Gemutlichkeit (no, not gesundheit) is alive and well in Vienna. Everywhere you walk in Vienna’s Old City (and, indeed, this is a walking city), you’ll see signs of gemutlichkeit. Defined as a cheerful mood or peace of mind, it is a philosophy of slowing down, enjoying life over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine — simple pleasures becoming the most important part of the day.
A perfect start to your day would be one of the countless cafés. Café Demel, a famous pastry shop, chocolatier and purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria/Hungary, is not to be missed. You’ll be greeted in the third person, the historical, polite form of address in German. Well-fortified and on a sugar high, begin your walking tour.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, its twin spires the best-known symbol in the city, is a good place to start. Climb its 420 steps for a spectacular view of the city. Pass under the golden-domed St. Michael’s Gate and stroll along beautiful shop-lined walkways. Don’t miss Julius Meinl, Vienna’s renowned wine vendor and leading coffee roaster for more than 150 years — and the most incredible “grocery store” through which I’ve never pushed a cart!
The Plague Column will stop you in your tracks. It’s a magnificent sculpture built as the consequence of a promise made by Emperor Leopold to erect a mercy column if the plague would end. The Imperial Crypt, located below the Capuchin Church, is where the hearts of 145 Habsburg royals are kept in silver urns. Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the Hapsburg family, is an enormous complex of buildings with surrounding courtyards. Housing great art collections, libraries and ornate residences, you could spend days here.
Within this complex is the Spanish Riding School, where world-famous Lipizzan stallions are trained from age 4. Black when foaled, they become light gray and then fully white after six to 10 years, when they are ready to perform the lovely “Airs Above the Ground.” Carriages outside the Hofburg Palace await tired feet. Hop on to ride past City Hall, the Opera, Parliament, University of Vienna and other Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural treasures, many more than 700 years old.
When traveling, I like to stay in traditional places — do as the Romans do, so to speak. Hotel Sacher Vienna, steeped in tradition, was built in 1876 and is Vienna’s most famous and beloved hotel. The mouthwatering chocolate sachertorte was invented here and still tempts.
Hotel Bristol Vienna also has marvelous Old World ambiance and is centrally located. Grand Hotel Wien, a five-star luxury hotel near the Opera, is a modern-day reminder of the Austro/Hungarian Empire. For a more contemporary décor, Le Méridien Vienna is suitably close to everything. And for the more adventurous, there’s always hiking from inn to inn in the magnificent surrounding Alps. True gemutlichkeit!
No longer just about wiener schnitzel, Vienna is home to innumerable gourmet cuisines. Steirereck is consistently listed as one of the world’s best 50 restaurants. Eisvogel is a pub-type eatery located in the Prater, Vienna’s pleasure park. Go to Fabios for great Italian and a lively cocktail bar; or Vestibul for Viennese cuisine, Novelli for Mediterranean-inspired dishes and Meinl am Graben (yes, back to the “grocery store”) for the best delicatessen in Vienna, as well as a snazzy restaurant upstairs.
Explore and indulge in the spirit of a cheerful mood, the gemutlichkeit of Vienna. Just follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: So of cheerfulness, or a good temper, the more it is spent, the more it remains.