From the soaring palatial architectural splendour, to the snake of the romantic Danube, through schnitzels, wursts and a revelation of wine taverns, Vienna is a city of class and distinction.
It’s a short hop by plane of course, but why miss out on a generous helping of glorious European countryside along the way? So I opted to take my wife and two young daughters by train, setting off on Monday morning and arriving at breakfast time on Tuesday in sparkling Vienna. And sparkle it did. While London wept and blustered, Vienna waltzed in sunshine.
WHERE I STAYED
The magnificent new Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna (www.kempinski.com/vienna) was opened just a few months ago and sets a standard the rest of town will be hard pushed to follow. Built in 1873 for the World Exhibition, this charming old building has been lovingly restored with a nod to modern luxury.
It’s huge, but welcoming, elegant but informal, with a piano lobby, two quality restaurants and even a high-ceilinged, library-style Cigar Lounge.
Our suites were as comfortable as could be wished, with teddies waiting for the girls and Viennese morsels for the adults. The five-star service is impeccable, from the amazing spa, the concierge booking our opera tickets to the young French chef who befriended the little ones and chatted with them about pain au chocolate and pastries.
WHAT I DID
First stop was the inspiring Spanish Riding School (www.srs.at) – which has nothing to with Spain, incidentally, but everything to do with a unique style of riding. The proud Lipizzaner horses practise this art daily under the arches and monumental chandeliers of the breathtaking Baroque Winter Riding School.
An entertaining trip on a tram later and you will find yourself in the Museum Quarter; more magnificent buildings with attractions to suit all tastes. We opted for the Natural History and Children’s Museums and weren’t disappointed with either.
Schonbrunn Zoo (zoovienna.at) was a revelation too – enter the bat’s lair if you dare – and the adults were kept happy with a trip to Mayer Am Pfarrplatz (pfarrplatz.at), Beethoven’s favourite Viennese haunt, where incredible wine grown within the city walls can be enjoyed in a warm, wooden, beer-hall style restaurant and Bavarian terrace.
But perhaps most memorable of our trip to Vienna was the enchanting marionette theatre at Schonbrunn Palace (marionettentheater.at) where despite the language barrier and scant knowledge of the plot, the family were enthralled by the puppet staging of Mozart’s Magic Flute.
WHAT I ATE
Couldn’t come here without trying a street sausage or wurzt of course, and we weren’t disappointed. The spicy currywurzt was okay, but top dog was the kasekrainer, which exudes melty cheese and comes in a hunk of baguette with mustard and mayo.
Wiener Schnitzel (veal covered in breadcrumbs) is a national dish and we found none better than at the Kempinski’s own family-friendly restaurant, Die Kuche. Here, we all indulged in steak tartare prepared to our tastes at the table and of course, some apple strudel.
WHAT I DIDN’T DO
The State Opera House. Disappointingly, we couldn’t squeeze this in and we caught tantalising glimpses of the building as we dashed past on our travels. We vowed to rectify the omission in a return match. But music, opera and composers assail you from every street corner here, so don’t fret, you won’t go short on arts.
HOW I GOT THERE
The railway travel specialists Railbookers handled all aspects of my travel without a hitch. From catching the Eurostar to making sure we had time for ongoing connections, we didn’t have much to worry about and were able to enjoy the sights of Brussels, take dinner in Cologne, then watch the Rhine slip past by moonlight as we sped across the continent. We even managed to get some shuteye in our four-bed couchette compartment. Luxury this is not, but it is an adventure and the children especially loved clambering into their bunks. The adults settled for a bottle of red and a book until lights out.
Railbookers offers a three-night break to Vienna with return train travel from £549 per person. Price includes Eurostar from London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford to Brussels, onward train travel to Cologne with an overnight sleeper service from there to Vienna, based on accommodation in a private economy double sleeping compartment. Accommodation in Vienna is for three nights in a 4* hotel including breakfast. For more information, call 0203 697 6829, www.railbookers.com.
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter