The Perfect City by Personal Standards (Vienna, Austria)

Vienna, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I was tired after a two-week trip to Africa, and headed back to the U.S. a couple days later. The dollar had hit another all-time low against the euro the day before my arrival, providing even less motivation for visiting an expensive European city I expected to find crawling with tourists.

All that to say that the city of Vienna completely surprised me by how truly beautiful it was. From start to finish, virtually everything about my stay went right. From the airport I took the express CAT train to the Landstraße station, where I changed to the underground metro. At the city station, an Austrian Airlines check-in desk allowed me to check in to my ongoing flight even though it was two days away. I took my boarding pass for a flight that wasn’t leaving for 36 hours, which I didn’t even think was possible until they handed it to me.

Walking down to the subway, a guy approached me, saying something I didn’t understand. “Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein Deutsch,” I replied, using a full third of my German vocabulary.

Oh,” he said in English. “Can you please spare 90 cents?

I’m always impressed by multilingual panhandlers. In America they could work for the U.N., but elsewhere in the world they have to ask for spare change in the subway. Anyway, the metro line took me exactly where my directions said it would, and I found my hostel a few short blocks away.

If this sounds normal, it’s not—I have a recurring experience of getting lost nearly everywhere I go, usually with my bags and often for an hour or more. It’s a small miracle when I successfully arrive at my destination in an unfamiliar city without getting lost at least once.

The hostel was just what I needed: a small dorm room with a writing desk and a window that looked out over a pretty courtyard. After dropping off my bags, I walked to a bakery I had seen on the way in. The sun was shining and I sat outside for 40 minutes, sipping cappuccino and brainstorming some notes for a business project. Life is good, I thought.

That evening I did some more business work and went running along the river Wien. It was incredibly relaxing and served as a good capstone for my first day in the city.


The next day was much the same—perfect chocolate croissants, friendly people, fun streets to wander. The skies were overcast and it rained off and on throughout the day, but I live in Seattle, so that didn’t bother me.

At the end of the trip I decided two things: first, I love Vienna and will start using it as a Star Alliance hub city instead of Frankfurt from now on. Second, I realized that part of what I like or dislike about certain places has to do with fairly narrow, personal standards. Is it a nice country to run in? Are there fun discoveries to be made? Of course there always are, but are they my kind of discoveries?

I hope I’m not becoming materialistic. At any rate, I do try to find beauty wherever I am. And by these admittedly personal and quirky standards, Vienna is beautiful. I spent my last morning at my favorite café, where I had gradually become amazingly fluent in ordering various kinds of coffee and croissants. This might not get me a job at the U.N., but it’s a good skill for my own travel needs.

When I went back to the airport, I headed straight to departures thanks to the boarding pass I received two days earlier. I left Vienna and traveled further east to Romania, which I expected to be a fairly direct contrast to everything I found in Austria.


Image: Kliefi

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    • Metroknow says:

      Great account Chris. I have yet to visit Vienna, but it sounds like a city I would also enjoy. My favorite city is Paris, but I have heard that both Prague and Vienna are of the same ilk.

      Thank you for a great post, as usual.

    • Priyank says:

      Nice post, never been to Vienna but it sounds exciting 🙂 Its nice that they allow you to check in so much in advance!

    • Ben says:

      Thanks Chris! I am going to Vienna next April. Any suggestions as to where I might go in the city for history and fun?


    • Sandra says:

      Greetings, Chris,

      I´m happy you enjoyed Vienna, it is a lovely city. It´s not Paris, because nowhere else is, but I liked it too. N

      The only quibble I have is your stating that a multilingual panhandler would have been working at the UN in the United States. As a multi-lingual translator, I beg to differ. I no longer live in the US because I can´t make a living there. The Translation business, like too many others, thanks to corporate greed, has been outsourced to 3rd world countries, so that the translation company owners can pocket 95% if the proceeds, Translatiors 20-odd years ago made a good living and deserved it because they did good translations, Now, translations are abominal because agencies prefer cheap translators to good translators.

    • Larus says:

      🙂 very good read, Chris. A friend of mine once witnessed how a woman searching through dustbins fluently conversed in French and German with a group of well dressed people, effortlessly switching from one language to another (neither was her mother tongue). This appearance is by my observation rare in former Soviet bloc countries but I have had similar experiences like you e.g. in Denmark.
      I agree with you that Vienna is a very pleasant city.

    • Cris says:

      This is the third time today that I see someone complimenting Vienna! It must be a sign… I should go there too!! 🙂

    • moom says:

      I was only in Vienna for a few hours between a flight from Australia and my next leg to Frankfurt in 2002. But the city centre certainly seemed very nice, even small townish, with little traffic and bustle. Many of the buildings were painted white, a big contrast to the heavy gloomy look of much of Germany.

    • Dave says:


      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only been to Vienna once, but it was a wonderful experience and it ranks very high on my list of “charming European cities” (although it shouldn’t really take too much to replace Frankfurt as a hub lol).

    • Jo-Anne says:

      The only thing that would have made this article better is if you had shared the name of your favourite Viennese cafe for coffee and chocolate croissants!

    • Nathan says:

      Very nice review Chris. It sounds like a place I would love. Sipping coffee and working on business plans is my thing!

      The closest I’ve gotten to Europe is flying over it.

    • Laura says:

      @Ben: Two words: Schoenbruen Gardens. The palace there is lovely too, but the gardens are free (for the most part), and they are large, and they are beautiful. (Of the parts you have to pay for: The zoo isn’t bad. Skip the garden maze. The palace tour is really rather interesting.)

    • Benny Lewis says:

      I spent a mere afternoon in Vienna in August (was based in Slovakia) and I was equally impressed by a city I hadn’t paid much attention to visiting before. I agree that there’s something special there 🙂 I’ll definitely go back and give it a better chance next time! I had excellent chocolate and an espresso just off the main shopping street, tucked away in a mall somewhere.

      @Laura The palace gardens were definitely the high-point of my visit. Absolutely amazing. I did go into the mazes and agree they aren’t worth it at all.

    • RolandU says:

      Glad you enjoyed Vienna. I’ve lived near that city for all my life. I think summer in Vienna is really a great thing.

      You should have come one week later – last weekend there was the danube island festival, which basically is the biggest party in central europe. If you can, I really recommend to visit it next year.

      Don’t worry – you are not the only one who doesn’t fully understand the language of Vienna. In the city center it is sometimes incredibly hard to spot someone who speaks german…

      Let me know when you are here next time!

    • Rossi Stoyanova says:

      I’ve lived in Vienna for 5 months and it really is a very beautiful city. The architecture, the amazing parks, and the people who are so polite and helpful. I’m going there again for a short visit in a couple of weeks and I’m so excited about it.

      And about getting lost – I think it’s pretty much impossible; at least it never happened to me during those 5 months though I traveled around the city quite a lot and not only in the center; the public transport is so perfectly organised.

    • Matt Langdon says:

      Hi Chris, I missed out on your recent product launch by two hours and am regretting it terribly as I go through your archives.

      I have been to Vienna twice. The first time was around New Years Eve and I was sick as a dog. It was one of my worst travel experiences. I went back in 2007 with my wife and fell in love with it. We spent so much time in front of the rathaus enjoying the summer festival that was going on there. Amazing time.

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    • kissmanga says:

      Thanks – that is really nice of you! Your blog looks great as well.s

    • Amanda says:

      Vienna is my dream city. I love that city a lot. I have spent some valuable times there. I will never forget that city.

      By the way, thanks for your amazing travel guide.

    • Heliga Jonas says:

      In my personal opinion, Vienna is the most beautifully city in the entire European region. There are research papers for sale online on website. There are many beautiful places all over the Vienna that compel tourists to visit this city.

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