. Now I can just link them to this page. Thanks

  9. Lea
    March 20, 2012, 10:07 am

    Thank you, Barbara!

    I had so much fun writing this article and trying to figure out which places a visitor really shouldn’t miss. There is so much going on in Vienna recently and as much as I love travelling – when I come back I’m often surprised by yet another cool new thing the city has to offer.

  10. Linda
    March 17, 2012, 2:49 am

    I’ll certainly be adding some of your recommendations to the information I give my chalet visitors – many of them arrive Vienna before coming to Steiermark and I encourage them to spend their last day in the city before flying home. I also write about these places for my blog readers http://www.austrianalpineholidaysblog.com

  11. Alexander
    March 15, 2012, 3:38 pm

    Vienna is a beautiful city indeed! , with especially unforgettable atmosphere during the Christmas. Thats why it took the 1st place at the rating of best places to visit on Xmas according to TravelEuropeGUIDE. Find details at http://travel-europe-eu.blogspot.com/

  12. Barbara Cacao
    March 14, 2012, 5:10 pm

    Hi Lea,

    What a wonderful portrait of Vienna. I can’t believe we haven’t met at any of the places you describe, since most of them are my favourites, too (Cafe Hawelka, Cafe Drechsler, Naschmarkt, my kids love Haus der Musik…)

    I know how you feel about Vienna after having travelled the world. I moved from Vienna to London 11 years ago. I travel to Vienna every few months now, but the longer I am away from my home town, the more obsessed I become about it!