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  • Tony

Vienna and Budapest in November

Updated: Jan 2

November 2023

Our expectations for Vienna were about Music and Monarchs, Opera houses, and Christmas Markets. We were pleased to discover that there is more to Vienna than Mozart, Beethoven, and the Hapsburgs. The legacy these artists and monarchs left behind must be noticed, but the architecture, art, and food deserve equal attention from visitors.

This Austrian capital lies on the east bank of the Danube River, but the river plays very little role in the City's most loved attractions.

Vienna's history dates back to the Romans who established the military camp Vindobona. Today's Vienna is characterized by an abundance of Baroque buildings created mainly under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia (1740 - 1780) and Franz Joseph (1848 - 1916), who were largely responsible for the monumental architecture in the City's center. Its artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The City is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs' summer residence, Belvedere and Hofburg Palaces. Even the government buildings of Rathaus (a fitting name for buildings housing Parliament and the City Hall) are incredible monuments of the City.

We started this trip with visions of grandeur by building an overloaded itinerary, which would have been exhausting. Luckily, we remain very flexible when traveling, so we can adjust to enjoy the experience. We thought we could experience Vienna in two days and handle day trips to Budapest, Salzberg, and Bratislava in six days. As we immersed ourselves in Vienna and spoke to others about our day trip options, it became clear that we needed more time in Vienna and could quickly eliminate a few day trips and save them for our next visit to the region. Thankfully, we are now so close to these European destinations that return trips are feasible.

We decided to focus our time on getting to know Vienna and Budapest by wandering through their districts, discovering their fantastic architecture, palaces, shops, Christmas markets, and, of course, the food. The City was clean, and it felt safe to walk day and night. The weather was typical for the end of November, with daytime highs around 8-10 Celsius and nights reaching 2-4 Celsius. Dressed appropriately, it was great weather to immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit while walking through the festively lit City and Christmas markets dressed up for the Holidays. As a bonus, we had a little snowfall on our last day to set the holiday mood.

I have included our Itinerary and more information about the area at the end of this post.

Flying out of Faro airport, about 45 minutes from our house, makes traveling through Europe a breeze. For this trip, we booked Ryanair, one of the largest regional airlines serving Europe. Arriving at the airport, we found it to be a ghost town. We have become accustomed to heavy passenger traffic during Thanksgiving week in the States, but not the case in Europe. A few more travelers arrived for later flights, but what a joy it was to travel like this.

Arriving planeside, we noticed it wasn't a Ryanair plane but a Lauda airplane. Lauda is an Austrian-based airline owned by Ryanair, so Lauda operates many flights there—our first Lauda air flight.

We stayed at the Hotel Bristol, one of Vienna's heritage hotels, centrally located across from the Vienna State Opera. It is a great location in the center of Vienna, within walking distance to amazing sites, shopping, and restaurants, while the multiple trams and the underground metro are steps from the hotel's front door. The hotel is Vintage Vienna at its best. Stepping inside, it felt like arriving in Vienna in the early 1900s—classy and opulent from another era with just enough modern conveniences for our needs today. Our room was huge and ornately decorated with a nice view over the bustling Operning/Karntner streets.

We spent most of our time walking through the streets of Innere Stadt (Inner City) to discover some of its well-known attractions and lesser-known gems too.

Rathausplatz (City Hall Park) - A fitting name for the Government center, it is home to the distinctive and imposing City Hall building (built between 1872 and 1883) and the adjacent Parliament building (built in 1874). the 19th-century park with statues mature trees & fountains becomes host to many significant events throughout the year. Summer cinema, winter ice rink, carnivals, fairs, and becomes the venue of Vienna’s most famous Christmas market in November and December.

Hofburg - Since the 13th century, it has been one of the largest palace complexes in the world. Formerly the residence of the imperial family, today it's home of museums, politics, and events. It is in the middle of the city center, occupying over 300,000 m2.

The Habsburg Empire was ruled from here for more than seven centuries. Even after the monarchy, it is still the official residence of the Austrian head of state - the Federal President. Vienna's most visited museums and collections are located in the Hofburg - mainly with an imperial background, of course. The Sisi Museum revolves around Empress Elisabeth: the story of the real Sisi is told here, in contrast to the cult film series "Sissi." The former official living quarters of the Habsburgs can be viewed in the imperial apartments. The Imperial Treasury and the Silver Chamber display valuable insignia (including the legendary crown of the Holy Roman Empire) and exceptional table services from the Habsburgs. The tours and performances at the Spanish Riding School, where the world-famous Lipizzaners and their riders perform precise riding maneuvers and tricks. At the southern tip is the Albertina, with its masterpieces of classical modernism and one of the most important graphic collections in the world. Another highlight is the state hall of the Austrian National Library. It is the oldest baroque library in Europe and one of the most beautiful in the world.

The Spanish Riding School located in the Hofburg for more than 450 years. Dedicated to the preservation and classic training of Lipizzaner horses and students in classical dressage. Performances take place in the unique, baroque Winter Riding School at Hofburg Palace. We watched a morning training session with these beautiful horses in a setting worthy of a Grand Ballroom from the 1800's

The Imperial Treasury - An impressive collection of treasures, including Imperial crowns, Jewels, coronation robes and other important artifacts

The National Library - the largest baroque library in Europe, there are over 200,000 historical books on the richly decorated wooden shelves, considered one of the most beautiful library halls in the world.

The Museum Quarter - Although we didn't visit any of the museums here we did walk through the district to see the magnificent Baroque Architecture and the Maria Theresa Platz Christmas market. Located near the Hofburg in the former imperial stables, the Museum Quarter combines prominent museums such as the Leopold Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Kunsthalle art museum, restaurants, cafés and shops.

The Vienna State Opera House is adjacent to our hotel, so that we could see the beautiful facade on many occasions. The exterior is stunning, as is most of the interior, but the performance hall fell flat. Granted, some buildings, including the opera hall, were damaged by bombing during WWll. The hall felt very stark without the Baroque embellishments included in the rest of the building. Our expectations may have been too high for this venue, but we expected it to be on par with the history of Vienna. We did not see a performance, so perhaps when in operation, our perspective may have changed.

The Schönbrunn Palace - A quick metro ride from our hotel we spent the afternoon walking a small portion of the massive grounds, toured the Carriage Museum, and visited the Christmas Market. We called it the Versailles of Vienna, it was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers in Vienna. Named after a beautiful Spring located on the grounds, the 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historic monuments in the country. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

The Church of St. Charles (Karlskirche) The church was the patron parish church of the emperor from 1783 to 1918 and has been looked after by the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star from Prague since 1783.

St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom) At the absolute center of Vienna it's hard to miss as you criss cross the center. The spires can be seen from many parts of the city. It's not only the main Roman Catholic church in Vienna– and the seat of the city’s Archbishop – it’s also one of Austria’s most popular attractions. With its 137-meter-high spire and richly decorated roof, it’s the city’s most important Gothic edifice and represents eight centuries of architectural history. All that remains of the original 13th-century structure are the massive gate and the Heathen Towers (Heidentürme). Next, came reconstruction in Gothic style in the 14th century and the completion of the choir and the Chapels of St. Eligius, St. Tirna, and St. Catherine, while the South Tower, the Nave, and the Chapel of St. Barbara were added in the 15th century. During WWII, the building experienced nearly complete destruction. Its reconstruction, from 1948 until 1962, proved to be a tremendous communal effort involving the whole of Austria, demonstrating the nation’s eagerness to restore this former symbol of the country’s illustrious past.

Pedestrian Center of Kohmarkt & Graben Once you have seen some treasures of the Habsburgs as part of the Hofburg and the Spanish School, it is time to see Vienna’s pedestrian centre. From Michaels Platz, continue down Kohlmarket and turn into Graben. You are now in the heart of the city centre of Vienna and one of its main shopping districts. Graben is has also some gorgeous statues and columns erected at the end of the plague in Europe. While there are plenty of shopping and cafe opportunities, the Architecture stands out as the main attraction here.

More photos of life in Vienna