Discover Vienna’s 14 Must-See Sights and Activities
By Way of Introduction
Vienna’s Enchanting Charm:
Echoes of Mozart and Habsburgs Amidst a Darker Past
Vienna, with its enchanting character, exudes a charm that is truly unparalleled. But its essence seems to be infused with the archetypal disgruntlement of its coffeehouse waiters, a motif that has come to define the city’s unique character. Yet, as one takes a leisurely stroll through its streets, the echoes of the great Mozart and the mighty Habsburgs are almost palpable. However, Vienna’s history, as you most certainly know, is not without its darker moments. Indeed, the city also bears the reverberations of the Nazi regime and the responsibility of its population in the murder of Europe’s Jews, intricately woven into its fabric and its inhabitants.
Still grappling with the aftermath of the Nazi regime, Vienna bears the deep scars of the persecution and annihilation of its Jewish population, which dealt a devastating blow to its intellectual and cultural life. This rupture in civilization, akin to a tragic suicide, has left the city’s once-vibrant intellectual, cultural, and social spheres profoundly impacted, leaving behind an enduring void. As Vienna strives to heal and rebuild, it faces the daunting task of reckoning with the immense loss and forging a future that embodies renewal and remembrance.
Discovering Vienna’s Hidden Gems:
A Guide to the City’s Must-See Attractions
Yet, for all its storied past, this European gem offers more than just Gothic cathedrals and Baroque palaces. So if you’re looking to experience the best of Vienna, skip some of the usual suspects and set your sights on these truly quintessential attractions. Dive headfirst into the heart of this vibrant cultural hub. From the mouthwatering, but not kosher, cuisine to the dazzling architecture, Vienna is a city that will stay with you long after you’ve bid it “auf wiedersehen1“! Focus on the real gems of this beautiful city. Obviously, there are many more highlights—for example, just think of the countless sites dedicated to the many celebrated musicians—but here is what you simply can’t miss! You won’t be disappointed.
A Site of Pilgrimage to Brilliance Across Varied Disciplines
Vienna, a city renowned for its intellectual prowess, has been shaped by a myriad of brilliant minds. From artistic visionaries such as Beethoven, Mozart, Klimt, Schiele, Schubert, and Schoenberg, and from philosophical giants like Freud, Buber, and Wittgenstein to groundbreaking thinkers like Gödel and Schrödinger, the world’s cultural landscape has been enriched by their profound contributions. These, and countless other luminaries have left an indelible mark, that made Vienna a true center of intellectual, artistic, and musical excellence.
For many, Vienna is indeed a true site of pilgrimage, where visitors meticulously plan their trips based on their specific fields of interest. Whether it’s exploring institutions like the Kurt Gödel Research Center or the Erwin Schrödinger International Institute for Mathematics and Physics, or immersing themselves in the grandeur of the Habsburgs’ residences to witness the homes of iconic figures such as Sissi or Marie Antoinette, Vienna offers a diverse range of attractions that cater to almost every traveler’s curiosity and passion.
Skipping St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Schönbrunn Palace:
Maximizing Your Time to Explore Quintessential Sights
So unleash your curiosity as you delve into Vienna’s foremost attraction. Because to be perfectly honest, St. Stephen’s Cathedral falls short of its Gothic counterparts and, quite frankly, pales in comparison. Certainly, even today, St. Stephen’s Cathedral bears witness to the centuries-long history of Christian anti-Judaism, which defamed Jews, among other things, as murderers of Christ. Among the Jewish related things to know about St. Stephans is the depiction of Jesus with a Jewish medieval hat in the indulgence certificate by the pope (1339) and Jews with pointed hats, throwing stones at the patron saint of the church, St. Stephen. Then there’s the alleged foreskin of Jesus kept in the sacristy, the evil Jew among monsters on the tympanum of the main entrance, ashes from Auschwitz in the base of a large crucifix in the Barbara chapel, and last but not least, the Kaddish sung by a rabbi at Cardinal König’s gravesite.
When considering Vienna’s attractions, it is worth noting that Schönbrunn Palace may not possess the same grandeur and magnificence as Versailles, although it remains a splendid sight in its own right. However, if time is limited during your visit to Vienna, I would suggest optimizing your schedule by potentially excluding these two tourist destinations. It is essential to prioritize other captivating sights that rank higher on my list of must-see places in Vienna.
One important Jewish fact about Schönbrunn Palace is that around 1700, financially powerful Jewish families such as Wertheimer, Schlesinger, Simon Michel, and others were able to secure the extension of their tolerances in Vienna only through significant payments and contributions to its reconstruction.
So here’s the list of Vienna’s 14 must-visit sights and activities:
The Ultimate Vienna Experience:
A Journey to the Freud Museum
at Berggasse 19
Embark on a captivating intellectual voyage in Vienna, with the Freud Museum as your guiding beacon. Freud, after all, is probably the most famous and most influential Viennese in the history of Western civilization. Vienna’s relationship with Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis has always been complex, marked by a blend of resistance and admiration that continues to this day. Despite facing opposition and discrimination, primarily due to his Jewish heritage, Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis has had a profound and enduring influence on the field and our understanding of the human mind. Notwithstanding the profound impact of Sigmund Freud and his contributions to cultural and intellectual history, Vienna frequently falls short in recognizing and commemorating important milestones and anniversaries associated with his life and work.
Even though there are a number of sights related to the founder of psychoanalysis throughout the city of Vienna, the Freud Museum, located in the building where Freud had his apartment and medical practice, is the number one place to visit. Undoubtedly, Berggasse 19 stands as Vienna’s most illustrious address, embodying an intellectual legacy that reverberates through the annals of history. In consequence, the Freud Museum is the crème de la crème of Viennese attractions – the pièce de résistance, if you will.
Vienna’s Musical Legacy:
From Composers to Concerts and Balls
At the heart of Vienna’s global renown lies its rich tradition of music, cultivated by countless composers who have graced its grand stages, including Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Haydn, Mahler, Mozart, Schönberg, Schubert, Strauss, Webern and many more. While the city’s grand venues like the Opera House, Musikverein, and Konzerthaus close during the summer months, Vienna’s opera and concert season offers an unmatched schedule, rivaling the abundance of cinemas per capita in Paris. Alongside classical concerts by world-class performers, Vienna hosts the annual “Wien Modern” festival, spotlighting cutting-edge contemporary music and thought-provoking compositions. The Vienna State Opera is renowned for its vast repertoire, staging a multitude of classic and contemporary operas each season, featuring top-tier singers, conductors, and directors. Other notable opera stages in Vienna include the Volksoper and the Theater an der Wien, where Mozart premiered his opera “The Magic Flute” in 1791.
Vienna’s illustrious balls, such as the Opera Ball, captivate visitors during the winter months, offering an enchanting display of Viennese dance traditions. Dance classes in the city cater to individuals from all walks of life, emphasizing that dancing is not solely a bourgeois pursuit but a cherished Viennese cultural tradition. With its ornate setting at the Vienna Opera House, the renowned Vienna Opera Ball is an opulent extravaganza that epitomizes the city’s grandeur and cultural heritage. As diplomats, celebrities, and socialites gather in resplendent attire, the event transforms into a dazzling showcase of Viennese elegance, where waltzes and glamorous festivities intertwine in an unforgettable night of refined enchantment.
A Year-Round Delight for Art Enthusiasts
Let us set aside the distractions, dear reader, and instead turn our attention to Vienna’s true year-round calling card — its world-class museums. The Leopold Museum’s illustrious collection showcases the best of Viennese art, from the striking works of Egon Schiele to many more captivating pieces from 1900. At the Belvedere Museum, immerse yourself in the masterful creations of Gustav Klimt and his contemporaries. Of course, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is a must-see, featuring Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting,” along with an impressive lineup of works by Bruegel, Rubens, Titian, Velázquez, Caravaggio, Arcimboldo, Dürer, Rembrandt and countless others. Do not miss the “Beethoven” frieze, a magnificent painting by Gustav Klimt proudly displayed at the Secession building, alongside of stimulating temporary exhibitions. The latter are often truly spectacular at one of the other major museums in Vienna like the Albertina and the Albertina Modern. Indeed, there are numerous additional museums and exhibition venues to explore and select from.
Witness the Artistic Brilliance and Historical Significance of Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Last Judgment’ at the Academy of Fine Arts – the School that Rejected Hitler.
A trip to Vienna would not be complete without a sacred pilgrimage to the Academy of Fine Arts, where one can bear witness to one of the magnum opuses of Hieronymus Bosch – the triptych masterpiece known as “The Last Judgment.” This religious artifact, dating back to 1504, stands as a testament to the divine skill of one of history’s greatest painters and is an essential stop on any art lover’s itinerary. The Academy’s collection of masterpieces includes works by illustrious artists such as Botticelli, Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, van Dyck, and many more.
However, the Academy’s significance extends beyond the realm of art. It is here that history could have taken a drastically different turn. The Academy of Fine Arts rejected Adolf Hitler יש”ו (may his name and memory be erased) as a student twice, in 1907 and 1908, a fateful decision that would forever alter the course of history. Reflecting on the Academy’s role in shaping the course of the world as we know it is a thought-provoking and essential aspect of any visit to this hallowed institution.
Sip, Savor, and Soak in the Culture:
Vienna’s Rich Coffeehouse Scene
One cannot fully experience the essence of Vienna without indulging in its rich coffeehouse culture – the “Kaffeehaus” – that has been a cornerstone of Viennese society for centuries. Among the numerous cafes to choose from, Café Sperl stands out as an absolute must-visit for any coffeehouse enthusiast. Imbued with the spirit of Viennese heritage, the Café’s renovated interior, listed on the Austrian Register of Historic Places, retains its authentic charm. From the parquet floor to the iconic Thonet chairs, marble tables, and crystal chandeliers, it exudes timeless elegance since its establishment in 1880.
Also, it has graced the screens in two celebrated films: David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” delves into the complex relationships between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, while Richard Linklater’s captivating romantic drama “Before Sunrise” features Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
However, the historic section of Café Landtmann, which counted none other than Sigmund Freud himself as a regular visitor, is equally deserving of a visit. This esteemed coffee house, a gathering place for esteemed artists like painter Oskar Kokoschka, authors including Thomas Mann, and musicians such as Gustav Mahler, held a special position as a cherished hub of creativity and inspiration.
Alternatively, one can savor the legendary Café Hawelka, with its alluring dim ambiance and delectable “Buchteln” — sweet yeast dumplings filled with plum jam.
For another delightful experience, there’s also the charming Café Prückel, formerly known as Café Lurion and Café Miramonte, where in 1931, the renowned actress Stella Kadmon inaugurated her cabaret in the basement, transforming it into a cultural haven for Vienna’s avant-garde. The café’s rear section underwent a meticulous restoration in the 1980s, reviving its authentic Jugendstil design, while the front part facing the Ringstrasse retained its nostalgic 1950s allure.
And who could forget the historic Café Central, which Frédéric Morton recounts as the improbable meeting spot of some of history’s most influential figures in January 1913: Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky. Other famous patrons were Theodor Herzl and Stefan Zweig.
Then don’t miss Café Bräunerhof, a haven for literature enthusiasts, where you can indulge in coffee and immerse yourself in the musings of Thomas Bernhard, one of the German language’s most important authors, right at the very same table. It was his favorite café.
With so many unique and diverse options to choose from, it’s no wonder Viennese coffeehouses have become known and admired throughout the world. (Here’s my succinct guide to Vienna’s top coffeehouses.2)
Elevate Your Taste Buds:
Steirereck, Vienna’s World-Renowned Culinary Gem
For an unforgettable (and non-kosher) dining experience in Vienna, make sure to visit Steirereck at least once (open Monday to Friday). This restaurant is a must-visit for foodies, worth a trip on its own, where Viennese and Austrian cuisine are elevated to meet the highest standards of French culinary art. It’s simply fabulous, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The restaurant sources its ingredients from a nearby farm, including mushrooms gathered through many hours of meticulous picking in the Vienna Woods—a weekend activity cherished not only by many but also by Sigmund Freud himself, who would don traditional Austrian garb for the occasion.
Restaurant Steirereck in Vienna’s Stadtpark has consistently been ranked among the world’s best restaurants for several decades according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.3 As of 2023, it holds the impressive 13th spot (to give you an idea, the top Parisian restaurant ranks 22nd and the top New York restaurant ranks 33rd). Don’t miss out on this culinary gem of contemporary Austrian brilliance in the heart of historic Vienna during your visit.
Savor Vienna’s Street Food Culture with Iconic Würstelstands
Vienna’s culinary scene goes beyond high-end restaurants, and at the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the city’s beloved and budget-friendly Würstelstands, or hot dog stands (also not kosher, sorry). These iconic street food spots are a must-visit for any traveler, regardless of budget. Among the most famous is the stand located in front of the venerable Albertina Museum.
Despite their humble appearance, these sausages pack a flavorful punch and are a true Viennese institution. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Würstelstände emerged as movable stalls, offering disabled veterans a means of income. It wasn’t until the 1960s that these iconic sales stands were granted the opportunity to anchor themselves in stationary positions.
As times change, so do tastes and traditions. The days of Jews offering and ordering beef frank wieners at these stands are long gone. There are no more beef sausages or any non-pork offerings today safe for some sporadic vegan and vegetarian options. In the pages of “Tante Jolesch,” the Austrian Jewish writer Torberg recounts his nocturnal ritual at the Würstelstand. There, he would savor nothing but a crisp apple, while his idiosyncratic companion, Dr. Sperber, voraciously indulged in multiple Burenwürste — a tantalizing Viennese sausage infused with the savory essence of bacon.
Popular choices on the menu include the Käsekrainer, which is a smoked Burenwurst pork sausage enhanced with small pockets of melted cheese, and the Bosna, a spicy twist on the classic Austrian hot dog made with Bratwurst. It’s no wonder that these Würstelstands have earned a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike. The Würstelstands remain a testament to Vienna’s enduring culinary legacy and the city’s unshakable commitment to offering delicious and affordable street food options. In very rare occurrences, Vienna’s Würstelstands have begun offering organic and vegan options, adapting to changing preferences and catering to health-conscious individuals. (Here’s a list of vegan würstelstand locations4 around the city.)
Sigmund Freud and the Wiener: The Enduring Psychoanalytical Legacy of Vienna’s Würstelstands
“Wiener” literally translates to “Viennese” in German. It thus appears as no coincidence to the English-speaking mind that Sigmund Freud who gave birth to the psychoanalytic theories that continue to shape our understanding of the human psyche should also be a native Wiener. It is also worth noting, that the German “Würstel” is the English “Wiener,” the sausage, making the “Würstelstand” a place to stand with a sausage in hand, not unlike the father of psychoanalysis who — tellingly — always had a cigar in his hand.
In pre-Shoah Vienna, it is conceivable that an invalid Jewish veteran of World War I could have been observed operating a mobile stand, selling beef sausages. However, it is unclear whether Freud himself would have expressed interest in consuming a sausage, though it is possible that he would have noted and attached significance to the seller’s Jewish identity.
Culinary Tour of Vienna:
Top Jewish, Vegan, and Kosher Spots
I have got a list of The 20 Best Jewish/Israeli/Kosher Restaurants in Vienna.5 But hold your breath, the sad state of affairs in Vienna is that there are no Jewish Viennese restaurants, whether kosher or not, to be found. I’ve therefore also listed the Top 4 Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants in Vienna,6 as well as a list of The 15 Best Bakeries in Vienna (Kosher & More).7
Indulge in Vienna’s Sweetest Delights:
A Guide to the City’s Best Pastry Shops and Confectioneries.
Indulge in the culinary delights of Vienna’s prestigious pastry shops, known as Konditoreien in German, where you can experience the exquisite viennoiseries—a delightful array of pastries with Viennese origins, reminiscent of the famous Danish treats. Among these esteemed establishments, Demel shines as a leading institution, revered for its rich heritage, although its offerings have been somewhat limited due to the pandemic. One cannot miss the opportunity to savor their distinctively Jewish Fächertorte, a delicacy that embodies the essence of Viennese culinary excellence. (You can find more about Fächertorte8 in my blog post.)
Demel is more than just a pastry shop; it is a veritable museum showcasing the finest traditional Austro-Hungarian cakes, tortes, and strudels. With its esteemed reputation, it has become one of the world’s foremost pastry destinations. Notably, the renowned Jewish author Friedrich Torberg held a deep appreciation for Demel’s offerings.
While Demel is often crowded with tourists, the wait is well worth it for the opportunity to indulge in their fabulous cakes, tortes, open-faced sandwiches, and savory delicacies. Alternatively, you can opt to take their delectable creations home to avoid the bustling crowd.
If luck is on your side, a glimpse towards the back might reward you with a captivating sight—a master artisan crafting traditional Viennese apple strudel or the iconic Sachertorte.
Then there’s also Weihburggasse 4 which is home to a beautifully restored coffeehouse, currently operated by Sluka. While their cakes are a personal favorite, the true highlight lies in the meticulously preserved Art Deco interior. History enthusiasts will delight in knowing that this establishment was once the renowned Jewish-owned Café Zwieback in the 1920s. Interestingly, men would wait at Weihburggasse 4, at Café Zwieback, while their wives shopped at the eight-story department store Ludwig Zwieback & Brother on Karntnerstrasse, owned by the same Jewish family.
For a comprehensive list of Vienna’s top pastry shops,9 be sure to consult and follow my curated list when exploring the city.
To experience the authentic flavors of traditional handmade confectioneries, a visit to Altmann & Kühne is a must. This renowned confectionery shop has an atypical Jewish history and offers exquisite products with distinctive packaging featuring modernist designs by artists from the Wiener Werkstätte school. In the face of the tumultuous Nazi takeover, the Jewish owners, Emile Altmann and Ernst Kühne, sought refuge in New York City, yet their business persevered through the challenging times of the Nazi era and World War II, thanks to the unwavering dedication and fortitude of their steadfast employee, Mrs. Mercek. Located at Graben 30, the shop itself is a true gem, protected as a historical monument with its modernist facade designed by Josef Hoffman. Meanwhile, the production facility of Altmann & Kühne thrives in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, the historically significant Jewish neighborhood.
Another must-visit is Leschanz “Wiener Schokolade König,” literally “Vienna’s chocolate king,” which exudes the charm of turn-of-the-19th-century Vienna. This little boutique, nestled at Freisingergasse 1, is a haven for chocolate lovers.
Vienna’s Grand Baroque Library:
One of the World’s Most Beautiful Historic Libraries.
For book enthusiasts, a must-visit destination in Vienna is the magnificent baroque State Hall of the Austrian National Library. This grand library, Europe’s largest of its kind, houses over 200,000 historic books on richly decorated wooden shelves. The Grand Hall is truly a treasure for book lovers, earning its well-deserved spot on lists of the world’s most breathtaking literary havens. It is located in the Hofburg building complex, with the entrance at Josefsplatz.
The National Library boasts remarkable treasures, including the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 12th-century parchment copy of a Late Antique illustrated map depicting a general view of the Roman road network, thus also showing Vindobona, Vienna’s Roman Fort. Another highlight is the magnificent manuscript known as the “Golden Bull,” which regulated the election of the German king by the seven electors. This document held significant importance within the Holy Roman Empire. (By the way, if you’re interested in viewing the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, it is kept in the Imperial Treasury at the nearby Hofburg Palace, just steps away.)
Vienna, the Jews, and Culinary Culture:
A Curated Bibliography and Filmography
To prepare for your upcoming visit, I highly recommend perusing my carefully curated bibliography and filmography showcasing Vienna, it’s culture, and its cuisine, with a particular focus on Jewish influences.10
A Legacy of Social-Democratic Ideals and Impressive Architecture
Let us not forget that Vienna is a city with a rich red, or rather, social-democratic history. “Red Vienna,” referring to the period of social democratic governance in Vienna from 1919 to 1934, witnessed the rise of numerous important Jewish figures like Victor Adler, who played significant roles in politics, art, and intellectual life. Red Vienna is the local equivalent of the French left-wing Leon Blum government of the 1930s, the New Deal government of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States, or the Labour government of Clement Attlee in the United Kingdom. Red Vienna’s main achievements encompassed the construction of affordable social housing, the implementation of progressive social welfare policies, and the establishment of cultural and educational institutions that aimed to improve the lives of working-class citizens. Even today, a good third of Vienna’s population lives in a city-owned building many from that area. “Imagine a Renters’ Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna“11 is a captivating article — with fabulous photos — published by The New York Times in 2023 that should not be missed!
Red Vienna’s “Gemeindebauten,” or municipal housing complexes, stand as enduring symbols of the city’s progressive social policies during the interwar period. These architectural marvels, designed by visionary architects, provided affordable and spacious apartments with communal facilities such as kindergartens, libraries, and gardens, revolutionizing urban living for the working class. Today, these vibrant communities continue to thrive, serving as a testament to the lasting legacy of Red Vienna’s commitment to social welfare and the pursuit of a more equitable society.
Swimming in the Red Vienna:
Exploring the City’s Spectacular Pools and Leisure Options
If the Red Vienna wasn’t just about housing, it also catered to the workers’ leisure. This meant open and indoor swimming pools, some of which are splendid and located throughout the city, even in the hills of the Viennese Forest with a panoramic view of the whole city, like the Krapfenwaldlbad (bus 38a).
One of my favorite spots for summer swimming is Gänsehäufel (bus 92a or 92b), situated on the Old Danube River. This 20-hectare wooded sandy island, known as the “goose’s heap,” is a family-friendly recreation area that attracts both locals and tourists. Gänsehäufel offers various activities like different beaches, a wave pool, a waterslide, a ropes course, stand-up paddling, beach volleyball, soccer, and basketball, as well as designated picnic and barbecue areas. Additionally, there are dining options available, including self-service cafeterias, cafes, kiosks, and even a very good ice cream parlor.
In essence, Gänsehäufel is the perfect Viennese destination for those days when Italy’s beaches are out of reach. Some even playfully claim it as Vienna’s answer to Mediterranean beach cravings, quipping, “Who needs those dream destinations when we’ve got Gänsehäufel?”
Vienna’s Affordable and Efficient Public Transportation System
And just imagine, all these places are served by a fantastic public transportation system. Trams, buses, and subways wind their way through the city’s many neighborhoods, making it easy to get around and explore all that Vienna has to offer. Vienna’s public transport system stands as a testament to the city’s unwavering commitment to urban connectivity, weaving an intricate web of sophistication and efficiency that easily rivals even the most esteemed counterparts across Europe.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as on the nights before holidays, the subway operates continuously from midnight to midnight. There are also night buses operating daily. (Please check the website of the Vienna Transport Authority)12
Public transportation in Vienna really is a convenient and reliable mode of transportation for locals and tourists alike, ensuring that one can explore Vienna’s vibrant cultural scene without having to worry about transportation constraints. And the best part? It’s affordable. For just one euro a day with an annual pass, locals can access the entire network and experience the magic of Vienna without breaking the bank. (Here are the Vienna city transit maps)13 As a visitor, for a seamless journey through Vienna’s meticulously designed and interconnected public transport system, one must be armed with reasonably priced tickets procured in advance, ensuring that single ride tickets are duly stamped upon entering trains, trams, or buses; navigating this harmonious network also involves evading encounters with undercover ticket agents, making it prudent to simply possess valid tickets and sidestep any untoward confrontations or the potential burden of substantial fines; to acquire tickets, one can conveniently make purchases at all “Tabak” stores or utilize the vending machines strategically stationed at train and underground stations, unveiling a realm of effortless urban mobility.
Discover Vienna’s unique wine taverns:
If you’re looking for something unique to experience in Vienna, the “Heurigen” wine taverns are a must-see. These popular and distinctive establishments are where local winemakers serve their new wine, known as “Heuriger,” derived from “heuriger Wein” (this year’s wine). Scattered throughout the city, many Heurigen can be found in Grinzing, while some are nestled in the Vienna Woods themselves. One notable Heuriger is Heuriger Muth (Wien XIX., Probusgasse 10), conveniently located next to the Beethoven Museum (Wien XIX., Probusgasse 6).
The museum is a small apartment-turned-museum dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven, where he composed celebrated music pieces. The courtyard of the museum exudes a particularly atmospheric ambiance. Combining a visit to both the Heuriger and the Beethoven museum would be a fitting and enriching experience.
Additionally, if you’re seeking one of the most breathtaking Heuriger on a sunny day, I highly recommend checking out my blog post on Heuriger Wailand,14 which showcases an awe-inspiring scenic view of the city and its vineyards.
Toast to Vienna’s World-Class Wines and Wineries
Vienna and Austria are renowned for their excellent wine-making traditions, producing some of the most delectable wines that are enjoyed by oenophiles across the globe. In particular, the Viennese and Austrian wines15 are celebrated for their unique flavor profiles, ranging from crisp and dry whites to robust and full-bodied reds.16
One must not miss the opportunity to indulge in the fabulous wines that this region has to offer, and among the many renowned wineries, the Hafner winery17 stands out for its second to none, kosher and organic offerings. Whether you are a connoisseur or a casual wine enthusiast, a visit to Vienna would be incomplete without savoring the exquisite flavors of its wines. Indulge in a palette of flavors with Hafner’s red wines boasting a wonderful Syrah Prestige, a Pinot Noir Classic, and a so-called “Kashmir” Cuvée. Make sure to try their exquisite white wines featuring Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay Prestige. (You can buy these wines online or in a brick-and-mortar kosher supermarket in Vienna like Shefa,18 one of the biggest in Europe.)
A Fascinating Journey Through History, Culture, and Tragedy
I hope I haven’t written too much so far, but this subject has fascinated me since childhood. Even when I lived in Paris, New York, or Tel Aviv, I always advised friends and family to visit Vienna. If you have any particular questions, I would be delighted to help.
Regarding Jewish Vienna, before we dive into the topic, it is important to remember its near-complete destruction during the Shoah. Once one of the most important hubs of Jewish culture in the world during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Vienna experienced a tragic transformation during the dark era of National-Socialist rule in Austria. The city’s Jewish population, which had thrived for centuries, was annihilated through widespread deportation and murder in the Holocaust. As a result, almost nothing remains of the once-fabled and mythical Jewish Vienna, underscoring the profound impact of this devastating chapter in history.
New Memorial Honors Austria’s Jewish Victims of the Shoah, with Database to Search 65,000 Victims
The “Shoah Wall of Names” stands as a poignant memorial, honoring the Austrian Jewish children, women, and men who perished in the Holocaust. The memorial, situated in Vienna’s Ostarrichi Park near the national bank, was completed as recently as 2021, shedding light on Austria’s historical reckoning. It is the first state-funded Holocaust memorial to include the names of the victims. Initiated by Kurt Yakov Tutter, an Austrian-born Holocaust survivor, and supported by private efforts, this wall spans 200 meters, and bears the names of over 65,000 victims, an overwhelming testament to the weight of their loss. Its presence serves as both a lament for humanity and a solemn reminder, encompassing a mere fraction of the total European Holocaust victims.
For those seeking to honor the dead, an online database allows for the search of these 65,000 victims.19
A haunting tribute to Austria’s Jewish victims:
The Nameless Library on Judenplatz
In the center of the city, at Judenplatz (German for “Jews’ square”), “The Nameless Library” is another striking monument to Austria’s 65,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It was unveiled as recently as 2000. Designed by British sculptor Rachel Whiteread, the memorial is a must-see for those who seek to understand the profound impact of the Holocaust on European Jewry. However, it faced criticism precisely for the absence of the victims’ names. This void has since been rectified with the creation of the Shoah Wall of Names memorial mentioned earlier.
Upon the inauguration of “The Nameless Library,” Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal offered a powerful reflection on the monument’s significance. “It shouldn’t be beautiful,” he said. “It must hurt.” And indeed, “The Nameless Library” is a stark and painful reminder of the unspeakable horrors inflicted upon innocent people during one of the darkest periods of human history. Describing “The Nameless Library” by Ms. Whiteread, Austrian President Thomas Klestil praised it as an endeavor to capture the ineffable. This hermetically-sealed chamber of “nameless” books serves as a poignant symbol, representing the countless victims and their untold stories, while also striving to depict the indescribable.
The Nameless Library stands as a strikingly austere inverted structure, composed entirely of concrete. The centerpiece of the memorial is a room that is completely sealed off. Its form exudes a chilling lifelessness, devoid of any sympathetic curves, while its doors remain bereft of handles or hinges. The walls are made of books facing inward, their spines pressed against one another, an eerie echo of the countless lives and deaths they represent. The effect is haunting, indescribable, and deeply moving, a powerful testament to the inhumanity of which humans are capable.
Exploring Vienna’s Jewish Heritage:
Tracing the Footsteps of History, Culture, and Intellectual Legacy
Before the Holocaust, Vienna had a thriving Jewish population of approximately 200,000, about 10% of its total population. Today, this vibrant community has diminished to a relatively small size of around 7,000 Jews, but it continues to uphold and honor the profound Jewish heritage that encompasses Vienna’s history. If you want to learn more about Vienna’s Jewish History, then go to Vienna’s Jewish Museum which includes the remains of a 12th-century synagogue under Judenplatz. For all those with Zionist inclinations, a visit to the empty tomb of Theodor Herzl is a symbol of hope and inspiration (Wien XIX., Döbling Cemetery).
Embarking on a guided tour of the Jewish Ringstrasse presents a captivating opportunity to delve into the history of Vienna’s former luxurious Jewish grand palaces. In the 19th century, during the construction of the Ringstrasse, a notable shift occurred as Jews were granted the right to own real estate in Vienna. The city financed the construction of the Ringstrasse with the proceeds from land sales. Seizing the moment, the affluent part of Vienna’s Jewish community thus played a significant role in financing not only the prestigious boulevard itself but also the construction of numerous public buildings, including the iconic State Opera. Among the notable palaces, you may already be familiar with is Palais Ephrussi at Schottentor (Wien I., Universitätsring 14), made famous through Edmund de Waal’s widely read book, “The Hare with the Amber Eyes.”
But there’s also the modernist house Ludwig Wittgenstein designed for his sister in Vienna which stands as a testament to the genius of the philosopher and logician. In 1968 at risk of demolition, Haus Wittgenstein, now a national monument, was saved by a private initiative. Since 1975, it has served as the cultural department of the Bulgarian Embassy. A visit to this remarkable site allows one to admire Wittgenstein’s meticulous craftsmanship and his unique vision that shaped both the exterior and interior of this iconic villa at Wien III., Parkgasse 18 (Call +43 1/713 3164 to make an appointment for a visit).
Vienna is also deeply intertwined with the profound legacy of Victor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor whose experiences during the Shoah led to his insights on human resilience and meaning. One may delve into his remarkable contributions with a visit to the small but impactful, largely text-based, Victor Frankl Museum, dedicated to his logotherapy and existential analysis at Wien IX., Mariannengassse 1.
Sadly, Vienna offers little in dedicated sites for esteemed philosopher and theologian Martin Buber, known for his philosophy of dialogue. A small plaque on his birthplace modestly commemorates his profound contributions to philosophy and his enduring intellectual legacy (Wien I., Franz-Josefs-Kai 45).
Similarly, the same holds true for an author of Stefan Zweig’s stature. Only a modest plaque marks the place of his birth at Wien I., Schottenring 14, and another one on the façade of the building at Wien VIII., Kochgasse 8. While the plaques highlight certain aspects of Stefan Zweig’s biography, they typically fail to address his persecution and exile during the Austrofascist regime, as well as his subsequent persecution under the Nazi regime based on anti-Semitic grounds and his flight into exile.
Discover Vienna’s diverse synagogues and spiritual experiences for a unique taste of Jewish culture.
If you’re yearning for some spiritual nourishment while in Vienna, worry not. This captivating city boasts a small but delightful selection of synagogues and heimishe stibelach to choose from, each offering its own distinct flavor of worship. Remember that, with the exception of one or two, almost all of the nearly 100 synagogues and countless stibelach were destroyed by the Viennese in 1938.
You may consider visiting Ohel Moishe (Wien II., Lilienbrunngasse 19), the revered Torah sanctuary nestled in the heart of Vienna. The site boasts a stunning beis hamedrash (a synangogue), a separate study hall, and a spacious mikveh (a ritual bath), complemented by a beis hatavshil (a soup kitchen) and a dedicated bikur cholim organization to help visit the sick. Additionally, right across from Ohel Moishe stands Vienna’s oldest kosher bakery, an enticing culinary treat for visitors.
For those seeking a spirited, warm, and vibrant religious experience, Khal Chassidim offers just that (Wien II., Große Schiffgasse 8). Situated adjacent to the historic grounds where the renowned Schiffschul once stood until the destructive rage of the Viennese destroyed it in November 1938. The synagogue was a barrel vault construction capable of accommodating 750 people. This revered space once served as Vienna’s primary Orthodox synagogue prior to the Holocaust. Today, Khal Chassidim upholds the rich legacy of Jewish prayer, infused with the vibrant spirit of Chassidic tradition. Led by the esteemed Chief Rabbi Avraham Yonah Schwartz, a prominent authority on kashrus (kosher laws), this congregation emanates a profound sense of devotion. Interestingly, there are now two small synagogues coexisting at the same address. Following World War II, the upper level of the building became a synagogue, which notably provided a temporary spiritual haven for thousands of Jewish refugees from Iran who passed through Vienna over a span of three decades, beginning in the 1980s.
Alternatively, you might want to explore the Machsike Hadass synagogue (Wien II., Große Mohrengasse 19), which also houses the Wiener Yeshivah. Another option is Agudas Israel, located in the city center (Wien I., Grünangergasse 1), occupying a beautifully renovated building dating back to 1350, with subsequent renovations in 1684 and 1796.
The other notable Agudas Israel synagogue in Vienna is situated where the Leopoldstädter Tempel once stood (Wien II., Tempelgasse 3). This synagogue, built in the Moorish style in 1858, originally had a seating capacity of 2,000 individuals. During the November Pogrom in 1938, it suffered partial destruction, leaving only the side wings intact. Today, the northern wing serves as a place of worship for the Jewish community and houses the Talmud-Tora school of Agudas Israel. The synagogue itself has been replaced by a new residential building. Notably, the space now accommodates the ESRA Social Medical Center, established in 1994 to provide counseling and treatment to survivors of Nazi persecution and their descendants. In addition, the center offers support to Jewish migrants and serves as a vital psychosocial hub for Vienna’s Jewish population.
Just a couple of blocks away, Chabad House Vienna20 (Wien II., Taborstraße 20a) stands as a haven of warmth and hospitality, embodying the timeless mission of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. As part of the vibrant network of Chabad Houses, it opens its doors wide to welcome Jews from diverse backgrounds, living out the call for outreach and expansion. With a dedication to kindness and a quest to reveal the divine, these modern-day heirs of Abraham seek to ignite the Jewish core within you, spreading the nourishing wellsprings of Torah to every corner of the world. Chabad House offers an array of essential services, catering to the needs of its vibrant community with offerings that include delightful Friday night and Shabbat meals, uplifting weekday prayers, and cherished Shabbat prayer gatherings, all designed to foster a warm and inclusive environment that nurtures spiritual connection and communal engagement.
If you’re searching for slightly less orthodox options, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Stadttempel (Wien I., Seitenstettengasse 4), also known as the city temple, in the heart of the city. Nestled away on Seitenstettengasse, it’s to be found on the same block as the headquarters of the Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth movement present in Vienna since 1916. The Stadttempel, an elegant synagogue constructed from 1824 to 1826 in the Biedermeier style, was tucked within a block of houses, possibly safeguarding it from complete destruction during the Kristallnacht in 1938. It is thus a rare example of a synagogue building that survived the horrors of the Holocaust, though its interior was vandalized during the pogroms. The Nazis refrained from burning the building because they were afraid the fire could spread to the neighboring buildings (though they were not afraid of this possibility in other instances and locations throughout the city). Additionally, some speculate that the Nazis did not set it on fire due to concerns about losing the valuable archives of the Jewish Community, which held significant information for the persecution and spoliation of the community. Tragically, the synagogue has faced further violence, with the 1981 Vienna synagogue attack claiming lives and causing injuries, and a terrorist attack in 2020 leaving four civilians dead and 23 wounded in front of the synagogue.
For those seeking even more liberal options, there is a very small but colorful Reform community in the city, called Or Chadash (Wien II., Robertgasse 2). In the 1970s, efforts were made to establish a liberal Jewish community in Vienna. On May 4, 1990, Vienna witnessed the first public egalitarian service in the history of Austrian Jewry. By 2010, approximately 100 families were part of the Or Chadasch congregation.
If you’re in search of an even more liberal experience, such as a Romemu-style, Jewish Renewal-affiliated, egalitarian Neo-Hasidic synagogue, Vienna may not currently provide that particular option. However, the future is unpredictable, and, who knows, new possibilities may emerge over time.
Vienna offers an array of choices that extend beyond the options mentioned. While there is Misrachi on Judenplatz (Wien I., Judenplatz 8) and a couple more small Ashkenazi synagogues, Vienna is a city that’s also adorned with a tapestry of Sephardic synagogues. The city unveils a mosaic of unique Sephardic cultural legacies and vibrant communities. In Vienna, they often bear the indelible marks of the former Soviet republics and of other countries that dwell within the expansive Russian sphere of influence. From Bukharan and Caucasus Jews to Georgian Jews, these communities offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Vienna’s Jewish landscape. Embark on a captivating journey as you explore these synagogues, each with its distinctive character and atmosphere, and immerse yourself in the diverse Jewish heritage of Vienna.
So whether you’re seeking spiritual fulfillment or an unforgettable experience, Vienna’s synagogues offer a wealth of opportunities to connect with your faith and the local Jewish community. (The website of Vienna’s Jewish community has a list of synagogues.21)
A Melting Pot of History, Culture, and Creativity
Vienna is a city that prides itself on its cultural diversity and short but important history of tolerance. From its rich Jewish heritage to its thriving LGBTQ+ community, Vienna has a long-standing tradition of embracing people of different backgrounds and identities. The city boasts a wide range of cultural events and festivals, including the once-famous Life Ball and the annual Rainbow Parade, which celebrate diversity and promote equality. Visitors can also explore Vienna’s vibrant multicultural neighborhoods, such as the bustling Naschmarkt or the colorful area of Brunnenmarkt, and sample foods and products from all over the world. Overall, Vienna’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity makes it a welcoming destination for people from all walks of life.
Falter: Your Ultimate Guide to Vienna’s Cultural Scene!
For those seeking to navigate Vienna’s weekly cultural offerings, the local — German-language only — equivalent of Time Out magazine is Falter.22 This comprehensive event calendar covers everything from concerts and plays to movies, lectures, exhibitions, and vernissages. With its finger firmly on the pulse of the city’s dynamic arts scene, Falter is the indispensable guide for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Vienna’s rich cultural landscape. Whether you’re a seasoned local or a curious visitor, this indispensable resource will help you make the most of your time in one of Europe’s most vibrant cultural capitals.
- (German: “see you!” used in place of “goodbye”)
- Coffee Houses: 20+1 Best Must See Cafés in Vienna #CoffeehouseCulture #Kaffeehaus Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/best-of-jewish-viennese-food/coffee-houses-20-best-must-see-cafes-in-vienna-coffeehouseculture-kaffeehaus/
- The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Link: https://www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50
- Vegan würstelstands Link: https://www.vegan.at/vegan-beim-wuerstelstand
- The 20 Best Jewish/Israeli/Kosher Restaurants in Vienna Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/best-of-jewish-viennese-food/the-10-best-jewish-israeli-kosher-restaurants-in-vienna/
- Top 4 Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants in Vienna Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/best-of-jewish-viennese-food/top-4-vegan-vegetarian-restaurants-in-vienna/
- Vienna’s 15 Best Bakeries! (Kosher & More) Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/viennas-15-best-bakeries-kosher-more/
- Vienna’s “Fächertorte”—Jewish Budapest’s “Flódni” Layer Cake in Disguise. #RachelRaj #Demel Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/viennas-fachertorte-jewish-budapests-flodni-layer-cake-in-disguise-rachelraj-demel/
- Pastry Shops: Vienna’s 11+1 Very Best Must-Visit Patisseries and Confectioneries #Konditorei Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/best-of-jewish-viennese-food/pastry-shops-viennas-10-very-best-must-visit-patisseries-and-confectioneries-konditorei/
- The Very Best 100+ Books & Movies for Your Viennese, Jewish, and Culinary Therapy Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/books-culinary-therapy/
- Imagine a Renters’ Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna. May 23, 2023) Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/23/magazine/vienna-social-housing.html?smid=url-share
- Vienna Transport Authority Link: https://www.wienerlinien.at/web/wl-en
- Vienna city transit maps Link: https://www.wienerlinien.at/web/wl-en/maps-and-folders
- Vienna Woods Vineyard Heuriger with Scenic View (Reclaiming Heimat) #Kahlenberg Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/vienna-woods-vineyards-heuriger-scenic-view/
- Jewish Food of Vienna > Index > Beverages Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/indexes/recipes/beverages/
- Red Wine: Austria’s Great Little Ones Tested — IMHO, With Some Jewish Considerations! #KosherWine #Siebengemeinden #ShevaKehillos Link: https://jewishviennesefood.com/austrias-great-little-red-wines-tested-imho-with-some-jewish-considerations-kosherwine-shevakehillos/
- Hafner winery Link: https://wein-shop.at/?lang=en
- Shefa Link: https://www.shefa-markt.com/
- Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) > Victims search Link: https://www.doew.at/english
- Chabad House Vienna Link: https://chabadvienna.com/en/
- IKG Wien>Religiöses>Synagogen Link: https://www.ikg-wien.at/synagogen
- Falter Link: https://www.falter.at/