VIENNA, Austria — For the winter traveler who’s not trying to escape the cold, Vienna is the perfect destination. It is a city whose rich interior life is expressed in inviting cafes, museums and musical interludes, but the Viennese don’t mind being outside, especially during the holiday season.
Its many pedestrian-only thoroughfares such as the main Karnter Strasse are lined with shops and restaurants and strung with seasonal lights, creating a festive atmosphere in November, December and into January. The Christmas markets have stands serving beer, spiced wine, food and trinkets galore.
One Austrian-made item that you can’t buy in the Christmas markets is the traditional wool loden jacket or cape. They are beautifully made and stylish with exceptional attention paid to details such as horn buttons and embroidery.
Loden-Plankl sits on Michalerplatz near Hofburg Palace, once the imperial palace of the Habsburg monarchy, and is the oldest loden shop in Vienna. Established it 1830, its helpful employees speak English and will gladly assist you in your search for the most flattering jacket, hat, belt, cape or feather to pin to your hat. Men, women and children will all find something beautiful and it’s hard to choose since the selection is ample.
There are other stores selling traditional loden, some more expensive, some less. It can take days to find what you really want, but the hunt is thrilling. After a day of shopping, head to dinner at the Zum Schwarzen Kameel (The Black Camel).
Plenty of locals will be outside drinking under the red awning and heaters in the evening. This restaurant’s goulash is legendary. Once you have had it, you will be back. The wood floors and cafe tables make it a cozy respite.
Cafes have been a mainstay of Viennese society since the 1800s. Among the must popular are Cafe Central, Demel and Cafe Sacher, located in the five-star Hotel Sacher and across from the National Opera House. The Sachertorte, the most famous of the cafe’s pastries, is a dense, dark chocolate treat served with whipped cream. If you stay at the hotel, you will be seated immediately. Otherwise expect to wait in line outside until space becomes available.
Cafe Central has been around since 1876 was a favorite haunt of Sigmund Freud and Russian revolutionist Leon Trotsky. Today it is filled with visitors and locals because of its historic reputation and a menu that includes Viennese schnitzel — very thin, breaded veal. Buoyant conversation echoes beneath high cathedral ceilings. From the outside, the large arched windows offer a welcoming glow to cold shoppers looking for a comfort food.
If you want to infuse a little culture into your visit, check out the art and state rooms at the Albertina Museum and don’t miss the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Palace. Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whose nickname was Sisi, married Emperor Franz Joseph I and was later murdered in Geneva. The museum is a favorite among tourists for its view of the Habsburg Imperial apartments and the personal journey it traces from Sisi’s carefree youth to her assassination in September 1898.
Another must-see stop is the Spanish Ridi
ng School and the famous Lipizzaner stallions. It is highly recommended you get tickets ahead of time for performances. If you miss the performance, you can try for tickets to the morning exercise routines. At least you will see the stallions.
Music is everywhere in Vienna. Try to see an opera if you have time at the Wiener Staatsoper (National Opera House). If not, just take a walk. You are bound to hear street musicians or if you hear music coming from a building, walk in and experience an impromptu concert. On New Year’s Eve, you can waltz in the streets.
If waltzing or walking is not your thing, take the Big Red Bus for an overview of the city or a charming carriage ride. Even if you do everything mentioned, it just scratches the surface of what Vienna has to offer. Go for the cafes. Return for the goulash.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pasheridan