Vienna (Photo:Ionia/Shutterstock)
2017 Top-Rated European River Destinations
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Vienna

Visitors come to Vienna with high expectations of lavish palaces, ornamental parks, cakes piled high with whipped cream and the strain of Strauss waltzes. They're rarely disappointed; this is a city that trades on its glorious past, reveling in its heyday, when Gustav Mahler was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, Sigmund Freud was inventing psychoanalysis and the coffee houses were abuzz with the banter of middle-class intellectuals.

About Vienna


Pro

Vienna, with its compact layout, is markedly easy to explore

Con

Some shops and attractions are closed on Sundays; others close for lunch daily

Bottom Line

Most points of interest are found in or around Ringstrasse, offering something for everyone


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Yet, as much as it lives in the past, Vienna has hauled itself into the present with elegance and style. Visitors will discover a compact but diverse, multicultural city, with a thriving art and design scene, some truly fabulous shopping, superb contemporary art collections, and acres of gorgeous parks and gardens. Here, you'll find a happy devotion to the good life, whether it's sipping a cocktail at one of the hip bars on the Danube Canal or the gemutlichkeit (the Austrian term for "coziness") of tasting wines grown on the hills around the city in a traditional pub garden in the village of Grinzing.

Because most of the big attractions are around or inside the Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that encloses the first district, or city center, Vienna is easy to explore. In fact, you could spend days in the first district alone, shopping on the elegant Karntnerstrasse, exploring St. Stephen's Cathedral and countless other Baroque churches, devoting time to galleries and museums and immersing yourself in the famous coffee culture.

The many river cruise lines that call on the city provide a mere snapshot of this thriving center of European culture with little deviation from the very well-trodden tourist trail. But Vienna caters to a diverse range of interests, and the good news is that if you come back for more, or want to explore it alone, the city is a snap to navigate independently.

Where You're Docked

Most river cruise ships tie up on the Danube at the Reichsbrucke terminal on Handelskai, a seven-minute ride by U-Bahn (underground railway) into the center. There is no actual city center mooring because the Danube was diverted years ago to the east of the city to avoid flooding.

Some ships dock at Nussdorf, a pretty wine-growing village to the north, at the foot of the vineyards. It's easy to travel into town by tram from there, although it's a longer ride than from the Reichsbrucke dock.

Good to Know

Vienna is a very safe, clean city, although pickpockets inevitably operate in the most crowded tourist areas, such as around St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Keep an eye on shop opening hours; stores are closed on Sundays, and some shut for lunch every day.

Pay attention to good manners; it's customary to greet shopkeepers when you walk in and to say goodbye when you leave. In a coffee house, never, ever ask for a take-out cup. Viennese like to take their time, and coffee drinking is considered sacrosanct, unless you're in Starbucks.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency is the Euro. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are ATM's all over Vienna. Always check whether a credit card will be accepted when you visit a smaller shop or restaurant; some places are cash only.

Language

German is the official language of Austria, although Austrians speak with a particular accent. (This will not be distinguishable to a non-German speaker.) In tourist areas, everybody speaks English, but it's polite to say guten Morgen (good morning) or guten Tag (good day) when you walk into a shop or restaurant, and auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) when you leave.

Shopping

It's possible to buy all manner of tat in Vienna bearing likenesses of Strauss, Beethoven, Mozart or the giant Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park. Practically every shop in the center sells Mozartkugel, chocolate-covered marzipan balls in a gold wrapper adorned by Mozart's face. Riedel glass, Augarten porcelain, Austrian wine and handmade Christmas decorations rank among the best quality items to buy in the advent markets. Or check out the museum shops for art deco vases, art books and classical music CDs. Money to burn? Head for Lena Hoschek in Spittelberg for classical dirndl costumes with a twist (and designs for Katy Perry and Dita von Teese), or Nina Peter Hautnah, just off Karntnerstrasse (the main shopping street), whose exquisite gloves are worn by all manner of celebs, including Lady Gaga.

Best Cocktail

No competition: It's the Aperol Spritz, which is the cocktail to be seen sipping in Vienna. An import from Venice, this drink is a mix of white wine, soda water and the bitter, herbal aperitif Aperol, served over ice with a slice of orange. Everybody drinks it all summer long.


Vienna Awards

Cruisers' Choice Destination Awards

2017 Top-Rated European River Destinations
2016 Top-Rated European River Destinations