05/29/2013 05:03 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2013

A Day in Vienna

Start your day in Vienna's sixth district with a leisurely breakfast at Café Sperl, (Gumpendorfer Strasse 11-13) a historic coffeehouse dating back to 1880. The menu offers numerous coffee concoctions, many of which are topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. Don't feel guilty about taking your time -- people don't come here for a few minutes, they sit at one of the cafe's marble-topped tables for hours, getting up occasionally to play a game of billiards or pick up one of over 30 international newspapers and magazines the cafe offers.

When you've had your fill of the Viennese coffeehouse culture, head towards the Vienna State Opera House, the 19th-century Neo-Renaissance building that has been home to some of the most esteemed composers and performers in the history of classical music. Walk up Karntner Strasse, one of Vienna's major shopping streets, and venture into the little alleys filled with shops, bars and restaurants. Eventually you'll find yourself back at the Ringstrasse (Ring Road), a boulevard that circles the city center. Architectural gems line the Ringstrasse, like the Rathaus (City Hall) and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Inside the first district, take in the gothic serenity of the Saint Stephen's Cathedral, whose spire defines the city center. Colored tiles zig zag across the roof. Pick up gifts for family and friends at Altmann and Kuhne, a confectionary shop that sells tiny chocolates in decorative boxes -- a delicious, albeit pricey, souvenir. If you don't find any gifts to bring home there, continue walking down the pedestrianized Graben Strasse and make a left on Kohlmarkt. Stop at Demel, which sells candied violets, the favorite treat of nineteenth-century Austrian Empress Sisi. Windows in the back reveal bakers making cakes and strudels.

Cross the Ringstrasse into Stadtpark, where you can say hello to composer Johann Strauss, the Waltz King, whose statue is one of the most photographed in Vienna. Inside the park, cross a tiny bridge over the Vienna River. On your left, you'll see a building wrapped in a two-story porch. The upstairs is home to Steirereck, rated the eleventh best restaurant in the world. But unless you want to splurge, go to Meierei, a café and cheese shop on the first floor offering over 100 varieties of cheese, many of which are Austrian. Old-fashioned milk bottles line the bar, and glass walls allow you to look out onto the park and canal. Apple strudel and sweet curd strudel come out of the oven bathed in a rich cream sauce at 1 and 2 p.m., respectively, so plan accordingly. (Reservations recommended).

After your meal, walk to the Michaelerplatz, a square that displays Roman and medieval ruins just below the street level. Walk through the Hofburg Imperial Palace, where often you'll hear buskers playing music. Take a right on Hero's Square, and stop at the Volksgarten, a park filled with roses and statues.

Walk to the Naschmarkt, an outdoor market that extends several blocks on Saturdays to include a flea market filled with antiques and other tchotchkes. One stall, called Gegenbauer, is run by an eccentric man who has dedicated his life to inventing more than 70 types of vinegar, which you can taste and buy. Other stalls serve everything from regional specialties like Viennese schnitzel to Indian and Middle Eastern food.

Pick up antipasti like stuffed peppers or marinated olives from one of the market's many stalls and bring them to Szigeti Sekt Comptoir, (Schleifmühlgasse 19 04) a sparkling wine bar down the street that doesn't serve food, but provides plates and cutlery so you can enjoy your own snacks with a glass (or bottle) of sparkling wine.


If it's not too cold, make dinner reservations in the outdoor garden of Glacis Beisl, a culinary and visual treat tucked into the Museum Quarter. Vines drape the tables and spherical lights hang from the trees, slowly changing color. Meat lovers should not miss two of Vienna's signature dishes: goulash, a hearty stew made with large chunks of beef and a thick sauce, and Wiener schnitzel, breaded and deep fried veal cutlet. Many of the ingredients that go into Viennese food are locally grown, and so the cuisine is seasonal. In the fall, pumpkin dishes abound. In the spring, Carinthian asparagus. Top off your meal with a glass of sturm, fizzy white wine that is still fermenting.

Post-Dinner Performance

The city is home to four opera houses and two major concert halls -- Musikverein, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic, and Konzert Haus, which offers both classical and modern concerts. If you haven't planned ahead, don't worry -- last minute tickets, often in the standing room, are available about an hour before performances.

In December 2012, for the first time in over 500 years, the famed Vienna Boys Choir was given its own concert hall, the MuTh (an abbreviation of "Music and Theater"). The choir also performs during mass every Sunday at the Hofburg Chapel.

The Viennese have high standards when it comes to musical performances, so don't be surprised if the audience boos at the end of a performance.

If you end up at the Opera House and you're in the mood for a treat after the performance, stop by the Hotel Sacher for one of Austria's most famous desserts: the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake filled with apricot jam and topped with whipped cream.

A Day in Vienna