In his 1977 hit album The Stranger, Billy Joel asks fans a simple question that sparked far-reaching inquisition: “When you realize, Vienna waits for you?” Of course, he was referring to the popular central European capitol city of Vienna, Austria, which was and has remained the pinnacle city of luxury travel, fashion, and cuisine.
The largest city in Austria and the seventh largest city in the European Union, Vienna offers locals and visitors alike with unparalleled opportunity and culture as one of the world’s most livable cities.
After 30 years, we decided we had kept Vienna waiting long enough, and included a 36-hour tour of the city into our central European itinerary in between our visits to Prague, Czech Republic and Budapest, Hungary. With many thanks to our sponsors, including the Vienna tourism board, Park Hyatt Hotels, and Czech-based travel service Best Trips, we were able to experience a jam-packed agenda featuring all the Imperial City had to offer.
Taking to the open road in the wee hours of the morning, Ruslan Billy, the founding owner of the exclusive travel company Best Trips, chauffeured us through a four hour journey down D1 Pague-Brno highway through miles of Czech countryside and wineries. At the recommendation of Ruslan, we made a pit stop in the quaint rural village of Mikolav to take a few quick sips of the popular Czech brandy, Slivovitz, before we continued on our way. Crossing the boarder from Czech into Austria was a breeze. So much in fact, that we would have completely overlooked the underwhelming “welcome” sign hidden behind some overgrown brush on the side of the road.
Navigating narrow streets, Ruslan delivered us safely to our final destination: the Park Hyatt Vienna. Recognized as one of the most luxurious hotels in Vienna and the “Best City Hotel in Austria,” the park Hyatt is located in the heart of Vienna’s center city, just steps from St. Steven’s Cathedral and the high-end designer boutiques of Kohlmarkt.
Upon first entering the hotel, its unmatched elegance and sophistication is undeniable. Featuring stunning contemporary style with local Viennese artwork and accents, what guests visualize in the main lobby is only the beginning.
After a quick check in, we were personally escorted to our room by one of the Park Hyatt’s 24-hour concierges, who attentively carried our luggage and offered us a couple flutes of champagne from the downstairs restaurant, Bank Brasserie and Bar. They didn’t have to ask us twice.
Our room was a “Deluxe View” suite featuring a glistening mother-of-pearl floor throughout the main hallway, a bathroom which contained spacious marble countertops, a separate jet bathtub, heated marble floors, and a rain shower. The master room contained two plush twin beds, a separate living room with lounge furniture, a 55-inch flatscreen TV, and an oak office desk.
A stack of beautifully wrapped presents laid waiting to be opened on the desk side chair with a personally-addressed envelope next to the Vienna Tourism Board logo.
Inside were city maps, pamphlets containing information on Vienna’s best restaurants and attractions, notepads, pens, postcards, ceramic pineapple shot glasses (a sign of welcoming), fresh fruit, and a box of warm honey roasted peanuts from the hotel’s signature eatery, Cafe Am Hof.
We quickly unpacked, and after a few childish trial runs with the motorized curtains and personalized lighting system, we changed into fresh clothes and ventured out into the city. Our first stop was the iconic St. Stevens Cathedral.
We realized we hadn’t had any food all day, so we made a pit stop by a Würstelstand stand for a bratwurst. While we are almost certain is wasn’t authentic by any means, it was an experience none the less. A foot-long hollowed out baguette filled with a 1/4 pd bratwurst, melted cheese, ketchup and mustard was just what we were craving. (Hat tip: these stands are ubiquitous in Vienna but they only take cash from one of the nearby ATM’s).
With our stomach’s full, we ran to the second stop on our itinerary: the Austrian National Library. As the largest library in Austria, the 18th century complex holds more than 7.4 million items inside of the Hofburg Palace. Consisting of seven reading rooms and more than 400 nooks and crannies to sit down with a good book, it has provided unlimited sources for researchers, students, and travelers for centuries. We spent most of our time in the State Hall, which is the largest Baroque library in Europe, holding more than 200,000 volumes throughout its 80 meter by 20 meter interior.
Once we returned, we changed into our bathing suites and made our way to the hotel’s private Arany Spa and indoor pool. After nearly 70 hours of traveling, we went straight to the wet area that included two saunas, a steam bath, a sanarium, and a vitality shower with multiple pressure and temperature settings. We dared to take an “Arctic” shower with ice bath to wake up our weary muscles and headed for the warm 15m underground pool that was formerly a bank vault.
While neither the spa nor pool were crowded during the evening hours that we attended, it is important for unfamiliar travelers to know that, while we took photos in the pool area, according to the spa staff, cameras are not allowed since clothing in the gender-neutral spa is optional. We learned this the hard way so that our readers don’t have to.
A couple quick dips and an hour of relaxation later, we had worked up enough of an appetite to start our search for the perfect cut of Schnitzel – and it didn’t take us long to find it. Next to our hotel was a bustling sidewalk full of city dwellers sipping Spritz’s and elderflower scented beverages. We were unsure if a stop at the seemingly popular cafe would be worth the time given we have always been told that food in tourist-heavy areas isn’t typically the most authentic, but a quick Google search seemed to prove us wrong. Zum Scharzen Kameel, meaning “Black Camel”, has been an Austrian classic since it was first founded in 1618. Here, we helped ourselves to a heaping plate of Veal Wiener Schnitzel vom Kalb with fresh lemon wedges and couple rounds of a signature elderflower cocktail called “The Hugo.”
It was late and we were starting to feel the affects of a total of less than 12 hours of sleep over the span of four days. We headed back across the street to the hotel to retire for the night, and returned to find our bed sheets turned down with a simple square of chocolate placed on each pillow. We climbed in between the plush covers and with the flip of a button above out heads, the lights were out and we were dreaming of tomorrow.
The next morning, we wanted to eat a hearty breakfast before we hopped back on the road (or in this case, the train tracks). The Park Hyatt Vienna offers select guests a buffet in The Bank Brasserie which features local delicacies and Austrian favorites from across the country. The food was separated into stations based on category including yogurts and cereals, eggs and meat, breads and pastries, fruits, and cold plates.
We filled our plates with protein, quickly sipped the sweet froth off our cappuccinos, and hailed a cab to the train station which was only 10 minutes across the city. We had another busy day of traveling and exploring the third stop on our Eastern European tour: Budapest.