Vienna has long been renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with good reason. The architecture is magnificent, there are abundant gardens, and it’s a pedestrian’s paradise. Getting out on foot with a good map is the best way to view its charms.
The Habsburg family ruled Austria for over 6 centuries, and Vienna was their base. The Hofburg Palace was begun in the 13th century, then expanded and altered for centuries, incorporating numerous architectural styles. Nowadays it houses the Austrian President. Sunday mass provides an opportunity to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Various parts of the palace are open to visitors, and it’s worth allowing plenty of time to go exploring.
Like all good European royalty, the Habsburgs also had their summer palace – the Schloss Schönbrunn. An overwhelming experience of gilding and stucco, it’s worth the U-bahn journey to visit, just for the pure magnificence of it all. The gardens are very beautiful, and well suited to a peaceful stroll.
Back in the centre of Vienna, St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) has long been regarded as a landmark, with its magnificent tiled roof and spindly spires. It’s possible to climb up the south tower and enjoy the view. The nearby Haas Haus, completed in 1990, is more recent, and a source of controversy. Some say the beautiful old cathedral is crowded and degraded by its silver curves and glass. Others say it makes some very interesting reflections.
Close by is Kärntner Strasse, a pedestrian only mall which provides hours of fascination for the visitor, with cafes, shops and street entertainers. A stroll here is a great way to get a real feel for the human heart of Vienna.
If you follow Kärntner Strasse south, you reach the Staatsoper (State Opera House), built in the 1860s. This opulent building was badly damaged in the 2nd world war, and was only reopened in 1955. The interior is best enjoyed attending a performance, but you can also go on a guided tour during the day. Nearby is the Burggarten, a lovely garden containing many statues of Mozart. There’s also the Butterfly House, if you want to see something a little different.
Although the list of places to visit in Vienna is very long, you certainly don’t want to miss Maria Theresa Platz. Flanked on two sides by the identical museums of Fine Art and of Natural History, it’s an excellent place to sit and contemplate the beauty of Vienna. Both museums are also worth losing yourself in for a while.
As a final touch to the day, the Prater Amusement Park is full of traditional delights. The huge ferris wheel in the centre of the park provides a great view of the city at night, and may provide a sense of déjà vu for those who enjoy James Bond movies.
Many people pass through Vienna in a hurry on their whistlestop tour of Europe, and miss out on this city’s many beauties and attractions. Do yourself a favour and make sure you allow plenty of time to sample its delights.
Travelling in Austria is a much loved past time for the author. To find out more, check out http://www.travelaustriainfozone.com or http://www.travelaustriainfozone.com/vienna/ for more information.