Photo Courtesy of François Coquerel
Imperial architecture and Old World charm invite visitors to explore Vienna's streets, where musicians with violins play Mozart to patrons of outdoor cafés. Take a carriage ride on cobblestone avenues, through towering palace gates, past lofty Gothic churches buttressed by diminutive baroque houses …with their chic shops. Step out at the center of the Holy Roman Empire and into the regal winter residence of the Hapsburgs for over 600 years. Don’t miss the Imperial Treasury, home to the Spear of Destiny, the lance that reputedly pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross.
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Unlike many cities, Vienna has a true city center, with a key landmark as its centerpiece: the towering gothic cathedral known as Stephansdom, which dates to 1339. The city center, known as the 1st District, is an imperial village featuring most of the city's great attractions: the Hapsburg Palace, impressive art museums (including The Albertina, Fine Arts, and Leopold), and the Spanish Riding School—home to the prancing white Lipizzaner stallions. The city of music and culture demands a visit to the Opera House. And for a literal overview of the city, ride the famous Riesenrad Ferris Wheel or climb the many spiraling steps to the top of Stephansdom for a lookout on the garden-terraced rooftops gracing the city.
Viennese gastronomy is satisfying, whether you're looking for hearty fare or haute cuisine. Try the famous Wiener Schnitzel at Figlmuller (“home of the schnitzel”), or sample bratwurst at street stands. Other traditional and filling favorites include Hungarian goulash and roasted pork, washed down with local microbrewery beer. Trendy restaurants offer contemporary interpretations of classic Austrian cuisine. Dishes featuring wild game dominate the menu at Wild, and Wrenkh serves only fresh, locally grown ingredients. An amazing variety of whole grain breads dominate bakery shelves. Austrian wine culture is highly developed; buy a bottle at Wein & Co. For dessert, have a slice of Sachertorte at one of Vienna's many historic cafés.
Vienna gave birth to some of the world's most beloved musicians and artists, Mozart and Klimt among them, but the city isn't resting on its cultural laurels. Art exhibits and cultural performances continue to break boundaries; take, for example, the 2013 Leopold Museum exhibit, Nude Men, where even the onlookers themselves were without clothing. Street musicians have been known to bring concert pianos to the street to play to passersby. Vienna is a virtual open-air museum, where the stunning architecture is nonetheless dwarfed by the spectacular art within. Of course, if your tastes tend toward the classical, a performance at State Opera is not to be missed.
Vienna’s enthusiasm for the Art Nouveau movement of art, design, and architecture is still evident throughout the city. Context, AFAR’s travel partner, offers a walking tour led by an art historian or architectect, Vienna 1900: The Golden Age of Art Nouveau, that explores the lavish style and the imprint it left in the city’s museums and on its streets.
The most elegant of designer shops—Chanel, Gucci, and Hermes—are located on the pedestrian streets of Kartnerstrasse, Graben, and Kohlmarkt in the 1st District. Interspersed among them are famous cafés such as Hawelka and Demel, as well as restaurants and parks like the Rose Garden and Stadtpark, where you can rest and consider your purchases. Wander up to the Mariahilferstrasse for less expensive shops; here, you'll find clothing, music, housewares, and more. If you’re visiting on Saturday, Naschmarkt, which dates to the 16th century, is famous for its flea market and antiques. The food section of Naschmarkt is open throughout the week, with many little stalls to choose from. Note that nearly all shops are closed on Sunday.
Vienna is lovely any time of year. Spring, summer, and fall each have their own particular charms; winter, while quite cold, still attracts plenty of visitors, thanks to the city's Christmas market and New Year's Eve celebration. The official language of Austria is German, though nearly half the population speaks English well. The currency is the euro. Vienna International Airport receives flights from abroad and is just 11 miles from the city itself. You'll likely need an adapter for your electronics, as Austria is 230 volts with F socket plugs.
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