Everyone knows that as soon as a perfectly rational human being goes on holiday, they lose all common sense and end up buying trinkets and knick-knacks at astronomically priced souvenir shops. You’ve probably also visited a tourist mecca and heard all about can’t-miss shows and sights – only to shell out a wad of money and leave sorely disappointed. Vienna is no different. However, I’m here to help you steer clear of vacation letdowns and find Vienna highlights.
Tourist Trap #1: The Lipizzaner Horse Shows
The Spanish Riding School was founded in 1572, making it the oldest and most prestigious in the world. With beautiful Baroque architecture nestled within the Hofburg palace, the architecture alone is worth visit – not to mention the majestic Lipizzan horses. However, before you pay up to 173 euros for the performance (don’t bother with a cheap or standing ticket – all you’ll see are people’s heads and a few white specks pirouetting about), why not watch their morning training? You’ll see the horses up close and personal (12 euros) or add a guided tour of the stables with a combo ticket (26 euros).
Tourist Trap #2: Grinzing – or any other restaurants with tour buses in the parking lot
You’ll want to try authentic Viennese cuisine while visiting Vienna, and there’s no better place than a traditional Heurige (wine tavern/restaurant). One main Viennese attraction is Grinzing, a collection of Heurige in the vineyards overlooking Vienna. Instead of jostling past hordes of Japanese tourists, you’ll be much happier venturing just outside Vienna to Heurigefrequented by locals. There are great Heurige in Austria’s Weinviertel (Wine Quarter) in Stammersdorf and Hagenbrunn or in the picturesque town of Perchtoldsdorf to the south. All of these villages are within easy reach of Vienna.
Tourist Trap #3: Hotel Sacher
While in Vienna, one must try the world-famous Sachertorte. This world famous dessert consists of two layers of chocolate cake separated by a layer of apricot jam in the middle and covered in a dark chocolate glaze. Now, Hotel Sacher holds the right to the “Original Sachertorte,” which makes it the most expensive, but definitely not the best. While Cafe Sacher, located directly across from the State Opera House, offers a sumptous atmosphere, if it’s a really good Sachertorte you’re after, then I’d personally recommend L. Heiner, located at Wollzeile 9 or Tirolerhof in the city center.
Tourist Trap #4: Cafe Central
Cafe Central was one of Vienna’s most venerable coffee houses. Intellectuals and authors such as Peter Altenberg, Theodor Herzl, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Loos and Leon Trotsky would meet here to discuss politics, philosophy, economics and the like. With such famous patrons, long history and a beautiful atmosphere, it’s no wonder that every tourist guide recommends it. However, all of this is slightly deceiving. The real Cafe Central was located in another part of the building, the Palais Ferstel, and closed at the end of WWII. Although you’ll see these celebrities of old beaming at you from informative signs around the cafe, they never actually sat at your table. In addition, there’s really nothing special about this cafe. The architecture’s pretty, but the food/drinks are mediocre and in my opinion not worth the inflated prices. If you want a to visit a Viennese coffee house, try Cafe Prückel or Cafe Hawelka, where they have fresh Buchteln, sweet yeast dough dumplings with jam fillings. Under no circumstances should you choose a Starbuck’s and thereby pass up the opportunity to experience the unique personality of each Viennese coffee house.
Tourist Trap #5: Any souvenir shop in Vienna’s 1st district – the city center
I know, I know – you’re in Vienna, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. You’ve traveled around, seen the sights, had a fantastic time and want a keepsake to remind you of your stay here. However, before you decide to purchase a Klimt poster for 50 euros (there are some great poster/print shops in Vienna), why not reflect on a) whether you really need it and b) if you’re wasting hard-earned money on a real piece of Austrian culture, probably manufactured cheaply in China. My advice: don’t even bother walking into a souvenir shop in the city center – there’s nothing you need there and it’s not worth the price. So, before you take that snow globe to the cash register, try out some of the following places for some unique Viennese keepsakes:
Museumsquartier Gift Shop: out-of-the ordinary memorabilia, cool, but not necessarily inexpensive
Naschmarkt: why not take home some Austrian specialties like schnapps or pumpkinseed oil?
Antique shops: there are fantastic finds hiding just beyond the city center – especially in districts 4, 6, and 7.