Stay calm and drink more water.
In the US, one of the first things that happens when you sit down in a restaurant, is that the server comes to your table with a shiny happy welcome-to-our-restaurant smile and pours everyone a glass of ice water.
Don’t come to Austria with American-made expectations. If you visit a restaurant in Vienna, you’re highly unlikely to be greeted with flashing pearly whites. Don’t take this personally. The servers here are highly trained professionals who receive normal wage and insurance and are therefore not likely to give you a cheerleader rah rah can-I-have-a-tip-to-make-up-for-my-below-minimum-wage-pay veneer.
Next, don’t come to Europe expecting drinks served with ice. For that you’ll need to hop the train to Switzerland or Finland to one of the ice bars. No air-conditioning, no ice cubes, and no whining, so suck it up and deal.
But you also will not receive the automatic glass of water. Pity. Because it’s healthy and we should all be drinking more water. You’ll see water on the menu and be astounded how much one can charge for a bottle a water. And you will be confused – prickelend or still when all you really want is normal glass of water. Can you get that here?
A resounding yes!
But is it safe to drink?
And it will be some of the best tap water you’ve ever tasted. Promise. Because Vienna has a very high quality of water that comes straight to the city from pipes from the mountain regions of Rax/Schneeberg, Schneealpe in Lower Austria and Hochschwab in Upper Styria.
So how do you order water?
If you want to go with the bottled water – decide if you want it with or without the bubbles.
THREE TYPES OF WATER
With bubbles is prickelnd but that is difficult to say, so say simply “mit Gas”(with gas) and they will know what you want.
No bubbles is easy – still – remember by thinking of the old Christmas classic Still, Still, Still. Austrians will sometimes call it “ohne Gas” (without gas).
Good old high quality mountain water from the tap: Leitungswasser. Pronounced: Leit tungs wasser.
If the menu just says “Vöslauer” that’s the Austrian water brand like calling a tissue a Kleenex.
Gespritzt: A refreshing healthy drink Viennese love is juice, syrup of white wine “gespritzt” which means mixed with sparkling water.
“Gespritzt” drinks include:
Apfelsaftgespritzt: Apple Juice mixed with sparkling or normal water
Holundersoda: Elder flower syrup mixed with sparkling water (sound weird? Live a little. Try it. It’s a great summer drink and you won’t be disappointed).
Himbeersoda: Raspberry juice mixed with sparkling water
Soda-Zitron: Soda water with lemon juice
weißen gespritzt: A Viennese classic summer drink – they’ll think you’re a local if you order this — white wine mixed with sparkling water
GOOD TO KNOW
Coffee with water on the side: Viennese coffeehouses take pride in their coffeehouse traditions. A good Viennese coffeehouse will serve your coffee on a silver platter. Next to the coffee will be a small glass of water and balancing atop of the coffee will be a spoon.
Tap water might not be free: Some restaurants in Vienna might charge for a “Leitungswasser.” Sad but true. And they aren’t ripping you off because you’re a tourist. If they charge, they charge everyone.
Public water fountains: The first district has public water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle for free. I have taken a photo of one for you. This one is located at Höhe Markt next to the ice cream shop and across from the very fancy Merkur grocery store. The German term for drinkable water is “Trinkwasser.”
“Because water should not be a luxury item”: Vienna is the first city in the world to place its water under constitutional protection. Since December 2001, the city of Vienna has protected its water for future generations in the Vienna Water Charter.
Read more about Vienna’s Water Charter (in German).