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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Jen Jones Donatelli takes us to one of Europe’s great capitals – a city of art, culture, music and cuisine that was once the capital of a great empire. We’re off to Vienna.
Note: You might have noticed the header on the site changing week to week. That’s because each week, we’ll be rotating it out with a photo of our Destination of the Week. What you see up there today is Schonbrunn Palace outside Vienna. Let us know what you think!
WHAT TO DO
Wilkommen to the breathtaking city of Vienna, which once played home to legendary composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Not surprisingly, rich culture oozes from this city’s pores—with opera houses and museums at virtually every turn. (I got to see an amazing rendition of “The Magic Flute” at the Volksoper while I was in town, and no visit here is complete without seeing at least one concert or opera!)
Start your tour of Vienna with a trip to the MuseumsQuartier, the eighth largest cultural center in the world. It’s easy to spend a whole day perusing the various offerings—from art centers like the Leopold Museum and MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Vienna) to the Tanzquartier center for dance (where I pirouetted my way through a modern dance class). You can also time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals that take place annually, like the Viannale International Film Festival (late October) or the ImPulsTanz International Dance Festival (July 11-August 11, 2013).
Another must-see museum is the Haus der Musik whose innovative exhibits walk visitors through the city’s unparalleled musical heritage with creative exhibits like one where you can conduct a virtual orchestra, or another where headphones approximate how an increasingly deaf Beethoven would have heard his own music being played.
Sightseeing and architecture should also be high on your to-do list. I absolutely loved the gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where you can take in an amazing view of Vienna from the bell tower or explore catacombs and tombs of emperors and princes. For those who love history (or just really beautiful buildings), it’s a definite must to visit the various palaces throughout Vienna—from the Hofburg (where Austrian president Heinz Fisher presides) to Schloss Schonbrunn (Marie Antoinette’s former stomping grounds). And if you prefer a view from the top, head over to Prater Park to ride the 212-foot Ferris Wheel.
The Hofburg is also where you can see the Hapsburg imperial jewels at the Schatzkammer museum, and nearby you can find the works of Europe’s great masters (and more) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or check out the ever-changing slate of exhibits at the Albertina then venture a little out of the very city center of the Innere Stadt to see some of Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings at the Baroque Belvedere Palace near the main train station.
Finally, even if opera’s not your thing, consider taking in a production while you’re in town. You’ll be glad you did! Along with the aforementioned Volksoper, the other premier opera houses in Vienna are the Vienna State Opera and the Musikverein, which has some of the most perfect acoustics in the world.
So what are you waiting for? In the immortal words of Billy Joel, “Vienna waits for you.”
Thanks to its central European location and proximity to other countries, Vienna serves as a bustling gateway between Eastern and Western Europe. The airport is a hub for Austrian Airlines and Niki, and its busiest routes are to London, Frankfurt and Zurich. Last year, new routes were added to destinations including Punta Cana, Strasbourg and Toulouse.
Currently, the airport is undergoing a series of major improvements. Last year marked the opening of the Austrian Star Alliance Terminal, increasing the airport’s capacity to 30 million passengers annually (with the airport projected to hit that number by 2020). Just this month, the newly revamped Check-In 1 terminal debuted with 30 check-in counters and eight self check-in stations (plus a priority zone for elite frequent flyers). Other rumored projects include the introduction of a third runway and the possible renovation or rebuilding of Check-In 2 in the near future.
All of the sky alliances are well-represented at Vienna Airport, with an array of airlines including Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Asiana, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, LOT—Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, TAP Portugal and Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance); Air Berlin, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, and Royal Jordanian (One World); Aeroflot, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, KLM, Korean Air and Tarom (SkyTeam).
Located about 10 miles outside of Vienna, the airport is a 15-30 minute ride to the city depending how you get there. The most cost-effective mode of transport is via the S-Bahn train (4 EUR or $5.50), though you can also opt for the City Airport Train (CAT), which costs 11 EUR ($14) one-way or 17 EUR ($22) round-trip. View all of the transportation options here.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
WHERE TO STAY
Radisson Blu Style Hotel: Travelers rave about this hotel’s central location near the Herrengasse train station and within walking distance to many attractions such as the Hofburg Palace and Kohlmarkt shopping district. Other items of note include free Wi-fi, sauna, fitness center, Sapori restaurant and BarH12. January rates start at 212 EUR per night ($277) or 50,000 Gold Points.
The Radisson Blu Palais Hotel is another Club Carlson property in Vienna, where current rates start at 109 EUR/night ($142) or 44,000 Gold Points. Also, right now, you can earn triple points with an eligible stay at various Club Carlson hotels before March 15, 2013.
Hilton Vienna: Business travelers, take heed – this Hilton property was voted Austria’s “Best Business Hotel” at the 2012 Business Destinations Travel Awards. Just 16 minutes away from the airport via non-stop train, the Hilton Vienna is the largest conference hotel in Austria. Highlights include the on-site S’parks restaurant, fitness center and sauna/steam bath/relaxation room. If you book an executive suite, you’ll get access to its Executive Lounge with free continental breakfast, snacks and drinks. January rates start at 169EUR/night ($220), and this hotel is an HHonors Category 6, which translates to 40,000 points for a one-night reward stay.
Park Hyatt Vienna: Slated to open in 2014, this Park Hyatt will be the first Hyatt hotel in Austria. A 100-year-old treasure listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the building was once Austrian bank headquarters and will now be a five-star luxury hotel with 143 spacious rooms. If you’re thinking about staying here, consider signing up for a Chase Hyatt Visa to snag some juicy sign-up bonuses.
Ritz-Carlton Vienna: Love that “new hotel” smell? You’ll want to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Vienna, which just opened last summer on the centrally located Ringstrasse. Of course, there’s also plenty of old-world charm, as the 202-room hotel is situated in four historic palaces dating back to the 19th century. When you’re not out exploring the city, enjoy the views from the rooftop terrace, sip a hot chocolate at Melounge or take a dip in the indoor swimming pool. Rates start at 295 EUR per night ($385) in January, and this property is categorized as Tier 3 for Ritz-Carlton Rewards (50,000 points per night).
Imperial Riding School Renaissance Vienna: What originated as a military riding school built in 1850 is now a Renaissance hotel within walking distance of Belvedere Palace. Located about 20 minutes from the airport, this Marriott property features amenities such as a Club Lounge, indoor pool and health club. From May to September, barbecue aficionados can also indulge their taste buds at the recurring “Grill n’ Chill” event in the hotel’s garden and lounge. Rates in January start at 99 EUR per night ($129) or 25,000 points (20,000 PointSavers) since this is a Category 5 property.
InterContinental Wien: Active types will especially love this IHG property, which is across from Stadtpark and offers a 24/7 fitness center with solarium, personal trainers, steam bath and sauna. Though reviewers say it’s more off the beaten path than more centrally located hotels, a subway station is directly across the street for ease of exploring. Also, right now, you can earn 1,000 bonus points for every night stayed via the “1,000 Bonus Point Package.” In January, rates start at 199EUR per night ($260) or 35,000 points + $40/night.
The other IHG hotels in Vienna are the Holiday Inn Vienna City, where rooms start at 74EUR/night ($97) or 20,000 Priority Club Points + $40/night, and the Holiday Inn Vienna South, where rooms start at 110EUR/night ($143) or 15,000 Points + $40/night.
Hotel Bristol: Situated across from the Vienna State Opera, the Hotel Bristol has housed notable guests ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to King Ibn Saud to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. Along with 140 Art Nouveau-accented guest rooms, the hotel also offers a business center (replete with leather armchairs), signature concierge and free Wi-fi in all public spaces, as well as the Bristol Bar and Restaurant. The lowest rates we could find start at 230 EUR a night ($300) or 12,000 Starpoints.
Hotel Imperial: Royal opulence is the name of the game in these truly palatial digs. Whether you stay in one of the Hotel Imperial’s 76 rooms or 62 suites, all rooms feature marble bathrooms with double sinks, plush bathrobe and slippers, sound system with classical music selections, TV/DVD player and Wi-fi/high speed Internet. Don’t leave without trying the Imperial Torte dessert, proudly made with top-secret ingredients and in demand since the hotel’s opening in 1873. January rates start at 369EUR a night ($482), and this is an SPG Category 6 hotel (20-25,000 Starpoints per free night).
Vienna offers numerous other Starwood properties, such as the Sheraton Bratislava (about 35 minutes away in Slovakia) and the Le Meridien Vienna (lauded for its prime location and affordable rates, currently starting at 169EUR or $220/night.)
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for The Platinum Card from American Express cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Do & Co Vienna: Located near the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, this chic 5-star hotel delivers for those seeking modern flair. Room features include rain showers, B&O televisions, mini- and maxi-bar, free in-room Wi-fi and ETRO bathroom amenities. Be sure to visit the on-site Onyx bar (popular with both locals and hotel guests) for a vibrant nightlife scene and killer views to match. Also, as part of your Fine Hotels & Resorts perks, you’ll receive complimentary tea for two as part of your stay. January rates start at 249EUR a night ($325).
Hotel Sacher Wien: A member of Leading Hotels of the World, this family-owned hotel is located opposite the Vienna State Opera and just a five-minute walk from Hofburg Palace. Following a complete room renovation in 2011, the 149-room hotel now boasts much bigger bathrooms and a Pierre Yves Rouchon-designed restaurant. Don’t forget to visit the renowned Sacher Spa, where you can treat your body like a work of art with a Klimt treatment. By booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts, you’ll get a free one-way private sedan transfer for two from the hotel to the airport. January rates start at 400EUR per night ($522).
Other Fine Hotels & Resorts partners in Vienna include the Hotel Imperial, Hotel Bristol, InterContinental Wien and Ritz-Carlton Vienna.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Besides the Starwood properties mentioned above (Hotel Imperial and Hotel Bristol), other Visa Signature hotels in Vienna include the Levante Parliament, Palais Coburg Hotel Residenz and Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom (our pick for its killer views and colorful LOFT restaurant). While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.