Imperial Vienna was the seat of the powerful Habsburg Empire, which ruled over most of central Europe for nearly seven centuries. The city is filled with palaces and royal buildings, the most important of which is the Hofburg, or the Imperial Palace. Pop inside to see how royalty lived — the rooms and banquet halls are sumptuous, the furnishings opulent and the artefacts priceless. The Sisi Museum is dedicated to Empress Elisabeth, queen to Emperor Franz Joseph. Attached to the palace is the Spanish Riding School, where you can watch gorgeous white stallions perform the famous Lipizzan ballet.
The palace is located on Ringstrasse, Vienna’s elegant ring road boulevard, lined with monumental buildings such as the Parliament, the Rathaus (City Hall), several museums and the striking Staatsoper, or Vienna State Opera. The most impressive of all royal buildings, though, is the Schönbrunn Palace, 8 km outside of Vienna. The massive baroque complex was the royal summer palace. The extensive grounds house several parks, a palm house and even a zoo.
With more than 100 museums, Vienna is an art lover’s delight. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) is perhaps the most important, housing the massive collection amassed by the Habsburgs. You can find everyone there, from Raphael and Rembrandt to Titian and Vermeer. To mark its 125th anniversary in 2016, the museum has a special exhibit, “Celebration” (running till September, 2016), which will depict how festivals have evolved over time. The baroque Belvedere Palace also houses several collections, the most important of which are Gustav Klimt’s famous golden paintings, The Kiss and Judith. The Vienna Museum Karlsplatz documents the city’s history from its birth, right up to the present. One of the most exciting art destinations in Vienna is Museums Quartier, near the Imperial Palace. There are several museums here, including the Museum of Modern Art (see Picasso, Warhol and more) and the small but significant Leopold Museum.
Food, Glorious Food
You will eat well in Vienna, whether it’s at a fancy restaurant or at a traditional Beisl, the Viennese version of the cosy English pub. The rustic Griechenbeisl (Fleischmarkt 11) is the oldest restaurant in Vienna, dating back to 1447. Try the local specialties, like Wiener schnitzel and goulash. For a more international experience, the restaurant at the Do & Co Hotel (Stephansplatz 12) cannot be beaten, especially for its stunning view. Vienna’s iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral soars in the backdrop, as you feast on beautifully plated dishes. Burggarten houses the former royal greenhouse, which is now a trendy café-brasserie, Palmenhaus (Burggarten 1). The atmosphere is almost tropical, with lots of trees inside; we recommend the local grilled fish. Another Viennese institution is Trzesniewski (Dorotheergasse 1), which is always full of locals who come by for a pfi (0.175L) of beer and open sandwiches with a mind-boggling number of toppings (try anything with herring in it).
Have a Drink
Vienna is the only city in the world that can boast of having extensive vineyards within its metropolitan limits, so there is a lot of local wine to be savoured. The city’s specialty is an unusual blended wine called Gemischter Satz, which is made by combining mixed varieties of grapes, all grown together in the same vineyard. This local wine is a popular drink at the Viennese heurig (wine tavern), where you can pair the Gemischter Satz with rustic foods such as roast pork or beef, and meat burgers. We recommend the comfy, cottage-like Heuriger Schübel-Auer (Kahlenbergerstrasse, 22), which has a huge buffet of Austrian specialities, accompanied by house wines and musical entertainment in the evenings. Vienna is also the place where you can try several top-class Austrian wine varieties, like Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. If you want to pick up a bottle or two, we recommend Wein & Co (Linke Wienzeile 4, near Naschmarkt), which also houses a bar.
Vienna is dotted with historic cafes that are meant for lounging about. The grand Café Central (Herrengasse 14) 14) was a meeting point of artists and intellectuals, and it retains its pre-war charms. Café Sperl (Gumpendorferstrasse 11), with its intimate booths and quaint ambience, invites you to savour their chocolate-almond house cake, Sperl Torte. Drop by at Café Frauenhuber (Himmelpfortgasse 6), Vienna’s oldest café, where both Mozart and Beethoven have performed. A coffee at Café Sacher (Philharmonikerstrasse 4) is another must-do. The legendary Sacher Torte was created here – a decadent dark chocolate cake, layered with tart apricot jam and topped with chocolate icing and cream. Another treat worth trying at Café Sacher is the Gewürzgugelhupf, a sweet-spicy Viennese ring cake, with hints of candied orange and ginger.
What was a marketplace in medieval times is today Vienna’s premier shopping street – the Graben, which offers some fantastic shopping opportunities. At the end of the Graben is Kohlmarkt, where you can shop for luxe brands (think Tiany and Cartier). At the edge of Kohlmarkt is the Golden Quarter, with the flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Prada and more. The family owned Mühlbauer (Seilergasse 10 and Neubaugasse 34) has been making hats, caps and other headwear since 1903. The handmade head coverings are available for both men and women, and have graced the heads of international stars such as Brad Pitt, Madonna, Pete Doherty, Meryl Streep and many more. Fancy picking up some unique Austrian design furniture? The cushioned benches and comfy armchairs at Lichterloh (Gumpendorferstrasse 15-17) will fit right in to your study.
Twice a year, Vienna hosts spectacular festive markets. For two to three weeks before Easter, you can buy beautifully decorated Easter eggs, as well as traditional decorations and handicrafts at the Easter markets in the city. The Schönbrunn Palace hosts the largest Easter market, where kids can participate in Easter nest hunts and Easter Bunny workshops. On Easter Sunday, the Prater hosts a colourful party, complete with live music acts, arts and crafts workshops, games and children’s puppet theatres. Come November, the city lights up again with several Christmas markets, with both Schönbrunn Palace and Freyung hosting numerous stalls selling local delicacies. The biggest market is held in front of the City Hall in Rathausplatz, which puts up the tallest Christmas tree in Vienna. Sip on some gluhwein, take a bite of a bratwurst or kasekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage), and load up on the lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits).
Where to Stay
Hotel Sacher (Philharmonikerstrasse 4) stands right opposite the Vienna State Opera and practically oozes old-world charm. The historical, luxury hotel is family-owned, so you can expect warm and friendly service. You will love the opulent rooms and suites, with their sophisticated belle époque ambience and all the modern amenities you can desire. Indulge yourself at Sacher Spa.
- You don’t need to give up your jogging routine when in Vienna. Try the Hauptallee, a 4.4 km-long avenue in the Prater amusement park, or the Danube Island, for all sorts of outdoor activities.
- Naschmarkt is Vienna’s biggest outdoor market, with more than 120 stalls and restaurants offering everything from local produce to international cuisines. Don’t miss the flea market here on Saturdays.
- The Vienna Card is a worthwhile investment. You can get discounts at museums, tourist sights, theatres, cafes, shops and more. It also allows you free travel on the city’s public transport system. The 48-Hour card costs €18.90 (Rs. 1,400).