Good company, food, and wine in Vienna, Austria
Mr. TWS and I found gemütlichkeit (a word that relates to the feeling of well-being and comfort that comes with good company and good food) many times on our Viking “Romantic Danube” cruise, especially during our time in Vienna, Austria.
For numerous reasons, including Vienna’s cozy cafes, elegant architecture, captivating Hapsburg history, cultural venues, and romance, Mr. TWS and I particularly looked forward to returning to Vienna, a city that captured our hearts on a trip a few years ago. We expected romance again on this trip, but we also thoroughly enjoyed gemütlichkeit in the conviviality and high spirits at Christmas Markets, restaurants, wineries, and on board our ship, the Viking Gullveig.
A lively “Heurigen Evening”
An optional Viking excursion in Vienna, the “Heurigen Evening” provided a high-spirited authentic Viennese gemütlichkeit experience. A shuttle from the ship took our small group of five couples and our guides to the city’s 19th district where numerous vineyards are located with their wine taverns called Heurigen. The Heuriger became part of Austrian culture in the 18th century when Emperor Joseph II proclaimed that anyone who made their own wine could sell it to the public in their establishments.
These family-owned wine taverns open their doors to guests to sample their newest wines and celebrate the new vintages. At a Heuriger, the wines are accompanied with Viennese dishes such as brettljause (a selection of cheese, sausages, smoked meat, pickled vegetables, horseradish, and other local specialties) commonly served on a wooden board. Live music with traditional tunes played on an accordion and a violin add to the Heurigen experience.
Our group, including the Gullveig’s hotel manager Jürgen Purgstaller, talked and laughed as though old friends while enjoying the good wine, delicious food, and the lively musical entertainment at Heurige Wolff. Our glasses were never empty as our hosts presented several carafes and bottles of their own white and red wines. My favorite was the Weissburgunder, a light dry white wine, while Mr. TWS enjoyed each of the reds.
Festive spirit of Vienna
Holiday shopping and festive Christmas markets were in full swing during our mid-December visit.
Vienna has some of my favorite markets, especially the one at Rathausplatz (below). The market at Schönbrunn Palace (a little further afield) is also beautiful. I also enjoyed smaller markets like that at Stephansplatz around St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the very small ones you come across by chance in the city.
At the Rathausplatz Christmas Market, the largest in Vienna, I enjoyed a cup of warm and aromatic Glühwein, the mulled wine holiday treat that is a must at any European Christmas market. By the way, I’m not really an angel, but I liked pretending at the market (top right above).
Coffee and cake — a must in Vienna
Vienna is known for its coffee culture, an important aspect of the city begun centuries ago. Meeting with friends at a place with good coffee and pastries while sharing amusement and music, discussion of literature, politics, family — anything and everything — is a cherished social activity. I was looking forward to spending some time again at cafes as we did on our previous trip sipping coffee and indulging in decadent pastries like those chocolate cakes shown below. Vienna is also well-known for the Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake coated with apricot jam, topped with chocolate icing and whipped cream.
After strolling the Christmas Markets and sightseeing on a cold, windy day, the cafes offer a warm and cozy break. My coffee drink of choice is usually Schwarzer (strong black coffee, espresso) while Mr. TWS always chooses the frothy Mélange (coffee with an equal measure of steamed milk). There was also that wonderful sense of gemütlichkeit as we chatted with other guests and were warmly welcomed by cafe servers.
A step back into old Vienna
On a cold and very windy December day, we searched the web for a restaurant near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where we ended our morning city tour and serendipitously found Griechenbeisl, one of Vienna’s oldest restaurants. The first mention of the inn found in old documents was in 1477 when the place was known as Zum Gelben Ader (The Yellow Eagle). It has several rooms reflecting its long history in decor and artifacts.
Our favorite historical aspect of the inn was on the ceiling and walls (shown in photos on the right above) of the Mark Twain room with autographs of famous writers, composers, musician, politicians, and other notable guests such as Beethoven (shown with the pointer top right above), Mozart, Strauss, Brahms, and of course, Mark Twain. Since it is Vienna, composers were in the majority. But there were other cultural and popular signatures, including more current ones, such as Luciano Pavarotti, Johnny Cash, and Phil Collins.
I was tempted by Wiener Schnitzel on the menu, but I can rarely resist beef goulash. The Griechenbeisl goulash was delicious and came with a tasty side of potatoes. Mr. TWS had a real craving for pumpkin soup and he was delighted to find it on the menu. We dined in the Zither Room where zither and accordion music is played in the evening. At lunch, it was quiet, warm and cozy, and romantic.
Viking Gullveig gemütlichkeit
And back on board the Gullveig, we enjoyed gemütlichkeit in the lounge with the wonderful staff, fellow passengers, and new friends. When we took our first Viking cruise on the Douro River in Portugal, we seldom spent time in the lounge at night. On this cruise, after a day of fun tours and Christmas Market merriment, we often stepped into the lounge for a nightcap. We ended up making new friends over drinks and having a great time talking and dancing. No, I am not posting pictures of my dancing.
Vienna is one of our favorite European cities. The architecture and historical buildings are so numerous and there are so many things to do and see that even a one-week stay would not be enough. We’re glad we took the city tour included in the cruise that enabled us to see new sights while revisiting favorite places we’d seen previously. As with all of the tours we’ve taken so far with Viking, our guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and full of interesting and entertaining anecdotes. It was a joy to see this city again and I hope we’ll be back for more romance, culture, and gemütlichkeit.
Vienna optional excursion note: There were four optional (not included in cruise price) shore excursions available while at port in Vienna. We chose the Heurigen Evening as we had previously enjoyed the other experiences — a concert of Mozart and Strauss in a Viennese palace; a tour (by both horse-drawn carriage and on foot) with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts; and a tour of Schönbrunn Palace.
For more about our previous stay in Vienna: Romantic Vienna