Ringing in the New Year in Vienna


The last stop on our whirlwind Tour-de-Eastern-Europe was Vienna. Although this was our original destination, it was probably the place I was the least excited about going. Not that I wasn’t excited – it just seemed the least unique, for lack of a better description. Let me publicly state that I am an idiot and I could not have been more wrong. Vienna is the capital city of Austria, which is located directly west of Slovakia and east of Germany.

You can see how close Vienna is to Slovakia and Hungary!

We arrived in Vienna in the early afternoon after taking a bus from Budapest, which took about 2.75 hours (pro tip: it’s cheaper than the train, takes the same amount of time, and doesn’t require a reservation in advance). We would be there for New Year’s Eve, so we decided to stay at Wombat’s City Hostel in hopes that this would mean we didn’t have to actually figure out what to do for NYE and someone would just make plans for us. While hostels can certainly be crappy, this one was gorgeous, which was a good thing since it was AJ’s first time ever staying in a hostel and he was a bit apprehensive. We got a private room on the top floor – the penthouse! – and had amazing views of the city.

The penthouse at Wombats City Hostel! Highly recommend

As usual, we headed right out the door and off to sightsee. We were staying near the Naschmarkt, which is a long row of merchant stalls, restaurants, and bars. It was here that I discovered that nearly every menu in all of Vienna is clearly marked with allergen information, and almost every restaurant has gluten-free options! I got gluten-free gnocchi and almost cried, it was so good. It was so nice to have the anxiety of finding food wiped away!

We didn’t have much of a plan for the day other than to head in the general direction of “the palace;” but as it turns out, there are multiple palaces and this was not the one I thought it was.  It ended up working out even better, because we found the Christmas Markets at the Museum Quarter and I had to physically pick my jaw up off the floor. Seriously. I didn’t get the Christmas Market hype before. I get it now. OMG.

So many shops, so little room in our backpacks for souvenirs

Stall after stall of delicious food and drinks (including more mulled wine than you could ever possibly comprehend) and tons of vendors selling gifts, cheese, sausage, and more. Not only are the stalls adorable and all lit up, they are also in places with the most incredible backdrops and beautiful settings.

The Museum Quartier at sunset

AJ said it was like being in a movie, and it really was. Everywhere we looked, there were huge, stately buildings and statues with holiday lights, Christmas trees, and the markets themselves. I could not get over it.

They also sell mulled wine in commemorative cups that you can keep (or not keep). How could I turn down mulled wine in a boot? Jacket by KUHL

Even more impressive than the markets at the Museum Quarter were the markets at Rathausplatz. The first thing we saw was the massive ice skating maze (yes, not a rink – it’s like an entire course) and the giant City Hall in the background with the stalls, lights, and a huge tree nestled underneath. I may have shed a single tear, it was so beautiful. I stopped at every single stall and just wanted to take in everything. Also, I have never seen so many people taking selfies in my entire life, and honestly, no judgement. It was necessary.

This is real. I was there. I took this picture. It’s even better in real life.

In a city that marks every menu with allergen information, it should come as no surprise that there were a bevy of restaurants catering to the gluten-free crowd. I really wanted to try some traditional Austrian food, so we headed across the river to a local place that I had read about. We happened to luck into getting the last table despite not having a reservation, and there was no waiting list – they literally just turned people away! I had an amazing gluten-free schnitzel stuffed with cheese and salami, as well as gluten-free crepes and easily the best gluten-free beer I have ever had in my life. Like, ever. It was up there with one of the best beers ever (AJ agreed), let alone gluten-free beer. Vienna, I think I love you.

Am considering moving to Vienna just for this beer.

After a bit more exploring, we decided to head back to the hostel to check out the hostel bar. It turns out it was stand-up comedy night, which led to me having to explain my fear of stand-up comedy to AJ. See, I really love stand-up, but I only like watching it on TV because I have a tremendous amount of anxiety watching people perform comedy specifically. I always worry that they are going to bomb and no one will laugh and they will feel bad, so I laugh at everything, even when I don’t think it is funny, which then makes me feel awkward and exhausted. AJ absorbed this explanation and then silently turned back toward the stage, which is really the only appropriate reaction to such a ridiculous conversation.

We were feeling a bit hungry at this point, so we decided to try and find some late night food. We were hoping for tacos, but nothing is really open super late in Vienna that we could find. McDonald’s was the only option, so we walked quite a long way to get there. I was annoyed, because there is really nothing at McDonald’s that I can eat. And then I saw the sign. THEY HAD GLUTEN FREE BUNS AT MCDONALD’S, YOU GUYS. I ATE A MCDONALD’S CHEESEBURGER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2.5 YEARS. Yes, I know fast food is disgusting, but I literally never eat it anymore because I can’t. BUT IN VIENNA, I CAN!!!! What a country, OMG.

Rain your judgement down upon me all you want. This was one of the top 5 moments of 2016.

The next day was New Year’s Eve, and we wanted to make the most of our day. We started the day with another free walking tour that told us the history of many of the sights we had seen the day before. Just 15 percent of Vienna was destroyed in World War II, so the city has a lot of really beautiful buildings. Honestly, the whole place looks like a movie set and it is just spectacular. The Hapsburg family, which ruled Austria for something like six centuries, did everything big, and it is all gorgeous. We stood in the square where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria (our guide played a portion of the speech and it felt very real and scary), saw Mozart’s house, and saw a church dating from the ninth century. The tour was so interesting that I didn’t even take that many pictures because I just wanted to listen!

Horse drawn carriages are everywhere, which adds to the ambiance!

We had just enough time to grab some lunch before headed to Schonbrunn Palace, which is about three miles from the city center (this is the palace we thought we were going to the first time). The palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburg family and we were able to see 40 rooms of it with the tickets we purchased. Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, just envision gold everywhere and giant portraits. The famous empress of Austria, Maria Theresa, had 16 children, and their pictures are everywhere. All the kids looked exactly the same and honestly, if you told me it was a hundred portraits of the same kid at various ages, I would have believed you. It was fascinating to see the opulence they lived in and learn about the reforms the family made over the years. They were deeply loved by their people and that was obvious throughout our time in Vienna. The grounds of the palace were equally breathtaking, and of course, there was another Christmas Market!

Wandering the garden at the Schonbrunn Palace (Jacket here, boots here)

By this point in the trip, we were feeling pretty worn out and daunted by the idea of a huge NYE celebration. A pub crawl definitely wasn’t happening after the Budapest incident of 2016, but I knew that we would regret not going out and experiencing the city for at least a little while. It had been absolutely freezing cold that day, which made the walking tour pretty unpleasant at times, so neither of us were super psyched about heading out into the cold again. Still, we forced ourselves out the door and grabbed some dinner and headed back to the city center.

I’m so glad we did! Vienna really does NYE right. They set up stages throughout the city and you basically walk a trail between each of the large landmarks, starting at the Rathausplatz Christmas Markets. There are special commemorative NYE cups that you get your drinks in and all of the stalls are open. It was such a fun atmosphere that we decided to walk the entire trail! There was a huge variety in musical acts but such a fun, festive and happy mood everywhere we went. Of course, the city was all lit up with beautiful holiday lights and décor, and we had a few of those “pinch me” moments where we just couldn’t believe we were there!

Exploring the streets of Vienna on NYE

We did end up heading back to the hostel around 11 pm to finish packing, and AJ passed out pretty much immediately. Thankfully, our “penthouse” room had huge windows that went up into the ceiling, so I had an amazing view of the city at midnight. He ended up waking up just in time to see the big fireworks and watch the clock strike 12, and there was no place else I would have rather been. It was the perfect ending to a great trip and an incredible year.

The perfect week with this guy!

Yes, Vienna definitely stole my heart and ended up being our favorite stop on the trip – not even just because of the gluten-free McDonald’s. I can’t wait to go back someday! Billy Joel was right – Vienna waits for you.

LEAVE A COMMENT: What was your #1 travel food moment? Have you ever visited Vienna or the European Christmas Markets?





15 thoughts on “Ringing in the New Year in Vienna

  1. Love this travelogue Danielle – especially the ending as I’m a huge Billy Joel fan. Wow, Vienna is definitely going on my list of places to spend NYE – you made it sound magical.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! You would really love it! It was absolutely perfect and the city does a phenomenal job.

  2. I want you to know that just by being in Vienna, you were living out one of my dreams (not kidding, as someone obsessed with horses, I have loved Vienna for the Lipizzaners, and I even did a paper on the architecture of the Spanish Riding School) and I’m also just obsessed with the architecture of the place anyway.
    And to be there at Christmas time/New Years is just cherry on top.
    Plus, GF buns at McD’s? that place might actually be perfect….

    1. We saw the stables and horses at the Spanish Riding School! Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out to make it to a performance. The architecture of the city really IS amazing, and everything is so clean. It’s a phenomenal city! The place on your bucket list is well deserved.

  3. There are just not enough adjectives to describe how I feel about everything I read and saw in this post!!! I feel like every time I’m here I’m writing “WOW” and it doesn’t seem to cover it any longer!
    I do need to say two things:
    1. I can completely understand your anxiety about the stand up comedy. I feel the same and my husband has the same reaction as yours.
    2. I hate McDonald’s but I have never been so happy for another human being in my life to be able to eat their food!
    Austria really has this whole GF thing DOWN!

    1. THANK YOU! It is so nice to know someone else has this same anxiety I do about stand up comedy. I like to think we are just lovely and caring people and not crazy, but I’m not sure.

      Funny story – I actually thought of you while eating my McDonald’s and taking that picture because I reading somewhere once about how much you hate it.

  4. I feel like hostels get a bad reputation, when some are truly amazing and so worth the price!

    I NEED to go to Europe over Christmas one year merely for all of the Christmas markets. I think European Christmas trumps North American Christmas for sure.

    No judgement here. Whenever I (like, once a year) eat fast food, I enjoy every last bite of the grease.

    1. I think it’s all about doing your research. Some hostels are party hostels for sure, and some aren’t. I’ve been to hostels with families with kids and elderly people staying at them! I specifically avoid the party hostels (they also tend to be the cheaper/less clean ones), but you’re right, those are the ones people hear the most about and that’s where they get their opinions from!

      I really wasn’t that hyped about the Christmas markets before going, but they really are special. Well worth it! North America needs to catch on to the concept for sure!

      1. Nobody’s birthday…just a fun trip to do together! But if it needs to be for my birthday that’s fine with me!

  5. Oooh this brings me back. I did a January term in Vienna in college and they still had many of the decorations up in January (I think they leave everything up through Ephiphany?)! I also took a day trip to Budapest and remember feeling somewhat downtrodden there because of how ridiculously gorgeous Vienna was.

    Also I totally get the comedy thing. It makes me supremely uncomfortable. And I freaking love fast food, and I’m not ashamed to say it. McDonald’s breakfast forever.

    1. Oh my gosh, Noelle! That sounds amazing! I would love to have spent more time there and it is definitely some place I can’t wait to head back to. Also, I agree – Budapest is great but compared to Vienna…I don’t think it really compares. Then again, I did spend a significant amount of time in a ruin pub in Budapest, so perhaps that’s where I’ve gone wrong 🙂

      So glad you’re with me on stand up comedy anxiety and a love of McDonald’s!!!

  6. Thank you for sharing the beauty of Vienna!!!! I’m reading this post with the hugest smile plastered across my face.
    I fell so hard for Vienna too!! Similarly, it was never on my “list”…but my mom and I were visiting my sister, who lived in Milan, Italy at the time. We planned a trip to Bolzano, Vienna, Munich, and Zurich. It was also during Christmas time and your pictures brought back so many memories!!!! The chandelier lights and YES YES YES THE MARKETS!!!!! I’ve never eaten so many fresh hot roasted chestnuts in my life. And in that cold weather…no better way to warm up than with the beer and mulled wine.
    The city is so filled with amazing architecture, culture, history…but is not at all stuffy or old feeling (does that make sense?!?).
    There was another place besides McD that we kept eating at…Nordsee…Like McDs but all seafood..my sister was obsessed.
    If you ever do go back, I’ve been told that spring time is gorgeous because the city is in bloom with gorgeous flowers.

    1. YES! I couldn’t agree more! AJ and I both kept marveling at how amazing it was that so much history happened there, but the city never felt old, and the buildings were so clean. Some cities feel old in a good way, and some feel old in a bad/rundown way, and Vienna was definitely a good way! I would definitely love to go back at any time of year, honestly. I fell so hard for it!

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