Vienna, the capital and premiere city of Austria, is home to nearly one third of the country’s population. It is known as the “City of Music” for its musical masterworks and the “City of Dreams” for its art and design. Vienna is an architectural wonderland of Baroque and Rococo spaces, Gothic churches, and is one of the most exciting cities for Art Nouveau design.
History is everywhere in the central old town. The Habsburgs ruled from Vienna, except when Napoleon invaded, which he did three times. Mozart and Beethoven wrote masterpieces there. Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz (better known as Marshal Tito), Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud frequented and lived within a mile of the historic Café Central. The café opened in 1876 and still operates. It is the hub of the city’s “café culture,” where patrons meet to exchange ideas, play chess, or enjoy a leisurely snack and drink and watch the vibrant life of the city flow by.
Vienna is safe and clean and full of convenient, easy-to-use public transportation.
Some of my favorite sites are:
The Schonbrunn Palace
The Schonbrunn Palace, the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The gardens and grounds are amazing! It is one of the most visited sites in Vienna.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a 12th century dream! Building on the site began in 1137 over what is believed to have been an early Roman cemetery. The cathedral was completed in the 13th century. With a stunning mosaic roof, it is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles Like many churches dealing with waning attendance, it is often a venue for concerts. You can purchase tickets inside the cathedral. It is a grand way to enjoy the architecture and to enjoy what Vienna is known for—music! We stayed in an excellent apartment on St. Stephen’s Square with amazing views of the Cathedral (see A Room with a View).
The Hofburg Imperial Palace
The Hofburg Imperial Palace was the official residence of the Habsburgs and all Austrian rulers since 1277. This complex cover 59 acres and over 2600 rooms. If you have limited time and cannot visit both palaces the Schonbrunn is a more interesting choice in terms of interiors and grounds.
The Secession Building
The Secession Building is an Art Nouveau style building founded by the Successionist Art movement. One of its founding members is Gustav Klimt.
The Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses. A breed which was first developed in 1590 by the Archduke of Austria. Charles VI founded the school 1735.The school has trained horses and riders how to execute traditional dressage movements. The performances in the Hofburg are very popular and are open to the public.
The beautiful, baroque Belvedere Palace includes some of Gustav Klimt’s most memorable paintings, including “The Kiss,” his most famous. The collection includes important pieces from artists such as Monet and Van Gogh. The Belvedere is surrounded by beautifully styled Baroque gardens. Near the Palace is the Naschmarkt, a market with 16th century roots. An outdoor market with a large number vintage shops, food, flowers,restaurants, and cafes.
The Albertina Museum for Modern Art
The Albertina Museum for Modern Art boasts works by Chagall, Picasso, Cezanne, Munch, Kandinsky and Miro.
The Vienna Opera House
The Vienna Opera House, built in 1869, is an exquisite theater featuring concerts, ballet and opera.
Prater Park is a large natural park, covering over 3,200 acres, located between the Danube River and Danube canal. It includes Wurstelprater (known simply as “Prater”), an amusement park. Its most popular attraction is the gigantic Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel, made famous when Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles rode it in the 1949 movie, The Third Man. Views from the top—215 feet (65 meters) above ground—are staggering. Prater Park sports plenty of restaurants.
We enjoyed a wonderful private tour from Viator tours which really took us to the highlights of this monumental town. Our tour guide Hernando was exceptional (see my review on TripAdvisor). He took us everywhere and was full of interesting history and stories about living in Vienna. He also recommended daytrips as well.
I recommend the Vienna PASS, an all-inclusive sightseeing pass includes free admission to over 60 top attractions, lots of discounts and unlimited use of the hop-on hop-off bus routes. We used the PASS after our private tour to see the key sights more closely.
On a daytrip out of Vienna, we drove through the Wachau Valley beside the Danube River. The route is lined with historic towns and is definitely a highlight in the area. You can take a cruise from Vienna to Melk, but we preferred the drive. If you are not driving, the Grand Wachau Cruise from Krems to Melk back to Krems is a good alternative. You can take the train from Vienna to Krems. It is a better boat ride as the views from Vienna to Krems are not very interesting. Don’t miss Durnstein, Krems or Melk. All these towns are dramatically perched along the Danube River. The drive is spectacular and will be one of the most memorable features of this region.
If you drive, parking can be a challenge, especially during tourist season, but it is well worth the journey!