The largest city in the central European country of Austria, and one of the historic cities through which the silvery River Danube has flown since time immemorial, Vienna has established itself as a true epicentre of art and culture. The city offers many attractions and exciting excursions, and it’s tough to choose just a few. Before you begin exploring, however, it helps to know that Vienna is splintered into 23 districts. The first district also called the Innere Stadt, comprises its historic centre, with cobblestoned streets and a dense concentration of museums, galleries and shops. Plan your day depending on what you want to strike off your bucket list first.
A stroll around Vienna is like journeying into the city’s rich, royal past. I began my first day in Vienna with a ride on the Ring Tram. The best time to do this, I was advised, is early in the morning, when the tram isn’t jampacked with office goers. While wandering through the streets, I took a detour into the lovely Burggarten, for a coffee at the city’s oldest café – Café Frauenhuber. It was opened in 1788 by Franz Jahn, my guide Ilse informed me as we ordered our `melange’ coffee (akin to a cappuccino) and apple strudel.
Refuelled and refreshed, we next headed to MuseumsQuartier. The cultural space is home to an array of museums, over 70 cultural institutions, galleries and event spaces. Our museum-hopping included quick stops at Leopold Museum, which showcases Austrian art, a children’s museum called Zoom as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art.
We checked in for lunch at Glacis Beisel, one of Vienna’s prettiest bistros. The menu offers many gastronomic delights, such as goulash, tafelspitz, dumplings, blood sausages and more.
The Maria Theresian Platz public square is an ode to the beautiful Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. The square is flanked by two museums – the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum).
If the city’s squares are breathtaking, its palaces will gobsmack you even more, as they have some of the most exquisite architecture in the world. This thought strikes me as I explore the capacious Hofburg Palace, the imperial seat of the Habsburg dynasty in Austria, that showcases a myriad of architectural styles, from Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque to Rococo and Neo-Classical.
A quick walk from the Hofburg Imperial Palace takes us to Vienna’s most historic five-star establishment, Hotel Sacher. The property is most renowned for Café Sacher, which serves the iconic sachertorte.
The next day, my focus was on seeing the city’s remaining popular sites, beginning with Vienna’s most famous cathedral – St. Stephen’s. After a full circle around the Ring, we hop off at Schwedenplatz and walk up Rotenturmstrasse, towards the towering cathedral, with a stunning Gothic facade.
Interestingly, the 12th-century complex was the site of both Mozart’s wedding and his funeral. It is also the burial place of the bishops, the tombs of Duke Rudolph the Founder and other members of the Habsburg family. The South Tower’s observation deck is said to be the highest point in the city. The cathedral’s vertiginous rooftop offered us jaw-dropping views of the city, marked by terracotta rooftops and the lush Viennese woods looming in the backdrop.
After our climb, we headed to a ‘wurstel’ stand. The Bitzinger sausage stand, widely held as the city’s best, enjoys cult status, and this is where we savoured the flavour-charged bratwurst served with rye bread and mustard. We next took a 20-minute train ride from the city centre to the 1441-roomed Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, Austria’s numero uno attraction. Once home to the Habsburg dynasty, the palace offers self-guided tours (with headphones and commentary in English) around its lavishly furnished rooms, including the towering statues of royals and manicured flower beds.
It was tough to leave the stunning palace, but our next destination beckoned – the Wiener Staatsoper, or the Vienna State Opera, one of the busiest in the world, with over 350 performances conducted annually. As I admired the opera’s premises, the guide reminded me that I was partaking of Austrian history going back to the 19th century. Since its inauguration, over 150 years ago, the institution has remained firmly in the international spotlight. Indeed, what could be a more befitting symbol for a remarkable city that seamlessly straddles the old and the new, the quaint and the cosmopolitan and the modern and medieval with such aplomb?