We arrived in time for lunch at one of the traditional coffee houses that are hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. You are hit by the most tantalising, mouth watering aromas almost before you’re through the door. And as for the rows of beautifully crafted sweets and pastries…a real treat!
Vienna’s center is pedestrianised and very walkable, and it is well worth your while hiring a private guide to show you around the Museumsquartier and the Opera House, as well as introducing you to a succession of delightful hidden squares and churches. Must sees are the Museum of Fine Arts, a gorgeous building that houses some truly stunning pieces, the Leopold Museum with its collection of modern Austrian art including works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
The Schonbrunn Palace is also well worth a visit. A short hop by taxi from the city center, this magnificent summer residence of the Habsburgs has stunning grounds and 1,441 rooms, 40 of which are available for public viewing on a grand tour that includes the gardens.
Sadly, the Spanish Riding School with its world-famous Lipizzan horses was closed when I was there in August, and so we headed instead for the deck chairs and beach bars that line the river during the summer months. Much needed R&R after all that culture!
Just a 2-hour very comfortable train journey away, Budapest offers an entirely different and contrasting experience to Vienna. The Hungarian capital is more sprawling, with Buda on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other, but there is an excellent transport system of trams, subways and buses to get you around and much of the city is still walkable. We stayed at the K+K Opera, a well priced modern hotel in the center of Pest, although there are any number of good options on both sides of the river.
On arrival, we headed straight for the Central Market Hall, the oldest indoor market in Hungary and housed in a stunning building that is crammed with local delicacies and craft souvenirs. It is a wonderful place to begin your visit and to enjoy your first Hungarian lunch in one of the market’s local restaurants.
Other highlights of our stay included the classic walk across Chain Bridge and up Castle Hill for spectacular views over the city, the historic Parliament buildings of Pest, Heroes’ Square and the Zechenyi Spa Baths, whose thermal delights we sampled indoor and out.
Strolling through the narrow cobbled streets of Buda old town was also fascinating, and try if you can to take in one summer concerts on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. On a warm, atmospheric evening under the stars, it’s a truly magical experience."