Vienna

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St Stephan's Cathedral view from Parliament roof©WienTourismus / Karl Thomas

By Diane Naar-Elphee, your Vienna expert

I write for Fodor's Guide Vienna to .... Read more

Why go to Vienna?

In my eyes this city has it all. With a terrific mix of the old and the new, the glorious past blends well with the lively present; it's not too big and not too small; not too loud and not too brash; there's always something going on...and Vienna is beautiful!

The old

Better than any other city I know, Vienna successfully holds on to imperial nostalgia surprisingly well – even though the Hapsburgs were sent packing nearly a century ago, they are visibly more present than they ever were. Huge portraits of former emperors and empresses adorn walls in hotels and restaurants and picture postcards of them sell like hotcakes. Spanish Riding School stallions still prance about in the world's most elegant riding hall (the Spanische Reitschule), the Vienna Boys Choir, founded over 500 years ago, traditionally celebrates mass every Sunday in the Imperial Hofburg chapel, and museums, vying for visitors, launch one great exhibition after the other. Read more on my Vienna attractions page.

The new

And then there's now: the old waltzing cliché still has everyone believing that Vienna and the Danube unite in a blissful union; truth is, there never was a loving relationship. Neglected for centuries, due to enemy assaults and regular floods that threatened the livelihood of the city, the East bank, derogatively known as Transdanubia, is only now becoming a modern, emerging neighbourhood. A whole new skyline is being created as soaring skyscrapers go up one by one. This is a hot-spot for architectural dynamism, as is the Danube Canal now boasting terrific constructions by such eminent architects as Zaha Hadid, Hans Hollein and Jean Nouvel – maybe Vienna is making amends at last.

The fun

When Vienna's protective flood barrier was installed in the 1970s, no one foresaw its future as the most popular recreational area in the city. This 14-mile-long island, known as Donauinsel – only minutes away from the city centre by metro – has something for everyone, from throbbing pop concerts, disco sounds and lots of fun and games, to quiet bathing, picnicking, biking and inline skating. Vienna's man-made beach offers a welcome escape from city life. From January to March Vienna's City Hall Square is transformed into a huge ice skating arena.

Exploring Vienna

For all its magnificence, Vienna is easy to get to know and compact. Most visitors have enough to see and do in the pedestrian-friendly city centre. Full of restaurants, shops, churches and cafés, a sojourn of a couple of days will leave most people in awe and in love with the city. Some of the world's greatest art treasures, many of which were collected by Hapsburg family members and left behind as a legacy, are waiting to be admired in over one hundred museums. Read more on my Vienna attractions page.

Vienna's variety

Bustling markets beckon with abundant selections of exotic merchandise, neatly piled high – a colourful sight indeed. One of the best in town is the Naschmarkt, not only for food and veg stalls but with an exciting ethnic mix of eateries too, stretching for half a mile – a great place for people watching.

Cafés - a way of life for the Viennese

When in Vienna you have to spend a good part of the day relaxing in a palatial coffeehouse. Oozing fin de siècle vibes, elegant cafés are just the place to peruse periodicals or meet friends and enjoy a slice of Sachertorte with a steamy cup of coffee melange. Read more on my Vienna cafés and restaurants page.

Pastries and cakes

Sweet temptations are everywhere in the city - there's no escaping the colourful array of pastries, strudels and tortes in shop windows, cafés and restaurants. Vienna is home to some of the very best patissiers - indulge in the desire at Demel and you can't go wrong.

Viennese design

Both traditional and cutting edge design is at home in Vienna. Skilled craftsmanship and contemporary art thrive as they did in the past. Many of the old Viennese workshops continue to create fascinating items of high quality - whether it's a black mirror, a crystal jewel or the finest handmade leather goods, hand-painted porcelain, a bronze or a trendy hat. A whole range of these products can be seen at the Österreichische Werkstätten (Kärntner Straße 6; 01 512 24 18; www.austrianarts.com).

Vienna by night

This is one very laid-back city - but come Friday the clubbing, party and music scene really starts to throb. And a big bonus for night owls: at weekends Vienna's metro runs all night long.

Vienna is a winner

Berlin may be cooler, Paris may be sexier and New York hotter, but Vienna scores highest in overall quality of living. Vienna ranked first on the Mercer 2010 Quality of Living survey, carried out by international consultants who compared over 200 major cities worldwide. Taken into account were 39 criteria including personal safety, health care, political and economical stability, public transport, recreational facilities, quality of water and air and many more. Austria's capital scored highest. My suggestion: come and see why for yourself!

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Vienna Hotels

Price fromRating (out of 5)
1. Hotel Sacher
£190
4.9
2. Hotel Imperial, Vienna
£164
4.8
3. Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof Wien
£68
4.8
4. Do & Co Hotel
£127
4.7
5. Adagio City Aparthotel Vienna
£61
4.7
See all expert-rated Hotels in Vienna

Vienna Restaurants

Price guideRating (out of 5)
1. Steirereck
Expensive
5.0
2. Rote Bar
Expensive
4.9
3. the Dining Room
Mid-range
4.9
4. Hollmann Salon
Mid-range
4.9
5. Plachutta
Expensive
4.9
See all expert-rated Restaurants in Vienna

Vienna Things to do

Price guideRating (out of 5)
1. Kunsthistorisches Museum
Expensive
4.9
2. Schönbrunn Palace
Mid-range
4.9
3. Stephansdom
Mid-range
4.8
4. Belvedere
Mid-range
4.8
5. Albertina
Mid-range
4.7
See all expert-rated Things to do in Vienna