Austrias wonderful capital Vienna spreads along both sides of the Blue Danube (which, as the Viennese are certain to point out, is actually muddy brown) at the very foothills of the Alps. The city is a smorgasbord of Baroque with a dash of art nouveau. Circling the old town (or Innere Stadt) is the striking revivalist architecture of the Ringstrasse, Viennas main boulevard. These buildings range from the charming Opera House to the monumental Natural History Museum.
Nestled throughout the city are the graceful art-nouveau buildings of turn-of-the century architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. The buildings are one of the many remnants of the artistic and intellectual flowering that took place in Vienna at the turn of the century. Of course, the buildings and the citys history are only a backdrop for the daily culture that can still be found in the concert halls, opera houses, and cafes.
Before traveling to Vienna, try to reserve tickets to the main attractions in advance, as ticket requests from outside of the country are given priority. We recommend the Vienna State Opera, the Spanish Riding School with its famous Lipizzaner stallions, and the Vienna Boys Choir, which is particularly moving.
If tickets for the State Opera arent available try, the Volksoper, which features operettas, musicals, and ballets. If all else fails, the Gothic Rathaus (city hall) hosts a popular Christmas market in the winter and free concerts in the summer. Take a tour of the city to get oriented either on foot or in a Fiaker (a horse-drawn carriage). If youd prefer a more elevated impression of the city, go up to the top of the Donauturm (Danube Tower)at 846 ft/258 m it provides quite a panorama from its observation platform, as well as two revolving restaurants. You can see from there that Vienna is quite a large city its sights are dispersed throughout so youll want to buy bus/subway passes for the number of days that youll be there.
The pulse of the city can be found along Ringstrasse, according to most tourist guides. Perhaps they are correct, if we think of Vienna as a 19th-century invention. As you walk around the area, be sure to take a break at a sidewalk cafe and have one of the citys superb pastries. The Viennese invented cafe society, and there is no better pastime than to linger over a torte, read a newspaper and watch the Viennese. Each caf has its own personality; while the lavish cafes inside the Ringstrasse are most impressive, the smaller ones just outside have a charm and authenticity that should also not be missed. And dont just stick to coffee the Austrian fruit teas and black teas are so flavorful that youll wonder what youve been drinking all these years. Other cafes that are not as stodgy and expensive as the ones on the Ring are the illustrious, beautiful and comfortable Cafe Sperl (2nd district); any of the cafes near the Naschmarkt, Freud’s house, the house designed by Wittgenstein, and gorgeous St. Charles Church–a must-see; Hawelka (1st district); Brauenerhof, where the lacerating and hilarious writer Thomas Bernhard spent his mornings (1st district); and many others. While the Biedermaier pulse of Vienna, long associated with the upper-middle class and collective repression, may be found along the Ring, its darkly satirical flip side is found in these and similar haunts.
After a coffee or a cup of tea you should be ready to visit one of the many world-class museums along the Ring. The Kunsthistorisches Museum has works of art by Bruegel, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Titian, as well as Roman and Egyptian antiquities. Just across the plaza is the Naturhistorisches Museum, which has the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf, one of the oldest works of art in existence. The Museum of Applied Art, located farther down the Ring, has an amazing one-million piece-collection of Rococo Baroque and Jugendstil furniture, glass porcelain, and fabric. Just off the Ring is the brilliant Secession Building, one of the must-sees of Vienna. Built as a reaction to the overblown Ringstrasse buildings, the museum is a work of art in itself, andexcept for Gustav Klimts Beethoven Friezegenerally better than the hit-or-miss contemporary art exhibited inside.
If the Ringstrasse is the pulse of the city, the Innere Stadt (the old city) is the heart. This is where the citys main attractions are located, and since it is a pedestrian zone, it is also a great place to stroll. For an overview, climb the bell tower of the 450-ft-/137-m-high St. Stephens Cathedral. The cathedral, built in 1258, is easily identifiable by the zigzag pattern of its roof tiles. Between St. Stephens and the State Opera House is Karntnerstrasse, Viennas main shopping street. Nearby is the Albertina museum, which houses more than 200 000 drawings (works by Albrecht Durer among others). At another corner of the old city is the Hofburg Palace, a massive complex that contains the Burgkapelle (the chapel where the Boys Choir sings Mass), the Stallburg (where the Spanish Riding School performs on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings), the Imperial Treasuries (Habsburg Crown Jewels), and the elaborate Austrian National Library.
Across the river from the old city is Prater Park, an enjoyable amusement park that dates from the 18th century. The parks main attraction is the Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel seen in the film The Third Man (the film plays every summer in one of the theaters on the Ring), and the goofy statues scattered around the park, one of which shows a enormous baby taking his tiny father for a walk.
On the other side of the old city near the Sdbahnhof is the Belvedere Palace, which houses a stunning collection of Viennese art from the art-nouveau era, including Gustav Klimts The Kiss. These enchanting pictures are reason enough to visit Vienna. The palace also has a spacious garden with a great view of the city.
Another enjoyable museum is the quirky KunstHausWien designed by the artist Hundertwasser. The museum is a fantasy of colorful and lumpy tile floors and peculiar architecture (trees grow out of the third floor window). Just down the street is a block of apartments that was also designed by the artist. Though not open to visitors, the colorful fairy-castle facade always draws a crowd of onlookers. If you still have a hankering for modern art, visit the Museum of the 20th Century.
You’ll thoroughly enjoy seeing the homes of famous Viennese: Sigmund Freud (his psychoanalytic couch and other possessions are on display), Johann Strauss Jr. (where he composed The Blue Danube ), Beethoven (he wrote his Third Symphony here), and Mozart (called Figarohaus: its where he composed The Marriage of Figaro).
In addition, you’ll also enjoy seeing where some famous Viennese are buried! Probably the most famous grave is Mozarts, hidden somewhere in the cemetery in village of St. Marx when he died the great composer was buried in a communal grave, not a pauper’s grave as many people believe. Vienna later began to bury its famous people in clearly marked graves in the Central Cemetery, which now holds the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schoenberg, and other Viennese dignitaries. To round out the cemetery tour, travelers can visit the Imperial Burial Vault (Kaisergruft), the final resting place of the emperors and empresses of the last 300 years of the House of Habsburg. As a matter of fact, the Augustinerkirche vault houses the hearts – literally – of many of the Habsburgs.
Visitors shouldnt miss the elaborate 17th-century Schnbrunn Palace, which was the Habsburg summer home. Often crowded with sightseers it is nonetheless a must-see. Highlights include the State Rooms, the Hall of Mirrors (where Mozart made his debut at the age of 6), the magnificent Wagenburg Imperial Coach collection, the enormous gardens, and the Tiergarten, Europes oldest zoo.
If you feel like taking a short excursion out of the c