Arts, culture, stunning architecture, open spaces, shopping galore – Vienna in Austria has it all. All of the above make Vienna a great vacation destination, but what Vienna has and other cities lack is charm. This list barely scratches the surface of things – Vienna really has something for everyone: there’s a place to go if you need a shrink (the Freud Museum) or if you just need a drink (The Schnaps Museum).
The top 10 sights listed below are an excellent starting point for the first time visitor:
10. Demel Bakery
Let’s start with some cake, shall we? After all, what better way to end a long day of sightseeing? Demel, the former Imperial bakery, was founded in 1786 and it was the official bakery of Emperor Franz Joseph. Baked goodies were delivered to the palace daily and Empress Sisi was particularly fond of their candied violets. Demel has not lost any of its regal feel over the years and it is obvious once you step through the door. The goodies on offer are to die for – strudels, pastries, cakes and the famous Sacher torte – if you have a sweet tooth you will think you have died and gone to heaven (conveniently there is also a shop if you need to get some snacks to munch on later). Demel Museum is located in the basement if you care to learn more about the secrets of the trade and the bakery’s history. (demel.at)
9. Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts (also known as Kunsthistorische Museum) is part of the Imperial Palace. It was commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I who wanted a place to showcase the vast collection of art collected by the Habsburgs over the centuries. The building was completed in 1891 (some 20 years after it was originally commissioned). If you are into old masters you have come to the right place – the museum is home to one of the most extensive collections in Europe and the works on display include Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Tintoretto and Titian (to name a few). If you are an art lover and you like to linger and take it all, in it would be advisable to set aside an entire morning or afternoon for your visit. (khm.at)
8. The Ring
The Ring (also known as Ringstrasse) is a big boulevard that surrounds the city center of Vienna. It was built in 19th century on the order of Emperor Franz Joseph I and in the place of defensive walls dating back to 13th century. As the city grew the walls were replaced with new roads. If you do not fancy spending a morning inside a museum and you like to do some people watching, a walk along the Ring can be a great way to see more of the city – some of the buildings along the way include the University building, Parliament building, the Rathaus (Town Hall) and Vienna State Opera. Alternatively, if you want to see more of the city but do not like getting blisters you can always take the Ring Tram (with handy guides and highlights in different languages).
7. Spanish Riding School
Even if you have never considered yourself a horselover, there is something mesmerizing about a line of horses trotting along in unison. Spanish riding school is known for its Lipizzaner horse ballet – all of the moves are based on four centuries of classic dressage (also known as haute école). You can opt for a more formal gala performance or the simple morning training accompanied by music. If you are a horselover, the guided tour also includes a visit to the stables. Check the Spanish Riding School website for dates of the performances and tours and book early – this venue is popular with the tourists and with good reason. (srs.at)
Prater is Vienna’s playground. And it is not solely reserved for children. Located in lush woodlands of the Wiener Prater (which covers six million square meters), Prater offers more then 250 attractions. There are several spooky houses (given some are spooky, some are just silly), plenty of thrill seeking rides (including Megablitz, Space Shot, Tornado and Volare) and the latest attraction Riesenradplatz (where you can experience Vienna as it was at the turn of 20th century). If you are not into being spooked or feeling queasy but you do want to sample at least one ride make your way to Wiener Riesenrad (the giant Ferris wheel) that offers the most beautiful views of the city.
5. Danube Island
Vienna is lush with greenery. But if you fancy seeing the locals in their natural habitat head to Danube Island (Donauinsel)– an artificial island over 13 miles long, that was created at the beginning of 1970s as a part of the flood protection of the city. Danube Island is known as recreational area – you can roller blade, jog, hike, rent bikes, play beach volleyball or engage in a number of other sports activities. For visitors who like their holiday on the leisure side of things there are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep them busy. If visiting in the summer the island is host to a big open festival Donauinselfest (takes place at the end of June). (wien.gv.at, image: 2011.donauinselfest.at)
4. Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace can be found at the third district of Vienna and it is divided into four distinct parts – the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Palace Stables and the Orangery. The palace was commissioned by Prince Eugene of the Savoy in 17th century but it was not finished until 1721. The palace and its sprawling grounds are an ideal way to spend a sunny morning – at Upper Belvedere you will find the largest collection of Klimt paintings including the Kiss. At the Lower Belvedere you can take a peek at what used to be Prince Eugene’s former living quarters. The Orangery is a modern exhibition hall nowadays, while at the Palace Stables you can see an extensive Middle Ages art collection. (belvedere.at)
In a city with museums on every other corner, a museum has to have a collection that is really a show stopper in order to impress the crowds. Albertina proudly boasts a collection that will make any art lover sigh in their café Viennois. Albertina is built on what used to be one of the last remains of fortification around Vienna and it served as a palace for the Duke of Saxen-Teschen (who also founded the collection). The collection is simply huge – it includes about a million of prints and more then 65.000 drawings – and the core of it is Batliner Collection. Works are displayed on rotating basis and include works by Klee, Klimt, Chagall, Miró, Monet, Munch and Toulouse-Lautrec. There are usually other temporary exhibitions on display to accompany the permanent collection. Again, plan your time wisely as there is a lot to see and take in. (albertina.at)
2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is an integral part of the heart of Vienna. The cathedral that you can see today was built on the remains of a small church dating back to the 12th century. The tower that you can see on all of the postcards is the south tower that stands at 136 meters tall and is known as Steffi by the locals. The Cathedral also has 23 bells, 18 altars and numerous chapels that were added over time – the interior is well worth the exploration if you can spare the time. If you fancy yourself a bit of dare devil you can climb the 343 rather steep steps to the observation point and enjoy the stunning views of Vienna. Alternatively you can also tour the catacombs underneath the church that serve as final resting place for a number of Hasburgs, bishops and the founder of the church Duke Randolph. (stephanskirche.at)
1. Schönbrun Palace
Schönbrun Palace is the former summer residence of the Habsburg imperial family and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. It is considered one of the most beautiful Baroque palaces in the world and after just a short walk around the grounds it is easy to understand why – the grounds are beautifully kept and the Palace has not lost any of its allure over the centuries (the interior of the Palace is done in the Rococo style). In contrast, the living quarters of the Habsburgs are a little less lavish then the state rooms. The Blue Chinese Salon, the Room of the Millions and the Hall of Mirrors are just some of the parts of the palace you can see on your tour (there are guided tours available). If you take a stroll around the grounds, you will find the Zoo, the Palm House and Orangery. (schoenbrun.at)
by Roberta Striga