Within Vienna, you’ll find a colorful pub on nearly every street corner, filled with poetry teachers and their students, couples loving without touching, housewives on their way home from cello lessons, and waiters who enjoy serving hearty, affordable food and drinks.
Vienna claims to be the only city with a cuisine of its own. Vienna soups come with fillings, such as semolina dumpling or pancake slices. Wiener schnitzel is a breaded and fried veal (or pork) cutlet. For hardcore Viennese cuisine, drop by a “Würstelstand.” The local hot-dog stand is a fixture on city squares throughout the old center, serving a variety of hot dogs and pickled side dishes with a warm corner-meeting-place atmosphere. Or eat at Buffet Trzesniewski, famous for finger sandwiches with toppings like chicken liver or herring. The Naschmarkt Old World market has two parallel lanes — one lined with fun eateries, the other featuring high-end produce and gourmet goodies. This is where top chefs like to get their ingredients.
From July through early September, a thriving people scene erupts each evening in the park in front of the City Hall, where free concerts are broadcast on a giant screen. Scores of food stands and picnic tables are set up. There are no plastic cups, just real plates and glasses — Vienna wants the quality of dining experience to be as good as the music that’s about to begin. Thousands of folding chairs face a 60-foot-wide screen up against the building’s Neo-Gothic facade. The program differs every night, ranging from movies of opera to classical concerts. But even if you’re not visiting in summer, you can get your fill of music by seeing the famous Vienna Boys’ Choir, the world-renowned opera, or a hokey Mozart or Strauss concert performed by powdered-wigged musicians.
In this sleepy city, culture is king and locals are experts in the art of good living. Any traveler with an interest in slowing down and experiencing the finer things — a good cup of coffee, fine wine, heavenly music, or a Sacher torte with whipped cream — will feel right at home.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.