Dray Dreaming

Review: The Best Part of Vienna? Not Vienna!!


“Slow down, you crazy child
And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile
It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?”
Billy Joel

Before I came to Budapest, I spent four days in Vienna in the company of my great friend, Jill. I had been to Vienna once before for a few days and recall feeling underwhelmed. However, everyone deserves a second chance so I figured I’d extend the same courtesy to Vienna. After all, the city has earned a reputation as one of the top cities to visit in Europe. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler recently rated in #1!! Further, due to its rich history and economic prosperity, it’s was recently named the world’s most livable city for the 9th time!! Though I wasn’t ready to commit to a month given my previous experience, I was still excited to see it with a fresh set of eyes. So here’s a recap of the experience.

Day One

As I like to do whenever I arrive in a new city, Jill and I spent the first day simply wandering the city. It’s nice to get your bearings early so that you feel more comfortable getting around. Plus, it’s more fun to explore a city without any sort of agenda as you never know what you might stumble upon. According to my phone, we took 22,000 steps that first day so we covered a lot of ground.

Vienna’s architecture is truly stunning. If you do an Internet search for the top things to do in Vienna, many of the things on the list will include visiting the classic buildings that line Vienna’s streets, including churches, government buildings, museums, and concert halls. This was an impressive first impression!

This is one of the many impressive statues around Vienna. Clearly, there’s a fascinating history to this city that, in hindsight, I would’ve like to learn more about.

The city also straddles the Danube Canal and there are wide paths that line this waterway. Here, there is exciting street art and some trendy waterfront cafes. We were fortunate enough to be there during some of the first warm days of spring so there was great energy along these paths as people were emerging from their winter hibernation.

On our walk back, we stumbled upon some sort of wine festival and tried local wines. Both quite tired at this point from travel and over 9 miles of walking, a long night of wine-tasting just wasn’t in the cards so we headed back excited to explore more in the days to come.

Day Two

Though we had another great day walking the city, it felt quickly like we were running out of things to do. In the city’s defense, the weather was so nice that the thought of being in museums seemed crazy. The city has a great reputation for art and music which we largely didn’t explore in exchange for time spent outside. We did venture to a smaller museum (The Museum of Art Fakes) which was an interesting concept but was poorly executed.

As we tried to explore some of the off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods outside of the main city center, we found ourselves continuously disappointed at the lack of variety. The neighborhoods lacked uniqueness and to the point where I even found myself taking the beautiful architecture for granted. In most other cities I’ve visited, you can discover quirky areas that feature unique characteristics. My home (Philadelphia) and my most recent stops (Madrid and Budapest) are all divided into pieces with each area boasting something distinct in terms of art, architecture, style, food, etc… Viennese neighborhoods didn’t seem nearly as distinct.

We even stopped for a Melange, the famous Viennese coffee drink. Excited to try it, I unfortunately found it tasted more or less like a watered-down cappuccino, which it basically is. From my understanding, a mélange is a cappuccino with regular coffee instead of espresso so the mélange tastes like a weaker version of one of my favorite drinks. However, there are apparently a number of variations of the mélange so maybe I just tried a bad one.

Day Three

Feeling like we had exhausted many of the highlights of central Vienna, we were both anxious to get out of the city and see something else as the weather remained perfect. Jill discovered a park that seemed interesting and was easily walkable from where we were staying. Our trip to Schonbrunner Schlosspark started as an attempt to get out into nature and ended up an incredibly interesting historical adventure. It was part park, part museum, and part historical landmark. The grounds were large and easy to explore leisurely over the course of a few hours. I imagine this is a place I would come often if I lived in Vienna as it was so much more than a tourist site.

This side view picture of Schonbrunn Palace was taken from the expansive gardens beside the museum. It was a beautiful place to spend a day!

Day Four

Imagining some old Austrian village, Jill and I decided to continue to get further away from the city. The Vienna Woods came up in a few of our “Vienna Day Trip” internet searches and there were a number of small towns along the outside of the forest.  We picked one that was easily accessible by train called Modling. Modling was quiet and peaceful but had a nice assortment of local shops, cafés, and restaurants. Of course, adjacent to the town were the Vienna Woods which we spent some time walking around in after a “brief” stop in the local Austrian shoe store.

Vienna Woods
Spring was springing in Vienna and the wildflowers were starting to bloom!
Vienna wildflowers
And a few more wildflowers!











We had envisioned exploring another town or two that lined the perimeter of the Woods but found we had all we needed in Modling. From a relaxing coffee and lemonade in the main town square, to a beautiful hike with a view in the Vienna woods, and ultimately to nice places to grab a cocktail and dinner, we decided to slow our pace and enjoy our time in what turned out to be exactly the kind of quaint Austrian town we both initially envisioned.

This 800-year-old church epitomizes what I expect out of small, old European towns. Modling was perfect!

My Vienna Recommendation

In very few of the Vienna tourist guides that I found online do they mention anything about getting out of the city for some day trips. However, I found this to be the best part of our visit. Schonbrunner Schlosspark and Modling were completely unique places that offered a great combination of nature, history, and art.

If you’re a museum buff, you’ll want to spend a few days touring the various museums that Vienna has to offer. And in hindsight, maybe we should have taken an art, architecture, or history tour to give us a greater appreciation for some of the aspects of the city that aren’t visible from outside. It really is a beautiful city and I completely understand why it’s considered such a livable place.

However, to live in a place is different from visiting a place so  if you’re happy to see a museum or two and spend the rest of your time seeking out some other kinds of unique experiences, then I strongly urge you to get out of the city and use your favorite internet search engine for “great Vienna day trips.” By the end of Day 2, we thought four days in the city might be too long but by the end, we were wishing we had time for two or three more of these quick getaways.

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