We found Vienna an impressing city to visit, filled with modern conveniences and attractions but blanketed as well with reminders of a great historical and cultural heritage. Excellent museums, palaces, gardens, architectural triumphs, remnants of ancient inhabitants, statuary, and grand cafes intermix with trendy shoppes, excellent restaurants, accessible musical venues, modern museums and sculpture, and upscale hotels to make Vienna a very attractive if not altogether safe destination for the exploring visitor. The extensive pedestrianized streets of the old city are a perambulator’s delight – lined by beautiful old buildings, populated by the young and old, filled with stores both mundane and exotic, and with the unexpected around every turn – worth every moment. With a metropolitan area of over 2.3 million, Austria’s largest city dominates the politics, economy, and culture of the country and is the EU’s 10th largest city. The center city is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Roman control of Vienna ( Vindobona ) from the 1st – 5th C displaced earlier Celtic rulers and remnants of their city can be seen in modern day excavations. After the fall, Vienna remained a small town until the margraves of Babenburg took control in the late 10th C. They would be displaced by the famed Habsburgs in the late 13th C after the battle of the Field of Mars although their control was not solidifed for more than another 150 years because of inheritance disputes and political unrest. Despite political upheaval, wars with Hungary, and religious controversy, Vienna grew under early Habsburg rule with increasing socio-economic domination and the annexation of Hungary and Bohemia. In the mid 16thC, Vienna became the capitol of the Holy Roman Empire.
Twice the city would come under siege by the Ottoman Turks, in 1529 and 1683, but survive both attacks, the second time after the Polish king Jan Sobieski and his army drove the Turks away. The city would also survive 100,000 deaths to the plague in 1679.
Interrupted only by the Napoleonic conquests and domination (1805-1815), Vienna achieved its greatest heights beginning in 1740 with the ascent of Maria Theresa and then her son Joseph II who reformed and modernized the city, encouraging the musical and art scenes. Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916) reformed the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and led Vienna to its greatest achievements in the arts and sciences, and married the modern day icon Sissi as well. Much of modern day Viennese tourist delights date to the era of the latter day Habsburg rulers. All would end with WWII and the fall of the Axis.
After more than a decade of economic and political failure, the Austrian people and government willingly became a part of Germany in 1938 and an enthusiastic partner to the crimes of the National Socialists and their Fuhrer. After WWII, the city was under joint control of the Allies and Soviet Union for ten years, then became independent by guaranteeing its perpetural neutrality. The city has regained its international politicial credibility by being home to many United Nations divisions and offices, OPEC, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Prospering financially has enabled the development of the touristic attractions and museums visited today.
Here are the best things to do in Vienna:
1. Stephansdom – St. Stephen’s Cathedral
In the heart of Vienna’s 1st district, its city centre, sits Stephansdom, a magnet that seems to draw tourists and locals alike. The streets around it and Stephansplatz itself are always busy – it is the place to meet, the place to relax, and of course for many still, the place to worship. It is also seen as the emblem of Austria and symbol of Austrian identity, as the coats of arms emblazoned in colourful tiles on its roof will testify.
There has been a church dedicated to St Stephen on this site since the middle of the 12th century, but that original building has suffered several almost total destructions and been rebuilt each time. A fire in 1258 left it in ruins and a new church was built on the foundations, which was consecrated on 23 April 1263, an event still marked each year by the ringing of the great bell, the Pummerin. During the 14th and 15th centuries the church was expanded, with choirs and transepts added, and eventually, in 1430, the old structure was removed to leave something like what we see today. The south tower was completed in 1433, and foundation for a north tower was laid in 1450, although this was abandoned when major work on the cathedral ceased in 1511. It did get finished eventually, in 1578, but to a much lower height.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral suffered severe damages due to fire during the end of WW2. This was despite the efforts of Captain Gerhard Klinkicht, leading the retreating German forces, who ignored an order to “fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and ashes” in order to preserve it. Unfortunately however local looters caused the damage that he had prevented, when fires they started in the surrounding shops spread to the cathedral – the roof collapsed, much of the structure was reduced to rubble and some of the valuable art works were lost, including some beautiful 15th century choir stalls. Others however, such as the pulpit, survived, protected by brick walls built for the purpose. Rebuilding began immediately and took just seven years; Vienna’s emblem had risen once more from the ashes.
Today a visit here is a must if you want to sense something of the Viennese character and pride in their history. The first thing to strike most visitors is the unusual ornate and richly coloured roof, covered with 230,000 glazed tiles. On the south side these form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle symbolic of the Habsburg while on the north side the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria are depicted. The best way to see these is to go up the towers.
But at ground level there is also much to admire. Outside the walls are adorned with a large number of memorials, carvings and other details to attract the camera, and the great doors.
Look out too for the large “O5” symbol carved in the wall to the right of the entrance – the 5 was intended to represent an E and therefore “OE” = “Ö” = “Österreich”, that is Austria. The symbol is nowadays under protective glass.
The interior is beautiful and full of interest too of course. The 17th century marble high altar has a painting depicting the stoning of St Stephen, the cathedral’s patron saint. He is flanked by a number of local saints (Leopold, Florian, Sebastian and Rochus) while above him St Mary points the way to heaven (St Stephen was the first Christian martyr).
Elsewhere look out for the Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave, with a beautifully carved and gilded triptych (only open on Sundays and feast days), and the stunning gothic pulpit. If you want to really take in everything here, rent an audio guide or join one of the regular guided tours.
It is best to visit at the following times if you want to avoid church services and be able to look all over the cathedral:
Monday to Saturday: 9.00 – 11.30 and 13.00 – 16.30.
Sundays and Public Holidays: 13.00 – 16.30.
You can access certain parts, around the sides, without paying, but entry to most of it entails paying a small fee. You pay extra for the catacombs and towers and if you want an audio guide.
Alternatively you can of course attend a Mass, without charge (though I hope you would make a donation in the collection!). On a Sunday morning the main service, at 10.15, has music arranged by the cathedral’s music section and advertised in advance on the website. We went and heard beautiful singing of a mass by Schubert which was also being broadcast on national radio.
2. Belvedere Palace & Gardens
Each time I’m in Vienna I like to reach the majestic wrought iron gates at the Gürtel Landstrasse and from there to start a walk downwards: first through the Alpengarten on the right side of the so nice ornamental pond, surrounded by flower beds, around the Palace and then the terrace leading to the Belvedere Garten and finally the Lower Belvedere.
The Baroque palace complex was built between 1712 and 1723 as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy with Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as the chief architect.
I think it is a real architectural success if you look at the Palace from the upper side as well as from the lower side.
In 1897 the Upper Belvedere was modified by the architect Emil von Förster so that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of Emperor Franz-Josef, could live here with his wife Sophie. Both were assassinated in June 1914 at Sarajevo what started WWI and its 15 million deaths. It is difficult to remember this when admiring the peaceful great water basin in the upper parterre and the stairs and cascades peopled by nymphs and goddesses that links upper and lower parterres.
Note that when you walk down the terraces the exit is on the right by the portico of the Lower Belvedere palace (free toilets inside) on the Ringstrasse.
3. Hofburg Palace Complex
The Hofburg was the residence of the Habsburg dynasty for over 600 years. It was from here that they reigned from the 13th century onwards – at first as rulers of Austria alone, but from 1452 as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and then from 1806 until the end of the monarchy in 1918 as emperors of Austria again. Thus it has been home at times to some of the most powerful people in Europe. Today it is the official residence of the country’s president. Although it presents quite a uniform, symmetrical face, it is unsurprising that the building has been much developed, added to, reconstructed and generally fiddled with over the centuries, starting with a square medieval castle, parts of which still sit at its core, and ending with the so-called Neue Burg (New Castle). This was to have been part of a much larger building project, the Imperial Forum, which was intended to include also two museums (the Kunsthistorisches [art history] and Naturhistorisches [natural history] Museums) which would be linked by the forum to the Palace. The museums were built, and the Neue Burg, but a combination of a lack of funding, and uncertainty as to the purpose of the new building that was to have connected them, led to it being abandoned. Not a bad thing – the space it was to have occupied is now Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square), a lovely green square surrounded by some of the elegant buildings of the palace and graced with statues of Archduke Charles of Austria and Prince Eugene of Saxony. A number of significant historical events took place here, but as the most notable of these was Hitler’s speech to announce the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany, which happened on 15 March 1938. We might prefer not to dwell on this.
Instead let’s focus on my own favourite part, the late 19th century Michaelertrakt (the St Michael Wing, named after the church it faces). Its graceful curve is broken by a grand archway, either side of which a series of sculptural groups tell the story of the labours of Hercules (the work of Italian sculptor Lorenzo Mattielli). The structure is surmounted by a striking central green dome 50 metres (164 feet) high, two smaller ones ornament the ends, there are eagles, trumpeting angels, statuesque figures and coats of arms – and the whole is fabulously Viennese!
On a future trip to Vienna I hope to find the time to go inside to see the Imperial Apartments once occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth, and the Sisi Museum devoted to the personal effects of the Empress Elizabeth such as parasols, gloves, travelling medical chest, games case, a wash set, jewellery and replica costumes. There is also an impressive-sounding silver collection.
The sprawling complex also houses the Austrian National Library, the famous Riding School (in the former Imperial Stables) and a number of other museums including collections of arms and armour and of musical instruments.
4. Schönbrunn Palace
I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but Schönbrunn is to Vienna what Versailles is to Paris. Back in the 16th century, the Imperial family acquired this piece of land located about 8 km (5 miles) away from Vienna, fenced it in, and for a long time it was used as recreation and hunting grounds by the Habsburgs. Schönbrunn Palace was then built in the mid-18th century and it became the official summer residence of the Imperial court (as opposed to Hofburg Palace, which was their winter residence). A total of 40 rooms are now open to the public, including the private appartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and those of his wife Elizabeth (Sissi). Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside the palace so I can’t share with you all the beauty and splendor of the rooms decorated in a Rococo style – suffice it to say that they are worthy of the family that ruled over Austria for more than 600 years!
Unless you’re really pressed for time, you should definitely buy a ticket that allows you to go on the Grand Tour (you don’t get to see as much on the Imperial Tour). You can pay a bit more to go on a guided tour, but I thought the free audioguide was quite informative and easy to listen to. Schönbrunn Palace is open daily (check the website for opening hours) and tickets for the Grand Tour cost 13.50 Euros.
A visit to Schönbrunn wouldn’t be complete without a walk around its lovely grounds, which have actually been open to the public since 1779. Empress Maria Teresa was largely responsible for having the gardens landscaped into their present form during the second half of the 18th century. They aren’t as big as those at Versailles, but they do offer a nice variety of attractions, including a maze, a small zoo (which happens to be the oldest zoo in the world), a rose garden, a Japanese garden, an obelisk, some (fake) Roman ruins, and an old palm house built to grow exotic plants. The area that stretches in front of the palace is called the Great Parterre, and it leads to the beautiful Neptune Fountain. Another important feature of the Schönbrunn gardens is the Gloriette built in 1775 on top of the hill that faces the palace. It houses a small cafe and you can get a beautiful view of the palace and surrounding grounds from its rooftop terrace.
The gardens are open to visitors free of charge every day of the year (check the website for opening hours), although there are some extra fees charged to see some of the attractions (maze, palm house, Gloriette terrace). The Vienna zoo is also operated separately from the palace.
5. Karlskirche – St Charles Church
Master of the Baroque in Vienna, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach looked to Ancient Rome and Renaissance Rome for the elements that he so skillfully combined in 1715 to create Karlskirche (the Church of St. Charles).
To give thanks to God for delivering Vienna from plague that swept the city in 1713, Emperor Karl VI made a vow to build a church dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo. As Archbishop of Milan Our Saint had ministered to those sick and dying of plague in his city in 1576.
The two free-standing front columns are decorated with scenes from Our Saint’s life. The left column shows his steadfastness, the right illustrates his courage. Both were inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome. The triangular pediment and columns of the front porch are designed after Rome’s Pantheon. And the dramatic green copper, 236-foot (72 meters) high dome pays homage to St. Peter’s; Karlskirche is a landmark on the Viennese skyline.
The Angel of the Old Testament is to the left of the front steps; the Angel of the New Testament stands to the right.
This church is quite visible, standing as it does outside the narrow quarters of the center of the city, with land surrounding it, its many splendid elements can be better appreciated.
On the high altar, San Carlo is assumed into Heaven with hosts of angels to guide his way. He is the patron of apple orchards, catechists, seminarians, and starch makers; he’s invoked against stomachaches and ulcers.
Now here’s a thought: the same artist, Lorenzo Mattielli, who created this masterpiece also carved those rock-hard muscular Hercules in front of the Michaelertrakt!
6. Wiener Staatsoper – State Opera House
Vienna’s majestic state opera house was built during the 1860s. Opening night took place on May 25, 1869, when Mozart’s Don Giovanni was performed in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth (Sissi). The building itself failed to impress the people of Vienna when it was completed. Its location and Neo-Renaissance style weren’t deemed grandiose enough for the city that was known all over the world for its talented composers. The building was almost completely destroyed when it was hit by a bomb during World War II; although there were talks at the time of starting over in a new location instead of restoring the building, people came to see the restoration of the state opera house as a symbol of the city’s recovery. Work was completed 1955, and the first post-war performance took place on November 5, featuring Beethoven’s Fidelio.
I must admit that I was a bit put off by the number of people near the opera house who were trying to sell us tickets to a performance. It somehow seemed to reduce this cultural institution into a cheap showbusiness experience. For that reason, we didn’t stick around too long after having walked around the building to admire its architecture (I especially enjoyed Gasser’s fountains, one representing music, dance and joy, the other tragic love, grief and revenge). But for those interested, guided tours are offered at fixed hours, just check the website for more info.
Other than wanting a say in the size of their loft extensions or shape and situation of their sun lounges, most people will not profess to being interested in ‘architecture’ per se. However, a trip to this beautiful city is a truly uplifting experience for anyone who loves fine buildings. But should you find yourself suffering from an overkill of grandeur – and I can’t say I do! – a stroll though central Vienna to Lowengasse should change all that! Hunderwasser Haus is an extraordinary example of a dream made reality. In 1985 Friedensreich Hundertwasser succeeded in making the surreal real, and managed to build what most people thought was impossible: a block of flats that people would fight to live in!
It’s almost impossible to describe in words. Let’s simply say that any lover of straight parallel lines probably ought to steer clear! One word of note – being a real, lived-in block a flats, it is a free show, and being stared at on a daily basis is the price the residents obviously (willingly?) have to pay. At the same time, I think it’s only fair to show a little bit of respect for the key holders whilst brandishing your camera in the search for that perfect photo opportunity.
The adjacent themed shopping arcade is depressingly touristy but you can get food, postcards if you need to, etc. The most amusing thing is the ‘Toilet of Modern Art’. Personally, I did enjoy the Hundertwasser building, used toilet in the arcade basement (money needed) and then walked a few streets further to Unter Weissgerbestrasse where I did find the official Hundertwasser museum – the Kunsthaus. It’s 9 Eur for adults, has an art exhibition, an architecture exhibition and a superbly good cafe/restaurant.
8. Kunsthistorisches Museum – History Museum
The central hall of the KMH can be considered a work of art simply for its beauty. All marble, covered in stucco and gold leaf, and dominated by a huge staircase and the octagonal dome, this is indeed a room worth studying. The great fresco on the ceiling above the grand staircase is by the Hungarian realist Munkacsy (1888). The cupola of the dome is visible in entirety only from the second level and has two layers of features – the lowermost has relief busts of the Habsburg emperors and the upper level coats of arms and monograms of the Hapsburg family and individual important ruling members. Between the ground and second levels a central hole in the ceiling allows one to look up from ground level to the top. On the second floor under the dome an expensive and posh cafe offers goodies and coffee, apparently becoming an upscale restaurant at night after the museum closes. Must be quite a venue. At the landing of the great staircase an oversized sculpture documents Theseus Slaying the Centaur Bianor. Note at the foot of the staircase the lions – they hold the Habsburg coat of arms.
THESEUS SLAYING THE CENTAUR – the amazing Theseus, son of Aegeus the king of Athens, had a remarkable career including killing the Minotaur and preventing the Amazons from attacking Athens. He is most famous for killing Bianor the Centaur and saving Hippodamia, the bride of his friend Pirithous king of the Lapiths, from being kidnapped.
The fourth largest collection of paintings in the world exemplifies the Habsburg craze for fine artwork as well as antiquities. The museum strong points are 16th and 17th C masterworks from Northern Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium with a special emphasis on Flemish painters. It is not a coincidence that these were the lands ruled by the Habsburgs during this period, of course. The old master’s museum is divided into sections corresponding to the countries mentioned.
As in most museums, the truly famous works of art are interspersed with lesser efforts and, in this museum where signage is almost exclusively German, a good guide book is necessary to lead one through the central larger rooms and smaller peripheral rooms in a logical order so that the work emanating from each country is viewed as a unit. Even with a guide the room layout and numbering is confusing – considerable great art is bypassed unintentionally.
9. Wiener Riesenrad – Giant Ferris Wheel
One part of the Prater is a big recreation park (till the beginning of the 20th century it was a hunting area), with a lot of green space and forest. Many people do sports there, for example running, roller skating, or are just sunbathing. There is a riding school as well. Since the 1920ies a little train is going through the Prater, the nostalgic “Liliputbahn”. The ticket costs EUR 3,50 (EUR 2,20 for children under 12, free for children under 2) and it is great fun.
One of the main attractions in the Prater is of course the amusement park, which is called “Wurstelprater”. It was pretty shabby in the 90ties, now it is well kept again and a nice place for adults and for kids to spend for example a Sunday afternoon. There is no general entrance fee to the amusement park, but they charge directly at the attractions. Tickets cost between EUR 1,50 – EUR 15,00 (for the ejection seat- you sit in kind of a big ball and are catapulted up in the air- only for the ones with nerves of steel. Apart from some scary attractions like the “space shot” you’ll find roller coasters, haunted houses, carrousels, racing circuits, gambling houses, pony riding for kids and a lot more. Here you’ll find the famous giant ferris wheel as well, which is Vienna’s landmark. The ticket costs EUR 7,50 for adults and EUR 3,00 for kids between 3 and 14. Watch out for reduced combination tickets, for example Liliputbahn and giant ferris wheel or Donauturm and giant ferris wheel.
Last but not least, the most famous restaurant in the Prater, the large “Schweizerhaus” should be mentioned. It is always packed with people, so if you come with a larger group you should reserve a table, especially during the weekend. They have a large beer garden where you can enjoy a Budweiser beer and the traditional rear knuckle of pork (so called “Stelze” which usually weighs 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) and costs EUR 20,00).
Pratermuseum is located close to the Giant ferris wheel, in the same building as the Planetarium. It is a small museum. The entrance costs EUR 2 for adults, on Sundays the entrance is free. Actually I found it very interesting, you can see old photos of the Prater and of the people “performing” there in former times, figures of carousels, placards and a lot of funny memorabilia. You can even see the suit of a giant or a soothsaying-machine, which tells about your future spouse. Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the 19th century theme park “Venedig in Wien”- Venice style buildings and canals where you could go for a gondola ride- this part of the Prater was unfortunately destroyed during WWII. Unfortunately the descriptions are in German only. They are open from Tuesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; on weekends from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
10. Prater Park
The Prater in Vienna is possibly the largest park within the city of Vienna and is where the Viennese go for recreation. Today it is a place to enjoy the Danube, the Prater’s many attractions, and a bit of Vienna’s wilder side (reference to it’s past as a former hunting ground).
The Prater in Vienna was first mentioned in a document as natural preserve in 1403. The Volksprater is one of the oldest leisure parks in Europe. Three major but very distinct parts have always made the Prater very special: the Grüner Prater park with a large number of sports facilities, the Volksprater with its many attractions, and the area shopping area.
In April 1766, Joseph II opened the Prater for the Viennese citizens, and it became a recreational area with restaurants and cafés. In particular, the cafés with their culinary and artistic offerings attracted large crowds of people. For centuries the Prater used to be one of the main culinary meeting places in Vienna but has almost lost that importance today. From the mid-18th century through today, the Volksprater, has been a major meeting point with cultural events, vaudeville shows, concerts, theatre plays, liesurely strolls, and good food for the Viennese. The first and only World Exhibition in Vienna took place at the Prater in 1873.
In 1897, the Riesenrad or Ferris Wheel (might be the oldest in the world) and the roller coaster were established in the Volksprater which has always followed the latest trends and fashions and responded to the public taste. The Riesenrad is 65m (213ft) high and weighs nearly 430 metric tonnes with all its steel. It rotates very slowly allowing passengers plenty of time to enjoy the view from the top. The amusement park is filled with all sorts of rides, gaming booths, and food vendors. A fun time for all! No entrance fee is required, you only pay for the rides you decide to try out. The hours of operation for the Riesenrad and for the park itself continue until quite late.
This former village was incorporated into the municipality of Vienne in 1892 and has retained its typical character as a winegrower’s village. Much of the picturesque and suggestive primitive part of the village dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. According to an ancient privilege, grape pickers can pour their wine to drink into their pubs, especially if it is the Heuriger “new wine”, no older than 1 year.
12. Art Nouveau – Jugendstil
Of all the Art Nouveau buildings in Vienna this is probably the most unusual. Approaching, it looks more like a mosque or temple with the huge golden dome. This striking feature is an intricately wrought globe of gilded bronze laurel leaves, known somewhat irreverently as the ‘golden cabbage’ by the locals. The building was completed in 1898 and was the headquarters of the artists in the Secessionist movement. Outside, in a plethora of decorative features, Klimt’s door with writhing snake handles is probably the most beautiful.
Inside there is an upstairs hall which houses temporary exhibitions and downstairs in the basement is the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. This wonderful piece of art is on permanent display but sadly I can make no observations on it as I didn’t get inside to check it out. To my absolute fury I forgot that it was there and only remebered on the plane coming home. Perhaps I have here an excuse to visit Vienna for the third time !
Flower Power:The Majolikahaus
Very close to Karlsplatz and the Naschmarkt, on Linke Wienzeile, are two of Otto Wagner’s other most famous buildings. Right next to each other at nos. 38 and 40 they were part of Wagner’s plan to transform the whole route to Schonbrun into a sort of Art Nouveau Ringstrasse. Both buildings have ground floors which are in commercial use and clearly seperate from the residential floors over head. No 38 is more low-key with gold palm leaves and medallions but no 40 is much more striking. The tiles it is clad with are hard-wearing majolica – hence the name, Majolika House. On these reddish/pink tiles Wagner designed an elaborate flower/tree/vine motif and it is this that gives the house its freshness and charm.
Art Nouveau in Karlsplatz. Wagner Pavillion
The most outstanding feature in Karlsplatz, apart from Karlskirche is the bijou, green, gold and white pavillion by Otto Wagner. Wagner designed the city transit railway stations and the finest are these two at Karlsplatz (1898) and the one at Schonbrunn. The pavillion is a very fine example of secessionist architecture and the details on it are well worth examining. Flowers, leaves and loads of gilding break up the rather dull green. Unfortunately, the Pavillion is only open from April to October so I could only see it from outside. Opening hours in season are from 9 am- 6 pm daily except Monday.
Clocking In: Ankerhur
Leaving Judenplatz and moving closer to Stepansdom, you come to the Hoher market . This square was once the centre of the Roman camp at Vienna but now it’s a messy mishmash of cars and office buildings. It does have one fairly stunning feature though: the Ankerhur clock. This is a massive piece of tick-tockery and joins two buildings of the Anker insurance company. It’s dark green and gold, designed in Jugendstil by Franz Matsch in 1914. Every hour a figure moves across the clock but the big show is at noon. This reminded me very much of the glocken-und-figurenspiel displays I had seen in Germany and I was determined to be there. However we lingered too long in Judenplatz and arrived just in time to see Joseph Haydn bringing up the rear. The full quota consists of 12 figures who move across the clock rather slowly, accompanied by organ music. A pleasant diversion, worth seeing if you’re in the area.
13. Kärntner Straße
The Kärntner Strasse in Vienna has been around since the Roman Age when it was used as an important connection from the city center to the city wall. Most of the buildings were destroyed during WWII, so not many historic ones are left.
It was in this area, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart passed away in the year 1791.
This is a pedestrian street – I really love these, as it gives me a chance to look at the buildings and shops without being run over! The street has a real mix of historical buildings, traditional shops, souvenir shops and stylish designer stores.
One of the first buildings I saw and liked was Palace Esterhazy, where a branch of the Casinos Austria is located in its historic rooms. An important Hotel on the street, is the Hotel Sacher which is styled like a renaissance palace. Prominent people stay here in one of the suites named after Operas.
Look-out for Steffl Department store – (house number 19) as you can take a panoramic elevator to the cafe and restaurant of the Sky-Bar. Views are over the Stephansdom.
Swarovski (house number 24) – Over 3 floors, you can have look at the impressing presentation of the broad range of the Swarovski crystal assortment.
I found a shop with Cow ornaments which I loved, and one with pottery figurines which were quite expensive, but cute! This is the main shopping area in District 2, so come for the look.
14. Spanische Reitschule – Spanish Riding School
The Imperial Stables were first built in the 16th century as a royal residence for Maximillian II. Towards the end of the 18th century, the residence was transformed to house the Imperial art collection and it was then converted into stables that have very little in common with those we have at my family’s ranch. The Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School, which was founded in 1572 and is thus the oldest of its kind in the world, are housed in stables located on the first floor of a beautiful three-storey courtyard. The school’s 68 stallions receive classical training and perform at the Hofburg’s indoor Winter Riding School arena, located across the street from the Stallburg. Although before 1918 the horses used to perform exclusively to guests of the court, the general public can now attend both performances and training sessions. Tours of the facilities are also offered.
15. Stadtpark – City Park
The Vienna City Park was inaugurated in 1862. It is the link between the city centre and the 3rd district, and is an excellent stopping point when visiting the city. The promenade was designed by architects F. Ohmann and L. Hackhofer in 1906 in an Art Nouveau style, in the same way as the small buildings scattered throughout the park. But what makes the Stadtpark’s world reputation is above all the small golden statue of Johann Strauss son (dating from 1921), a true star of his time, composer, in particular, of the Blue Danube.
16. Donau – Danube – Donau-Auen & Donauturm
The 252 meters (827 feet) tall Donauturm is worth a visit for great views over the city and the region.
The easiest way to get there is on the U-bahn, the red line U1. You can get off at Kaisermühlen (Vienna International Centre) and catch the bus 20B : come out of the U-bahn station, turn right and the bus stop is directly opposite on the other side of the road. Wait till the bus goes past Alte Donau U-bahn stop and get off at the second stop after that. The tower is on the other side of the park on the left, you can’t get lost as you can see it from everywhere!
If you want to take the U-bahn directly to Alte Donau and walk, it’s only about ten minutes. Come out of the station and turn right. The park is on the left and as soon as you see the tower you can start walking towards it.
We took the bus there (we got lucky, the bus was just at the stop when we got out of the train) and were going to take the bus back as well but when we got to the stop we noticed the bus only goes once an hour. This was the last day of May- the new summer, more frequent timetable starts on June 1st.
But as it was only the ten minute walk back to Alte Donau it wasn’t a problem.
The revolving restaurant (it takes 39 minutes to go round once and it does shake a bit when it’s windy so if you get seasick it’s not a good idea) up there is pricey but the food was good. We had a couple of glasses of wine/beer, the main course and a sweet each, the bill was just over 60 Euros.
The cost of the lift to get up to the viewing platform and restaurant was 4.40 Euros with the Viennacard discount. The normal price is 5.50. Pensioners and Students pay 4.40 as well.
On the ground there is a beisl style restaurant next door and a gift shop in the tower.
You can also bungee jump, it’s the highest in the world no less, if you’re feeling adventurous!
17. Kaisergruft – Imperial Crypt
In the Imperial Crypt, which lies below the Capuchin Church on Neuer Markt Square, 149 Habsburgs have found their final resting place since 1633. Members of the former ruling Austrian dynasty are buried in the crypt. In 2011, former Crown Prince and politician Otto of Habsburg was buried there.
18. Austrian Parliament Building
An Imperial Commission under Emperor Franz Joseph I decided in 1857 that the building’s style should be classical and choose classical Greek architecture as appropriate for the Parliament, since the ideal of democracy is connected to the Ancient Greeks.
Democracy under the Empire was a more difficult task than to build (architect Baron von Hansen) a construction inspired by the Zappeion in Athens.
Indeed in 1867 with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, Hungary obtained autonomy and the Empire became the kaiserliche und königliche Monarchie Österreich-Ungarn (Austro-Hungarian monarchy or k.u.k. Monarchy) also called Doppelmonarchie.
Can you imagine that Emperor and King Franz Joseph I reigned over a multinational realm comprising modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, large parts of Serbia and Romania and smaller parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine with 12 official languages! Emperor Franz Joseph spoke German, Hungarian and Czech fluently, and Polish and Italian to some degree.
All these ethnies were not really in love with each other. For example Hungary and Austria had separate parliaments. Furthermore there were political struggles between conservatives and liberals.
The dual monarchy dissolved on 31 October 1918. Austria and Hungary became republics. But this is the start of another story.
The building housed the first form of a parliamentary system for much of the people of Central Europe and is a success of the 19th century Classic revival.
The fact that the statue of Athena has her back turned to the building was explained by a joke: the Goddess was disgusted by the political infighting at the parliament!
There are public guided tours for individual visitors in both English and German language from Monday to Saturday at specific times.
No prior appointment is necessary.
I absolutely loved the Naschmarkt. It’s a huge market near the city centre which is open daily except on Sundays. You will find everything you need here, from nice eateries to exotic fruit, from soap to spices or sunglasses. The smells and colours here are amazing! I especially liked all the spices sold here. Sooo colourful and nice!
Please note that the goods get more expensive the closer to town you get. At the market’s end at Kettenbrückengasse you get the cheap stuff (clothes and food). At the other end there are the fancy fish stalls and even the vegetables are more expensive than on the other side.
One lane of the two lanes of the market is full of food stalls, in the other one there are cafes in little containers which serve great food and drinks. Nice atmosphere there!
One warning: The first time we visited was on a Friday early afternoon. It wasn’t too crowded so we walked over the market and really enjoyed it here. The only thing which made me crazy were the pushy salesmen which started to talk to you at every booth you passed by. When we came back on a Saturday around noon the market was so packed with people that it took ages to walk through. All these people really made me aggressive. Better not visit when it’s too busy (if you have a choice that is!).
20. Votivkirche – Votive Church
Assassination attempts on the Kaiser Franz-Joseph or members of his family can lead to the construction of a nice church, a successful example of neo-gothic like here, when they fail like the one of 18 February 1853 but can also lead with the assassination in Sarajevo (Serbia) in 1914 of his nephew Franz Ferdinand to World War I and its 15 million deaths! (ref. the Heeresgeschitliches Museum – Military history museum). Entering the church I could not avoid this comparison.
It’s something surprising for me, being used to live in country with many gothic churches and city halls (same can be said for Germany and France) that Vienna, once capital of a mighty empire, has only two monumental gothic churches: a “real” one, St-Stephens, and this neo-gothic Votivkirche which actually dominates the landscape of the west of Vienna with its two high spires at 99m (325ft) but much lower than the Stephansdom South tower at 136m (446ft).
It took 23 years to build the church. The homogeneity of the design is due to the fact that architect Heinrich von Ferstel was only 26 when he started and could supervise the whole construction, what was not the case with the cathedrals of the Middle ages with several generations of builders. The inspiration is that of French Gothic with a search for height so that the church is often mistaken by tourists as originally Gothic.
Since about ten years the church is undergoing restoration works. Snow was entering by the roof! It needed some 145.000 slates from South America and Germany to cover the roof area of approximately 3.800 square meters (41.000 square feet). This decoration is similar to that of the Stephansdom.
These works are planned for another ten years. Photos are therefore often showing scaffolding and canvas on some parts.
21. Schönbrunn Zoo
Tiergarten Schönbrunn is the world’s oldest zoo, built in 1752 and located on the property of the Schönbrunn Palace. It was ordered built by Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, founder of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. The zoo has a very interesting history, going through prosperous times and tough times through the World Wars.
The zoo is home to approximately 750 animals, the biggest draw certainly being the giant panda family, Yang Yang, Long Hui, and Fu Long. This zoo is one of the few zoos in the world with giant pandas. The baby panda was the first non artificial insemination panda born in Europe. Other animals at the zoo include koalas, elephants, giraffes, penguins, rhinos, and many more.
Aside from the animals, the zoo itself is very nice to look at, with Imperial buildings, greenery, statues and a couple of fountains inside. There is a little train that goes around the whole grounds of the Palace and through the zoo. Cost for the train is 2 Euros for adults and 1 Euro for children.
There is also a good restaurant at the zoo with reasonable prices and a good selection, located in the old Imperial breakfast room.
Admission to the zoo is 12 Euros for adults, 5 Euros for children 6 to 18 and seniors, and free for children under 5. There are also combination tickets you can buy that include the Palm House, Desert House, and giant ferris wheel.
At the end of the Graben, you reach the Kohlmarkt. This street, now very chic, is named after the city’s former coal market and leads to Michaelerplatz and the Imperial Palace (Hofburg). On this square we can see Roman ruins exhumed during the last redevelopment of the square. You can also admire the Saint-Michael church (Michaelekirche), a sober and majestic church with both white and gold tones. In the nave, Georg von Liechtenstein’s tombstone dates back to 1548. Opposite the Hofburg, observe the Loos Haus, this green building built by Adolf Loos that Emperor Franz Joseph could not stand.
23. Katholische Kirche St. Peter
I must confess that on my visits of Vienna, churches were not “things to see” that made me jump of enthusiasm on the contrary of some monuments and especially the content of several museums.
Probably that after visiting the churches of Krakow and more recently revisiting the churches of Rome I found that Wien capital of the Habsbourg Empire is under doing in the field of monumental churches. I wrote it already here; I’m not “begeistert” by the Stephansdom and the Karlskirche left me with perplexity.
Actually this Baroque church (from 1708 by Lukas von Hildebrand) looks rather small from outside especially from the Graben passing at only 50m (164ft) from the front but she is harmonious. It’s difficult to imagine that the original Roman church goes back to the 4th c. meaning that this is the most ancient church of Vienna. The Baroque interior has been renovated in 2001-04 so that it is shining gold, silver and bright colors everywhere.
Fans of Bernini or Borromini might regret the Italian Baroque but for me in Wien it is my favorite church, which does not mean that the St-Peterskirche is top 1 of the Baroque style in my opinion. It is certainly an agreeable place where to sit down and look around detailing the various works of art.
After sitting on the ornate pews, I looked around and my attention was caught by the pulpit of Matthias Steindl (1716) with its numerous gilded sculptures. The parapet shows the young Jesus teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem. On the sounding board is a representation of the Trinity. Somewhat excessive but one has to get used.
On the right and opposite the pulpit is a spectacular and dramatic sculpture group in gold and silver by Lorenzo Mattielli (1729). I had seen this scene somewhere but didn’t remember. Actually its depicts the martyr St. John Nepomuk being thrown off the Charles Bridge in Prague and is one of the well known statues standing on that bridge.
Spectacular are also the reliquary shrines containing the bones of two martyrs found in the Roman catacombs and brought to Vienna in 1733 by a cardinal and clothed like usual at that time.
If you turn towards the back of the church you will see a very beautiful Baroque organ.
There are often organ concerts in the evening. They are mostly free but it is usual to leave a gift for the restoration of organ and church.
24. Zentralfriedhof – Central Cemetary
On a sunny day, don’t hesitate to visit this immense cemetery of easy access by tram 71 from the centre. Presently as the underground line U3 has been extended till Simmering it is shorter to take the U3 to Enkplatz and then tram 6 or 71 to Stop Zentralfriedhof Tor 2.
The graves of the famous “Musiker” are easy to find, to the left in the big central lane which leads to the church Karl Lueger.
When I arrived at the grave of Schubert, my favourite musician, there was a small group of very noisy tourists and to add to the noise a lawn mower was touring around the graves.
The ideal circumstances for a dialogue “d’outre tombe” with Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Straus were obviously not reunited so that I made a tour of the monumental “bourgeois” graves along the main lane reading some epitaphs.
I so discovered a very beautiful grave of a person who was a hairdresser in Vienna. He had to be an illustrious hairdresser given the magnificence of his tomb.
I said to myself that it was financially better to be a hairdresser in Vienna than a musician. Mozart will not contradict me.
When the group of tourists and the lawn mower had disappeared I could walk back to the graves of the “Musiker” and honour the memory of these creators of beauty.
25. Naturhistorisches Museum – NHM
We had planned a two hours visit but at noon we had only seen the upper ground floor (Hochparterre) of the museum and came back in the afternoon (the ticket is valid for the whole day). It is not surprising as the display halls cover nearly 8.700 m2 (94.000 sqft).
The NHM Vienna is one of the largest natural history museums of Europe. It is located in the imposing building Maria Theresien-platz opposite the KHM.
The collection was started around 1750 by Emperor Franz I, the husband of Maria-Theresia, and did from the start answer scientific criteria. Expansion continued first in the field of mineralogy by Ignaz von Born – it is said that this scientist and freemason inspired Mozart for Sarastro of the Magic Flute – later from overseas expeditions with the participation, among others, of Alexander von Humboldt.
The collections became so important (presently there are 20 million objects) that Emperor Franz Joseph decided the construction of this museum by the same architects as the KHM. The NHM opened in 1889.
- Featured image: Gryffindor [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Stephansdom – St. Stephen’s Cathedral: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Wien, Stephansdom — 2018 — 3303” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Belvedere Palace & Gardens: Ignaz Wiradi [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. Hofburg Palace Complex: Jorge Láscar from Australia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Schönbrunn Palace: Jebulon [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Karlskirche – St Charles Church: The original uploader was Ranzpeter at German Wikipedia.(Original text: Angelo Laub) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Wiener Staatsoper – State Opera House: Carlos Delgado [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Hundertwasserhaus: Paasikivi [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Kunsthistorisches Museum – History Museum: Adriaen van Ostade [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Wiener Riesenrad – Giant Ferris Wheel: Robert F. Tobler [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. Prater Park: Jebulon [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Grinzing: Martin Furtschegger [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Art Nouveau – Jugendstil: Txllxt TxllxT [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Kärntner Straße: Gugerell [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Spanische Reitschule – Spanish Riding School: David Monniaux
- 15. Stadtpark – City Park: © Benoît Prieur / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Donau – Danube – Donau-Auen & Donauturm: Robert F. Tobler [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Kaisergruft – Imperial Crypt: Kenyh Cevarom [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Austrian Parliament Building: MrPanyGoff [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Naschmarkt: BPARiedl [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Votivkirche – Votive Church: Liybov [CC BY-SA 3.0 at], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Schönbrunn Zoo: Alexander Leisser [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Michaelerplatz: Gugerell [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Katholische Kirche St. Peter: Mister No [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Zentralfriedhof – Central Cemetary: aconcagua [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Naturhistorisches Museum – NHM: © Hubertl / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons