Elegant examples of Baroque architecture set the stage for the romantic, imperial city of Vienna. Austria’s capital is filled with rich heritage and proper palaces, as the former home of the Habsburg empire. From the rich café culture to its devotion to classical music, once home to Mozart and Beethoven, Vienna radiates sophistication. The center of Vienna is very walkable, with one main boulevard, Ringstrass, encapsulating the major sights, and making it hard to get lost! For those less active, the tram around the ring is a great alternative. If this is your first time to Vienna, I’m sure it won’t be your last. I will guide you through the best of enjoying this splendid city.
Schönbrunn Palace & Gardens
Schönbrunn Palace is Vienna’s true pride and joy. During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, on into the 20th century, the grand palace was the summer retreat of the Habsburg royals. The striking Baroque architecture of the is complemented by perfectly maintained grounds and lush foliage. With 1,441 lavish rooms and terraced gardens spread over 120 acres of land, its grandeur is a lingering symbol of the power and influence of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, the president of Austria proudly resides here.It is impossible to separate the gardens from the palace, an excellent example of the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, a fusion of many art forms. The Great Parterre of Schönbrunn is lined with 32 white stone sculptures of mythological deities and virtues.If you gaze out from Schönbrunn Palace, across the gardens and up the crest of the hill, you see the columns and arches of the glorious Gloriette. Built in 1775, it was once used as a dining and festival hall as well as a breakfast room for emperor Franz Joseph I. The Gloriette was destroyed in the Second World War, quickly restored by 1947, and renovated again in 1995. Today, the Gloriette houses a café and an observation deck with sweeping panoramic views of the city.
St Stephen’s Cathedral
St Stephen’s Cathedral, Stephansdom or Steffl as the Viennese lovingly call it, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. For over 700 years, this magnificent Gothic cathedral has been a moving place of worship for the city, well known as the venue for both Mozart’s wedding and his funeral. Climb the 343 steps up the spiral staircase of the lofty tower to enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. Then descend into the catacombs underneath for a burial vault containing the mausoleum of the bishops past, the tombs of Duke Rudolph the Founder, along with 56 urns with the intestines of the Habsburg family. Prepare to be spooked as you peer into the ossuary caverns, where bones and skulls are stacked. The catacombs can only be visited on guided tours, which take place every 15 or 30 minutes, and last 30 minutes. €5.5
Boasting two Baroque palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables, the sprawling complex was built in the 18th century as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today, the Belvedere Museum houses the world’s largest collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.
Vienna State Opera House
From waltzes and operettas, to musicals which have conquered international audiences. Vienna is often called The City of Music, since more famous composers have lived here than in any other city in the world. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Straus and Johannes Brahms are just a few who called Vienna home.The Vienna State Opera or Wiener Staatsoper was built in the 19th century in Neo-Renaissance style by a Czech architect. Vienna was Mozart’s town, and opera is an elegant and common affair. While some performances sell out in advance, you can usually buy tickets on short notice from one of the Mozart-attired reps strolling the sidewalk in front of the Opera House.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
St. Francis of Assisi Church is a Basilica-style Catholic church. It goes by many names. Kirche zum heiligen Franz von Assisi, Kaiserjubiläumskirche and interestingly enough Mexikokirche (Mexico Church), recognizing the fact that Mexico was the only country outside the Soviet Union to protest against the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany. It was built in a unique Rhenish-Romanesque style between 1898 and 1910 and was consecrated in 1913.
Wander the 23 districts
Vienna itself is divided into two parts, The Danube and The Donaukanal, then further divided into 23 districts or Bezirke. The city has a centralized layout radiating from the historic first district, or Inner-City with the Stephansdom and Stephansplatz at the center. It is encircled by the Ringstraße (Ring Road)District 1: Innere Stadt, the city centre, with numerous historical sites and few residents. hidden courtyards.
District 2: Leopoldstadt, the island between the Danube and the Danube Canal, was once a Jewish ghetto.
District 3: Landstraße, on the right bank of the Danube Canal, houses the Belvedere.
District 6 & 7: Mariahilf and Neubau, Act like a hipster and hang out at the trendy shops and cafes around the Naschmarkt area.
District 9: Alsergrund, the General Hospital district, and includes Sigmund Freud’s museum.
District 13: Hietzing is on the southern bank of the Wien river, and includes Schönbrunn Palace.
District 19: Döbling is on the northern outskirts of Vienna, and includes the classical Heurigen district.Grab the the Ringtram for a hop-on hop-off guided tour of Vienna’s ceremonial boulevard, to take in its wonderful sights such as the Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, Parliament, City Hall and more. The Tram departs on a lap of the Ring every 30 minutes from Schwedenplatz and lasts for 25 minutes.
Fun fact: Vienna is also called the City of Dreams. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, lived in Vienna for much of his career, making a significant impact on the city. The Sigmund Freud Museum is housed in the apartment where he resided for nearly 50 years.
Indulge in Viennese cuisine
Austria is the birthplace of the Wiener Schnitzel, a thin cut of meat – originally veal – coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Dine at Figlmüller, “Home of the Schnitzel” and where it’s a foot-in-diameter, served overhanging all sides of a dinner-sized plate. Austrian law dictates that all Wiener Schnitzels be made of veal, and if pork is used instead, the name must include vom Schwein.
For lunch, stop into Vienna’s popular food market, Nashmarkt, which has been around for hundreds of years. Wiener Würstel or Viennese Sausage are a popular street food, sold at stands called Würstelstand. The Bitzinger sausage stand behind the Opera House is a popular choice for fried bratwurst and kasekrainer, served inside baguettes with spicy mustard, hot peppers, hot pretzels and crispy French fries.
Viennese coffee culture is second to none. Stop into a classic coffee shop, or Kaffeehäuser such as Hawelka, Sperl or Rüdigerhof and order a Melange or Cappuccino. For a sweet treat, indulge in a Apfelstrudel, or Apple Strudel, best topped with vanilla ice cream. Kaiserschmarrn, the favorite pancake of Emperor Franz Joseph is fluffy, fried, and shredded, with pieces of apple, raisins or nuts, tucked iniside, then dusted with sugar powder and topped with fruit jam. The Sachertorte is a rich chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam.
Not only do the Viennese love their coffee, they also love their vino! Vienna is the only capital city in the world to produce significant quantities of wine within its city limits, home to over 1,700 acres of vineyards and 320 vintners. The best way to enjoy the local Viennese wine is in a heuriger or wine tavern in the 19th, 21st or 23rd districts, or by walking along Vienna’s Wine Trail. The most popular are white wine varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Rheinriesling and Weißburgunder.Is it any wonder that Vienna has been voted the most livable city in the world for the past 7 years in a row? The elegant city of imperial opulence consistently comes out on top for the best quality of life. What excuse do you have not to visit?!