on a quick weekend in Innsbruck, July 2004. a trip to Vienna &
Mattersburg in April 2005,
Graz in August 2005, 25 hours in Salzburg in December 2006 and a
few hours in Bregenz in July 2005)
My first visit to Austria was literally "in passing"
- a total of 7 hours spent at Vienna Airport in transit to and from
Sarajevo in 1999. My abiding memory is of Austrian Airlines stewardesses
in their all-red uniforms (complete with stockings!). Eventually,
we decided to take advantage of cheap direct flights from Gatwick
to Innsbruck. Why not Vienna first? Well, we thought about it, but
it meant nothing to me...
Spring 2005 did bring about a trip to Vienna and Mattersburg (in
the rural Burgenland province), and with trips to Graz (August 2005)
and Salzburg (October 2005, on the way home from Slovenia) on the
cards, expect this guide to grow nicely in time for Euro 2008!
The main thing to remember in this German speaking country is that
you are NOT in Germany! (Easier said than done, believe it or not).
The Tirol in particular is very similar to Bavaria, in terms of
ambience, folk traditions and dialect. The easiest way to remember
is that the beer is not quite as good (and is slightly more expensive).
I’d never been in any rush to go to the Austrian capital
previously, mostly due to my preconceptions about stuffiness and
powdered wigs. Nonetheless, when the time came, we were very pleasantly
surprised. The café culture, complete with tuxedoed waiters,
can be a little starched, but this is completely offset by the lively,
cheap heurigen taverns. We spent a pretty active three days there,
but could happily go back and still find loads of new things to
in Vienna (and the wonders of a Vienna Card!)
I wouldn’t normally be quite so prescriptive, but…
this really is the way to do it if you arrive at Schwechat Airport
(VIE)! When you clear passport control, search out the Tourist Office
– it faces into the baggage reclaim area, but if you miss
it, it has a window onto the Arrivals Hall (come out into the landside
area and turn sharp right). Buy a Vienna Card (was just under 17
Euros when were there) – this is a 72-hour discount and public
transport ticket, and is WELL worth the cash. For a start, it gets
you a 17% on the first-class CAT (City Airport Train) high-speed
link to central Vienna (Wien Mitte station) – either buy your
CAT tickets at the same time, or pick them up on the train (each
carriage has a conductor checking tickets). If you use the machine
you won’t get the discount.
Once you arrive at Wien Mitte station, walk along to the main S-Bahn/U-Bahn
connections at Landstrasse (all under the same roof), stamp your
Vienna Card in the ticket machines by the platform escalators (very
important!), and that’s you covered for 72 hours public transport.
There are other ways into town (S-Bahn 7, Taxi and bus –
the last two offer a 17% discount with the Card as well), but none
are the bargain in terms of speed/cost that the CAT is. And if that’s
not enough convincing, did I mention it was a double-decker train?
For a place with such a stuffy reputation, Vienna
is really packed with sights. It really would take a full week or
more to really see and do everything, so pick and choose your favourites
carefully. This was our pick of the attractions (many of which were
discounted through the Vienna Card):
The Big Wheel
– the “Risenrad” is the iconic symbol of the
city, and sits on the northwestern edge of the Prater park. A
sort of London Eye prototype in wood and iron, the wheel was immortalised
in the film the Third Man. Sometimes you get to go around twice
when it’s really quiet!
UNO City –
a strange choice of attraction, but one I really enjoyed. As one
of four UN headquarters, the UNO City is a patch of “international”
land on Austrian soil, on an island in the Danube. Unless you’re
a UN delegate, you can only get in on a guided tour (run twice
a day, in English or German) – don’t forget your passport!
As a politics graduate, I loved it.
– the northern edge contains a permanent amusement park
(free to enter, pay per ride), which is pretty much like any other
amusement park/fairground. The middle bit lies alongside the Messe,
and the southern part contains sports grounds, including…
The Ernst Happel
Stadion – Vienna’s massive national stadium
(holds 50,000, but seems much larger), on the southern edge of
Prater, was being partially renovated ahead of Euro 2008 when
we were there. Apparently contains a museum, but we didn’t
Dom – Large, attractive cathedral right in the middle
of Vienna’s Innere Stadt. Faces Haas Haus, a mega-modern
glass and chrome building, a juxtaposition that sums up Vienna
Hofburg– Once the largest private residence in Europe, this
central palace is larger than some other city centres on it’s
own. Difficult to comprehend it’s considered a single building
(albeit of many different sections).
– the TV tower is slightly north of the UNO City,
and is very skinny for its size. As a result, the restaurant revolves
quicker than some others of that ilk – we did two and half
turns whilst eating an ice-cream sundae!
Vienna has the most vineyards of any city in Europe, and the local
wine is traditionally sampled in Heuriger taverns. Most often
these are clustered in the vineyard areas (such as Grinzing and
Stammersdorf), but there are a couple of central ones (the Esterhazykeller
is a good one). The sell “young” wine (mostly white)
in half-pint beakers at exceptionally cheap prices. Be warned
– the locals mix it with soda for a good reason: all that
young wine can make you very ill the next day!
– another wine experience, straddling the “To Do”
and the “Places to Drink” sections. Inspired by the
Vienna Card leaflet, we went along for a discounted “tour
of Austrian wines”, a snip at 7 Euros for 5 wines (not full
measures mind!), brought to your table and given an expert introduction.
You can choose between white, red or mixed, and best of all, if
there’s two of you, you probably won’t both get the
same wines. There’s a deli counter selling posh cheeses
and parma ham (known as “speck”), so you can purchase
a plate or two to nibble on, and there’s nothing to stop
you buying a few more full-sized glasses (or bottles, to take
away as well as drink in) of the wines you like. Be warned –
it soon all adds up! Well worth it, and a very civilised way to
spend a few hours of an evening.
I would really, really recommend taking a step into the unknown
and visiting one of the heuriger areas on the outskirts. We opted
for Stammersdorf, an easy half-hour tram ride (number 31) from Schottenring
right to the terminus (one street south of where the action is).
It really is wall-to-wall wine taverns on Stammersdorfer Strasse,
ranging from the small, family-run affairs through to larger places
with seating and tables in large courtyard gardens. The unifying
feature of these taverns is the school canteen style catering –
grab a tray, join the queue and ask for (or point at) what you want.
The wine, on the other hand, is almost always ordered and served
by a waitress. The Stammersdorf heuriger we visited (three different
ones) did not have live music or gimmicks, but by all accounts those
in the more-touristed Grinzing suburb are (although these are frowned
on by many of the locals due to the number of tour buses passing
one of Burgenland’s premier vineyards has its own outlet
in these atmospheric city centre cellars. Whilst the prices are
higher than the outlying heuriger, they’re not prohibitive,
and the food system works on the same lines (just get a table
first – it’s a popular place!).
Bar Italia, Mariahilfer
Strasse – trendy street café by day, achingly trendy
subterranean cocktail bar to be seen in by night. Only went in
as I was drunk. Left even more drunk after two cocktails powerful
enough to subdue a bull elephant.
– A great brew-pub with no less than seven of its own beers,
including hemp and chilli beer. The food’s good too, especially
the huge schnitzels and the apple strudel.
- rare wee beer and food place right on Landstrasse. Handy for
Wien Mitte/Landstrasse station and that wait for the airport train.
Gasthaus Mehler, Prater
– across the tramlines on Engerthstrasse, at the back of
the Ernst Happel, and quite possibly the closest bar to the ground,
is this yellow-coloured two story gasthaus, complete with beer
garden courtyard. We were in on a weekday early evening and it
was popular with the locals for food and beer, yet also very friendly.
One to remember if there’s a game on.
– a famous old pub in amongst the rides and stalls of the
Prater Amusement Park, complete with Budvar on tap. Full of drunken
locals and tourists at any time of day, and a handy pit stop between
the Wien Nord U-Bahn and the Ernst Happel.
Gasthaus zum Kärntnerwirt,
Favorittenstrasse – A decent enough local out near Austria
Wien’s stadium. Not worth a special trip. Halper, right
over the road, is supposed to be a little more olde worlde but
was shut on the Sunday we were there.
Loos Bar, Kärntner
Strasse – we got as far as the front door, but the place
was rammed and there was no chance of us getting served. The 20
or so people in there were having a great time! The place is absolutely
tiny, but clever use of mirrors and ornate coloured décor
make the bar seem much bigger. Famous for its cocktails –
worth a visit but get there REALLY early! Only a few minutes southwest
of Stephansplatz in the centre.
Bar opposite Nordbahnhof,
Praterstrasse – if you’re looking for a beer near
Prater without having to brave the garishness of the amusements
to get there, this could be your saviour. Right on the corner,
with a food area and a stand-up drinking area.
There’s also a good spread of pubs in the streets due north
of Neubaugasse U-Bahn (right up to Siebensternbrau and beyond),
but we didn’t go in any as we had focussed on heuriger more
than originally planned! Although I do wish I’d known about
handy web site before we went.
Having fallen in love with Innsbruck, and been incredibly impressed
with Vienna, we were looking forward to Graz but felt it had a lot
to live up to. It managed this and more – it’s a superb
destination for a city break on a cosy scale. Graz is Austia’s
second city, and has been cruelly overlooked for Euro 2008, despite
having two well-supported, successful clubs (Strum Graz and Grazer
AK). The city is home to tens of thousands of students, which give
a young and trendy edge to the olde worlde red-oofed and cobble-streeted
altstadt. The Styrian province (of which Graz is the capital) is
famed for it’s cuisine, which relies heavily on pumpkin oil,
and is also famed within Austria for its wines (the tourist office
arranges wine-tasting trips in summer).
Finding your way around is simple enough – the Schlossberg
(Castle Hill) towers over the city centre and is a good point of
reference. The Altstadt area is bordered on the west by the narrow
Mur River, which flows rapidly from south to north, and on the east
slopes up to the cathedral and some of the older buildings. The
town hall is the imposing building on the south edge of the Hauptplatz
(Main Square), and the superbly named Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium
is roughly two miles due south from here (which may soon be changing
name after a fall out with The Terminator). The station is to the
west of the centre in a flat and relatively uninteresting part of
Graz is a great place to see the Austrian fascination with incongruous
juxtapositions up close, with a real mix of the traditional and
the modern. Some people (like Helen) hate it; I love it!
Kunsthaus, aka “The Friendly
Alien” – absolutely jaw-dropping, stunning
and infinitely weird piece of glass and steel architecture housing
the city’s art collection on the west bank of the Mur. Apparently
the inside is pretty stunning as well but we didn’t venture
Murinsel – on the
same theme as the Kunsthaus, the Murinsel is a man-made island
shaped like a shell and reached by bridges from both riverbanks.
Constructed for the 2003 City of Culture year, it’s somehow
survived the raging cascade of the Mur and plays host to a small
amphitheatre, a play area and a café with one of the weirdest
Schlossberg – Castle
Hill sits peering down at the town, and can be reached by a variety
of ways, from the traditional (walking), the modern (funicular
railway) and the downright futuristic (an elevator through the
Bond villain style hollow interior of the mountain). Up top are
a couple of museums, the iconic clock tower and the designer al
fresco restaurant Aiola. The most fun can be had at the bottom
of the lift shaft, where the children’s Burgbahn ride trundles
through tunnels decorated with Brothers Grimm style horror scenes.
I’d suggest taking the funicular up and the lift (which
is right next to Aiola’s terrace) back down.
Altstadt streets –
just wandering the sloping cobbled streets heading up from the
Hauptplatz is rewarding enough, particularly along Hofgasse where
there’s a really old apothecary and the ornate buildings
Cathedral – on
the corner of Hofgasse and Burgasse. From the outside, it looks
like a particularly dull utilitarian place of worship, however
the inside is well worth a visit.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium
– Not the most spectacular stadium you’ll see,
but it’s been squeezed in between the surrounding roads
very well, and has treffbars and souvenir shops for both Sturm
and GAK. The ground is in the Liebenau district and trams head
down here from the centre.
It's fair to say this is one city you won't go thirsty. And if
you did, the Puntigamer brewery is on the outskirts of town to boot!
– I’m not usually one for Irish pubs, but I’ll
make a rare exceotion here. Hidden up a lane off Murgasse, Flann’s
boasts a decent selection of beers, a spacious yet cosy interior
and some solid food options. Credit to them for keeping an excellent
waitress service going despite being stowed out with several hundred
Scotland fans in the early hours.
Wine bar (name not known) –
a cosy locals bar on the left hand side of the top bit Neutorgasse
(as you head down from Hauptbrücke) that I didn’t catch
the name of. Awash with wine, there’s draught beer to keep
you going too.
Café Jeton –
on the corner of Raubergasse and Landhausgasse, this otherwise
unremarkable over-40s singles bar played a part in one of the
most amazing Tartan Army nights experienced by the lucky few who
were there. Friendly service and a well-stocked jukebox (hopefully
still including O-Zone’s Dragostea!), but probably quite
weird when Scotland aren’t in town!
Dom Bräu– on Bürgasse, near the Cathedral (as the name
suggests). Dom Bräu knocks out three stunning home brews
– my favourite is the Weizenbock, which had a hint of banana.
The food’s good too, but not on all day. Well worth a scoop,
if only for the Arnie mural on the wall!
the other brewpub in the city centre is much busier, and much
either to find in Glockenspielplatz, in the shadow of the Glockenspiel
clock. Restauranty inside, there’s a large beer terrace
out front. Very nice beer, although only one type (an unfiltered
helles) from memory.
Steirer-Pub (aka The Styrian
Highlander) – up a wee side street from Glockenspielplatz
is this curiosity of a pub. Open from 5pm Tuesdays-Saturdays,
this is the full-on feathered hat and leather-clad-thigh-slapping
experience. Strangely boasts about its Scottish connections, right
down to Braveheart murals in the toilets, the pub serves traditional
Styrian cider (Most and the ominously named Turbo Most rocket
fuel) as well as a wide range of Styrian dishes.
Sturm Treff – brightly
lit Sturm fans pub at the stadium. The GAK Treff a few doors along
looks like a bordello with all the red lighting going on.
Aiola – more of
a restaurant than a bar, this designer terrace on top of the Schlossberg
does have a bar of sorts.
Aiola Insel – Aiola
also run the café on the Murinsel, where you can sip a
coffee or beer and sit back and relax as the raging torrent threatens
to wrench the structure from its moorings. Very unusual toilets.
Innsbruck has a stunning setting in a valley between two mountain
ranges, and is a main junction between Bavaria and Northern Italy,
sitting as it does on the Brenner Pass. It's quite a large town
in population size, but is very walkable. Even the airport is in
the city limits and only a few miles from the old town.
We were there in Summer, when it seems to be very popular with
Italian tourists, including hen parties - I'm sure it takes on more
of a ski resort ambience in winter, but as that's not really our
bag, it would be unfair to comment.
There is more than enough to fill a weekend, but we can really
recommend getting hold of an Innsbruck Card (the Tourist
Board site for details) - at €21 for 24 hours, we still
saved loads. Almost everything is free with it, and you don't need
to worry about transport fares either.
The Golden Roof - we
couldn't work out what the fuss was about, but do try to look
up so you can catch sight of the golden roof.
Panoramic painting -
although it's not the town's main attraction, it is vastly under-rated.
Housed in a circular building next to the valley station for the
Hungerburgbahn funicular railway, this unbelievably lifelike huge
painting puts you directly in the middle of a 19th century battle
in the hills above Innsbruck. Well worth a visit.
Hungerburg/Hafelkar cable car
- the most accessible of the mountains surrounding the city, you
can catch the funicular up a very steep pull to the Hungerburg
plateau (or get off at the middle stop for the Alpen zoo), then
take the Nordkette cable car up to Seegrubbe (home to a restaurant
and hotel), or carry on up to 7,000 feet with the Hafelkar cable
car. On a clear day, you can see for miles (it was cloudy when
Bus trip - there are
two sightseeing bus routes served by mini-buses with audio guides.
Very cheap, and a good way of seeing the city (and free with the
Bergisel ski jump - Innsbruck
has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, although this is a new ski-jump
designed by an award winning architect. The easiest way to get
to it is on the sightseeing bus - jump off at the hunting museum
and walk a short way up the walkway to the entrance. Once you've
paid your money (or shown your Innsbruck Card), you can catch
a mono-rail style lift that takes you to the foot of the tower,
where a conventional elevator whips you up to the restaurant and
viewing gallery at the top.
Happily, there is no shortage of quality places
to kick back and have a beer in Innsbruck, ranging from the down
and dirty to the posh and swanky. The Altstadt has seveal options,
but it's definitely worth exploring the bars in the railway arches
north of the main station. Here are some we can personally recommend:
Elferhaus - superb pub,
right opposite the Goldener Adler hotel, that has a whole host
of Austrian beers on tap, and more exotic bottled beers. Well
worth a decent visit.
Tribeca - trendy style
bar with window seats offering a good view over the top of Maria
Therisen Strasse. Stands for "Triangle Below Canal"
in New York, in case you were wondering. Had a happy hour late
on Saturday afternoon when were there.
Cappucino - a strange
choice for inclusion, but a great wee bar. Primarily a narrow
coffee/wine bar in the old town (there is beer on tap), this great
wee bar is populated by the local characters, and is great entertainment!
Seegrube & Hafelkar
- Both cable car stations offer restaurants that serve beer. And
remember, you get drunk quicker at altitude!
Stiftskeller - a handy
beer garden/cellar right on the edge of the old town near the
Hofburg. Don't sit on the stammstisch table!
Bar d'Abbei - in one
of the quieter backstreets of the old town, and one of the cheapest.
Frequented by genuine old-school mad jakies.
Viaduktstube - The first
bar on the road leading up from the station, and the most down
to earth. Complete with juke box full of euro-pop and German-style
Little Rock - A rock
bar popular with grungy and gothy kids, and table service.
Cafe Dom - outdoor seats
facing the imposing cathedral
Baren Bar - strange and
very popular local bar with pictures of cuddly bears everywhere
Whilst not as stunningly set as Innsbruck, sleepy Salzburg still
has its attractions, such as the massive hill range from which the
castle surveys the town. The castle can be reached on foot via stairs,
a winding cobbled road or an obscenely over-priced Festungsbahn
funicular railway. To be honest, I’d rank it fourth behind
Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck, but then again Helen disagrees and she
loved the place.
We only had 25 hungover hours appreciate the charms of Salzburg,
so this is partly a list of what we would have done, had we had
Altstadt – Salzburg’s
winding, narrow altstadt streets bear some investigating, although
they can get crowded at busy times (such as during the Christmas
markets). It’s possible to ride around it in a horse and cart,
should you have no qualms about staring at a horse’s backside.
Brauwelt – The Stiegl
brewery boasts the largest beer display in Europe, but let’s
face it, you’re only after the free tasting! Now open year-round,
this is a fair hike out of the centre and halfway towards the airport.
Festungsbahn – over-priced
and over-popular funicular railway up to the castle.
Dom – stands over
Domplatz in the centre, and like other Austrian cathedrals, far
more spectacular from the inside.
Zipfer Bierhaus –
popular restaurant (only a couple of stand up drinking tables!)
in the altstadt. Either book or come early.
Braumeister Pub –
part of the extensive Sternbrau bar and restaurant complex, the
smaller and more intimate Braumeister boasts a cosy atmosphere and
an impressive range of Austrian beer. Also makes a nice change from
the ubiquitous Stiegl.
Stiegl Kellar – speaking
of which… the Stiegl Kellar occupies a prime piece of real
estate, overlooking Domplatz at the foot of the road up to the castle
(and just 50 yards past the funicular ticket office). Stiegl is
an old-school beer hall – up the stairs and left for the drinking
bits (and the summer terrace with cheap self-service beer), or right
for the fancier restauranty bits.
Weisses Kreuz Kellar –
Austrian-Balkan fusion cuisine, apparently. We wouldn’t know
as it’s insanely popular and was fully booked. Worth a look,
by all accounts.
St Paul’s Stub’n –
another fully-booked place (how do you think we managed to cover
so many restaurants in 25 hours?), this poky room is upstairs and
just around the corner from Weisses Kreuz.
Mattersburg is home to Burgenland’s top football team, SVM,
and the stadium is capable of holding the town’s entire 6,000
population with room for a couple of thousand of their pals to boot!
The town’s main tourist attraction is its lovely railway viaduct
(I kid you not), and handily for any hybrid train/stadium spotters,
it is slap band next to said football stadium. The main station,
with one of the skinniest platforms in Europe (one abreast) has
a handy pub, and is around 10 minutes uphill from the town centre.
The primary hotel, the Florianihof, is very comfortable and has
a restaurant and bar (the bar also serves as the reception). A handful
of bars compete for your attention, including a sports pub on the
way to the ground, and unbelievably, and Irish pub called The Peacock,
staffed by nubile Hungarian beauties. The football club bar is apparently
a focal point of weekend nightlife, which isn’t too surprising
when it knocks out top-notch local wine at 1 Euro a glass! A nice
wee place, but somewhere you’re unlikely to find yourself
in without a reason. You might see it out the train window if you
ever make the trip from Vienna to the Hungarian shopping town of
I’d never heard of Bregenz until April 2005, when I saw their
football team play in Vienna against FK Austria. Three months later
I found myself changing trains there. It’s on the very western
edge of Austria, sitting on the shores of Lake Constance (or the
Bodensee), squeezing up to the water between Switzerland to the
south and Germany to the north. We only had time to wander from
the station to the lakeside and sample an ice cream and a beer at
the Wirsthaus am See. The Bregenz festival is a big cultural in
central Europe each July/August, and a open-air stage is set up
on the lake. The town stretches inland and uphill, and seemed worthy
of a further visit – you can reach it by boat from Friedrichshafen
(served by Ryanair), should you be tempted.