Take a walk around the streets of Vienna combining flamboyant architecture with modern art and lively cafés. You might even bump into Mozart!
Home to the famous dancing Lipizzaner horses, former stamping ground of classical composers Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, guardian of street upon street of breathtaking buildings and film set to James Bond himself. The beautiful city of Vienna has got it all – and more.
A royal residence
Vienna was home to Austria’s royal family, the Habsburgs, who left their mark during their 600-year reign by building the Hofburg - a stunning centrepiece of flamboyant architecture. The Imperial Palace, as it’s also known, is made up of a collection of buildings stretching across the city centre’s southeastern corner.
An excellent place to begin exploring the centre is in front of one of the Hofburg’s entrance gates. Approaching the Imperial Apartments from Kohlmarkt makes for a particularly impressive introduction.
Amble through the gates flanked by water-spouting fountains, wander past cute souvenir shops and get your camera ready as you emerge onto Heldenplatz, for views of the semi-circular Neue Berg and its magnificent surroundings.
The Hofburg’s many buildings are bursting with attractions to tickle your cultural taste buds, including the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments, The Butterfly and Palm House and the extravagantly decorated apartments.
Continuing south on Heldenplatz you’ll find yourself in between two almost identical buildings. The Museum of Fine Arts and its sister exhibition space the Museum of Natural History sit opposite one another across Maria-Theresien Platz, and you’ll be torn over which to visit first.
Something more modern
If by now, however, you’ve soaked up enough baroque features and fancy something more modern, cross the multi-lane Museumsplatz into the contemporary MuseumsQuartier (www.mqw.at).
This huge complex has plenty on offer for the visitor from funky exhibition spaces and art museums to eateries and shops.
The MQ Daily (+43 (0) 1 5224524), a lively café opposite the Kunsthalle, has an extensive menu and serves all-day breakfasts, traditional Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal escalope, although I went for the chicken option) and slices of gooey Sacher Torte - another yummy Viennese delicacy.
Following the ring road north brings you to the vast Parlament building, the mighty steeples of the city hall and the circular Burgtheater, where you’re sure to spot ‘Mozart’ outside selling tickets to upcoming shows.
Back in the heart of the city, a visit to Stephansdom Cathedral is a must. Exiting the underground station at Stephensplatz will bring you out in front of its staggering towers and bustling surrounds.
When you've finished gazing at its beautifully adorned insides, you can take a ride in the tiny lift up the North Tower for a look at its colourful tiled roof, and Austria’s largest bell – the 21-tonne Pummerin.
If walking is not your thing, hop on tram 1 or 2, which ramble round the inner-ring road giving you a comfortable view of Vienna’s main architectural highlights. The city’s public transport is excellent and a ‘travel card’ is a good way of getting about. Valid for 24/72 hours or up to a week, they will let you on unlimited trams, buses, underground and over ground trains.
The city's fringe
If you have the time it’s definitely worth exploring Vienna’s fringes.
Schloss Schőnbrunn, the Habsburg’s summer residence is certainly worth the ten-minute underground ride. Take a tour of this colossal 1,441-roomed mega-structure or stroll through the huge surrounding gardens offering far-reaching city views.
Away from the city’s hustle and bustle is Prater Park, a green lung popular with locals and home of the Riesenrad - Vienna’s version of the London Eye. The bright red ferris wheel built in 1897, has starred in post-Second World War thriller The Third Man and James Bond’s 15th outing The Living Daylights.
Haus der Musik (Seilerstätte 30) – Four incredible floors exploring everything music related. Conduct your own orchestra, discover Vienna’s composers and learn how your hearing works through interactive displays. (www.hausdermusik.com)
Ankeruhr (Anchor Clock), (Hoher Markt 10 - 11) – Join the inevitable crowds at noon to watch as famous Austrian figures parade past the face of this 98-year-old timepiece.
Spanish Riding School, (Michaerlerplatz 1) – Tickets to see the white Lipizzaner stallions perform their equine ballet cost up to €173. If your budget doesn’t stretch try catching a glimpse of them as they cross from their stables to the school for morning training. (www.srs.at)
Where to stay
Hostel Ruthensteiner – This comfortable hostel is 25 minutes on foot from the MuseumsQuartier, has loads of beds in large rooms, friendly staff, a great bar for mingling and a well stocked kitchen.
If bunk beds aren’t your thing try the extremely reasonable Arcotel Boltzman. Located in a quiet area this modern hotel is a short tram ride to the centre and lays on an excellent (and filling) breakfast.