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Is Vienna the best big city to visit in Europe?

I've noted in previous posts that I do think this is true: among Europe's many wonderful big cities, Vienna is the best. Out of all of them, if I could visit only one, it would be Vienna. And maybe, if I had to live in one, it would be Vienna (although Vienna's location away from big mountains and/or the ocean would likely send me elsewhere).

We all have our opinions, and this is just my opinion. I've travelled to Europe 13 times for leisure touring, approaching two years of time spent, have been to most major cities more than once. I suppose maybe I ought to define big city or major city, but won't. There are cities with large populations that are dispersed, and smaller populations that are dense. Where a "city" draws its boundary is somewhat arbitrary too.

Reasons why I think Vienna is the best big city for tourists visits in Europe:

1) It was the seat of a massive empire and has cultural sites and contemporary high culture that are not exceeded. Maybe Paris. Maybe. But I don't think so, at least not from the user/tourist experience.

2) Given the above, it has plenty of accessible folk culture and tradition in the city as well. There are aspects of Vienna that feel more "village" than exist in most other large European cities.

3) One of the most walkable city cores with extensive pedestrianization and friendly distances between sites.

4) Excellent food at all levels, from street to Michelin star, from highly local/traditional to fully international cuisine - it is a foodie city and culture.

5) Historically a cultural crossroads, not a monoculture, which always makes a city more interesting

4) It has what to me seems the best large public transit system in Europe. One simply thinks about being somewhere in its comprehensive range and seemingly you magically appear there in 10-15 minutes.

5) It is situated so as to have an enormous amount of outdoor activity accessible from right in the city. You can hike in the wood and vineyards for days, mountain bike, jog, ride for hours on scenic protected cycle paths right along the river, extensive municipal recreation facilities. All of this a short tram ride or even walk away. And in the city core many big parks.

6) Low crime, very clean for a big city, and well-educated population

7) Remarkably affordable - cost of living is low compared to Northern European cities, and not far off some cheaper areas in Southern Europe.

8) Relatively sunny weather, especially compared to Western and Northern Europe.

8) (and this of course is totally subjective and probably doesn't necessarily recommend a place) many very good looking people, men and women, many of whom display a blend of attractive features of both Teutonic and Eastern European heritage. Vienna is an under the radar city for attractive locals if you are single.

9) Vienna is easy as a tourist. You can bring white-belt novice travel skills to Vienna and have a great time - easy, comfortable and hassle free. Vienna is also deep - if you are an advanced explorer you aren't going to bottom Vienna out and get bored.

Marks against?

Many Viennese can be crabby on spec. They don't mean much by it, but if you get down when your smile and outward niceness meets what can feel like contempt you need to let it go. And, to be fair, most people are generally pleasant.

A bit harder to get to maybe? It's deeper in Europe coming from the USA, and not so much an international airline hub.

And remote from big mountains and/or striking seascapes and/or lovely bucolic countryside.

Given the above, it's always interesting to me that when friends and acquaintances with little or no Europe touring experience ask me which cities not to miss, they almost always try to hustle past my immediate suggestion of don't miss Vienna. I suppose if you don't know, then you don't go ....

Agree? Disagree? Thought and insights? :)

Posted by
7686 posts

I am glad that I visited Vienna but it is far from my favorite place in Europe.

Posted by
271 posts

"favorite place" not equal to "best big city to visit"? Vienna is also not my favorite place to visit in Europe.

But it is my top answer to "if you could visit only one big city ...." Vienna regularly gets awarded the "most livable large city in Europe" - many of the reasons for this do translate to a great tourism experience ....

Posted by
13480 posts

8) (and this of course is totally subjective and probably doesn't
necessarily recommend a place) many very good looking people,
particularly women, many of whom display a blend of attractive
features of both Teutonic and Eastern European heritage.

Sorry, Hank, but as a female myself, I find the above statement off-putting. The physical appearance of the locals, whatever gender, has never been a reason for me to rank one destination more positively than another. Was that really necessary?

Been many years since I've last been to Vienna, and with apologies to Emily, it didn't resonate with me as much as some others. Give me Rome or Florence any day. Even London. Maybe I'll give it another chance someday but there are other places that call to me more strongly.

Posted by
78 posts

I’ve been to quite a few European cities I consider big including Vienna. Like Suki, I’m glad I’ve seen it, spent 5 days there in 2020 but I would not make my list of “best big city to visit”.

Posted by
706 posts

Well, there is no question, it is a very attractive city. The sketchy history of Austria, on the whole, and the high-brow of the Viennese can be off putting. Having said that, were I travelling in Austria, I would make every effort to get to Vienna to have Tafelspitz at Plachuttas.

As for best big city to visit, ah ... put me down for Berlin.

Posted by
271 posts

I like Berlin a lot Periscope. It is so spread out though, with just okay public transit. Fairly dirty and some crime. If Berlin was laid out differently then to my taste it would compete

Posted by
4686 posts

I love living here (I mean it’s consistently voted as the most livable city in the world for years in a row), but I love traveling to other cities. Vienna is just not that exciting, in my opinion. I mean I was just in Amsterdam and they have tacos.

Posted by
33 posts

Hi there... having traveled to many big cities in Europe, I think Vienna is beautiful! The architecture, the history, the food, the cafes, the coffee, museums.etc. it's a great place for Xmas markets and to use as a base to see the
other parts of Austria! Like the Lake region or Bad Gastein area.

Other beautiful European cities on my fave list include :London, Venice , Lisbon, Rome, Amsterdam, Prague. It's a matter of personal taste isn't it ? But I too loved it.

Posted by
271 posts

Emily I think that is a valid knock on Vienna - it's not particularly vibrant and a bit staid. Not Stockholm staid, but certainly not Valencia vibrant. True enough.

As for Amsterdam, in my lifetime I have spent months there. But nowadays when it comes to Amsterdam I'm off my feed. Particularly since I can get nearly all the things I want out of an Amsterdam experience in smaller Dutch or Belgian cities that have way less of Amsterdam's problematic aspects - Utrecht, Den Bosch, Ghent immediately come to mind as places I very much prefer over Amsterdam

Posted by
4686 posts

@Hank - one if my dear friends is from Den Bosch and we spent the day with her and her family in our recent trip. Super nice town.

Posted by
12882 posts

"Agree? Disagree? I certainly agree. Vienna is absolutely one of my top 4 in Europe, next to Paris , Berlin, and London. Most of your positive reasons I agree with, though you omitted much of its historical aspects, good, bad and the ugly.

I went to Vienna on my first trip to Europe in 1971 and returned to it on the 3rd trip in 1977. Both times in Sept, weather-wise in 1971 the city was blazingly hot, a real broiler and I was not used to it at all. I t was hotter and more oppressive than any heat I had experienced in 1971 in Germany...well, look where I am, deep in the heart of central Europe.

IN 1971 I found the city just depressing, interesting, helpful and all that but, nonetheless, just depressing. Even it struck me as depressing, I still went back to see again in 1977...still depressing.

It is a cultural crosswords. The turn of the century history of the city dramatically reveals that.

I like going back to Vienna, helpful, hospitable, using German exclusively no communication problems at all, never am bored by the city, using the U-Bahn and the trams gets you all over, pretty easy, plus the S-Bahn to outlying towns, such as Deutsch-Wagram. Every post-retirement trip I've been back to Vienna, whether for 3 nights or 10 nights, staying in a nice hotel or at the independent hostel, both dorm and private single room.

Posted by
3109 posts

I agree with Kathy. Really. Was #8 necessary?

Posted by
12882 posts

The crucial question is which would I choose if it were between Vienna and Berlin or Vienna and Paris. In that case, my choice is undoubtedly Paris.

With Berlin, a real hard call. In contrast to Vienna, I never found Berlin depressing having been to both twice in the 1970s.. If one or the other now, then chances are it would be Berlin.

On accessibility Vienna is convenient, it is a night train hub, whether one is coming from Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Croatia, Krakow, Düsseldorf, or Italy.

Posted by
271 posts

I understand the critique of #8, and I also can argue from some feminisms that it's fine. Really travel itself is unnecessary, so yes #8 is even more very not necessary. Ignore it if you want to, on principal, or a lack of interest of gazing upon a handsome public engaging in their daily lives. My greater point I think is that Vienna is as much of a beautiful people city as any world city famous for beautiful people. When my wife did her year as a student at the University of Vienna, I think she fully appreciated this underreported aspect of the place.

Posted by
6622 posts

I liked Vienna, but didn't love it. But I think many people are unfamiliar and uninterested in the history associated with it, and the "old world" culture atmosphere it celebrates. And for many people it is food that is a main focus of travel, and although I like Austrian (and German) food, its not a cuisine most people seek out.

I don't expect local people anywhere in Europe to be instantaneously friendly or that interested in my presence. That's an American thing.

Posted by
3181 posts

I loved Vienna, but my list would be 1. London(or Florence if you consider it a big city) 2. Rome
3. Paris 4. Vienna 5. Amsterdam

Posted by
33 posts

Another beautiful city and not as popular is Gdansk . We loved the architecture there.... also for smaller cities as tourists flocked..we really enjoyed Bruges.

Posted by
271 posts

London Rome and Paris are amazing 🤩🤩🤩

Too big and intense for me though to put at the very top of my personal list. I will return to all those places of course

Posted by
13530 posts

Hank, I have always thought Eastern Europe had more "sunny weather" than any other part of Europe. But I will pay more attention to the weather next time I am in Vienna.

As far as the rest of your remarks, they demonstrate that perception as experienced through your own prizim of life is what defines your reality and that can't be argued, nor should it be poopooed.

Posted by
3458 posts

Hank , I would first consider the concept of " Best " and its close relation " Favorite " . When I was much younger , often things would srtike me that way - Who or what is your favorite composer , artist , movie , etc, What is the best city to visit , Chinese restaurant , hotel; etc ? As I have grown older , I find it increasingly difficult to make those kind of distinctions about anything . With music as an example , when I was sixteen my favorite music was French impressionism . Now , after years of listening there is other music like Mahler , for instance , that I also am in love with , The question is like asking which of your children do you love most ? Like Fred , Paris and several other cities are at the top of my list along with Vienna , I can't favor one above the others . Vienna , though , caught my imagination when I was in my mid teens , and I have spent decades learning about it - the history , culture , art and architecture , music and every other aspect of the place . That fascination only grows with the years , and at seventy six , it has not dissipated . For anyone here who wants to delve further into the story of Vienna , these two avenues are worth pursuing - This historical and cultural analysis by Carl Schorske is priceless . Seven essays , which can be read independently of each other , goes far if one has a basic knowledge of the city and its past - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fin-de-si%C3%A8cle_Vienna and this documentary , 90 minutes by Harvard historian , Joseph Koerner is wonderful ( in particular his comments at the end of the piece ) https://youtu.be/AFZBOTgL_Hk

Posted by
271 posts

"The question is like asking which of your children do you love most ?"

I only have one child, and she is clearly the best, I definitely love her the most by far 😉

Thanks for the resources Steven,they look very interesting!

Posted by
271 posts

"Hank, I have always thought Eastern Europe had more 'sunny weather' than any other part of Europe. But I will pay more attention to the weather next time I am in Vienna.

As far as the rest of your remarks, they demonstrate that perception as experienced through your own prizim of life is what defines your reality and that can't be argued, nor should it be poopooed."

True about Eastern Europe and sun. I've seen rankings of Vienna as the fourth sunniest city in Western Europe, which I guess makes sense because it's so far east.

As for my perception and the respect you think it deserves, that is very kind and evolved on your part. Really though my opinion above is a bit of a hot take, partly just thrown out there to stimulate a bit of conversation. It's fine if people think I'm dead wrong. Because I know I'm totally right 😋

Posted by
12882 posts

"This historical and cultural analysis by Carl Schorske is priceless...." So very true !

Fantastic on Mahler...much too cerebral for me. Then look at the environment and times (Zeitalter) in which he produced his fantastic music, and who introduced it (one of his major pieces), a Berliner...Bruno Walter.

Posted by
3458 posts

Fred , years ago , Many , Many , years ago , I read a memoir about Mahler by Bruno Walter . I just pulled it out again , well worth a revisit . It was $2.95 then , probably back in the sixties !

Posted by
271 posts

Gents I know very little about Mahler, outside of his 1st Symphony being one of my top classical music go to's. I like the way it incorporates folk tunes, which I assume was avant-garde in Mahler's time? And he was a German yes?

Posted by
3458 posts

Hank , I'll try to not be overlong . I don't want to put anyone to sleep - Mahler was a Czech Jew , and converted to Catholicism in 1897 in order to become music director of The Hofoper ( now The Vienna State Opera ) . Anti Semitism was rife in Vienna , and as the mayor of the city , Karl Lueger , famously said " I decide who is or isn't a Jew . " In 1902 he married , his wife was twenty , he was forty. The tale of the marriage is complex , with a great deal of tragedy , He died , age 51 of a heart condition in 1911 , . He is buried in Grinzing Cemetery in Vienna . His music has had a great impact on me ( Iam a trained classical musician ) having first played his fourth symphony when I was eighteen , in conservatory . I always go to the cemetery when in Vienna to pay my respects , Standing there with the sun setting over The Wienerwald always moves me . . This music , The Adagietto movement of his fifth symphony , is probably his best known music ( prominent in Visconti's film " Death in Venice " ) https://youtu.be/Les39aIKbzE

Posted by
3458 posts

Almost forgot - His work was avant garde ( still is in many ways ) and reflected the progression of musical style from earlier German composers Mozart , Beethoven , Brahms , Wagner , From Mahler on , Richard Strauss , Arnold Schoenberg , and Alban Berg continued musical evolution , Those are just German oriented composers . Similar stylistic evolution was also ubiquitous in the rest of Europe .

Posted by
13530 posts

Hank, okay, you are wrong. I find Vienna too reserved and preserved. Budapest is the best city in Europe. Well, for everything but the weather.

Posted by
271 posts

Well at least you got the Danube flows through it part right.

Been a very long time since I've been to Budapest, so I can't comment, but it was a beautiful city ...

Posted by
12882 posts

@ Steven...Thanks. In Vienna I know of and have seen the two monuments to Lueger, who was also Hitler's favourite mayor.

We mustn't forget the other contemporary Austrian whose music is also cerebral....A. Bruckner. The symphony hall in Linz is named after him.

Posted by
412 posts

The stature of infamous Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger is in a square inside the Inner Ring . It had the words “Schande! Schande! Schande!” painted in red paint all over Lueger’s monument when I was there last fall. Apparently, all attempts to erase the protests have only been met with the words reappearing on Lueger’s statue and pedestal. Over and over. Since 2020.
“Schande!” means “Shame!”
Sometimes, even the formal and polite Viennese can get downright indignant when the time calls for it.

Posted by
12882 posts

I saw that statue in the Inner Ring in 2018 without the word "Schande" on it. The statue appeared "normal" The other one is located opposite of Westbahnhof not far from Mariahilferstrasse, ie, that side of the street where the Wombats hostel is on.

Posted by
271 posts

"@Hank - one if my dear friends is from Den Bosch and we spent the day with her and her family in our recent trip. Super nice town."

Emily I missed this! Den Bosch is a relaxing little tourist paradise. It's my family's favorite small city/big town in the Netherlands. Most tourist there seem to be Dutch doing long weekends. It's sort of the Dutch equivalent to Santa Barbara CA or the like.

I'm surprised that Rick Steves hasn't fully blown the place up yet. I wonder sometimes if at this point in his career, he chooses to leave some places that fit his "Backdoor" model alone.

Posted by
12882 posts

@ Steven..."Anti-Semitism was rife in the city" Certainly far worse than in Berlin. Given the choice I am sure that Jewish person would choose Berlin.

On the other hand, seen from the dynastic perspective, Austrians had a saying, a facetious jingle revealing the glaring contrast.

I'll quote part of it: "Es gibt nur eine Kaiserstadt, es gibt nur ein Wien." (there is only one Imperial City, there is only one Vienna."

Posted by
3458 posts

" Certainly far worse than in Berlin. " I agree ! Berlin in the twenties was a far more progressive place " until the delicate balance was crushed under the boots of The Nazis " This is aquote from the German singer Max Raabe . This 45 minute program from Max Raabe and The Palast Orchester , from The Admiralspalast in Berlin , is entertaining and informative Enjoy ! - https://youtu.be/FiaNQG7HPpc rewind this if it doesn't start from the top

Posted by
12882 posts

My professor said to us regardless which history course I took from him that Vienna was the most anti-Semitic capital in Europe. Somehow whenever he deviated in the course he would always assert this.

One of the highlights of Prussia aside from the pejorative aspect of Prussian militarism was that the Hohenzollern dynasty in Berlin prided itself on religious tolerance.

Posted by
12882 posts

@ Steven... Thanks for the link. Just focusing on Raabe's s use of language, the rhyming , articulation, and diction is enjoyable and comical.

Some years back the famous Admiralspalast Theater performed "Der Hauptmann von Koepenick" From the program of the performance, you can tell the cast was giving this play a different twist. Unfortunately, I missed this.

Posted by
1852 posts

I’ve been reluctant to post because I can’t clearly remember nor confirm, but now that the topic of anti-Semitism has been raised, can some one tell me if indeed Vienna banned the return of Jews into the city for some years after the end of WWII? I think I heard this from a docent in a museum or some source I would have considered reputable at the time, but was stunned nonetheless and still not certain after a couple of years I heard it correctly. I am certain that a Jewish museum we visited in Vienna was the only building we saw that was guarded by armed soldiers at the entrance. This was on our second visit, in 2017.

Posted by
706 posts

@ Denny

There are lots and lots of telling moments in Vienna's (and Austria's) history: "When the Nazis marched into Austria on March 12, 1938, hundreds of thousands of Austrians turned out to welcome them. But after the war, the country preferred to see itself as just another of Hitler's victims."

Posted by
3458 posts

Denny , After the war there were so few Jews left alive , it seems unlikely that there was any " formal " restriction on their presence . Antisemitism was endemic in the social and political fabric . For really insightful explanations of this - The chapter in Carl Schorske's book ( in my reference up thread ) " Politics in a New Key : An Austrian Trio " is a must . Also , Periscope's comment is quite true , The Koerner film ( also in my post above ) shows footage of the crowds cheering Hitler's arrival at The Heldenplatz in Vienna vowing to " Make Austria Great Again " . Seems to have a familiar ring ?

Posted by
12882 posts

"...for some years after the end of WWII."

Was the docent speaking in English or German? If I heard that assertion from the docent, I would ask specifically how many years , and above all, if s/he were familiar with the house of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, where the plaque indicates he returned and lived in that house from 1949-1951.

Posted by
1852 posts

Fred, it was definitely in English. An actual year was given but I don’t recall what it was, hence the “some years”.
I certainly had no reason to challenge what I was hearing at the time. It was shocking to hear then and I’m trying now to determine if what I recall was accurate.

Posted by
12882 posts

@ Denny...thanks. Your point is well taken.

That assertion made by the docent would appear to be strange, that in itself would have prompted a question from me in German so that maybe s/he would reveal more pertinent info, and how does the assertion square with the plaque on Korngold's house regarding his post-war return?

Posted by
706 posts

I don't think it's a secret or an unknown, that many exiles from Vienna, had an uncomfortable time resettling back in the city in which they were formally longtime residents There still was quite a strong, overt Nazi sympathizer sentiment lingering in the city in the late 1940s early 1950s.

Posted by
271 posts

I'll add a couple of things regarding contemporary anti-Semitism and racism in Vienna. These are anecdotal, based on a lot of travel to a lot European cities, but still just my anecdotes. Unfortunately I have seen far more signs of anti-Semitism and racism in Vienna than any other large European city (and in Austria in general).

Walking in the Nussdorf neighborhood in Vienna we passed a BMW in a driveway someone had written the N-word backward in the dust on the rear window. Have seen the "auslander raus" graffiti tag in Vienna at least 4 or 5 times. I've seen specific anti-Jewish graffiti in Vienna twice. Vienna is the only place I've been to swimming pools in Europe and have seen several people in unrelated groups with large white band aids covering swastikas. I have several friends who are interracial couples. Vienna is the only city in Europe I've had reported to me by two of these couples as feeling "a racist vibe from some people."

The only other places that I've seen come close in terms of overt signs of racism are central German towns with industrial history, Aachen and Cologne for example, where I've seen some intimidating skinheads/white Nationalists.

These are anecdotes - maybe I just won (aka lost) the intolerance lottery in Vienna. I wouldn't listt these things as a mark against the city as a whole, but I do think about it when discussing travel locations with black and Jewish friends and family.

Posted by
3458 posts

I don't doubt your experiences in Vienna , but as you say they are anecdotal . I think that would be an accurate assessment by most visitors , myself as well . I will say though , as a Jew ( albeit , a secular one ) , I have never felt personally uncomfortable on my sojourns in Vienna .

Posted by
12882 posts

Anecdotal experiences usually pique my interest, especially in Paris and Vienna.

Vienna has a diverse population including those of non-white ethnicities, some of whom I've talked with or seen working in stores, eg, Foot Locker, and of course the Chinese restaurants and hostels. Who are they ? Chinese, Filipinos, Middle Easterners, Japanese, etc. (if you didn't know any better, you've thought the Filipinos were from SF/Daly City, until you hear that Viennese dialect .)

Since the ones I saw were mostly in the service industry unless on public transport going home at day's end (I was going out to Wagram), they all spoke English, which I never used with them, be it at check-in or in an eatery.

Most revealing, in one way was talking to this young woman, a 20 something, from Ghana, who got to Vienna as a little kid. She ran a small restaurant, like a Wirtschaft, not far from Pulverturmgasse, saw her talking to "white" Austrian customers, ie regulars, in that dialect, which you only acquire by growing up there, as she did.

I never saw the graffiti "Ausländer raus."...only stickers in Melk in 2014 calling for supporting the FPO. Still , an eye-opener, as it was in 2001 in Toulon when I saw stickers for Le Pen. Not surprising in Toulon as the mayor was also of Le Pen's party. Visited Toulon twice despite that broiling weather in July .