Three Days in Vienna

Vienna museums at night

Vienna is an hour bus ride from Bratislava.  In spite of this, over the last year, we rarely made the trip.  To me, Vienna is Bratislava’s living room.  Accessible, but a bit too fancy to be much fun.  However, if you are a fan of classical music and museums, it is worth a few days.  That’s exactly how we focused our trip – in the cradle of Hapsburg opulence.  We caught an opera, the Boy’s Choir mass, dropped by a palace and stopped into the treasury to see the crown jewels.  It was quintessential Vienna.

Weekly, the Vienna Boy’s Choir sings mass at the Hapsburg family chapel.   It is a high mass, complete with Latin, Mozart, and incense.   The boy’s choir sings in the choir stall high above the altar – invisible to the congregation.  I imagined this as a schmaltzy spectacle – it’s not.  It is a musical mass in the small family chapel of the head of the empire.  This Sunday was Mozart’s Missa brevis D-Dur.  The boy’s choir comes down to the front of the chapel to sing the final piece.  It’s the sole bone tossed to the crowd at the conclusion of a lovely traditional mass.  You don’t need to be Catholic (I’m not) to appreciate the ceremony.

The Hapsburg complex is the core tourist area of the old city.  There’s enough world class museums to keep the most inquisitive engaged for days.  We elected the treasury – the only museum in the complex we had never visited.  I don’t consider myself a crown jewels person, but this treasury is exceptional – both for the quality and antiquity of the jewels and the display of unparalleled relics; a thorn from the Christ’s crown, a nail from the cross, a wooden piece from the cradle.  I tend to be a relics naysayer.   But even the most doubting among us can’t help but be a bit taken by the significance of the relics and their jewel encrusted reliquaries.    Get the audio guide or it is nearly impossible to understand exactly what you are seeing.  There are alternatives, world class art museums and the palace rooms.  I recommend you choose whatever most interests you, and immerse yourself in one museum.

The Hapsburg’s have the requisite in town and out of town palaces.  On this trip, we took the metro to Schonbrunn Palace – the summer palace.   It is a 10 minute hop from downtown.  The palace is a well marked 5 minute walk from the metro stop (the metro stop is named “Schonbrunn”).  The grand tour covers 40 rooms of the 1400 plus room palace.  The audio tape is included in the 13.50 Euro ticket and provides a good over view of the life of the Hapsburg monarchs.  The hour tour can be augmented by a stroll in the garden, a nice way to spend the morning.  The palace is a Versaille like summer retreat – with its own version of the Hall of Mirrors.  The forty rooms are just enough to get a sense of the Hapbsurg wealth and influence without overdoing it.  We returned to town by lunch time.   A Christmas tree was being installed in the central square with the surrounding Christmas market stalls.  It is hard to beat the Christmas markets sprinkled throughout the city of Vienna just starting to open for the season.

On a lark, passing the opera Saturday in the early evening, we stumbled upon the standing ticket queue.  Eighty minutes before the performance, tickets are sold for the more than 500 standing slots at 3 and 4 euros each.  We sprung for the 4 Euro tickets and stood on the stage level just behind seats I had priced previously for 212 Euro – the “parterre”.  La Traviata was sold out.  The opera is accompanied by the world renowned Vienna Philharmonic.  I lasted only for the first act.  Pat is a bigger opera fan than I am.  He made it until the end.  It is a dirt cheap means to watch the opera from the best view seats in the house.  The staging, singing, and music is world class.  People behind us, from London, stood for three consecutive nights performances.  We will add this to our list of things we do on each visit.

Vienna is a classical music paradise fit for an emperor.  If that is your taste, it is hard to beat.  We had a wonderful weekend.  And for the first time, we talked about returning in the near future.  We enjoyed Vienna for what it does well.  Tonight, we’re happy to be back in Bratislava.

Make it happen:

Getting there – from Novy Most bus stop in Bratislava, take the Blaguss bus to the Erdberg stop in Vienna.  From here, it is a 10 minute metro ride to Stephansplatz and the heart of the old town.  Follow this in either direction (if you are in Vienna, Bratislava can be a great day trip).   The bus is 7.20 Euro each way – in Bratislava payable to the driver in cash… in Vienna tickets can be bought just inside the Erdberg stop.  The metro tickets are 2 Euro and easily purchased in the metro stop.  Please make sure you validate the ticket in the small box before heading down the stairs.


We had our favorite meal at Cantinetta La Norma (Franziskaner, 3)  – a small Italian restaurant around the corner from a quaint church square overflowing with wine bars and cafes.  This area – a block or two off the more touristy Karntner Strass – is a nice area to explore with several interesting looking restaurant options.  At 52 Euro for appetizers, wine and meals – it was the most reasonable, and best, meal of our trip.

Demel:  This is the place to go for a high quality cake and coffee Viennese experience.  Fight the urge to eat a dry cake at the Sacher Hotel.  Located on the trendy Kohlmarkt pedestrian shopping street.  Prepare to queue.

Cafe Braunerhof (Stallburgasse, 2):   A thread worn old style Viennese coffee house.   Popular with the local newspaper reading crowd.   A nice place to stop for an afternoon rest.     Take Dorotheergasse down from the Hapsburg castle area – thru left onto Stallburgasse and there it is – a 5 minute walk from the Hapsburg palace area.

Tickets to Vienna Boys Choir:    Send an email as directed by this link.   They will let you know what prices/options are available.  You can reserve by email and pick up – paying cash – either Sunday before the mass or Friday between 3 and 5.  The chapel is near the Treasury in the Hapsburg complex.   The ticket office is inside just in front of the chapel entrance.

Standing tickets to the opera:   The queue builds at the back door on Opern gasse.  80 minutes before the show, the tickets will begin to be sold – one ticket per person and cash only.  After buying the ticket, immediately go up into the main opera house to get in line to reserve your spot (employees in the opera house can direct you).  Take an extra scarf – assuming you enter the parterre area (which will be like a sardine can) you want to get behind one of the standing rails.  Tie the scarf to the rail to reserve your standing space.  Once you tie the scarf, you can go down for a drink.  The parterre area has around 6 rows on the right and left side of the stairs.  You do not want to end up crammed onto the stairs.  You want to get a standing spot behind the rail on the right or the left.  Many people will leave at intermission … so if you are hoping to stay for the entire opera, the second part will be much less crowded than the first.  You can leave at any time – but please, only at the break or during applause.

Categories: Western Europe

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