Vienna Combines the Best of Sustainable Travel and Festive Winter Magic | Savoir Flair
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Vienna Combines the Best of Sustainable Travel and Festive Winter Magic
article SCHONBRUNN PALACE
by Grace Gordon 10-minute read November 24, 2023

Your holiday travel plans are sorted (and they're sustainable, too).

article JULIUS HIRTZBERGER / VIENNA TOURISM BOARD

There’s too much to do in Vienna, especially this time of year. Around every corner, there’s a new, wonderful thing to discover. A whimsical Christmas market, a thought-provoking lecture, an opera performance, a symphony orchestra, a niche museum, a visiting exhibition, or a bespoke shopping excursion….you are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to stimulating and engaging activities. Not only that, but it’s family-friendly, absolutely beautiful, and offers great food and hospitality. I asked my Austrian friend Heimo what people who live in Vienna ever have to complain about. “Taxes,” he replied. Fair enough. But from an outsider, it looks and feels like a utopia. 

Named 2023's "Most Livable City in the World" by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the capital city of Austria is a feast for the eyes, revealing the absolute grandeur and spectacle of the former Hapsburg empire. It is also the place where a generation of thinkers and artists combined their powers to produce the intellectual basis of much of the modern West – from education and progressive politics to environmentalism and economics. For the longest time, I wanted to visit Vienna because of the people who came from it: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, and Albert Einstein (to name only a few). How could a single place produce such masterminds of philosophy, psychology, art, and science? In the early 20th century, prompted by the pride of Europe’s higher learning institutions, the University of Vienna, and the “coffee shop” circuit of intellectual mentoring and debate, mathematician Kurt Gödel created the term “exact thinking” to describe the “uniquely Viennese focus on methodological rigor and applying rational, scientific thinking and methods to other topics and fields.” In fact, to this day, traditional Viennese coffeehouse culture appears on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets. Perhaps Gödel's "exact thinking" supplies a clue as to how Vienna emerged as a bastion of intellectualism and cultural excellence.

GREAT GALLERY | SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE

After the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire, intellectualism gave way to reactionism, as intellectuals and artists moved into counter-revolutionary mode to combat the rising tide of fascism in Europe. Regardless, Vienna has long been the seat of forward-minded brilliance in Europe and an inspiration to the rest of the world. As far as cultural pursuits, there is no place more satisfying to the mind and soul than Vienna, and the city offers so much to do and see that it can be overwhelming. Schönbrunn Palace, the Belvedere, the Sigmund Freud Museum, mumok museum, and Karl-Marx-Hof are all worthy of your time, but even this list barely scratches the surface of Vienna's hidden depths.

Not only are experiences bountiful, but Vienna is organized in such a way that getting around is the easiest thing imaginable. Before you visit, you should download the ivie Vienna City Guide app. Not only can you load your metro City Card directly onto the app for ease of travel, but it also hosts a huge selection of self-guided walking tours, pre-planned routes, easy-to-follow maps, and more. It has taken all of the guesswork out of your visit and streamlined everything into a single, user-friendly companion. Vienna’s metro operates on the honor system. At no point do you ever need to swipe or tap your City Card, and you can hop on and off public transportation at whim. However, it’s still recommended that you honor your side of the system by purchasing a City Card in good faith in case one of the undercover metro agents stops you and asks you for it. 

PAUL BAUER / VIENNA TOURISM BOARD

The ease of transportation is made possible by the frequency of metro and bus stops. You are never more than a three-to-four-minute walk away from one, no matter where you are in the city. This singular fact makes Vienna one of the most sustainable, walkable cities in the world when it comes to transportation. From the airport to inner city travel, the metro isn’t just easy, it’s actually fun. You feel fully in charge of your destiny as you navigate your way around the city. I never got lost once.

With the ivie Vienna City Guide app, a huge chunk of planning is already taken care of, but there’s so much to think about when visiting Vienna beyond getting around. With winter acting as the city’s greatest tourist attraction, utterly transforming it into a magical winter fairy tale, this is the absolute best time of year to go. If you want to plan a visit while keeping in mind sustainable factors, we’ve planned the ultimate winter trip to Vienna for you.

Where to Stay

There are many iconic Viennese hotels to choose from that offer traditional Hapsburg beauty and excellent hospitality in abundance, like Hotel Imperia and Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna. However, a more recent crop of “green” hotels has made sustainable travel easier than ever. Eco-friendly and chic, these hotels are perfect for consciously-minded travelers. First, there’s the Gilbert in the 7th district, which bagged the title of Best Sustainable Accommodation in Central Europe at the GrINN Awards 2022. It’s a verdant, green haven that’s more than just about looks; it's about functionality – think noise reduction, air purification, and natural cooling. Plus, it's a sanctuary for bees and birds. Zeitgeist Vienna is another popular eco-hotel, and it’s ideally situated right by the main station. From its adaptable room designs and its water-saving showers to its seasonal/regional restaurant sustainability at Zeitgeist Vienna is more than just a buzzword. Then there's The Wood on Mariahilfer Gürtel. Imagine a hotel made entirely of wood – 1,500 spruce trees, to be exact, all from sustainably managed forests. It’s like a slice of the forest in the heart of the city. Plus, they plant new trees for every one they use. You can explore more eco-friendly options here.

When it comes to luxurious five-star accommodations, you can’t go wrong with the new The Amauris by Relais & Chateaux, located in a swank district near the Vienna State Opera House. Blending traditional Viennese style with modern touches, the building was constructed at the same time as the opera house and was formerly a residence and then a bank before being transformed into a gorgeous 62-room hotel. Filled with artful flourishes from the owner’s private collection, real orchids in the room, and stunning marble and wood combinations, this hotel is as beautiful as it is intimate. Excellent staff, a stunning indoor pool and spa, exquisite dining and bar offerings, and a prime location in the heart of Vienna make The Amauris a no-brainer when it comes to high-end boutique hotels in the city. 

article THE AMAURIS VIENNA

Where to Dine

When you’re in Vienna, you have to try the schnitzels and strudels, but there is so much more to the food scene there than tradition; it's also a trailblazer in the sustainable dining scene, where eco-conscious eating meets mouth-watering flavors. For starters, there’s the popular restaurant Die Küche Wien, an innovative spot with a farm-to-table approach. With ingredients sourced from local farmers and producers, the menu is a constantly evolving tapestry of seasonal delights, ensuring that every dish not only tastes fresh but also supports local agriculture. Then there's Tian, a vegetarian and vegan paradise that's redefining what meat-free dining can be. Here, vegetables are the stars of the show, elevated through creative cooking techniques and flavor combinations that will surprise even the most dedicated carnivores. Tian's commitment to organic, locally sourced ingredients is not just a statement but a mission, and it shines through in its inventive plates. 

For those craving something heartier, Plachutta is the go-to for classic Viennese beef dishes. Their Tafelspitz (boiled beef in broth) is a culinary masterpiece, served in a copper pot with apple-horseradish and chive sauce. It's comfort food, elevated to an art form. If you want to escape the traditional and dive into Vienna's trendier side, make a beeline for NENI am Naschmarkt. This bustling spot, perched on the edge of Vienna's most famous market, serves up a vibrant mix of Middle Eastern flavors. Think hummus so creamy you'll dream about it, perfectly crispy falafel, and shakshuka that's a color explosion on a plate. For a truly unique dining experience, head over to Steirereck in Stadtpark. This restaurant, consistently ranked among the world's best, offers a modern take on Austrian cuisine. Each dish is a work of art, and the setting in a glass cube in the middle of a park is nothing short of magical.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Vienna without a visit to one of its most legendary coffee spots: Café Central. It's like stepping back in history, with marble columns and arched ceilings that have seen the likes of Freud and Trotsky. Here, the coffee is rich, the pastries are decadent, and the people-watching is unparalleled. In Vienna, the food scene is as diverse and elegant as the city itself, blending tradition with innovation in every bite.

article CAFÉ CENTRAL

Where to Shop

A strong artisanal life still exists in Vienna today. With the Hapsburg Empire extending all the way into 1918, Vienna was a hotbed of exquisite, bespoke tailoring and craftsmanship that catered to the royal and merchant classes. Many of those shops still exist today, making it the perfect place to buy one-of-a-kind pieces. There are spots like the colorful Wilhelm Jungmann & Neffe, which has been around since 1866 and is a great place to snag a custom suit, button-up shirt, paisley tie, or silk umbrella. In the back, they have thoroughly kept archives of past creations, extending to the royal family and including the fabric and design for each look. 

AE Köchert, established in 1814, holds the chamber jeweler title and was a royal court jewelry maker. It still crafts exquisite pieces, including tiaras and their famed Sisi stars of Empress Elisabeth – one of the most famous sets of jewelry ever to have emerged from Austria. You can still buy versions of the Sisi star at AE Köchert today. 

Another jewel in Vienna's crown of traditional craftsmanship is the renowned shoemaker Ludwig Reiter. Established in 1885, this family-run business has been creating handcrafted shoes for generations. Their shoes are the epitome of luxury, combining classic design with durability and comfort. Their shop, an elegant space where wood and leather create a warm, inviting atmosphere, is a haven for shoe aficionados. Here, the pursuit of the perfect shoe is not just a business but a passion handed down through the generations.

Finally, there is J. & L. Lobmeyr, one of the finest crystal glassmakers in the world. This company is responsible for crafting chandeliers that hang in the Kremlin, the Imperial Palace of Vienna, The Kennedy Center, and the State Opera House. More than chandeliers, Lobmeyr crystal chalices, goblets, cups, and other pieces are renowned for their beauty, wit, and durability. Celebrating its 200-year anniversary in 2023, a set of Lobmeyr crystal is the ultimate “If You Know, You Know” purchase.

These family-owned shops are more than just retailers; they are custodians of Vienna's rich heritage in bespoke craftsmanship. In a world of mass production, these establishments stand as beacons of individuality and quality, offering experiences that are as unique and enduring as the city itself.


article LOBMEYR

Winter Markets

As you step into the heart of Vienna during the holiday season, you're enveloped in a festive aura that feels like it's been lifted straight from the pages of a storybook. The city's winter markets, or "Christkindlmärkte," are the crown jewels of this wintertime enchantment. Each market, with its own unique character, invites visitors to bask in the warmth of holiday traditions and the joy of discovery.

Begin your journey at the Rathausplatz market, set against the stunning neo-Gothic City Hall. This market is a spectacle of lights, music, and holiday cheer. Each wooden stall is a mini wonderland adorned with twinkling lights and filled with artisanal crafts. Here, you can find everything from hand-painted ornaments to intricately designed glassware – perfect for those looking to take a piece of Vienna home. Aromatic scents of roasted chestnuts and freshly baked gingerbread fill the air. Be sure to indulge in some of the local culinary delights. Try a warm “Sachertorte,” a rich chocolate cake that is a Viennese specialty, or sip on “Glühwein,” a spiced mulled wine that warms you from the inside out.

As you move on, the Belvedere Palace market awaits. This market is a blend of opulent history and festive merriment, set in the foreground of the baroque palace. The market is smaller, offering a more intimate experience. Stalls here showcase high-quality, unique crafts – a paradise for those seeking one-of-a-kind gifts. The backdrop of the palace, illuminated in the evening, adds a touch of royal glamour to your market experience.

For a different vibe, head to the Spittelberg Market, nestled in a quaint neighborhood known for its Biedermeier architecture. This market feels like a hidden gem, with its narrow alleys and historic buildings creating a cozy, bohemian atmosphere. Here, you'll find an eclectic mix of goods, from contemporary art pieces to handmade jewelry. The Spittelberg Market is also known for its variety of international cuisines, making it a perfect spot for foodies.

As you explore these markets, it's easy to get swept up in the holiday spirit. But remember, part of Vienna's charm is its dedication to sustainability. Engage with the markets responsibly – bring a reusable bag for your purchases, try the local organic treats, and perhaps choose gifts that are handmade or eco-friendly. This way, you're not just experiencing the magic of Vienna's Christmas markets; you're also contributing to the city's ethos of mindful enjoyment.

article PAUL BAUER / VIENNA TOURISM BOARD
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