SIX PLACES YOU MUST SEE
Vienna could have been planned with the tourist in mind.. The inner city’s treasures- from the Cathedral to the dazzling royal residence, the Hofburg- -are linked by eminently walkable streets. Museums, art galleries, and theatres are only minutes apart .Even relatively distant attractions like Schloss Schönbrunn are easily reached by an efficient underground system. And wherever you go you are never too far from one of Vienna’s legendary cafes.
Like the dollop of whipped cream on your Sacher Torte, Vienna’s over the top architecture, its sheer exuberant style, makes even a short stay richly satisfying.
Here are six places to see on a first visit to Vienna – or to visit again if you know Vienna well.
1) St. Stephen’s Cathedral, affectionately called ‘Steffi’ , is at the heart of the city, literally and figuratively. The Viennese even admire the postmodernist glass facade of the Haas-Haus opposite because its windows reflect their beloved Gothic church. To tour St. Stephens, its towers and the catacombs, purchase an ‘all inclusive’ ticket. But simply looking around the nave on your own is free.
2) Among the seven or eight museums in the Hofburg Palace one of the most visited is the ‘Sisi’ museum, a collection of objects belonging to the beautiful and doomed ‘Sisi’, -the Empress Elizabeth. The exhibition of items, many of a very personal nature, was enhanced a few years ago with the addition of 240 pieces from a private collection. Admittance to the Silver Collection and the Imperial Apartments is included on the ‘Sisi ticket’ . www.hofburg-wien.at. The Hofburg is also the home of the famous Spanish Riding School; its performances are booked out well in advance but as some spectators leave, others are admitted.
To be sure of a place book online as far ahead as possible. (www.srs.at.) The Vienna Boys Choir sings in the medieval chapel of the palace on Sundays, a tradition that has endured for 500 years. The choir travels in July and August but resumes in the Hofmusikkapelle mid- September. (Standing room is free; queuing for admission for the Sunday 9 o’clock Mass begins at 8 am.)
3) Vienna’s ‘MuseumsQuartier’ is one of the 10 largest cultural centres in the world. In a mix of buildings ranging from Baroque to Contemporary, there’s a Museum of Modern Art, a Museum of Contemporary Art, plus centres devoted to dance, photography, architecture and more. The sleek Leopold Museum, is the star attraction. It boasts the definitive Shiele collection as well as many works by Klimt. Original Art Nouveau and Wiener Werkstaate furniture form an interesting mini-collection… A panoramic window on the fourth floor frames Vienna’s rooftops like a work of art. The Leopold is open from 10h to 18h, and until 21h on Thursday. Outstanding cafe/bistro. Closed Tuesdays. www.leopoldmuseum.org.
4) In the mid-19th century , the Ringstrasse, a broad road encircling Vienna’s old city, replaced the city’s former city walls and moats. By the direct edict of Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1857 (“It is my will….”) the new Ringstrasse was lined with opulent town houses called Palais. Though all were built between 1860 and 1890, the architectural styles are a scrapbook in stone, a medley called ‘Ringstraßenstil’. Readers of Edmund de Waal’s award-winning memoir, “The Hare with the Amber Eyes'” will take a long look at the facade of the Palais Ephrussi where so much of the story took place. It stands on Dr Karl-Lueger-Ring opposite the University (Today the building is the headquarters of ‘Casino Austria’.)
5) The Schönbrunn rivals Versailles for magnificence; in its Baroque Hall of Mirrors the five-year old Mozart played for the Imperial family. This summer home of the Hapsburgs boasts 1441 rooms (Versailles has about 2000) but you will only see 40 of them on the Grand Tour or 22 on the Imperial Tour. Buy a ticket on line and skip the long queues at one of the most visited sites in Europe (www.schoenbrunn.at The Palace gardens are enlivened by a zoo featuring giant pandas, a palm house, a carriage collection and a viewing pavilion- the Gloriette. There are relaxing cafes throughout the grounds but for a proper meal in a delightful setting book a table at the Cafe Restaurant Residenz in a wing of the Palace. On Saturday and Sunday afternoon , enjoy free piano music with your coffee and cake. www.cafe-residenz.at
6) The Judenplatz Memorial, by British architect Rebecca Whiteread, commemorates the 65,000 Viennese victims of the Holocaust. A squat steel and concrete structure, it is designed to look as if it were constructed of thousands of books placed backwards on shelves, their contents forever unknowable. The names of the camps in which the victims perished are inscribed around its base.
Browse Vienna’s famous auction house, the Palais Dorotheum at Dorotheergasse 17. Vienna’s largest antique shop, the building houses several floors of treasures; most will be auctioned but you might find a ‘ready to go’ souvenir in either the ‘Glashof’ or Art and Design Gallery where porcelain, glass and collectables are for sale at fixed prices.A delightful, old-fashioned cafe is on the second floor.
The Dorotheum is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 to 18:00; Saturday until 17h.