The City of Music
Vienna, how to even start creating a guide for one of the most stunning cities in the world. Not only its impressive elegance from the incredible architecture all over the place, but its rich history and culture on every corner. And if with the eyes was not enough, this is a delight to the ears as well. No other city in the world has such a vast history and legacy from the greatest classical music composers of all times. That’s the fact in the city’s nickname, the “City of Music”. Now glad to return few years after the first time and continue to explore this magnificent place.
Few years back, we did arrive in Vienna after little over 4 hours train ride from Prague, the enchanting city of Central Europe. And if 3 days were definitely not enough back in Prague, we experienced the same conclusion here in Vienna back in the days. That trip was for merely 2 days and an extra evening since we planned a very busy day tour to Salzburg, therefore cutting short the overall stay. Now, talking from extra fresh new experience after this trip, I can finally say my visit is complete and definitely looking forward to the next time and more.
The city has a great urban plan and follows what is pretty much a circular pattern. The Old Town, which is the historic area is called Innere Stadt and is completely encircled by the first ring road, the Ringstrasse, which was built with magnificent palaces, buildings, fountains and monuments all the way along. Both the Old Town coupled with this ring road are mandatory places for sightseeing, leaving for last the sights on the outer neighbourhoods from the Ringstrasse, being the major landmarks the Prater, Central Cemetery and Schönbrunn Palace.
While a 3 days visit to the city should be enough to see all of the sights mentioned in the list below, any shorter time than this will become complicated meaning you will need to prioritise and perhaps having to skip either entering to some of the landmark museums or the State Opera, or simply reducing your overall program and concentrate in what is really relevant to yourself at this occasion. We basically struggled a bit in 2009 but managed surprisingly everything. Of course there were some places where we only managed some pictures at night as it was already late by when we came to visit them, but hey we ticked them all!. Make sure you plan around and for example leave the Prater for when after the sunset. After all, the only sight in there is the giant Ferris Wheel which is even nicer at sunset and night when illuminated. But places as Schönbrunn Palace will take half of a day away from you and I recommend to wither go when they open in the morning hours or late in the afternoon if you want to end the day there. Expect many tour buses arriving through the day hence why the morning and late afternoon window is the best to enjoy without the crowds.
As for the Central Cemetery, it is entirely up to you (and if you have the time for it) if you want to spend at least 3 if no more hours that will take you to get there, visit and back to the city. It is one of the sights you could potentially cross-off your list if you are not into classical music and/or musicians since this is reason number one why is so important with the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss, Schönberg and Mozart among others.
With regards to food subject, in both visits we had the same experience: some of the greatest and cheapest lunch and dinners! This is something we did not expect at all and was quite a surprise and a treat. Of course without doubt the number 1 dish is the Wiener Schnitzel (fillet of veal or pork breaded and deep fried), usually accompanied by fries and some vegetables. You should also bear in mind that portions (almost everywhere) are huge therefore control yourself if ordering any other dish or starters as you might definitely not need it. Next in the list are sausages, extensively available on restaurants or at street vendors. And as a desert you can never miss is Sachertorte. A moist of chocolate cake with apricot jam originally created by the Sacher Hotel where you can sample what they call, obviously, the best and original; but available at almost any patisserie and restaurant, not only in the city but across the country.
For more information about Vienna check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Austria’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Vienna
- Innere Stadt is the Old Town of Vienna, entirely circled by the Ringstrasse. It is designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in its full.
-Graben Is the main street crossing through the old town. Many historical buildings, squares and monuments align it.
-Stephansplatz The main square within the old city centre, and where is located the most important religious building in Vienna, the cathedral.
-Saint Stephen’s Cathedral or Stephansdom in German, is among the tallest cathedrals in the world, built on top of previously existing churches, the first of the buildings was ready by 1147 with ongoing works of enlargement during the following centuries. The current Gothic and Romanesque building that stands today was started in 1339. It’s one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city with its colourful tiles roof.
-Anker Haus Erected in 1895 and designed by secessionist architect Otto Wagner.
-Generali Hof One of the prominent buildings along Graben, constructed in 1831 by Josef Klee.
-Barons Bartolotti von Partenfeld Palace The only remaining baroque building in Graben.
-Erste österreichische Sparkasse Is the headquarters of the bank, constructed in 1839 by architect Alois Pichl. Impossible to miss which building is for its imposing white façade.
-Plague Monument The Pestsäule was erected in 1693 and commemorates the 1679 Vienna Plague. It is the most prominent monument along Graben.
-Peterskirche Saint Peter’s Church, just off the Graben, is one of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture. While the outside might look more simple, the inside is over-decorated.
-Jesuitenkirche The Jesuit Church was built between 1623 and 1627 and has one of the greatest Baroque interiors in Europe.
-Kärntner Straße Translates as Carinthian Street is another of the principal streets in the historic old town, connecting Stephansplatz with the State Opera House.
-Maria am Gestade Translates as Mary at the Shore Church is one of the few surviving examples of Gothic architecture in the city, and one of the oldest too.
-Morzinplatz Square Also one of the many squares scattered within the Innere Stadt fully surrounded by beautiful buildings and nice gardens. The square and streets around are the oldest parts of Vienna.
-Remembrance of the victims of the Gestapo Is a monument standing in the gardens of the square. The Gestapo headquarters were located here.
-Saint Rupert’s Church Claimed to be the oldest church in the city still standing. Originally built in 740 although modified and rebuilt in parts over the centuries.
-Judenplatz Translates as Jewish Square, is the centre of the once important Jewish community in the city.
-Old Synagogue The remains of this medieval synagogue can be visited underneath the square
-Stadttempel Is the main synagogue in the city, built in the 19th century.
-Stadtpark Located in between the Innere Stadt and the Ringstrasse is the largest park within the city centre with beautiful sculptures, monuments, fountains and buildings, among the most important are:
-Stadtpark metro entrance Designed by Otto Wagner, is an elegant secessionist construction.
-Stadtparkbrücke Bridge built in 1857 crossing the Wien River.
-Kursalon Palace Built between 1865 and 1867 in Italian renaissance style is used as a restaurant, cafe and ball for concerts. Johann Strauss II gave his first concert in this palace on 15 October 1868.
-Johannesgasse Is one of the streets leading from the old city centre to the park and where one of the main entrances is located, designed by Otto Wagner.
-Monuments to Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss or Franz Lehár among others.
-Albertina Palace Now housing one of the largest and most important paintings museums in the world.
-Austrian Postal Savings Bank Located opposite the Albertina, houses the museum of Otto Wagner, who designed the building itself in modernist style as contrast to all his previous projects in secessionist style.
- Ringstrasse One of the most elegant and historical areas in the city. It can easily be said that visiting all the sights around here, you have seen most of Vienna. It is the ring road circling the entire Old Town with monumental constructions at both sides. Receives different names along each section.
-Hofburg Palace It’s a landmark building in the city centre, former residence of the rulers of the Habsburg Dynasty, nowadays the presidential palace among other institutions and museums.
-Prince Eugene of Savoy statue Located right in the front of the main building in the gardens.
-Josefsplatz Is one of the courtyards of the palace, fully accessible to anyone where the National Library old entrance is located.
-Swiss Courtyard The oldest part of the palace, where you will find the Imperial Treasure museum, with the crown jewels on display.
-Spanish Riding School Built in 1735 Is an elite institution which can be visited as part of a tour with performances taking place.
-Michaelerplatz Is the square located at the back entrance of the palace, leading directly to the Innere Stadt.
-Saint Michael Church Is the first building you will come to see for importance in this square.
-Maria Theresien Platz Is the square at the main front of the Hofburg Palace with beautiful landscaped gardens and impressive palatial buildings.
-Natural History Museum Opened in 1889 it is one of the largest in its kind in the world.
-Fine Arts Museum Located on an almost symmetrical palace opposite the Natural History Museum was opened in 1891. Both buildings were built between 1872 and 1891.
-Museumquartier Notably for being the 8th largest cultural area in the world. Institutions like the Museum of Modern Art or Leopold Museum are part of the many museums. It’s just in front of the Natural History and Fine Arts museums, on the section of the Ringstrasse named Museumplatz.
-The Secession Building Is an exhibition hall designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich and built in 1897. It’s the most important of all the Secessionist style buildings ever created in the city, which is a variant of the Art-Nouveau style that was very prominent in Vienna. Located on the southern edge of the Museumquartier. Pay attention to the Beethoven frieze, designed by Gustav Klimt which stands as the most prominent artwork of the Secession style.
-Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station Another secessionist building designed by Otto Wagner and opened in 1899.
-Burgtheater Built in 1888 is one of the most acclaimed theatres in Europe and the most important in German speaking language in the world.
-State Opera House Completed in 1869 in neo-renaissance style is one of the most prestigious and best opera houses in the world. A work of art in itself that employed the most exclusive materials.
-Palace of Justice Originally built between 1875 and 1881, the current one is a reconstruction after the 1927 fire.
-Parliament Building This massive palace was built between 1874 and 1883 in Greek-revival style.
-Rathaus The City Hall is a visual landmark on its own. One of the most recognisable structures in the city built between 1872 and 1883 in Flemish-Gothic style.
-Stock Exchange Building Is one of the world’s oldest stock exchanges founded in 1771. The housing building was constructed between 1870 and 1877 in the typical Viennese style.
-Urania Observatory Built in 1910 in simple secessionist style.
-Decorative Arts Museum Another of the hundreds of elegant buildings in the area. It has a great courtyard inside.
-University main building Also built in the same period as all the others between 1877 and 1884.
-Votive Church Built in 1879 in Gothic style, is a large and beautiful sight that breaks the monotony of the other many Viennese style buildings in the area.
-Hotel Imperia Opened in 1873 is one of the most luxurious ever since its construction. The side streets leads to the old town.
- North of the city
-Prater Park Is among one of the oldest amusements parks in the world, and world famous for the Riesenrad. This giant Ferris Wheel was built in 1897 and as opposed to the others that were built in the same era in other cities for exhibitions, this was not dismantled, becoming the major landmark that is today, although it had to be rebuilt after it was burnt down during WWII. You can reach the park either by tram or by metro to Praterstern station.
- East of the city
-Hundertwasserhaus Is an extraordinary example of architecture in expressionist style which has become a landmark on itself, being even in the postcards of the city. Located on the corner of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse streets, nearest metro station is Landstrasse.
- South-east of the city
-Gasometers Are former 4 gas tanks built between 1896-1899 and in use until 1984. Now completely transformed in a new revitalised area with each gasometer comprising apartments, shopping and entertainment complexes where the beautiful exterior façade were preserved on all of them. Each was redeveloped by a different architect, Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelblau, Manfred Wehdorn, and Wilhelm Holzbauer. The metro station serving the area is Gasometer on line 3.
- South of the city
-Belvedere Palace Originally designed to be the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, nowadays is the home of the Austrian Gallery. Even if you don’t plan to get inside the gallery, it is worth to visit outside and walk around the beautiful gardens. The best way to reach it is by tram, stop Belvedere.
-Karlskirche It is the largest Baroque cathedral to the north of the Alps. Beautiful inside and out, specially at night with the illuminations and the reflection on the water pools at the front.
-Vienna House of the Arts Known in German as the KunstHausWien, is a masterpiece of modern art by Hundertwasser who in 1892 after redesigning a pre-existing building, the Thonet chair factory, famous worldwide for being the creator of “chair 14”, or bistro chair, created something not seen before in the city.
-Zentralfriedhof The Central Cemetery, located to the south-east of the city is a must visit while in Vienna. Among this massive place, the importance comes from the people who here rest, specially the musicians. The graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss, Schönberg and Mozart (who is in any case not resting here but the monument is) are some of the examples, all of them found in section 32C. The easiest way for reaching the cemetery is by taking tram 71 from Schwarzenburgplatz (or anywhere along route 71 like for example metro station Simmering). Get of at tram stop Zentralfriedhof 2 for the main entrance and avenue.
- South-west of the city
-Schönbrunn Palace In the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 1996 is “the queen” of all the palaces in Vienna. Built in the 17th century in rococo style, is the former summer residence of the Habsburg. You can visit the inside as part of two different tours. The Imperial Tour showing 22 rooms and the Grand Tour showing 40 rooms. Any of both will show you the most important stances in the palace as are the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi).
-Schönbrunn Zoo Built in 1752 for Maria Theresa’s husband is part of the palatial complex and is the oldest zoo in the world.
-Gardens Designed in 1695 in French style, they include a maze, palm house, arboretum and a 1755 orangerie.
-Gloriette Located on top of a 60 meters high hill with respect to the gardens and palace, was built in 1775 and offers the best views possible of the palace and city beyond.
-Roman Ruin Is another of the great decorative additions erected in 1778, time where archaeological remains where fashion and therefore building from scratch one to resemble an original one.
-Neptune Fountain Located between the great parterre and the Gloriette perfectly aligning the three of them at the centre.
The airport is 18 kilometres southeast of the city centre. Frequent, quick and cheap connection to the city centre is done via S-Bahn (commuter trains). The line serving the airport is the S7, going towards Wien-Mitte (where you can change for the metro, trams and buses if you need to) and costs 4 Euros single ticket, covering the distance in 25 minutes. Don’t mistake yourself with taking the City Airport Train! This will cost you 11 Euros and will only save you 9 minutes of the overall travel time.
If arriving to Vienna by train or bus, it’s also very easy from neighbouring cities like Bratislava, Munich, Budapest, Zurich and Prague. This is in fact the way we arrived to Vienna back in 2009, by train from Prague, at little over 4 hours ride. The train was not the best, instead was the usual Central European old style train with a corridor and separate compartments fitting up to 8 people in each. Still it was comfortable and clean ride nevertheless. On our visit in 2015 we came by National Express bus service from Bratislava, a merely 1.15 hours comfortable trip.
Within the city you will never be far away from any metro station, tram or bus, or even commuter trains should you need them. The fare system is by zones, although the entirely city centre, and full metro and tram system uses the same zone “100”. You can travel anywhere within this zone using the same ticket and can change to as many different transports as needed within 1 hour validity.
A single ticket is 2 Euros if bough at the machines, otherwise you can buy at the trams and buses at the machines inside but will cost you 2.20 Euros instead. You will be better off by buying a 24/48/72 hours ticket as this will save you lots of money, specially if you are planning on taking transports often and/or if your hotel is not walking distance from the city centre. In any case, I absolutely recommend you to at least get a 24h ticket and do all the sightseeing that is located farther away, as the Prater, the Schönbrunn Palace and the Central Cemetery.
For a city of such importance and size there is not really need to say the enormous amount of hotels everywhere, hostels, bed & breakfast and any other kind of accommodation. Still, something that has not changed between both visits in those 6 years between 2009 and 2015 are the prices. In fact, they kept going up. Finding a nice 4* deal is pretty hard, and unless you are willing to be a little bit on the outskirts then prepare to pay higher fares that what you normally would pay in many other cities of the same characteristics. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In our recent trip we stayed at the Prinz Eugen, in Wiedner Guertel 14. Next door to the Central Train Station and meters away from the Belvedere Palace and gardens. Pretty much walking distance to the Old City centre passing by many of the sights in between. This was a really beautiful and nice property, and probably we found this good deal because it was already end of September, meaning the end of the high season. In all senses was great, same it was the Courtyard, so I cannot really say one or the other was better, but both were perfect and both will work great if you manage a good deal in them.
Back in 2009 we decided to stay at the Austria Trend Hotel Zoo (ex Courtyard by Marriott Schoenbrunn). Next door to the Schönbrunn metro station with direct line to the old city centre, and of course, walking distance to the Schönbrunn Palace. This was a great 4* hotel, extremely comfortable beds, super clean, great breakfast and great service. Just as a note, a same hotel would have costed us double and even more if nearer to the old town, but just to be few metro stops away made a huge difference. After all what is 20 minutes metro ride! We could not ask for more and definitely will not hesitate in coming back here in the future.
Album from autumn 2015
Album from summer 2009