Taxi-horses waiting for custom outside the Hofburg Palace, central Vienna.
Vienna guide in short
This city is Bugbog’s favourite walking city in Europe!
Vienna (Wien in German) is the capital of Austria and houses piles of magnificent and varied architecture ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau, all set in an uncrowded, relaxed, spaced-out city that is one of the most pedestrian-friendly European capitals.
Home to Strauss, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart (also birthplace of Sigmund Freud and Adolf Hitler), Vienna loves the world of music but also offers varied interesting museum experiences and magnificent interior décor in many churches and palaces.
The locals are well-mannered, it’s extremely safe, efficient, not too expensive and only a few hours drive from other great cities in and out of Austria. Food is good, though heavy and tends towards sweety or meaty.
Inline skaters and bikers are well catered for.
See main attractions.
Nothing serious but. . .
• The Danube is neither blue nor near the city centre, though the green Danube Canal is.
• Shops are mostly elegant and pricey, while the centre lacks little grocer stores.
• Family-friendly entertainment is in short suppy. More.
• Food tends to be heavy and meat oriented. Vegetarians may have to suffer for their beliefs. More.
Grabel Strasse leading to the heart of Vienna.
Rainfall is moderate year round with June and July getting most precipitation but that’s balanced by perfect summer temperatures, with average lows of 15C and highs of 25C.
Winters are drier, with snow and not too cold, normally just above or below freezing.
So. . . very best: May, September and pretty good though busy in summer months, but Wien tourism is possible all year.
n. b. The Lipizzaner Horses (Spanish Riding School) give no performances in July and limited shows in June and August, so book asap if interested. SRS site dates and prices.
Main Tourist Attractions
Vienna Walk 1, inside the Ring
Pleasant, rambling walks can cover many of the key sights for tourists.
A walker’s delight, Vienna is conspicuously two legs correct, enveloping walkers in grand designs rather than gritty air.
Pedestrian areas crisscross the city centre, but even the ring road circling the inner city has comfortable, separate walking, biking, tram and car lanes, not that there are many cars in motion anyway, the city has only 1. 6m inhabitants. And anyway, why bother when trams and metro are fast, frequent and cheap? Cars are for late or out-of-town use.
Vienna’s inner city is encircled by the Ringstrasse – a wide, tree-lined boulevard uncrowded by cars, trams, bikes or pedestrians.
Many important sights line this ring road – including the Stadt Park (with its Strauss monument), Opera House, Hofburg Palace, a cluster of big museums, Parliament and the imposing Rathaus (City Hall).
The Rathaus has exceptionally lively evening action outside, with a daily free showing of famous music films (evenings, July/Aug) and a busy world food court of varied cuisine, ranging from Greek to Australian (? ! ). This is not a tourist attraction, it’s where the locals hang out.
Saturday night at 10pm sees hundreds of skaters swooshing around the Ringstrasse – legally.
Pedestrianised Kartner Strasse runs from the Opera House/Ringstrasse junction down to the spectacular St Stephen’s cathedral and offers many diversions en route. This is an area that demands random walks of discovery.
Vienna hop-on, hop-off tour options
There are easy, good value guided tours around the city on Open-Top Buses (15 stops and one of two day passes).
Ring Trams do a 25 minute circuit of the Ringstrasse with video screens and commentary, stopping at 13 stations.
Cycle tours are available, usually about 3 hours visiting the city’s main attractions.
Segway tours are the pricey option and we suspect users will be more interested in their transport than the sights visited.
Saturday night at 10pm is skate night and sees hundreds of skaters swishing around the Ringstrasse.
Karlskirche, a must-see inside and out.
Vienna Walk 2, just outside the Ring
Outside the Ringstrasse, but only just, still walkable are:
– the magnificent Karlskirche (church) with awesome dome frescoes inside but quite spectacular exterior art too.
– the cute little Art Nouveau Secession Building.
– the huge, baroque Museumsquartier culture complex.
– the two Belvedere Palace/Museums.
Schloss Schonbrunn with Stephansdom cathedral seen on the distant right. Photo by Thomas Wolf.
Vienna Walk 3, outside the Ring
Outside the inner city, needing a taxi or short trip on the metro/subway/underground/U-bahn
• the huge Schloss Schonbrunn palace complex (photo at top), with clear, detailed tours of ‘a day in the life of an emperor’s family’, superb free gardens, and frequent concerts/operas in different locations. More information and photo
• the totally wacky, ‘Austrian Gaudi’ apartments of Hundertwasserhaus. Photo and information
• Half an hour from the centre of Vienna by public transport is the Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof), a grave Mecca for music buffs. You can pose next to the Mozart memorial and within a few metres of the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and both Johann Strausses.
Salzburg’s main street in high season.
• Vienna Woods, stretching from the city to the Alps provide excellent hiking, biking and Austrian country town experiences.
• Salzburg (209m/336km SW) is a fast 3 hours by car – about €100 for a day trip with a guide. It’s an impressive little town with depressing numbers of tourists.
• Baden (15m/24km SW) for the Spa bath experience.
• Neusiedl Lake (28m/45km SE) for family activities, bird watching or biking.
• The Wachau Danube Valley (NW), including popular Krems( 50m/80km W), lovely Durnstein (5m/8km W of Krems, where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned) and the amazing over-the-top baroquery of Melk Abbey (55m/89km W). Car, bus or boat, tho’ boat trips take a long time to get anywhere interesting.
Vienna’s hotels are brilliant, but also very pricey – even compared to neighbouring countries which are hardly cheap – particularly if you want to stay in or near the central zone 1st District though an increasing number of apartments have become available due to the tough economic times so check for low cost places near key attractions.
Christmas – March, Ball Season finds dances, mostly waltz, all over the city, with the elite jigging at the Hofburg Palace.
May-June, Theatre Festival, including dance.
mid June – early July, Jazzfest takes over.
September, one week, Hallamasch, multi-ethnic music and dance performances.
Museums and Galleries
The Upper Belvedere Palace.
There are some superb displays – including how the Imperial families lived – in gorgeous settings, such as the Hofburg Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum (Fine Arts), the Belvedere Palaces, the recently redeveloped Museumsquartier culture complex, and many more.
Excellent free daily shows of music films outside the Rathaus (city hall), July, August. With food/drink stalls.
Musikverein for the Philharmonic Orchestra, Burgkapelle in Hofburg for Vienna Boys Choir.
Note that the #1 opera place, Staatsoper, is closed July thru August, tho’ tours run every hour and the interior is spectacular. Otherwise there are plenty of concerts and occasional operas at Schloss Schonnbrunn and other musical establishments. Look for touts in tourist areas wearing 19thC costumes!
Also the Rathaus has lively outdoor, evening showings.
Performances in English for foreigners at English Theatre and International Theatre.
Live Music and Clubs
The best area for a night out is around Ruprechtsplatz, Seiten-stettengasse, Rabensteig and Salzgries, or other districts (WUK, U4, Arena, etc. )
Tickets can be bought from the venues or at the tourist office near the Opera House. Check the tourist office’s magazine for event info/listings.
There’re not a lot of kid friendly activities, but Schloss Schonnbrunn has a few things to keep small tourists busy – a maze, a zoo, a puppet theatre and kid-oriented tours of the palace.
There’s also the Prater, the main amusement park (while also being a regular strolling park) in Vienna that operates roller coasters, ghost trains, carousels and even a 65m high antique Ferris Wheel Riesenrad, built in 1897 by Englishman Walter Basset it takes about 20 minutes to rotate one complete circle.
The Prater zone is open around the clock, throughout the year and entrance is free. You pay for specific attractions (which close in winter and during bad weather outbreaks). The season runs from the mid-March to the end of October.
Sachertorte is a famously heavy chocolate cake created in Vienna in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Munchy. It is delicious though I wouldn’t care to hear how many calories a piece contains. If pressed I would guess close to 1, 000. And then add the thick cream. . .
Heavy on the meat is Austrian style. Tafelspitz (spicy, boiled beef), Wiener Schnitzel (veal or pork in breadcrumbs) and Gulasch (spicy beef stew) are specialities.
Around Vienna there are also many good quality sausage stalls, serving beers and excellent wine too.
Pastries are superb, as is coffee and desserts. This is not a good place for dieters!
Coffee Houses and Heuriger (wine taverns) are integral parts of local culture : try Café Bräunerhof, Café Hawelka, City Heurigen, Weinhof Wieninger, Wienglut Klager.
Bars infest Wien but no more so than the fabled ‘Bermuda Triangle’, a rectangle running south of Stephansdom to the Danube Canal and west to the ring road. So called because once you start bar hopping in this maze of streets you may disappear forever.
Classy: In Vienna’s inner city just about all the shops are ‘classy’, so you won’t have trouble finding elegant, expensive outfits. Steffl and Ringstrassen Galerien are two good examples of posh department stores, both in Kartnerstrasse.
Antiques/books: Am Hof square, Fri/Sat.
Farmer’s markets: Freyung, especially interesting before Christmas.
Wacky: Naschmarkt flea market, Saturday.
To orient yourself zoom in and look for the Kartner Ring. Alongside or inside the ring are most of Vienna’s primary attractions. Strolling around the ring is a very easy, pleasant way to introduce you to this lovely city.
Vienna was substantialy damaged by air raids during WWII but not to the extent of Germany’s Berlin and major structures were rebuilt in identical style and at some expense so the city still maintains an ancient, well-kept patina.