24 hours in Vienna: The most liveable city in the world

Contemporary Vienna continues to flourish as a creative hub.

Vienna has been named the most liveable city in the world for two years running (Photo: Austrian Tourism)

World-class museums, cathderals with Gothic architecture and sumptuous palaces have charmed travellers from all corners of the world. Here's a round-up of some of the best things to do in the capital of Austria.

7am: If you’ve just landed or are still jet-lagged, take advantage of all the public parks Vienna has to offer. The Volksgarten is undoubtedly beautiful but the one that encapsulates all the lovely things about Austria in one central location is the Burggarten. The Palmenhaus offers coffee and strudel, fresh from the oven, and there is also a little schmetterling haus (butterfly house) to check out. If you don’t have time to visit Salzburg, don’t miss the chance to take a snap right by the 7.5m marble statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, complete with bright flower beds forming a treble clef symbol.

10am: All that walking about necessitates a second cup of coffee — and something sweet to go with it. Dating back to 1786, Demel is one of Vienna’s most elegant salons and bears the title “Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court” right up until today. It opens at 10am daily and you can tell it is a fancy spot by the way the waitresses (called Demelinerinnen) address you in the honorific third person. All manner of delightful cream cakes and confections are offered but insiders know the kaiserschmarrn (a fluffy, shredded pancake accompanied with berry compote) is a must-have. Its name, in fact, means “Emperor’s Mess” due to the dish being a firm favourite of Kaiser Franz Joseph I.


Hans Hollein's Haas Haus (Photo: Hans Hollein)

11am: Walk off all the eating by strolling the entirety of Vienna’s beautiful Innere Stadt (or First District). Do not give in to any romantic fantasies by hailing a horse-drawn carriage, pretty as it may be. Exploring on foot is the way to go here. Stephansdom or St Stephen’s Cathedral — and its Gothic architecture and iconic tiled roof — is widely considered to be the de facto symbol of Vienna and makes an ideal starting point. Oh, and if you are a fan of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein, turn around to gaze at Haas Haus, which he redesigned following the original building’s destruction during WWII. The ground floor now houses a Zara boutique but the rest of the building is a hotel and the headquarters of world-famous catering company Do&Co.

12pm: From there, find your way to the world-class Albertina Museum and Albertina Modern for an unforgettable few hours. There are heaps of ongoing exhibitions and collections but do linger a little while longer over the Batliner Collection (named after the late Liechtenstein lawyer and great collector Herbert Batliner) which focuses on modernist art. It starts with Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Degas and Gauguin, before moving on to the heavy-hitters like Picasso and a spectacular range by Russian avant-gardists, including Chagall, Malevich and Goncharova.


Art at the Albertina is a must (Photo: Diana Khoo)

3pm: Traipsing through art galleries can be hot and thirsty work. Choosing a schanigarten (an Austro-Bavarian term for a sidewalk café) is easy as there’s practically one around every corner. But since time is short, go the whole hog by sitting down at the historic albeit now touristy Cafe Sacher Wien, which adjoins the famous and still family-run Hotel Sacher. A slice of Sacher-Torte is a must, as is the traditional Viennese apple strudel and topfenstrudel (sweet curd cheese). Enjoy the latter with vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream, or do as the Viennese do and have it with a giant but tasty blob of schlagobers (whipped cream).


The famous Sacher-Torte (Photo: Hotel Sacher)

4pm: Make a mad dash to squeeze in a spot of shopping before the good stores close for the day. If you love labels, be sure to focus on the Goldenes Quartier, where all the luxury brands may be found in the heart of the First District, an extension of the elegant Kohlmarkt. But if you have to buy one thing, make it a pair of Ludwig Reiter shoes, a truly fine brand that has yet to be known by much of the Asian hordes. Now with the family business into its fifth generation, a typical Ludwig Reiter shoe is Goodyear-welted, a quality-conscious technique. The brand has also collaborated with designers like Helmut Lang and Peter Pilotto. Fans of pop culture might be amused to know Brad Pitt and other cast members wore the Husaren Boot in the film Inglourious Basterds.

8pm: Meals are hearty and delicious in Austria and although the Wiener Schnitzel is, by far, the most famous savoury dish, hot on its heels (and more popular among the locals) is tafelspitz, a dish of boiled beef in broth — another favourite dish of Emperor Franz Joseph! The most famous restaurant to try this classic Viennese dish at is Plachutta. There are a few outlets, including one right by the Schonbrunn Palace in the Hietzing district. If you are loathe to leave the city area, look for another at Gasthaus zur Oper. The flagship Wollzeile outlet will reopen on July 26 after a quick renovation. For a contemporary and unorthodox take on the dish, head over to the Neue Hoheit restaurant at the swanky new Rosewood Vienna where its Styrian beef salad is like the dry version of tafelspitz, featuring beef slices served with greens and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette.


Neue Hoheit restaurant at the swanky new Rosewood Vienna (Photo: Rosewood Vienna)

11pm: Wind down for the night with a drink at the Loos American Bar (which conveniently stays open until 4am), found in a lane just off Stephansplatz. Opened in 1908 and designed by the sometimes-controversial Adolf Loos, whose works marked the beginning of architectural modernism in Vienna, the Loos also holds the title of being Vienna’s smallest bar. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with design and atmosphere. Jean Cocteau, Benjamin Britten and Orson Welles are said to have frequented the Loos before. Stunning use of backlit onyx walls, a mahogany ceiling and bar and green-and-white chequerboard floors provide visual fodder for the eyes while the friendly bartenders ensure your palate is equally pleased as well. And now that Europe is in the midst of a searing heatwave, forget all the heavy drinks and order copious glasses of Feingespritz instead — a refreshing blend of champagne, soda, mint and strawberries. A sexy DJ spins most nights so, although it is way too cramped for shaking a leg indoors, no one will mind if you bust a move outdoors on the pavement in the warm Viennese night air.

This article first appeared on July 24, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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