Vienna is a city that charms and seduces from the outset, and one’s affection only intensifies with time. Whether you’re visiting for fast-track travel or slow-paced sightseeing, and regardless of how many times you’ve visited, there’s a never-ending wealth of things to do and see throughout the year. Consistently ranked as offering the highest quality of life in the world, Vienna entices locals and visitors alike with splendid attractions, world-class events, excellent public transport and city bike scheme, fabulous eateries, cafés, bars and wineries, artisan shops and exciting street markets.
Baroque streetscapes and imperial palaces set the stage for Vienna’s artistic and musical masterpieces alongside its coffee-house culture and vibrant epicurean and design scenes.
British Embassy Vienna: (00 43 1 713 1575; gov.uk), Jauresgasse 12, 1030 Vienna
Emergency services: dial 112
see wien.info, the website of the Vienna Tourist Board, for what’s on in the city and tips on where to go. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the Tourist Info Vienna (00 43 1 24555) at the corner of Albertinaplatz and Maysedergasse, 1010 Vienna. Open daily: 9am-7pm
Telephone code: dial 00 43, followed by 1 for Vienna numbers from abroad
Time difference: +1 hour
Flight time: London to Vienna is approximately two hours
When to go to Vienna
The cold weather between December and March shouldn’t be a damper. There are plenty of places to warm up. What’s more, with street markets aglow and the ball season in full swing it’s a fun time to visit. By April milder temperatures and blooming parks and gardens lure locals back outdoors. From mid-May to late June, outdoor festivals and parties are well underway and reach their peak with the annual three-day Donauinselfest – Europe’s largest free open-air party. Although the odd heatwave may feel uncomfortable during July and August, chill-out locations are in abundance along the Danube River and canal, though state-run opera, concert and theatre venues close shop. From September onwards, cultural activities are back in full swing, and mild, sunny days offer ideal conditions for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Where to go
Classic ‘must-sees’ include the palaces of Schönbrunn and Hofburg, the Ringstrasse and a multitude of art treasures in the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum), Belvedere (world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection), Albertina and Leopold Museum (main Schiele collection). As for contemporary architecture the new WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) campus in the 2nd district boasts Zaha Hadid’s futuristic Library and Learning Center. Fans of contemporary art flock to Museumsquartier’s MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) and Belvedere’s 21er Haus.
Vienna’s imperial grandeur is the legacy of the powerful Habsburg monarchy. Their home for more than six centuries, the Hofburg palace complex, incorporates the Burgkapelle (Imperial Chapel), where the Vienna Boys’ Choir sings Sunday Mass, and the famed Spanish Riding School, where Lipizzaner stallions perform elegant equine ballet, along with a trove of museums, including in the chandeliered Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments). Other immense palaces include the baroque Schloss Belvedere and the Habsburgs’ 1441-room summer residence, Schloss Schönbrunn, while 19th-century splendours such as the neo-Gothic Rathaus (City Hall) line the magnificent Ringstrasse encircling the Innere Stadt (inner city).
One of the Habsburgs’ most dazzling Rinsgstrasse palaces, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, houses the imperial art collection. It’s packed with priceless works by Old Masters, and treasures including one of the world’s richest coin collections. Behind the Hofburg, the former imperial stables have been transformed into the innovative MuseumsQuartier, with a diverse ensemble of museums, showcasing 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art at the Leopold Museum to often-shocking avant-garde works at the contemporary MUMOK. Meteorites, fossils and prehistoric finds fill the Naturhistorisches Museum, while exquisite furnishings at the applied-arts Museum für Angewandte Kunst are also among the artistic feasts in store.
Vienna is one of the few cities to rival London for things to do: given its has the largest wine production of any city in the world, there are countless wine bars to drink in the culture on the cheap – we loved nearby Klein’s, as well as Francis’ bar. Both basic, but rather charming.
Coffee shops are as popular as they were in Freud’s day, bustling with locals and a fair share of eccentrics.
Shopping is first rate: luxury is everywhere, with top boutiques from Louis Vuitton to Armani to Cartier and Hermes, but don’t miss the Naschmarkt, a flea market that’s become an institution, or the glorious food stalls nearby: just head to the Kettenbrückengasse metro stop. The city also boasts countless museums – The Albertina is unmissable for fans of the Impressionists – and of course, Vienna is famous for its opera houses. A tour is worthwhile to see the historic sites, including where Freud and Mozart lived. Of which, don’t leave without trying the Mozartkugel; a delectable sweet of pistachio, nougat and chocolate all gloriously mixed together.
Top experiences in Vienna
The Habsburgs’ overwhelmingly opulent summer palace is now a Unesco World Heritage site. Of the palace’s 1441 rooms, 40 are open to the public; the Imperial Tour takes you into 26 of these, including the private apartments of Franz Josef and Sisi, while the Grand Tour covers all 40 and includes the precious 18th-century interiors from the time of Maria Theresia. These mandatory tours are done with an audio guide or, for an additional charge, a tour guide.
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
One of the unforgettable experiences of any trip to Vienna is a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, brimming with works by Europe’s finest painters, sculptors and artisans. Occupying a neoclassical building as sumptuous as the art it contains, the museum takes you on a time-travel treasure hunt from Classical Rome to Egypt and the Renaissance. If your time’s limited, skip straight to the Picture Gallery, where you’ll want to dedicate at least an hour or two to Old Masters.
Top of every Prater wish-list is the Riesenrad; at least for anyone of an age to recall Orson Welles’ cuckoo clock speech in British film noir The Third Man (1949), set in a shadowy postwar Vienna. Built in 1897 by Englishman Walter B Basset, the ferris wheel rises to 65m and takes about 20 minutes to rotate its 430-tonne weight one complete circle – giving you ample time to snap some fantastic shots of the city spread out at your feet.
A masterpiece of total art, Schloss Belvedere is one of the world’s finest baroque palaces. Designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt (1668–1745), it was built for the brilliant military strategist Prince Eugene of Savoy, conqueror of the Turks in 1718. What giddy romance is evoked in its sumptuously frescoed halls, replete with artworks by Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka; what stories are conjured in its landscaped gardens, which drop like the fall of a theatre curtain to reveal Vienna’s skyline.
Food & Drink
Make sure your room rate includes breakfast, or it’s €36 a head: they offer everything from cold meats to pastries to freshly cooked waffles and pancakes, and there’s even fizz for those who aren’t planning a particularly strenuous day. Afternoon tea is served in main atrium – unusual in a land of coffee lovers – but it’s the hotel’s steakhouse, DSTRKT, which is a must.
Sure, it sounds like a low rent fashion brand, but it’s a hell of a restaurant and one obsessed enough about steak that it offers diners their choice of knife. A ridiculous conceit, but still rather fun. The meat is first rate, with Austrian beef proving surprisingly flavourful, but they offer up US porterhouse, Japanese Wagyu and even Italian bistecca, notoriously difficult to get right – but this kitchen is precise, expert. They cook beautifully, while the staff are friendly, and though the restaurant is pricey, they are not pushy, as happy to recommend something on the cheaper end as their big hitters. The cheesecake, too, is a thing of joy, pure wonder. Still, perhaps the best endorsement of this place is how often it’s packed with locals: many hotel restaurants are also-rans, but that’s not the case here.