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Vienna, Austria

Austrias wonderful capital Vienna spreads along both sides of the Blue Danube (which as the Viennese are certain to point out is actually muddy brown) at the very foothills of the Alps. The city is a smorgasbord of Baroque with a dash of art nouveau. Circling the old town (the Innere Stadt ) is the striking revivalist architecture of the Ringstrasse Viennas main boulevard. These buildings range from the charming Opera House to the monumental Natural History Museum. Nestled throughout the city are the graceful art-nouveau buildings of turn-of-the century architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. The buildings are one of the many remnants of the artistic and intellectual flowering that took place in Vienna at the turn of the century. Of course the buildings and the citys history are only a backdrop for the daily culture that can still be found in the concert halls opera houses and cafes.

Before traveling to Vienna try to reserve tickets to the main attractions in advance as ticket requests from outside of the country are given priority. We recommend the Vienna State Opera the Spanish Riding School (with its famous Lipizzaner stallions) and the Vienna Boys Choir (the choir is particularly moving). If tickets for the State Opera arent available try the Volksoper which features operettas musicals and ballets. If all else fails the Gothic Rathaus (city hall) hosts a popular Christmas market in the winter and free concerts in the summer. Take a tour of the city to get oriented either on foot or in a Fiaker (a horse-drawn carriage). If youd prefer a more elevated impression of the city go up to the top of the Donauturm (Danube Tower)at 846 ft/258 m it provides quite a panorama from its observation platform and two revolving restaurants. You can see from there that Vienna is quite a large city its sights are dispersed throughout so youll want to buy bus/subway passes for the number of days that youll be there.

The pulse of the city can be found along Ringstrasse, according to most tourist guides. Perhaps they are correct, if we think of Vienna as a 19th-century invention. As you walk around the area be sure to take a break at a sidewalk cafe and have one of the citys superb pastries. The Viennese invented cafe society and there is no better pasttime than to linger over a torte read a newspaper and watch the Viennese. Each café has its own personality; while the lavish cafes inside the Ringstrasse are most impressive the smaller ones just outside have a charm and authenticity that should also not be missed. Dont just stick to coffee the Austrian fruit teas and black teas are so flavorful that youll wonder what youve been drinking all these years. Other cafes that are not as stodgy and expensive as the ones on the Ring are the illustrious, beautiful and comfortable Cafe Sperl (2nd district); any of the cafes near the Naschmarkt, Freud's house, the house designed by Wittgenstein, and gorgeous St. Charles Church--a must-see; Hawelka (1st district); Brauenerhof, where the lacerating and hilarious writer Thomas Bernhard spent his mornings (1st district); and many others. While the Biedermaier pulse of Vienna, long associated with the upper-middle class and collective repression, may be found along the Ring, its darkly satirical flip side is found in these and similar haunts.