One of the top reasons we travel is to eat! Yes, you heard that right! Food is an expression of the culture of the place. When you eat a dish at its place of origin in its original form, it is usually delicious and worth travelling all the way there! While Austria may not be a foodie’s destination, there are some really good gems there if you find the right places. Here are some of the best dishes we had during our trip.
Apple strudel (Apfelstrudel)
We had never heard of this dish before we visited Austria. After a long walk through Salzburg town, we walked into a bakery that looked very inviting. And we picked the item that looked the most delicious – the apple strudel.
The first bite (as is usually the case with new dishes) was tentative – it had a crispy outside, the inside was warm and mushy with the sweetness of apple and spice of cinnamon. Within moments it melted in the mouth! We’ve had many trips and countless dishes after that but that apple strudel is still one of the highlights! A must-eat if you are visiting Salzburg. And we recommend trying it at a local family-run place instead of the big bakery chains.
One of the most famous dishes in Austria and counted among the “national dishes”, the schnitzel is actually quite a simple meal. It is basically a thin slice of meat (usually chicken or veal) that is pounded, breaded and fried. It is usually served with a side of salad with a vinaigrette dressing, potatoes and a slice of lemon.
Luckily the ones we had were good, but there is always a risk of the meat being too dry. So, look for a good place and head there for an authentic experience.
Pizza in Austria? If your trip doesn’t include Italy and you happen to be near the Italian border (Innsbruck, Tirol and even up to Salzburg), then you can find plenty of authentic Italian pizza places. On our first night at Salzburg, we found a small restaurant in the neighbourhood where we stayed and were mind-blown.
Cafes in Vienna
Vienna has a strong cafe culture and you can find plenty of them while walking around the city. We specifically wanted to visit Cafe Sperl as we had read about it during our pre-trip research. It was beautiful inside with warm lighting and we managed to get the cozy seats near the window. Sitting there in that cafe from 1880, we felt like we were transported back in time. We ordered Wiener schnitzel, Viennese cold coffee, a “tall brauner” (double mocha) and a cheesecake while we soaked in the atmosphere.
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The capital of Austria, Vienna is also considered a hotspot for art and culture in the whole of Europe. With beautiful palaces, museums where you could spend days exploring, operas, musical shows and old coffee shops, Vienna has a lot to offer everyone who visits.
Vienna was the last stop in our Austria trip. It was a short stay – just one day. We arrived at the Vienna train station from Salzburg and left most of our luggage in a locker there – we had to be back the next day for our train to Budapest, so it didn’t make sense to carry all our luggage around the city.
We picked up a 24-hour travel pass and took the metro to Schwedenplatz, which was the starting point of the Ring tram. We picked up some sandwiches, sat on a bench and made our plan for the day. We had a couple of must-do items on our list which we had to fit into our route and the rest depended on our mood and energy levels. As we got to the end of our sandwiches, we had decided to skip the Ring tram and instead do a walking tour. We took the metro to Stephansplatz where we started our walk. Our first stop was the St. Stephan’s Cathedral – a beautiful and imposing Gothic style building with huge pillars inside.
We continued our walk behind the cathedral to Mozarthaus (yes, he had one here as well in addition to the ones in Salzburg and St. Gilgen. We kept walking past the Trinity Column and St. Peter’s church.
The Trinity Column or Plague Column is a very interesting sculpture – made over a period of more than 10 years by various sculptors and indicating the transition to the Baroque era.
A narrow street then took us to Michaelerplatz and the famous Hofburg Palace. Built in the 13th century, this palace served as the imperial residence of the Habsburg dynasty. As we walked in, we could see many horse carriages with tourists going around the square. We skipped the Spanish riding school and went to the Imperial Treasury. The place was unlike anything we’d ever seen – dresses of knights, archdukes and kings, gold embroidery, crowns with rubies and diamonds, crown and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, staffs embedded with jewels and even a cradle which was gifted to Napoleon II.
We then walked to the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) and found out that there was a performance that evening of Swan Lake. We had read on a blog that they usually gave out really cheap standing tickets right before every show – you just had to be at the right place at the right time. We asked around and found the counter – we were told to come back at 7 and we could get tickets.
Our next stop was the Natural History Museum – one of the best in the world!
There are close to 40 halls with exhibits spread across the two floors of the museum. Each one was dedicated to a different aspect of the earth – gems, meteorites, mammals, dinosaurs, mammoths and plenty more. It reminded us of the movie “Night at the Museum” where these artifacts came to life every night (that was the American Museum of Natural History). While we spent over an hour in the museum, it still felt like too little. This is definitely one for next time.
We were hungry by now and looked for the famous traditional Viennese cafe – Cafe Sperl. It was beautiful inside with warm lighting and we managed to get the cozy seats near the window. Sitting there in that cafe from 1880, we felt like we were transported back in time. We ordered Wiener schnitzel, Viennese cold coffee, a “tall brauner” (double mocha) and a cheesecake while we soaked in the atmosphere.
Stomachs full and minds refreshed, we walked to the Naschmarkt – the most popular market in town. You can find all kinds of cuisine here – Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian and of course, Austrian. We even found Indian spice shops there!
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It was almost 7pm and we had to rush back to the Opera to get our tickets. Thanks to the earlier visit, we knew exactly where to go and we managed to get 2 tickets for 6 euros (the normal tickets cost well over 150 euros per person!).
As we climbed up to the third floor, we could sense the history of this place. Built in the 1860’s the opera can seat over 1700 people. The marble staircases and portraits on the walls reminded us of Harry Potter.
We also felt out of place looking at the richly dressed people entering the premium seating area – we had worn the best set of clothes we were carrying and we were nowhere close to fitting in. We entered the standing area – we could see the entire hall shaped like a bowl with the stage on one side. The orchestra was seated at the lowest level just below the stage – there were all kinds of instruments – violins, cello, harps, you name it, it was there! The curtains slowly opened and the chattering audience instantly went silent. There were more than 50 performers and they all moved so gracefully in one fluid motion that they felt like one unit. The music transported us back to childhood when we had heard the Swan Lake track in Disney movies. The ballet dancers balanced perfectly on their toes and as they twirled round and round, we had goosebumps. I even noticed some happy tears from Nam and a few others around – it really was moving!
The show paused for the interval and we decided to head back to our room. It had been a really long day starting at St. Gilgen and we had been walking all day. While our minds wanted to stay till the end of the show, our bodies needed the rest as we were only halfway into our trip. We took the tram to Schwedenplatz and the metro to Stephansplatz. For dinner, we picked up some hot dogs (the “wurst” kind). We had to take two more metro rides to get close to the Airbnb we had booked. The host had a ton of rules (he seemed a bit crazy about cleanliness) and the apartment was quite basic. Most Airbnbs we’d stayed at so far had been good without much hassle and this was our first weird experience. Thankfully we were dead tired and crashed as soon as we hit the bed.