Few cities in the world contain as many beautiful and historic attractions as Vienna, the capital of Austria. The city’s benign rulers – the Hapsburgs – married their way into empires and amassed great wealth in the process, the results of which can still be seen throughout Vienna.
The entire city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bisected by the blue Danube –and blue it is – this multifaceted city has enough historical highlights and stunning landmarks to rival Paris. Once the home of celebrated musicians such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms, the city is also known for its musical and operatic prowess.
Today Vienna welcomes more than 15 million visitors every year, each keen to enjoy its magnificent architecture, numerous museums and thriving performing arts scene.
Vienna’s main sights are concentrated within the Ringstrasse and can easily be walked between on foot. Start your tour at the heart of the city; St Stephansplatz. Here you’ll find the spiky cathedral, St Stephansdom, its roof covered with bright colours and geometric patterns. A short walk from the square is the pedestrianised Graben, full of towering buildings and luxury shops. Continue along the Graben, past the 300-year old marble and gold Pestsäule fountain. From here, catch a glimpse of the baroque St Peterskirche before heading left along Kohlmarkt. The street culminates in the circular Michaelerplatz, dominated by the Spanish Riding School. Equally notable is the unmistakable scent of the school’s numerous Lipizzaner stallions.
An archway through the façade of the riding school opens up into the courtyard of the Hofburg Palace, which in turn leads on to Heldenplatz, or Heroes Square, the outer plaza adjacent to the Neue Hofburg. Prepare to spend some time wandering though the treasury and the Imperial apartments; they are truly incredible.
Walk through the outer castle gate and over the Burgring to Maria-Theresien Platz. This square is bordered by the imposing Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art History and the contemporary MuseumsQuartier.
Finally, proceed north along the Burgring. Within a short distance you’ll see the elegant Grecian Parliament building, the Gothic city hall, the Burgtheater (Austria’s National Theatre) and the twin turrets of the neo-Gothic Votive Church.
Take a whirl around Viennese cuisine with delightful desserts; Vienna is world-famous for its fine cakes and pastries. Visit the Innerstadt’s Sacher Hotel to try its eponymous Sachertorte. A chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and served with whipped cream, the dessert has been a favourite since 1832.
Austrian cuisine shares many similarities with German food and is generally hearty. Vienna is known for its Wiener Schnitzel, a veal cutlet which has been pounded flat, breaded and fried, while other examples of Viennese cuisine include Tafelspitz (boiled beef, fried mashed potatoes and horseradish sauce) and Wiener Saftgulasch, a Viennese hotpot version of the Hungarian soup. Head to Naschmarket for some pleasant midrange options, or the restaurant district north of Stephansplatz.
If you’re looking for street food then stop at one of the many Würstelstands. These serve sausages (known as Wieners to Americans and Frankfurters to Germans) served ‘mit Brot’ (with bread) or inserted lengthways into a hot dog roll and slathered with sweet or spicy mustard: they are delicious and highly portable.
Vienna is known for its coffee culture, and the city is dotted with traditional coffee houses serving coffee and torten (cake). In the evenings the Viennese flock to the city’s famous Heurigen: family-run vineyard bars where you can enjoy the cloudy, partially-fermented and lower alcohol ‘new wine’ Sturm, or the finished product, Grüner Veltliner. The wine is often drunk as a Spritzer (G'spritzter) with sparkling water. Alternatively, visit Vienna's bar scene in the ‘Bermuda Triangle’, an area bordered by Judengasse, Seitenstättengasse Rabensteig and Franz-Josefs-Kai. You'll find everything from quiet pubs to large DJ bars.
Three hours by train from Vienna is Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart and the 1965 film ‘The Sound of Music’. Wedged between two mountains and divided by the ice blue River Salzach, Salzburg’s beautiful Alpine setting is accentuated by its ancient architecture and the Old Town has been justly designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a trip to the hilltop medieval Hohensalzburg castle, a 900-year old military fortress which dominates the skyline.