There was a time, not so long ago, that Budapest and Vienna were co-capitals of one of the world’s most powerful countries. A lot has changed in the past 100 years. Thanks to its close proximity, visiting Vienna had been on my bucket list of things to do during my time in Budapest. This past weekend, I finally got there.
Getting to Vienna from Budapest
When it comes to the railways, Budapest and Vienna still maintain close ties. The Hungarian railway service offers travelers based in Budapest a round trip ticket (kirƒ¡ndulƒ³jegy), which includes a 48 hour pass for Vienna’s public transit system at a total cost of 39 Euros. There are trains heading in both directions throughout the day and the kirƒ¡ndulƒ³jegy ticket allows you to board whichever train you like. This ticket is perfect for a weekend visit, providing good value and flexibility.
Once you get to Vienna, you’ll discover a remarkably clean city, abound with bright and elegant buildings and a thorough public transportation system that can take you anywhere. The pedestrian streets in the city centre are filled with people. Wide boulevards with big apartment buildings, featuring sculptures and coat of arms are the standard in the city centre. The city layout is centred around the dominating Stephansdom cathedral and surrounding Stephansplatz. The spire of the basilica is visible throughout the city, which you can use for orientation. Metro lines U1 and U3 also converge at Stephansdom.
I spent most of my time, within the RingstraƒÅ¸e, a series of wide streets which surround the Innere Stadt (Inner City). Many notable buildings are located along the RingstraƒÅ¸e, including the Opera Building, The Rathaus (City Hall), the Parliament and the Burgtheatre.
Coffee Culture in Vienna
The Austrian capital has a rich coffee culture, with coffee houses being an important part of daily life. In my 48 hours in the city, I tried out a handful of coffee houses, enjoying Cappuccinos and a local favourite, the‚ Kleiner Brauner. One of the most popular coffee houses is Café Landtmann, which Sigmund Freud often visited. Tourists flock to this coffee house, following in the footsteps of‚ the founding father of psychoanalysis. Before heading to Café Landtmann, I read an article from the New York Times, which retraced Freud’s haunts in Vienna. I was surprised to learn that he hated Vienna (despite spending most of his life there) and its famous cathedral.
Aside from Café Landtmann, I enjoyed stops at local chains Aida and Derr Mann (great cappuccino). In Vienna, it is common for coffees to be served with a small glass of cold water. It’s a nice little extra.
Comparing the former Co-Capitals
Despite their proximity and shared history, Vienna and Budapest felt like very different places. The contrast between their East and West past is plain to see.
For me, it was refreshing to be back in a German speaking environment. For the first time in months, I was able to understand public announcements on the U-Bahn (Metro/Subway), read signs and speak the language (on a basic level). Vienna had that efficiency that’s common in German speaking countries.
The U-Bahn was bright, clean and modern, running 24 hours on weekends and used the honour system just like in Germany. The streets were clean. There didn’t seem to be very much garbage floating around. The parks were well maintained, providing an oasis in the city with bright green grass and trees with lots of benches. Vienna often ranks near the top on “Livability studies and it’s easy to see why.
That’s not to say that Vienna is better than Budapest. Both cities have lots to offer, depending what you’re looking for. I’d argue that Central Budapest (around the Danube, Basilica and Parliament Buildings) is more beautiful. It’s also much cheaper (Hungary doesn’t use the Euro), more compact and has a good public transit system of its own. Budapest is a little rougher around the edges, but that gives it a character and charm that I love.
Overall, 48 hours isn’t enough to form a clear opinion on a new city (and country). I’d like to go back again and spend some more time in the city, maybe even going so far as to renting an apartment there for a few months. Vienna is a city that warrants further investigation.