Nov 22nd, 2023, 02:00 PM

A Local's Guide to Vienna

By Maple Hughes
Vienna's Peterskirche. (Image Credit: Maple Hughes)
How to be a tourist in the world's most liveable city.

In the heart of Central Europe, a region straddling the East and West, lies a city of accordingly fascinating historical and cultural value. In this city, you can sip a Wiener Mélange in the cafes where history's finest exchanged ideas, walk the gardens of the Habsburg Empress’ palace, and stand inside the building where Mozart composed his symphonies. And if you pay attention, you can still feel their presence. Welcome to Vienna, where history is carved into ornate Gothic buildings and lingers in the air.

Visiting Vienna does not come without seeing its history. It is ubiquitous, from the Belvedere Museum, where the past is framed on the walls in gold leaf, to the construction pits, where a lucky individual might find a brick from a torn-down building embossed with the emblem of the Habsburg Empire. Once the empire’s capital, Vienna now inhabits just over 2 million of Austria's residents. Rich history aside, this city is the place to be right now.

Vienna has consistently ranked as the world’s most liveable city over the last decade, only failing to reach first place during its COVID-19 lockdown. The city’s appeal to its residents comes from its infrastructure, education and healthcare systems, among other reasons. Visiting Vienna might not provide you with the experience that pushes the city to the top of the list, but advice from a local can help you make the most out of your trip to this remarkable city.

If you're hungry after your travels, you're in luck. Vienna is home to plenty of places where you can indulge in local and foreign cuisines. Walk the picturesque streets of the first district until you reach Kaffee Alt Wien, a local treasure where you can sit down to enjoy both a heartwarming bowl of Viennese Gulasch and the cafe's atmosphere, with its art- and poster-lined walls. Another Vienna classic is Cafe Korb, a coffee house with a rich cultural past and present.

Kaffee Alt Wien. (Image Credit: Maple Hughes)

Do you like to read? Are you seeking the aesthetic value of brunch in a library? Then phil is the place for you. This cafe-bar-bookstore is located in the sixth district and is the perfect spot to lounge with a book, a spritzer or both. Just a ten-minute walk away, you will find Vollpension, one of Vienna's gems. Vollpension is a generation-bridging cafe where you are served a slice of cake or a traditional buchtel by the group of people internationally recognized as the best bakers: grandmas.


If you prefer to grab a quick bite on the go, head to the seventh district and line up with the rest of the city at Berliner Döner for what is hailed as "Vienna's best kebab." While you're there, all you need to do is cross the street to find one of the top third-wave coffee spots in the city, Jonas Reindl.

The seventh district, also known as Neubau, is the area of Vienna most catered towards young people. Here, you will find a number of vegan restaurants, quirky concept bars and of course, thrifting. If you walk down the eponymous Neubaugasse street, expect to come across an abundance of shops selling affordable second-hand clothing and an assortment of vintage trinkets. Some local favorites include Bootik54, Humana, Ramsch&Rosen, Retroschatz and Burggasse24, a spot that is both a vintage clothing boutique and cozy cafe.

Cozy atmosphere at Burggasse24. (Image Credit: Scott Partee)

After you've had your fill of tasty treats and second-hand boutiques, it's time to relax. It doesn't get much more local than the Burggarten, a beautiful park in the city center where the Viennese flock the moment the sun begins to shine. Choose a nice area in the grass to take in the views—the Neue Burg palace, several statues including the famous Mozart monument, and the imperial-era jugendstil glasshouse that is now home to a sanctuary for butterflies and tropical plants, as well as a fairly decent restaurant

Burggarten on a sunny October day. (Image Credit: Maple Hughes)

Practically across the street from Burggarten lies Karlsplatz, the square where the titular Karlskirche church stands tall. This spot is incredibly popular among locals, whether it is families taking their children to the park or teenagers drinking copious amounts of beer. Perhaps most importantly, Karlsplatz is the site of one of Vienna's best Christmas markets, and in summer, a delightful scene with small stands serving snacks and drinks.

Christmas market at Karlsplatz. (Image Credit: Maple Hughes)

It's dinnertime, and you're in the land of schnitzel. You already know what to do. Don't hesitate to make a reservation at Skopik & Lohn, a critically acclaimed restaurant that has maintained excellent quality of this traditional dish despite undergoing recent hipsterfication. If Austrian cuisine isn't your thing, head to Vorgartenmarkt, a market with both local and international food options including an outstanding ramen bar

When the sun has set, it's time for a change of scenery. Head to Pigalle, a Parisian-inspired dimly-lit cocktail bar nestled in a beautiful corner of Vienna’s second district. About ten minutes away, find New Bar, a youthful spot with occasional DJs and a party crowd lingering in subdued lighting or in the pleasant sidewalk seating area. If you’re searching for the art scene, look no further than schikaneder, a bar that also doubles as Vienna's oldest arthouse cinema.

Pigalle bar. (Image Credit: Scott Partee)

For later on in the night, the Danube Canal and its bustling nightlife scene await you. During the warmer months, grab drinks at one of the area's many bars while admiring the graffiti-covered walls that line the water. If you're in the mood for clubbing, hit up Flex, a venue that has achieved legend status over the last three decades. Also located on the canal, this club hosts DJs and live music and is especially popular among Vienna's more alternative scene. If you want to go for a true classic, take the party to U4 Club, which has been a city staple since the 80s. 

Live music at Flex. (Image Credit: Scott Partee)

After a night out, sometimes the only cure is to reconnect with nature. Luckily, the city of Vienna is partially located on sprawling hills fit with paved paths that are a lazy hiker's dream. Still within the city limits, you will find the vineyards, and with them, a real cultural treasure: Heurigen, or wine taverns. 

Heurigen are small institutions operated by winemakers selling primarily their house wine, as well as cold food options like pickled vegetables, cold cuts and bread with liptauer (a deliciously spicy cheese spread). Mayer am Nussberg is widely regarded as one of the best Heuriger. Here, you can enjoy these traditional snacks and several glasses of Gemischter Satz, as well as an extensive panorama view of the city.

Mayer am Nussberg. (Image Credit: Maple Hughes)

As you gaze down at Vienna from the hilltop, the city is put into perspective. You can spot the green dome of the Karlskirche, the blue Danube stretching out into the distance and the cluster of tall buildings that protrude from the horizon. You can sense the layers of history, the old and the new. The people that have walked here, built here, lived, suffered and survived here. With the satisfying thought that you are now woven into this city's fabric, feel free to order another bottle. Prost!