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The fountain in front of Kunsthistorisches Museum.

A local’s guide to Vienna

The fountain in front of Kunsthistorisches Museum.
  • By Susanne Gottlieb
  • Photos by Stefan Fuertbauer

Glistening along the shores of the Danube, Vienna has been a point of European intersection for centuries.

The air of its imperial past still blows through its stately streets and narrow cobblestone alleys. Yet, over the past century, Vienna has reinvented itself as an urban hub. Its contemporary architecture, modern housing and vibrant micro-districts harmonize with UNESCO-recognized buildings, creating the city’s distinctive look.

Being a melting pot of European cultures has given Vienna not only a unique cuisine, but also one of the most layered cultural identities on the continent. The mesh of tradition and demand for alternative lifestyles creates a constant tension. While development keeps up with the pulse of the city, things tend to move more slowly in this part of the world. Spend a day at a coffeehouse or a wine tavern, and you’ll experience a coziness that you’ll find few other places.

Meet Susanne Gottlieb

Susanne has lived in Vienna since 2006. She originally moved there from the south of Austria to attend university and, like many before her, never left. She is now working as a freelance journalist and film critic for Austrian and international outlets. In her free time, she is either sitting in a dark screening room or enjoying a cup of coffee.

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Innere Stadt
The Inner City of Vienna is packed with historic sights, imperial buildings, museums and restaurants. This circular district stretches from the heart of the city (the Gothic Stephansdom cathedral) to the main street, Ringstrasse, a late-19th-century boulevard whose sections carry different names and that encompasses the parliament, the opera and the university. Pretty much any corner in Innere Stadt qualifies as a spot to stay the night. If your budget is lower, try looking for hotels around Schottentor and Schwedenplatz. Find this neighborhood.
Located between the city’s two main circular roads, Ringstrasse and the Gürtel, the high street Mariahilferstrasse winds its way toward the train station Westbahnhof. A popular shopping area for both locals and tourists, it offers a vast selection of shops, bars and restaurants, but it’s also an inviting space to relax or walk. There are several small hotels and hostels located in the side alleys and around Westbahnhof, as well as affordable Airbnbs. Find this neighborhood.

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Das Augustin
Inside this tucked-away restaurant in the 15th district, the vintage furniture will make you feel like you’ve entered someone’s living room. Augustin offers a popular brunch on weekends. If you want to eat before noon, be sure to make a reservation. Try the Go Vegan breakfast wrap and porridge or the Istanbul assembly of goat cheese, hummus, veggie sticks and pita bread. Whichever you choose, add a cafe au lait⁠ — served in a big breakfast bowl.
BTW: During your meal, you might be graced with the company of the restaurant’s cats, Luc and Lea.
Märzstrasse 67, 1150 Vienna, Austria
Turnhalle at Brick-5
Refill your plate as much as you like at this vegetarian weekend brunch buffet at the Brick-5 complex near the main road, the Gürtel. The building once served as a hub for Vienna’s Jewish population, and Turnhalle’s space used to be the school gym, its history reflected in the gymnastics equipment attached to its brightly painted walls. During the week, Turnhalle more modestly offers scones, sweet-potato chips, homemade sourdough bread and pickled and oven-roasted vegetables.
BTW: Brick-5 hosts cultural events, too: You can enjoy theater performances, concerts and art exhibitions in the evening.
Herklotzgasse 21, 1150 Vienna, Austria
Le Bol
Empty tables are seldom a concern for Le Bol, a French bistro in the center of Vienna, at Neuer Markt. Chef Omar Shoukry offers a menu of salads, baguettes, quiches, soups and homemade patisserie. In accordance with its name, the meals are served in bowls when possible and consumed at Table d’Hôte, a communal table in the center of the simply kept dining room. For those who cannot get a spot at the Neuer Markt outpost, a second Le Bol is nearby, in Naglergasse.
BTW: The bistro has its busiest hours at about noon. Reservations are possible but only taken on-site.
Neuer Markt 14, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Crowds line up outside this little takeaway spot, on a quiet corner of the 9th district, for its seasonally rotating selection of soups, salads and curries. Made with organic ingredients, the dishes all come with two pieces of fresh pita bread, and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Try the classic chicken curry with coconut, lemongrass and chile, or the vegan baby-potato salad.
BTW: The restaurant has a few choice seating areas, but carrying your order out (in small paper bags) is the norm here.
Servitengasse 6, 1090 Vienna, Austria
Cafe Tachles
The freshly prepared Polish cuisine here is served in an eclectic dining room, with old movie posters and framed pictures gazing over the colorful array of chairs and tables. Favorites are the 10-piece pierogi sets, from classic potato to porcini, spinach or beef, garnished with roasted onions. After dinner, enjoy an alternating program of musical performances, plays, readings or comedy shows on the lower level.
BTW: You can sponsor a second drink or small dish for a person in need.
Karmeliterplatz 1, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Hungry Guy
Named after its founder, Israel native Eyal Guy, Hungry Guy delivers multicultural street food close to the nightlife at the square Schwedenplatz. The pitas are oven-baked, and the fillings come in all sorts of styles, ranging from the classic shawarma to fish and chips or wienerschnitzel. For folks with a little more time on their hands, the restaurant offers a set of tables and street food served in a pan. The open bakery and show kitchen, as well as the loud conversations and music, create a welcoming atmosphere spiced with Middle Eastern friendliness.
BTW: If you enjoy the food at Hungry Guy, try Eyal Guy’s equally excellent Hungry Guy Hummusbar, also located in the city center.
Rabensteig 1, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Würstelstand Leo
You haven’t truly visited Vienna unless you’ve satisfied your hunger at one of our late-night sausage stands, and Würstelstand Leo is the oldest of the bunch — and it has the largest menu to boot, with 60 dishes. Try the legendary Big Mama combo, which includes the classic Viennese Käsekrainer (a sausage filled with cheese) and a slice of bread, mustard, ketchup and pickles on the side. Those with smaller appetites may prefer the Leberkässemmel (liver loaf bun) or one of the vegetarian options.
BTW: Sausages are usually eaten on a plate at the stand. If you’re in a hurry, though, the vendor can pack your food into a takeaway box.
Döblinger Gürtel 2, 1190 Vienna, Austria
Dachboden at 25hours Hotel
This rooftop bar, which has views over the city and the Ringstrasse, is in a circus-themed hotel that houses memorabilia dating to the Varieté of the early 20th century (think safety cage elements, instruments, a bike). Try the signature cocktails, such as the Thaitanic or the Paradise City, and get the toasted focaccia, mixed antipasti or a cheese plate.
BTW: A flashy circus performance naturally warrants some popcorn. Ask the bartender for the flavor of the day.
Lerchenfelder Str. 1, 1070 Vienna, Austria
(Daniel Triendl for The Washington Post)
  1. Thirsty? Vienna has great tap water whose quality probably even surpasses what you’ll find in stores.
  2. When using public transport, be careful with weekly travel passes, which are valid only until Sunday of the same week, no matter what day you stamp them.
  3. Most shops close by 6:30 p.m., supermarkets by 8 p.m., and kitchens in restaurants and bars typically by 10:30 p.m. Almost everything is closed on Sundays. If you’re in need, some small shops are open at train stations.
(Daniel Triendl for The Washington Post)


Augarten grounds
Vienna’s cityscape is not only defined by its striking architecture, but also by its parks and recreational areas. While most tourists will be drawn to Prater or Stadtpark, the Baroque complex Augarten holds a special kind of charm with its spacious lawns and white gravel avenues. It’s best to visit in the afternoon with a picnic basket or a good book. The park, located in the 2nd district, is also home to the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory, the Vienna Boys’ Choir headquarters and the Cafe Augarten, which offers traditional Viennese coffee and pastries. In the far corners of the park, two flak towers still standing serve as grim reminders of World War II.
BTW: The home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, MuTh, hosts a regular selection of concerts. In the summer, an open-air cinema is next door.
Obere Augartenstrasse 1, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Stroll along the Donaukanal
The promenade along this canal of the Danube is a buzzing Vienna gathering spot all year long, populated by bright art, families enjoying the waterside sun and joggers and cyclists looking for scenic exercise. In the summer, several beach bars offer sandy areas with sun beds and fancy cocktails; be sure to check out Herrmann Strandbar (mapped below) and, at the west end, Tel Aviv Beach. At night, no matter the season, the legendary Flex nightclub comes to life, and an office complex on the upper street level supplies a colorful light show.
BTW: The Twin City Liner, which sails between Vienna and the Slovakian capital (and twin city) of Bratislava, docks at the Donaukanal. The river cruise also passes through the beautiful Donau-Auen National Park.
Herrmannpark Vienna, Austria 1030
Hiking and vineyards of Grinzing
Viennese identity is deeply linked to its wine, and the city’s vineyards offer visitors an ideal retreat: When you hike along the wavy green hills, underneath the finely kept vines, a magnificent view of the city opens up. The wine-growing area of Grinzing in particular may lure you in, with its hiking routes, its picturesque town center (mapped below) and, of course, its wine taverns, collectively called Heuriger. Be sure to stop by two: Heuriger Maly and Buschenschank Andreas Wagner.
BTW: Order a Gemischter Satz, a typical Viennese wine made of three or more different types of grapes.
Cobenzlgasse, 1190 Vienna, Austria
On the fringe of an amusement park, this former sauna has become a popular party and music venue over the past decade, having been honored regularly by a renowned German music magazine. With its ’60s architectural charm, accentuated by a worn-out feel of the interior, the club is a hot spot for free spirits, intellectuals and music lovers with a taste for house, electro and techno.
BTW: There’s a pool outside that’s open from June until September. (It closes at 8 p.m.)
Pratersauna, Waldsteingartenstrasse 135, 1020 Vienna
What was once the Imperial Court stables is now one of the biggest cultural zones in the world. The MuseumsQuartier, on the edge of the Inner City, unites museums, restaurants, offices, galleries, theaters, cafes and shops within its architectural symbiosis — Baroque buildings and modern design. Locals flock to its open courtyards, spending their evenings chatting on the colorful sitting blocks or enjoying the open-air events. If you are an art lover, you can step into Leopold Museum or Mumok, both of which specialize in modern pieces.
BTW: The MQ offers an overview tour in English of the area at 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, Austria
WU Campus
The new, completely energy-efficient campus for the Vienna University of Economics and Business, built in 2009 in the relative seclusion from the busy city center, is the brainchild of internationally renowned architects such as Zaha Hadid and Peter Cook. Hadid’s library building alone is worth a visit: Its futuristic arrangement of crooked white corridors and bright lights feels more like the setting of a science-fiction film than a university.
BTW: The influx of 22,000-plus students has had a sizable effect on Vienna’s culture, making it an early stop for modern trends.
Welthandelsplatz 1, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Susanne Gottlieb
Susanne has lived in Vienna since 2006. She originally moved there from the south of Austria to attend university and, like many before her, never left. She is now working as a freelance journalist and film critic for Austrian and international outlets. In her free time, she is either sitting in a dark screening room or enjoying a cup of coffee.
Stefan Fuertbauer
Stefan, a contributing photographer to The Washington Post, was born and raised in the Austrian countryside but was drawn over 20 years ago to Vienna, where he lives now. He’s an admirer of the Austrian capital’s people and lifestyle and loves a good cup of melange (similar to cappuccino but different). When not racing his bike through traffic, he enjoys a relaxed ride on the tram, preferably on one of the models from the ’60s still running.