Vienna Waits For You.
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
December 3, 2014
Before dawn, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur silently came alongside in Vienna, Austria. Which is a bit of a misnomer; ships can’t actually come alongside in Vienna simply because the Danube doesn’t run through the historic city center. Instead, they dock further out, near what could best be termed ‘Modern Vienna.’
Vienna is a bit like Paris or New York: you can spend weeks here admiring just the museums and never scratch any of the city’s other charms, like it’s historic cafes, opera houses, grand hotels and notable monuments like the Wiener Riesenrad (literally the ‘Viennese giant wheel’) – a Ferris wheel that has adorned the Prater since 1897.
Of course, it being December, our explorations would be focused solely on Vienna’s magnificent Christmas Markets. There’s over a dozen in all, and you’d need to spend days here to even have a hope of scratching the surface.
Viking gives guests plenty of choices here in Vienna, though. For first-time visitors, a comprehensive city tour is offered along the Ringstrasse, the ring road that encircles historic Vienna. This is coupled with a walking tour of Vienna’s major city sights, and the option to return to the cozy Viking Baldur for lunch or to return via one of the continuously-running shuttle busses that pick up passengers from the Schwedenplatz.
If you’ve been here before – or are up for a bit of adventure – Viking offers a tremendous excursion that I wish would catch on with more river cruise lines. From the ship, they’ll walk you approximately 600 feet to the Reichsbrucke – or Reichs Bridge, where you’ll ascend a set of stairs and walk along a pedestrian path inset into the bridge deck. From there, you’ll be guided to the Vorgartenstrasse U-Bahn subway stop. Total walking distance: perhaps 10 minutes.
Then, you’ll be shown how to purchase your €2.20 one-way ticket, validate it (this is important!), and catch the U1 Red Line train towards Stephanplatz, where you will disembark and emerge in the shadow of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Once you know how to do this, you’ll never take the shuttle bus again. Traffic can be atrocious as cars and busses approach the Prater, and the drop-off point at Schwedenplatz is still a ten-minute walk to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The coach can take up to an hour each way. By taking the subway, you accomplish the same journey in less than 25 minutes – and you’re dropped right smack in the heart of historic Vienna.
Being experienced with the subway system in Vienna, I comfortably disembarked Viking Baldur at my own pace and set out for a day of exploration and delicious Gluhwein tasting in one of my favorite European cities!
Don’t automatically assume that all markets are created equal; the one in front of the Rathaus, or City Hall, is one of the largest in Vienna, but arguably the most commercial. The place to go for crafts is the tiny Altwiener Christkindlmarkt situated near the end of Freyung Passage not far from the famous Café Central, while the Weihnachtsdorf Maria-Theresienplatz is attractively situated in between the Kunsthistoriches Museum (Art Museum) and the Naturhistoriches Museum (Natural History Museum) at Maria-Theresienplatz. This year, a (very) small market even popped up in front of the Hofburg, the palatial residence of the once-powerful Hapsburg dynasty.
Each market offers its own unique crafts, food vendors and spiked drinks, all of which are made differently than the last market. Hot beverages like Gluhwein (spiced mulled wine) even come in cups that change with each market, making them highly collectable. They also change the cups roughly every year or so, meaning if you’ve been here before, you’re likely going home with a suitcase full of mugs this time, too. After all – how do you not take home the ‘boot cup’ from the Weihnachtsdorf Maria-Theresienplatz or the heart-shaped cup from the main Frohe Weihnachten Christmas market in front of the Rathaus? You just can’t pass them up!
For me, Vienna is a special city at any time of year – but it is at its most beautiful in the dark, sleepy days of December, when the Christmas Markets are in full swing.
Some photos from our time ashore:
Of course, after a long chilly day outside, it’s nice to come back to the warm Viking Baldur. One of the things I love most about Viking River Cruises is how ‘at home’ they make you feel, regardless of whether this is your first or fifty-first river cruise. It’s just a nice, relaxing atmosphere that is cultivated onboard, served by a dedicated crew of Europeans and surrounded by the soothing Scandinavian design of the Viking Longships.
If you’ve never tried river cruising before, it is days like today that will turn you into a river cruiser for life. Tonight, Viking Baldur un-docked from her berth at 23:00 and glided silently away from Vienna, bound for the Austrian towns of Durnstein and Melk. Another great Viking day has come to a close – but there’s more to come, as our Danube adventure is far from over.
Until then, I’m turning in to rest my head on Viking’s comfortable pillows after a long day of exploration. And dream of what’s to come.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur continues tomorrow as we sail for the quaint Austrian towns of Durnstein and Melk! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Our full journey:
Viking Baldur - Danube Waltz Christmas Markets
|November 29, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||Flight from Bordeaux, France to Budapest, Hungary. Overnight in Budapest at the Kempinski Budapest|
|November 30||Budapest, Hungary||Embark Viking Baldur; free time to visit the Christmas Market. Traditional Hungarian dinner onboard.|
|December 1, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||City tour of Buda and Pest, including Castle District - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.|
|December 2||Bratislava, Slovakia||City tour through Slovakia's capital|
|December 3||Vienna, Austria||Ringstrasse tour or free time; optional excursion to the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace; optional evening concert.|
|December 4||Durnstein & Melk, Austria||Free time or optional walking tour in Durnstein; tour of Melk Abbey.|
|December 5||Linz, Austria / Salzburg, Austria||Full day excursion to Salzburg, Austria; free time. Return to ship late at night.|
|December 6||Passau, Germany||Walking tour & free time|
|December 7, 2014||Passau, Germany||Disembark Viking Baldur; transfer to Munich, Germany for onward journey home.|