Vienna has been named the Top place to live in the World by Mercer 9 years running – if it wins again this year it will be an entire decade where it’s the best place in the world to live. To those living there or about to move there this must be a great feeling but what about the 7.5 billion + people on this planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live there?
Well, let’s state the obvious. The Austrian capital is famous for the picture postcard images of its famous coffee houses, the soaring single spire of St Stephen’s Cathedral and the grandiose facade of Schönbrunn Palace. But this sounds like a postcard we may get from a distant Auntie, is it actually worth visiting?
Given its geographical location, Vienna is actually very accessible to pretty much every European as it’s right in the centre of Europe. This means its airport is connected to every European nation making the place perfect to visit for a weekend or a few days. A Vlogger I follow on YouTube had recently spent the weekend in the world’s most liveable city. His YouTube channel “The Wondering Englishman” recently uploaded a video called “A weekend in Vienna”.
I was drawn to The Wondering Englishman Channel (Real name Alex van Terheyden) because unlike the glossy slick travel programmes you may find on the BBC or one of the numerous travel channels available via Digital. The Wondering Englishman is just him talking to the camera while exploring each destination he finds himself in. And while sometimes the camera may be shaky I’m drawn in by the quirky film references and the rawness of the adventure on each video he posts.
It has been years since I personally had visited Vienna so it was a pleasure to see Alex van Terheyden discovering it for the first time on YouTube. While I sat back and watched, I realised there’s a reassuring continuity about Vienna, a sense that time has stood still. You can still sip a mélange – a Viennese version of a cappuccino – under the vaulted roof of Café Central much in the same way Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky once did.
Alex van Terheyden briefly reminds us through a film clip of The Third Man that there had been heavy bomb damage during the Second World War, but thanks to artful restoration, many of the city centre’s historic streets would still be recognisable to one of Vienna’s most famous former residents, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And the giant Ferris wheel, or Riesenrad, built during the reign of Franz Joseph, spins much the same today as it did when it first opened in 1897.
Those who visit for a weekend, as Alex van Terheyden did, are quick to notice that Vienna feels like it is constantly evolving and striving to make people’s lives better. Quality of life is a core focus for local and national government alike. The city has excellent infrastructure (highlighted by the Englishman using Buses and Trams) social care, health and education systems, but is also committed to the cultural well-being of its residents.
Public transport is reasonably cheap, clean and safe – so good that you can cross the entire city in under an hour using one of the five underground lines, 29 tram routes and 127 buses.
Vienna is also very environmentally friendly, with noticeably good air quality for a major city. You can go home from work in the hot summer months without feeling like you’ve been covered in a thin layer of soot, as you often do in London. Unlike some European capitals, there’s very little litter on the streets. Now, if only London could get its act together!
I made contact with The Wondering Englishman (Alex van Terheyden) and asked him now that he has been to Vienna, was it deserving of the most liveable city in the World? Without hesitating, he smiled in our skype chat “Without a Doubt! I’ll be honest I was incredibly blown away by how wonderful Vienna was! I hadn’t really given the city much thought before visiting. It for some reason, conjured up an old stuffy image in my head. A place old couples might enjoy going if they wanted to go see the Opera! I was so mistaken with my preconceptions of the place”. I had heard this myself from other people over the years so it was pleasing to hear van Terheyden admit how wrong his preconceptions were.
Alex van Terheyden or I, are not denying Vienna can be slightly stuffy – well-dressed waiters can sometimes be a little snooty – however, Vienna is acutely aware of its own beauty and uses it to its full advantage. Of course, it’s best known for its imperial architecture, characterised in the monumental Habsburg-era public buildings of the Ringstrasse boulevard. But these spaces and sites are not just fenced off for tourists; they’re part of everyday life for the Viennese.
A former imperial greenhouse is now a cocktail bar and restaurant, the Palmenhaus; the Volksgarten rose garden (next to the Hofburg Palace, and open to the public since the 1800s) is a pleasant spot for local officials to catch some sun on their lunch break. A Second World War flak tower is now the city’s aquarium.
In summer, the wineries in the hills open bars among the vines (Weingut Cobenzl )
As the weather heats up, the Danube Canal path is turned into a beach, lakes become lidos and public spaces fill up with bars and food stalls. Locals take to the hills surrounding the city, where wineries open up bars in the vineyards themselves.
Vienna puts a real emphasis on the importance of culture and recreation, offering a range of free events such as the Rathaus Film Festival or Donauinselfest, Europe’s biggest free open-air festival, held around the palatial town hall. A festival Alex van Terheyden attends in the video. I asked him what made him change his preconception on Vienna?
“Well, I think it’s clear from my video the more I discover about the city the more I fall in love with the city – every time I turned a corner I was surprised by how wonderful Vienna was – also to note the Austrian people are super friendly – busting any negative stereotype of stuffiness – I really was impressed with the place!”.
Alex van Terheyden is right once again, the people are wonderful, they aren’t the stiffs you imagine to be attending the Opera every evening and maybe they are even more chilled and happy because the Viennese know exactly how lucky they are. The city very much basks in its glorious past but now it also basks in its glorious present day. Unlikely to be knocked off the Top spot anytime soon.
You can forgive the Viennese for being a little bit smug. They know they’ve got it good. And, one day soon it will be me visiting Vienna again but until then, I have the random adventures of Vloggers like Alex van Terheyden on YouTube to help me plan and dream of my next trip.
Company Name: Thewonderingenglishman.com
Contact Person: Alex
Country: United Kingdom