On the banks of the scenic Danube, Vienna marries Western European sophistication with Eastern European culture and charm. Remnants of pre-Roman history in the Danube River Valley make Vienna an intriguing center of human settlement apart from its European neighbors. This city was the political center of the Austrian Empire and is home to ornate palaces and museums. Celtic and Viking history adorn the extensive museum collections while any conversation with a local will reveal a rather complex, if not completely convoluted, lineage.
A romantic imperial city, Vienna bears the hallmarks of a capital steeped in history, beautifully contrasted by its modern infrastructure. Vienna is home to several palaces built for the Hapsburg family. The Imperial Palace is located in the inner city and it was from here that the Hapsburgs ruled for seven centuries. It was constructed in the early 13th century. The Gothic chapel on the site is still open on Sundays for services. The Vienna Boy’s Choir sings here.
The Gothic and Romanesque Cathedral of St. Stephens is located near the Imperial Palace. Construction on this ornate cathedral was started in the thirteenth century and completed in the fifteenth century. The steeple of St. Stephens can be seen from all over the city. Climb the 343 steps of the nearly claustrophobic spiral staircase to the watchman’s lookout in the South Tower or head underground from the North Tower to the catacombs beneath the cathedral where 14 members of the Habsburg family are buried alongside the mausoleum of the bishops.
Schonbrunn Palace was built as a summer residence for Empress Sisi. The grounds include a park, the oldest zoo in the world and a large labyrinth that are open for tour as well as an ornate, Baroque style palace. Go next door to the famous Spanish Riding School where the coveted Lipizzan Stallions are bred, trained and shown in elaborate performances during the winter. There is so much to see at this palace that you should plan an entire day here.
The Belvedere Palace, designed by Von Hildebrandt, is also built in the Baroque style. This palace was the heart of the former Hapsburg empire. The Austrian Gallery Belvedere, built for Prince Eugene of Savoy as a summer home, is located here. It is now open for tours and contains art work and historical information, including a delightful Klimt collection. In addition to viewing the artwork, you can tour the palace and spectacular gardens.
The Imperial Burial Vault is located below the Capuchin Church and is open for tours. This was the burial place for members of the Hapsburg family. The vault contains 146 aristocrats, 12 emperors and 19 empresses.
The inner city is also home to monuments and parks that are popular tourist attractions. Old, ornate churches can be found here as well as other building such as Parliament, the University and Opera house.
Kuntshall Wien is a museum with a collection of modern and contemporary art. The artists are both Austrian and International artists. This museum is run by the city of Vienna.
The Sigmund Freud Museum is dedicated to the Father of Modern Psychology. It is run by the Sigmund Freud Society and traces the doctor’s life and work.
A city of music, Vienna was home to some of history’s greatest composers. Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss were all proud to call Vienna their home. Vienna’s musical heritage has been preserved to the present day. The Vienna Boys Choir is ever popular and the Wiener Philharmoniker remains a world class orchestra.
Summer, winter, spring and fall are all celebrated with unwavering zeal through a seemingly endless string of festivals. During the Film Festival am Rathausplatz, which is held during July and August, remarkable movies are projected onto the grand wall of the Rathausplatz (city hall) nightly, along with operatic performances from the world’s best. Men and women gather here after work to enjoy cocktails and the extensive array of international cuisines and stay well into the night to dance, watch films and stroll through the adjacent park.
A theatre break is always a rewarding experience; witness the latest film and dance productions or just sit back and soak up the best of classical opera. A vast array of concerts and exhibitions are held throughout the year.
Right through history, Vienna has embraced the world of art and proudly boasts many of its own world famous artists. Through the centuries, kings and queens of Austria were passionate art collectors, rendering Austria – and Vienna in particular – a treasure trove of fine art.
Many of these masterpieces can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts; a magnificent building exhibiting works from across the world. Indeed, art and literature feature predominately during Vienna’s history. Underground railway stations designed by Otto Wagner are listed properties; coffee house literature is digested by both young and old.
Besides their love of the arts, the Viennese love to shop. Markets are scattered throughout Vienna but most popular is the Naschmarkt flea market. Dating back to the 16th century, everything from children’s shoes to apples can be purchased. If you can endure the crowds, bargains are aplenty.
Indulge in the fun and games at the Prater, Vienna’s biggest funfair. If the noise and crowds become too much, escape to the open fields or take a stroll through the adjacent forest and chill out with the wildlife.
For spectacular views of the city head for the Danube Tower, known locally as the Concrete Needle. The tower is over 350 meters high; with your head in the clouds, Vienna never looked so good.
Round off your Vienna experience by indulging in their proud coffee culture. Find a coffeehouse and order from the endless menu of roasts. Also, you may find it difficult to avoid the tourist-targeted Mozart Balls (chocolates made for the man himself), but resist temptation and venture into a true Viennese chocolaterie like the famous Demels. Also, the Sacher Torte is unmissable.
Steeped in art, history, music and culture, a trip to this breathtaking City of Dreams is an enriching experience.