Vienna, the opulent capital of Austria, offers great travel savings and splurges.
Chatting with newly made friends at acooking class in Prague, we eagerly compared travel notes and I was fascinated to learn that they had just spent a week in Vienna before moving on to the Czech capital. A week! We were only going to be in Vienna for a day! Had we made a mistake? Were we going to regret such a short trip?
Now I can see that Vienna is the kind of city that can easily keep guests entertained and engaged for a week, especially if you're a music or architecture fan - or a fan of fine living. But for budget minded travelers like ourselves, we were able to easily find ways to save money and balance out splurges with bargain steals. It turns out that one day and night was more than enough to see everything on our list. Here's how to save, splurge, and steal in Vienna.
Visit Naschmarkt (and the Flohmarkt too).
Visiting a public market is a classic European budget travel experience and there are some extra nice reasons for visiting Vienna's Naschmarkt. For one, this isn't exactly a pop up market of a few new vendors. There has been a market on these grounds, not too far from the city center, since the 1780s when a dairy traders' market operated in the area. Today the Naschmarkt stays true to its roots with a nice selection of dairy items and hundreds of stalls offering a mix of fresh produce (both local and not so local - check out the papayas and bananas below), meat, cheese, preserves, spices, and fine food products.
The market is roughly arranged into three rows and one of them is dedicated to ready-eats. There is a huge selection of take away counters, delis, bars, and hot food stalls with a few tables to serve as makeshift restaurants. There was a particularly big selection of Turkish and Middle Eastern food and we grabbed falafel and shawarma wraps for our lunch. The huge sandwiches were a great bargain at just a few Euros each.
If you're trying to decide which day of your trip you should reserve for a visit to Naschmarkt, make it Saturday. It will be busy, but for good reason - it's flea market day! The Flohmartk vendors sell everything from antiques to discount hats (you can see Ryan modeling his new blue fedora in a picture towards the bottom.)
Stay at Wombat's Hostel
Looking for the perfect budget friendly base in Vienna? Wombats hostel chain has a property right next to the Naschmarkt - Wombats City Hotel. You couldn't ask for a better spot for stocking up on yummy ingredients and cooking up an evening feast! Convenience isn't its only strong point. Wombats City Hostel had one of the nicest private hostel rooms we've ever seen.
We loved the bright, airy space, which had 'real' bedroom features like night tables with lamps, a wardrobe, art work, fresh towels, and a clean, modern bathroom that was as nice as any found in a small hotel room. With a jaunty pink feature wall and curtains, a framed print, a modern wood floor, and a great view out to the market, it was a cut above the average hostel room when it comes to style and design.
While our private room could easy be mistaken for a cozy two star hotel room, the rest of the property was decidedly very much a hostel. The average guest age was definitely a solid decade (or two!) younger than us. There was a main floor bar that was loud and social until the wee hours of the morning and the front lobby doubled as a living room environment with tons of backpackers hanging around all day.
While the vibe was a bit young for us we still felt comfortable and we enjoyed a quiet night and a solid sleep. This is no happy accident. The management knows what they're doing and put thought into making the hostel a good experience for all guests. These great signs (below) are a big part of that. I LOVED these signs! It set the tone for mutual respect - the most important part of a hostel stay.
No matter the style, one of the things that make hostels such a great choice for budget-minded travelers (even old chaps like us) is that they're the perfect one-stop shop for so many travel chores. We were able to do our laundry on site (note: technically it was Ryan who did the laundry that night....), catch up on work with their Wi-Fi, take advantage of a book swap station, and pick up travel information. You get a lot of bang for your buck here.
Indulge at the Imperial Palace.
Vienna is nothing if not an opulent city and nowhere is this on greater display than the Imperial Hofburg Palace. This incredible complex in the heart of the city includes the Imperial Apartments, a spectacular silver collection, and Sisi Museum (named after "Sisi", the Empress Elizabeth). Photography is restricted to protect the precious exhibits so you'll just have to take me at my word when I say it's truly luxurious and over the top!
The Imperial Apartments are a time capsule testament to Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth ("Sisi"). The contrast between the frugal, restrained, and studious Emperor and his young, vivacious, exuberant wife continues to fascinate the public and Sisi especially has become somewhat of a cult figure. The Palace reflects more than just their particular life, however, and covers an extensive period of Austrian history. Some 7,000 pieces from the Imperial silver collection's 150,000 piece holding (today the property of the nation) are on display as well, adding an extra luxurious element to any visit.
Depending on which parts of the complex you see and whether or not you take part in a tour, tickets can be close to 30 Euros. 60 Euros for two people puts this in the splurge category for us and you might have a bit of sticker shock if you traditionally go with free museums and galleries. But as far as splurges go, it's still relatively affordable and it would be a worthwhile investment at the beginning of your trip to help you get your bearings with Austrian history.
Sneaky sausage deal.
Looking for a quick, cheap, hearty meal that's rooted in Viennese tradition? Hit up the Bitzinger sausage stand at the Albertina (just across from the Opera). Bitzinger has a proper restaurant just around the corner but the sausage stand will let you get your lunch fix for just a few Euros. Just look at how happy Ryan is with his choice! They had great fries too. We're happy to declare this a great steal of a deal.
A bite of history at Sacher Cafe.
Of all the treats you'll find in the legendary Viennese coffee houses, Sacher-Torte is an absolute must-try experience. This is THE dessert of Vienna. Sacher-Torte is a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam, covered with chocolate frosting and served with whipped cream. (Don't neglect the cream! The cake is naturally a bit on the dry side so you need the cream to balance things.) This rich confection debuted at the Sacher Hotel in 1832 and it's been a local coffee house classic throughout the city ever since. And you can still indulge in a slice at the Sacher Hotel's cafe.
It's not everyday you get to experience such a famous food and from the original kitchen to boot. The staff of the Sacher Cafe are good sports about serving to a packed house of over excited patrons who are photo obsessed. I'm not sure I'd recommend a stop here if you wanted a leisurely visit to a locals' cafe but it's a pretty neat experience all the same.
So is the Sacher Cafe's Sacher-Torte good cake? It's hard to say. I like chocolate cake. I like apricot jam. I'm just not sure I like them together. It wasn't unpleasant but I think on my next visit to Vienna I'd try a different cake and experience a different cafe.
If chocolate isn't your dessert of choice but you still want to visit the cafe, there are plenty of other choices. Ryan ordered another Viennese classic, homemade apple strudel. It was tasty but I personally found the pastry a bit tough for my standards - perhaps a morning visit when everything was fresh would have been a better choice.
Where will you indulge your Viennese travel dreams?
Vienna may be famous for its beauty and opulence - and much of it is on display at the Imperial Palace - but there's plenty of budget friendly choices to balance out a few indulgences. And while I'm not sure that a week in Vienna is the right travel move for me, a day of embracing the city's best saves, splurges, and steals was time well spent.
Heading to Europe soon? These blog posts will help you plan your trip.
The Best Way To Learn About Austria's History? A Bike Ride In Vienna.
The Lute, The Lovers, and The Lasagna: Visiting Rome For The First Time.
The Recipe For A Great Time In Prague? Cooking Classes.
Our time in Vienna was facilitated in part by the local tourism board, Wombats, and the Imperial Palace and we thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.