The city of Mozart, the Habsburgs, Klimt and many more world-renowned figures lies on the banks of the Danube and oozes a unique grandeur and a rich cultural heritage. Vienna is a fascinating city that offers the visitor a multitude of things to see and do. Explore the imposing historical centre with its impressive museums, palaces, churches, shops and its many parks; take a cruise along the Danube; go wine-tasting in the city’s vineyards; attend a world-famous opera or concert; experience the varied colour locale at the Naschmarkt; or sit back and relax at one of the many outdoor cafés with a Wiener Melange and a Sacher Torte. Here are my favourite things to see and do in Vienna:
Vienna’s historic city centre
The historic city centre is compact and perfect for a slow stroll to admire the majestic palaces and churches, world-renowned museums and shops.
Stephansplatz, with the characteristic St. Stephens Cathedral is most visitors’ first stop. From here, pedestrian boulevards resonate in various directions such as the Graben (the city’s high street with many designer shops). Just off the Graben is the St. Peter’s church. The church, with its rich Baroque interior, is well worth a visit – you can also stop by on Sunday evenings for free concerts. The Hofburg (Imperial Palace), Museum Quarter and Opera are within a 10 – 20 minute walk away. One way of experiencing the grandeur of Vienna is to take a stroll along the Ring. Alternatively, take the Ring tram (lines 1 or 2) which takes you past famous landmarks such as the Hofburg, the Opera, the Burgtheater, City Hall, the Parliament, the Museums of Fine Arts and Natural History, and the City Park.
For a different, more local experience, visit the Naschmarkt which is located just outside the Ring, near the Museum Quarter. This market is popular with the locals and in addition to the vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and fresh herbs and spices, you can taste some of the locally-produced wines and sausages, a whole range of organic food as well as some fantastic kebab! You can also get a bottle of Kürbiskernöl (or pumpkin seed oil), a black-coloured oil Austrians use as a dressing in their salads. It’s delicious!
The city’s most famous museums are concentrated in the Hofburg (the Imperial Palace) and the adjacent Museum Quarter. The Hofburg was the seat of the Habsburg empire for many centuries and today houses numerous museums and art collections, including a museum dedicated to the most famous Habsburg Empress Elisabeth (Sissi), and the Albertina that is famous for its massive collection of drawings and prints. Also located within the Hofburg are the Spanish Riding School and the Imperial Chapel where the Vienna Boys’ Choir perform during Mass on Sunday.
The Museum Quarter is a short walk away from the Hofburg and features the Museums of Fine Arts, Natural History and Ethnology. Of the three, the Museum of Fine Arts, which was built in the late 19th century to house the extensive art collections of the Imperial family, is a must-see. The museum boasts a vast collection of pieces by Bruegel and other famous masterpieces by Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Rubens.
The Belvedere Palace, located at the edge of the city centre, is another attraction that should not be missed. In addition to being a baroque architectural masterpiece, the palace is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt, including the stunning ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. The beautiful palace gardens are also great for a lazy afternoon stroll.
Other museums worth a visit are the Liechtenstein Palace, which houses a great collection of paintings as well as bronzes and porcelain, and the KunstHaus Wien which is a fitting hommage to one of the city’s most colourful figures in modern times: Friedensreich Hundertwasser – if you find his style totally irresistable, then a visit to the Hundertwasser Haus and the city’s heating plant in Spittelau (along the Danube) are a must!
Arguably Vienna’s most treasured landmark, the Schönbrunn Palace, is located outside the city centre. This magnificent baroque style palace was Empress Elisabeth’s summer residence. The interior is lavish and the furnishings are exquisite. Take a guided/audio tour to really get a good sense of the history of this palace. Leave sufficient time to explore the palace gardens which, with their ornate fountains and statues, are nothing short of stunning. A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the palace is a highlight of a visit to Vienna.
One last tip: Upon arrival in Vienna, purchase a Vienna card – this allows you unlimited travel in the city’s very efficient public transportation system as well as discounts for entry into museums, palaces and other venues, as well as purchases in a large selection of shops and restaurants.
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Check out my walking tour of Vienna.