Travelling to Vienna, Austria

By day and night Austria’s capital serves up Old World charm – and a stellar brewpub scene?.

Vienna, Austria | BCBusiness
Austrian Parliament, Vienna.
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By day and night Austria’s capital serves up Old World charm – and a stellar brewpub scene

Arriving late in lamp-lit, old-town Vienna, I dump my bags and hit the cobbled, mist-fingered streets. Nighttime arrivals in unfamiliar places send my brain into info-gathering overload, forging impressions often later revealed as complete fantasy. Here, this means fusing half-remembered cultural references (Freud, The Third Man) with “evidence” like spectral palace façades and Porsche-made trams. Within 15 minutes, the Austrian capital has become a zither-soundtracked black-and-white movie, with an Oedipal subtext and a thrilling transit-based chase scene.

Switching off my misfiring imagination, I instead decide to follow the locals. Clamorous coffee shops, where elaborate cakes are de rigueur, are a Vienna cliché and some are just as popular with tourists as with Austrians. But the capital also has a thriving neighbourhood brewpub scene where winter-avoiding regulars drink away the chills.

On the edge of the Spittelberg area’s tangled lanes, I duck through the archway of chat-warmed 7 Stern Brau, sliding onto a corner stool at the central bar. It encloses an altar of copper beer-making equipment that draws the eye like a TV screen on playoff night.

Expect fleece-hugging March temperatures to rise as high as five degrees Celsius, with rainfall and grey skies making regular appearances.

Best bed 
Hotel Das Triest is a contemporary boutique sleepover, well-located a few steps from the Innere Stadt area and a handy subway station. From $300.

Best meal
 Figlmüller is the spot for heaping schnitzel dishes in a traditional, wood-paneled setting. Descend to the brick-ceiling cellar for added ambiance.

Can’t miss
 With 2012’s 150th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s birth, March sees the Vienna opening of several exhibitions of his achingly attractive works. Prepare to rub your chin in wonder at the Albertina, Leopold Museum and Austrian Museum of Applied Art.

Glancing at nearby candlelit tables, I ask the young bartender – in useless schoolboy German, swiftly corrected by her perfect English – for recommendations. She’s a fan of the mild Hanf (hemp lager) but I’m thirsty for the kind of wintry witches’ brew that fortifies until spring. Prager Dunkles black lager is a rich, porter-style starter, but the spicy, eye-popping Chili Beer does the trick. 

After some tasty, traditional calorific pub grub – black bread topped with undulating ham and gouda layers – I weave warmly back to my hotel, puzzling along the way about where Vienna hides all its fat people.

When I awaken early the next morning to find out what the city really looks like, my potential hangover dissolves under a sparkling blue sky and the kind of refreshing wind chill that could strip paint. 

While the Innere Stadt area’s baroque buildings loomed eerily last night, now they’re like fresh, multi-columned wedding cakes rising on every street corner. They trigger instant camera clicks, as do the handful of jaw-dropping art nouveau confections – including flower-façaded apartment blocks and the sphere-topped Secession museum, home to Gustav Klimt’s mammoth Beethoven Frieze.

I also stumble on the city’s version of Granville Island, the sprawlingly linear Naschmarkt. It’s studded for several hundred bottlenecked metres with rows of slick café stands and stalls hawking artisan pottery and glistening pyramids of olives. Slowly squeezing through the throng, I eventually emerge into a ramshackle outdoor flea market, attached like a grubby interloper at one end. 

I spend the rest of the morning here, poking through dusty boxes of sepia photos and rusty tins of coins and medals. My purchase? A wrinkled, pea-green Rapid Wien soccer T-shirt – slightly cooler than the I Heart Vienna top I’d perused earlier in the day.

Lagged with my new purchase (plus attendant fleece layers), I’m back on the streets again that night. But this time my overactive imagination takes a back seat. Near the now-familiar Spittelberg area, I hit the MuseumsQuartier where I find a courtyard of illuminated domed tents, each one a chatty outdoor bar packed with animated, slightly tipsy hipsters. 

Perched on a fur-covered cushion in one tent, I wrap my hands around a steaming mug of cinna-
mony mulled wine. Just outside, there’s a disco-lit curling rink crowded with cheering, temperature-denying Viennese. Winter in the Austrian capital will always be chilly, but once you know your way around it’s also surprisingly chill.