Visiting Vienna Austria, was one of the highlights of my Viking Danube Waltz river cruise. This country (smaller than the state of Maine), with a rich historical background and a wealthy reputation for luxury and art, is located in the Central Alps. This is how my friends and I spent our day at port in Vienna Austria, an awe-inspiring European city.
Touring Schönbrunn Palace
We had a complimentary tour of Austria earlier with Viking in the daytime and later chose to take an optional add-on tour that requires a nominal fee. The trip took us to Schönbrunn Palace, the most visited attraction in Vienna.
Our complimentary tour started with a small-sized group led by a Viking guide. We drove around the Ringstrasse, which replaced the city walls hundreds of years ago, and saw the city’s highlights, stopping to take photos a few times.
Photo from Viator.
Break for Refreshments
We had a bit of free time at the Palace, so my friends and I shopped at the outdoor markets on the grounds and then enjoyed a snack. At Conditorei Sluka Rathausplatz, we enjoyed picture-perfect apple strudel with warm vanilla sauce and little egg and tuna salad sandwiches with fresh tomatoes and herbs most delicious.
The coffee and hot chocolate were both tasty, too. The restaurant had some of the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever seen.
Hofburg Palace and Other Points of Interest
The highlight of my friend Julie’s day, was seeing the Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg Palace, where the Lipizzaner Stallions are housed. The horses, known as the “dancing white horses of Vienna,” are so lovely and regal. We were allowed to take pictures and pet a couple of horses.
Afterward, we saw Kärntner Strasse (a great and famous shopping street), Mozart’s and the Opera House, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The tour concluded, and we went back to the ship for lunch.
A Truly Royal Residence: Schönbrunn Palace
On the optional Schönbrunn Palace (the “Versailles of Vienna”) tour (the paid one) with Viking, my middle school history class came back to me immediately as the guide started discussing the Habsburg rule on the bus ride. It seems that this royal name controlled, owned, and was the face of Vienna Austria for six centuries.
Schönbrunn Palace is also where Richard the Lion Heart was imprisoned from 1192 to 1193 for insulting Leopold V and the summer home for the Habsburg rulers.
Schönbrunn Palace is a stately picturesque castle. Its royal resident, Maria Theresa, had a famous daughter, the youngest of 16 children. This child was Marie Antoinette, more of a familiar name to us Americans, so I was glad to put two and two together in this exciting history lesson.
Marie Antoinette was also the last Austrian Habsburg.
Touring the Magnificent Palace
The 1,441-room Rococo palace is one of the most fabulous homes I’ve ever toured and was deemed a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site in 1996. Its interior has been preserved perfectly, and the audio-guided tour is informational and enjoyable.
I was in awe of the ceramics, wallpaper, intricate crown moldings, elegant seating arrangements with beautiful fabrics, and china.
Maybe I just imagined it, but the spectacular Vienna Austria palace seemed to twinkle everywhere you looked, from the polished gold accents and trim. To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.
A Famous UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you are visiting Vienna, Austria, on your own, I recommend the 60-minute Grand Tour, which shows you 40 rooms. Don’t miss the formal gardens, Roman ruins, and the Grecian statuary. The world’s oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn, is also on the palace property and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some animals include elephants, Giant pandas, orangutans, and anteaters.
Outside of Schönbrunn Palace, kiosks are set up with local arts and crafts, food, and drinks. My friends and I purchased some souvenirs; then hailed a cab to take us to dinner.
A Crazy Cab Ride: Buckle Up
My friends and I love fondue and wanted to experience it in a foreign country. We found the only fondue restaurant in town, Chamäleon. Our cab driver did not speak English, so we had to communicate by a web page with the address of the restaurant we were looking for. He drove a fancy car and took us through a bustling part of town, hipster neighborhoods, and upscale enclaves. Finally, foot traffic and vehicles became more scarce.
We drove for what seemed like 30 minutes until we reached a semi-deserted part of town, where our driver pulled over at a dead-end cul-de-sac. He pointed down a dark alley, assuring us without words that this was our destination.
Sure enough, this was Chamäleon Restaurant and Bar. Angie, Jo, and I walked into the tiny restaurant, and all heads turned to see tourists—American tourists. We asked for a table and were told they were full, which was false because half of the 6 to 7 tables were empty.
Luckily, the owner came over and showed us to a table. He gave us one hour to eat, as the tables were all spoken for after that time.
A Fondue Episode to Remember
We quickly perused Chamäleon’s menu and tried to order several things with our waiter (still the owner), but he shook his head and said no. We ended up with the one fondue dish he offered us, which only came with chunks of bread. I tried to order raw vegetables, but that was not an option.
When the one thing he would let us order arrived at the table, our eyes nearly popped out of our heads at the enormous bowl with no less than 6 to 8 pounds of melted cheese. The bread baskets alone were enough to serve 100 guests at a party.
Time to get to eating. Angie did not care for the strong Kirsch taste of the fondue, so that left Jo and me to stuff ourselves with indulgent cheesy, bready goodness. When we could not hold anymore, we asked to take the remainder back to the boat. The waiter returned with an empty food container to put our cheese in (like an empty Parkay package), and we had to use a plastic grocery store bag to hold the bread.
Our check arrived, and our bill was equivalent to $80. We nearly fell over! It sure was a fun experience, but we definitely got taken advantage of. Still, it was an entertaining evening and a great story to tell back on the boat.
Viking Cruises to the Rescue
For those of you wondering, we asked the Chef aboard the Viking River Cruises ship to heat our cheese for us. So, the next night, as we sailed under the amazing bridges of Budapest, he surprised us with it.
Our fondue was beautifully plated and surrounded with vegetables and our bread for dipping. We were happy to share it with the other cruisers that were in the lounge with us.
All in all, the fondue was a hit and worth every penny.
Here are the highlights of my Viking Rhine River Cruise.
Happy Country #41 to Me!
Austria was the 41st country I visited. It was a beautiful place with a metropolitan city, impressive artists, world-famous music composers, loads of history, and decadent fondue. The architecture dazzled me, and I honestly could have just taken pictures for hours upon end.
I hope Austria is on your bucket list for future travels and you have a unique experience like we did. Safe travels!