Off-Season Week in Bohemia, Part I — Vienna, Austria

A view from the Schönbrunn Palace

A view from the Schönbrunn Palace into the gardens

This is the first installment in a five-part series following writer Cynthia Cunniff through her experience of touring Bohemia with Insight Vacations. Check out Part 2 and Part 3, and then stay tuned for Part 4 on Monday, June 30.

Every time I travel to Vienna I initially feel its austerity—and then something quaint and neighborly happens, and I have to add charming and warm to my description of this famous city. There are plenty of historical sites and classic works of art and music to enjoy in Vienna, but stopping and enjoying the world-class desserts and sipping a cup of coffee at a street side café or in one of its many coffee houses is the quintessential Viennese thing to do. Insight Vacations built in time for us to do just this, and I’m glad I didn’t fill the free time with a museum, or church. Instead, I had a leisurely lunch and great conversation with a few of my travel companions. That noted, as is typical to Insight, they elegantly coordinated scheduling and also gave us a solid peek into cultural Vienna in a very short amount of time.

Good food, good beer and good people

Good food, good beer and good people

Tip: There’s an open-air flea market on Saturdays next to a produce market. This is the type of place to find that cool and quirky item to take home or give to someone. A much better alternative to the tourist trap stores.

The Schönbrunn Palace is a must-experience part of Vienna. It was the 1,441-roomed little summer retreat for the Habsburgs. Most notably, the Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa, resided there with her family. And notably with the youngest of her sixteen children: the ill-fated Marie Antoinette. Maria Theresa is arguably one of the badass women of history, ruling with unrivaled political adeptness and an astute understanding of how not to back down. Not an easy feat for a woman of the 18th century.

Fountain in Schönbrunn Palace garden

Fountain in Schönbrunn Palace garden

The palace gardens are vast and a place where you can find your own space away from the throngs of tourists to stroll and interact with the locals, who use the gardens as a public park. I trekked back into the hilly forested area and was lucky to meet a man feeding squirrels with almonds. He offered me some almonds and taught me how to call the squirrels, who seemed to only respond to Austrian German.

Friendly local in Vienna

Friendly local in Vienna

Tip: No photos allowed in the Schönbrunn Palace. You may take as many photos as you wish in the acres of gardens behind the palace. It’s always good to ask whether pictures are okay when you enter any historical or religious site.

Roman ruins in the Schönbrunn Palace gardens

Roman ruins in the Schönbrunn Palace gardens

The amount of people allowed entry to the palace is limited, and even in the off-season tickets are not easy to get. Most museums in Vienna charge 8-10 Euros for entry and with 2.8 million visitors to the palace every year, I was grateful Insight Vacations covered the cost in the tour package price (also typical for their other tours).

Tip: When crossing the street in Vienna ALWAYS LOOK for trams. They will not stop, even if you have a green-man light to “go.”

Fellow writer Tom Weber joining the orchestra

Fellow writer Tom Weber joining the orchestra

Our tour was embellished with a private concert at the Palais Auersperg, which I initially regarded with suspicion, expecting stuffiness. It was not stuffy. It was a unique experience to be in a small, but lavish setting with talented musicians, singers and dancers—but the best part was feeling that the performers obviously wanted us to enjoy ourselves and interact. One of our tour members was invited to perform the triangle with the orchestra—a hands-on Viennese-gilded good time!

Tip: The Hilton Vienna is very well equipped for travelers, and even has a computer area in the foyer with a photo download station, big clean rooms and great views of the city.

Locals shopping near Albertina Square, Vienna

Locals in the shopping district of Vienna

In Vienna, you’re spoiled for choice if you like to shop. Ringstrasse is a popular shopping destination, and one punctuated with sightseeing stops such as the State Opera House. Another shopper-friendly area is the pedestrian walkway near Albertina Square, which I found to be an even better place to grab lunch at an outdoor café with friends and people-watch.

Tip: If you opt to shop on the pedestrian streets near Albertina Square and are in dire need of a restroom, there is a McDonald’s on cross street Johannesgasse Strasse right off the main shopping area. Purchase a small drink for 1-2 Euros (worth it) and they’ll give you a code to the bathroom.  

This is the first installment in a five-part series following writer Cynthia Cunniff through her experience of touring Bohemia with Insight Vacations. Check out Part 2 and Part 3, and then stay tuned for Part 4 on Monday, June 30.

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About Cynthia Cunniff

Cynthia Cunniff’s writing background spans magazine editorial, travel blogging, marketing and PR. She’s a graduate of the creative writing program at CSU Long Beach and went on to UCLA to further her writing skills. Growing up as a military dependent, she lived in several foreign countries and areas of the US. Post college she returned to international living and resided in London for close to a decade, where she took advantage of proximity to the rest of Europe and traveled extensively. She currently lives in the beautiful South Bay of Los Angeles, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @localpathworld.


  1. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful article, it made me want to hop on a jet and go immediately ! Cynthia Cunniff’s articles are as wonderful and full of life as she is !


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