If you want to get more than a tourist’s peek of Austria’s rich culture, Vienna is a perfect place to find accommodations. It’s not only the largest city in the nation, it’s also one of the most well-organized in the world. The surrounding countryside and nearest city hold treasures that are easily explored from this favorable spot, which makes Vienna an ideal jumping-off point for a priceless, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Take a look at these 8 insider tips for living like the locals in Austria and creating an authentic and memorable holiday experience.
Stop and Smell the…Wiener Schnitzel
One of the best ways to fit into the crowd in Austria is to sit back, relax, and go with the flow. Austrians are known for their insistence on enjoying life with all five senses. They also have a reputation for giving you a less than accommodating reception if you decide to break this cardinal rule by rushing them. In fact, it’s common for waiters in cafes to serve customers at their leisure. This is because patrons show up as much for the socializing as they do for the coffee and Sachertorte (a fabulously rich apricot-jam chocolate cake).
This work-life balance is known as “Schaumamalmal”. It’s probably best demonstrated on Sundays in Vienna when almost the entire city is closed for business, except the tourist meccas. If you’re visiting on that day, you can find plenty to do strolling the city’s 23 districts that spread out from the City Center. A favorite is Prater, where many of the shops and museums in the former Jewish quarter are open for business thanks to a growing community full of kosher bakeries and illuminating historical sights. Just be sure you give a friendly “Grüß Gott” when you enter a small shop to show the proper Austrian greeting!
Get Into the Swing of Things
From the swing-jazz hits of Austrian superstar Fatima Spar to the electro-swing movement made famous by pioneer Parov Stelar, there’s no shortage of jumping, jiving, and sliding in Vienna. You can head out to Bar Kleinod near St. Stephen’s or spend an evening at the popular retro dance club Tanzcafé Jenseits in the 6th district to hear some of the authentic roots of American swing music, which contain elements of these Western European rhythms. Ask someone to Lindy hop and you just may make a new friend for life.
Almost half of Vienna is made up of green spaces, highlighting the locals’ love of outdoor activities. Prater Hauptallee, built in 1538, covers 2.5 miles of beautiful walking paths that are lined with 2,500 trees, making it a popular exercise spot for the Viennese. The path has the added bonus of being located near the city’s beloved amusement park the Wurstelprater, with lots of wide-open recreational spaces to play on. Donauinsel island in the Danube River is a great place for locals to escape the fast-paced city life for a relaxing stroll, or to enjoy cycling, in-line skating, boating, and picnicking. You’ll find plenty of activities to enjoy with the people of Vienna on this fun islet.
With over 200 festivals large and small to choose from, there’s never a dull moment for Austria’s art lovers. The Viennese play host to some of the most prominent gatherings on the continent, including the largest free open-air concert in Europe, Donauinselfest. For dance enthusiasts, Vienna’s Burgtheater lights up each July and August with choreographers, musicians, and entertainers showcasing their work at the ImPuls Tanz Festival. Whichever festivals you choose to attend, locals know that one secret to having a great time is to bring your own drinks so you can avoid the long queues at the venues.
Bike, Buse, Uber, and U-Baun: Public Transportation
Vienna is laced with a web of bike paths that cover over 800 miles of a scenic metropolis, and bicycles can be rented at any of the 120 Citybike public transportation locations throughout the city. This recreational mode of transport makes for an environmentally-friendly sightseeing experience that is popular among residents. There is also a top-rated system of trams and buses that are in operation throughout all hours of the day, and the U-baun underground subway runs non-stop on weekends and holidays.
U-baun riding in Vienna comes with a strict set of etiquette that the Austrians are very particular about, and you can expect to hear some famous Austrian directness if you fail to mind your p’s and q’s! Some of these rules, such as holding the door open for people who are running late and waiting for passengers to depart before entering, are common courtesy. To avoid tourist-induced scowls, you might also want to stay on the right side of escalators and leave the left side to those racing for their destinations. The U-baun is understandably the only place in the city where “Schaumamalmal” is suspended, and it’s considered a sign of native sophistication to grumble and groan under your breath if the subway takes more than three minutes to arrive.
Visit a Market
There’s arguably nothing more Austrian than heading out to a market for fresh organic produce, fabulous meals, and the latest news on the comings and goings in the neighborhood. During the winter months, the “Christkindelmaerkte” tradition dating back to the 13th century offers December shoppers fabulous punches, roasted chestnuts, creative holiday gifts, and delectable local delights such as the Kartoffelpuffer, which are crispy fried potato pancakes. The Christmas markets’ most popular locations are in front of City Hall, at Maria-Theresien Platz, and in the Spittelberg Quarter behind the Volkstheater.
For some real local flair, try the Meiselmarkt Wien in the 15th district. It’s the only completely indoor market in Vienna, making it a favorite spot for families to gather and shop all year long. The market is located on the basement level of a shopping center, with access from subway station U3 Johnstraße. You’ll find plenty of “Stammgäste” – regulars who will be happy to point you towards the tastiest fish, vegetables, meat, baked goods, and international wares, which are all available at some of the best prices in Vienna.
There are wine taverns hidden in plain sight all throughout Vienna called “heuriger” that offer an experience found nowhere else in the world. Vienna is the only large urban center with vineyards within its city limits, and taste-testing parties are housed in rustic inns and taverns spread across the city. The word “heuriger” itself is German for “this year’s”, which refers to the new wines that are rolled out annually for locals to taste. There’s even a fun Heurigen Express ride that will take you on a tour of these quaint locales. For some of the best gems, head to Grinzing parish in the 19th district to enjoy “Heuriger-Hopping”, where tradition says the inns will show they’re open for business by displaying pine branches on the door.
Explore Beyond Vienna
Although Vienna is home to nearly 20 percent of the Austrian population, the areas surrounding the city hold a wide array of enriching and one-of-a-kind activities as well. If you want to find more charming “heuriger”, head across the beautiful Danube River to Vienna’s northern border villages of Stammersdorf and Jedlersdorf. You can also take an hour boat ride down the Danube river to Wachau Province where you can view 11th and 12th-century medieval villages, stroll through ancient terraced vineyards, and dine at top-notch restaurants such as the Hofmeisterei Hirtzberger. This famous wine country is also an up-and-coming culinary center with plenty of mouthwatering bistros to choose from. The grand and historic Melk Abbey is another favorite stop on these tours.
You also won’t want to miss a trip to historic Salzburg, located just a few hours east of Vienna. Trains run daily between the two cities. Here you’ll find fantastic views of the eastern Alps and plenty of historic treasures such as Altstadt (Old Town) with its castles, palaces, and churches. Walk the city streets that are full of architectural wonders and find museums dedicated to the city’s most famous home-town hero, Mozart.
The great news about living like a local in Austria is that the people here will truly appreciate your efforts to embrace their traditions. With a little effort, you’ll soon find yourself the recipient of the warmest welcome you can imagine!