Sunday, November 23, 2008
GETTING THERE: Austrian Airlines and United both fly nonstop from Washington Dulles to Vienna. Round-trip fares start at about $976, including taxes. Flight time is about nine hours. Fares are about $100 less on other airlines with connecting flights.
WHERE TO STAY: Accommodations in most European cities are expensive at present, although Vienna's prices aren't among the most exorbitant. The best way to balance value and convenience is to find a property just outside the inner city (bounded by the Ringstrasse). I stayed at the Best Western Hotel Harmonie (Harmoniegasse 5-7, 800-780-7234, http://www.bestwestern.com), where rooms with one double bed and a satisfying breakfast start at about $95 a night. Within the inner city, a good-value four-star property is the Austria Trend Hotel Rathauspark (Rathausstrasse 17, 011-43-1-40-412, http://www.austria-trend.at/rhw), right next to Vienna's City Hall. Rooms start at about $200 a night.
WHAT TO DO: Lovers of Vienna circa 1908 should make the upper and lower museums at the Belvedere Palace their first stop (Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27, http://www.belvedere.at). The exhibition "Gustav Klimt and the Kunstschau 1908" runs through Jan. 18 at the Lower Belvedere; "The Kiss" and other Klimt works are always on view. More Klimt and lots more Schiele can be seen at the MuseumQuartier's Leopold Museum (Museumsplatz 1, http://www.leopoldmuseum.org), and the Museum of Applied and Contemporary Arts (Stubenring 5, http://www.mak.at) possesses a great collection of Wiener Werkstatte paraphernalia, although there's much more to see, including fascinating recent works by Austrian artists.
Last-minute tickets are always difficult to come by at the Wiener Staatsoper (Opernring 2, http://www.wiener-staatsoper.at), but standing room is available for opera performances and concerts, and English-language tours of the hall are given almost every day. Two fascinating boutiques that evoke pre-World War I Vienna are the textiles shop Backhausen (Schwarzenbergstrasse 10, http://www.backhausen.com), which has a museum devoted to the Wiener Werkstatte in its basement, and Lobmeyr (Karntnerstrasse 26, http://www.lobmeyr.at), whose legendary glassworks over the years have included the chandeliers at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
WHERE TO EAT: Forget all those preconceptions about Hapsburg heaviness: Contemporary Vienna is a foodie's delight. Reservations are a must at Steiereck (in Stadtpark, http://www.steiereck.at), but the food is terrific at Meierei, a cafe on the building's first floor, where generous portions of Wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes go for $19.50. As you would expect, Vienna has a wealth of great coffeehouses. Two old standbys are Freud's favorite, Cafe Landtmann (Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 4, http://www.landtmann.at), and the recently renovated Cafe Museum, once a home away from home for Klimt and other early-20th-century painters (Operngasse 7, http://www.cafe-museum.at).
If it's pastry and chocolates you're after, don't miss Demel (Kohlmarkt 14, http://www.demel.at) or the plethora of goodies nearby at Vienna's premier gourmet grocery store, Julius Meinl am Graben (Graben 19, http://www.meinlamgraben.at); the latter also has a great takeout kiosk and a first-class restaurant. And lovers of great food, not to mention travelers on a budget, dare not miss the Vienna Naschmarkt (a mile and a half along the southern edge of the Ring), which dates from the 16th century and whose narrow corridors are teeming with produce, baked goods, meats, etc. And yes, Sky Bar (Karntnerstrasse 19, http://www.skybar.at) does indeed have margaritas, although they don't hold a candle to the atmospherics, especially the spectacular floor-to-ceiling views of old Vienna.