Vienna is a magical city that oozes charm, class and splendour. The once capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it’s home to an elegant mix of history and order that gives way to rich collections of galleries and museums, music, cathedrals and a handful of grand palaces. And that’s just the start of the Viennese allure. Culturally magnificent and full of eye candy, you’ll also find atmospheric cafes and bars, plenty of shopping and even horse-drawn carriage rides amongst the lively mix. Here’s our guide to the highlights of Vienna.
The Galleries and Museums
Whether you’re a gallery-goer and museum-buff or not, you’re bound to find at least one you love in Vienna. The obvious spot to start is MuseumsQuartier, a massive – and beautiful – cultural district boasting seven museums, exhibition halls, shops, bookstores, outdoor cafes and restaurants. Some people come here just for the vibes! But don’t miss the Leopold Museum or MUMOK while you’re here. The Museum of Natural History and the Art History Museum are also both fantastic, as is the Albertina, home to one of the largest graphic art collections in the world. For something completely unique though, check out Hundertwasserhaus, a fascinating and colourful apartment designed in Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s iconic irregular shapes and eco style. Then drop into his amazing museum, Kunst Haus Wien, for an insight into his life and works.
Vienna has played a leading role in Europe's music scene throughout the 20th century, particularly classical music. But you’ll still find everything from classical orchestral ensembles to modern music in Vienna, so don’t leave town without catching a show (though you’ll probably stroll past many fantastic buskers too). Head to the 18th century Burgtheater (Imperial Court Theatre), founded by Empress Maria Theresa, or the historic Staatsoper (Opera House), which was the original State Opera House before being destroyed by Allied bombs in 1945, and then rebuilt. For a historical musical journey, drop into the Sound Museum.
A trip to Vienna isn’t complete without exploring at least one palace. The Schonbrunn Palace is the most popular, a beautiful baroque palace set amongst sprawling green lawns and gardens decorated with striking fountains and statues. The grounds are gloriously peaceful. The former summer residence to various Habsburg rulers, the Mirror Room inside is where six-year-old Mozart performed his first concert for Empress Maria Theresa – and outside there’s even a zoo! Also beautiful though are the baroque style Belvedere Palaces, built in the 1700s and now also home to the Gallery Belvedere, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt works. The Hofburg Royal Palace is also popular, a 16th century gothic and baroque palace that’s also home to museums, a chapel and church, gardens and squares, and the Spanish Riding School where you can catch a wonderful classical dressage performance.
The most famous cathedral to glimpse in Vienna is no doubt St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), with its beautiful colourfully tiled roof and impressive bell tower. Completed in the year 1160 and standing on the ruins of two earlier churches, it’s a beautiful mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and the most important religious building in the city as the seat of the Archbishop. But it’s not just pretty to look at! For a different view, take the elevator – or scale the stairs – to the observation platform for spectacular city views, or go underground to the fascinating catacombs. Other impressive churches around Vienna include St Leopold’s Church, with its Jugendstil architecture, and Augustinerkirche, an extremely well preserved 14th century Gothic church.
The City Streets & Squares
Just wandering Vienna’s streets you’ll no doubt stumble across many beautiful city streets and squares buzzing with activity. Stephansplatz, where you’ll find Stephansdom, is one of the most popular squares, and a wander from here will take you down narrow and winding roads, through nooks and crannies past medieval and baroque houses of the Blutgassen district. But also don’t miss the monumental Maria-Theresien Platz, which joins the MuseumsQuartier with the famous Ringstrasse, a wide avenue lined with historical buildings that circles the old town. Der Graben also has historical roots in Ancient Roman times, and is now a pedestrian zone fabulous for shopping. The kids will love the Prater, a fun fair filled with rides, while most adults would love a wander through Naschmarkt, a brilliant food market dating back to the 16th century.