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Beautiful Vienna offers a symphony of astounding European art, music and architecture. As you waltz unhurriedly through Austria’s capital city and its historic World Heritage Site core of winding streets, you can visit opulent palaces, pretty parks and masterwork-packed art museums. Enjoying high living standards, plus worldwide renown for classical music and composers, vibrant Vienna frequently hosts concerts featuring the world’s finest musicians. Additionally, there’s great food, drink and shopping, plus many hotels to stay in, including several near the airport.
Characterized by magnificent landmarks, Vienna’s World Heritage Site nucleus is enclosed by the grand Ringstrasse crescent and the Danube Canal, where Viennese waterway boat trips depart. Many of Vienna’s finest sights are near this 19th century boulevard lined with monuments and green spaces. Ringstrasse highlights include the City Park boasting statues of composers Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss, the lavishly decorated Vienna city hall and the Art Nouveau Palmenhaus greenhouse featuring exotic plants and butterflies.
Vienna’s comprehensive public transport network of trams, buses and trains makes sightseeing easy, whichever hotel you choose. St Stephen's Cathedral in old town is perhaps Vienna’s best-known emblem. This iconic Gothic structure possesses eye-catching multi-coloured roof tiles arranged in zigzags plus a stunning stone pulpit and Renaissance tombs inside. Streets leading off the surrounding Stephansplatz square boast upscale shopping opportunities galore plus several hotels. Meanwhile, the early 18th century Karlskirche topped by a copper dome is considered to be Vienna’s grandest Baroque church. Wedged between the Danube Canal and the River Danube is the Prater, central Vienna’s largest park. Besides a planetarium, amusement park, children’s playgrounds and woodlands, this pretty park is famed for its 1897-built Riesenrad Ferris wheel, which offers terrific city skyline views. It achieved cinematic fame in films like The Third Man with Orson Welles and the James Bond adventure The Living Daylights. Elsewhere, classical music aficionados can find German composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s grave in the suburban Zentralfriedhof cemetery.
Sitting inside Ringstrasse, the magnificent Hofburg blends architectural styles dating back to the 13th century as illustrated by the Swiss Courtyard. Formerly the residence of the powerful Hapsburg dynasty, this much-expanded palace recalls Vienna’s days as an imperial capital city. Touring the splendid 18th century Belvedere Palace is another must for visitors. Inside this art-filled Baroque palace surrounded by landscaped gardens are marble halls, frescoes and masterpieces like Gustav Klimt’s gilded 1908 painting The Kiss. The Vienna Botanical Garden is situated in the grounds. Completing Vienna’s World Heritage Site line-up is the sumptuous Schönbrunn Palace. Once used as the Hapsburgs summertime residence, this Baroque palace runs guided tours revealing the grandeur of up to 40 of its 1400-plus rooms. The grounds also contain Vienna Zoo, which is the oldest in the world and home to giant pandas.
Culture vultures love to visit Vienna because it possesses dozens of museums. Art, natural history and psychoanalysis are among their diverse themes. Within the Hofburg complex is the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer, housing religious relics from the life of Christ and Hapsburg treasures like the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. Once used as guest apartments, the nearby Albertina now displays Monet and Degas paintings, among others. Further Viennese museum highlights include the Sigmund Freud Museum, detailing the life of the famous psychoanalyst inside his former home, and the Haus der Musik with its interactive exhibits on sound, musical instruments and great composers.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum face one another in grand Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Kunsthistorisches Museum contains masterpieces including Raphael's Madonna of the Meadow, a Rembrandt self-portrait and Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel from 1563. Fossils, meteorites and dinosaur bones reside in the Naturhistorisches Museum. Near these twin neoclassical buildings is a cluster of museums known as the Museumsquartier. Its highlights include the Leopold Museum featuring Egon Schiele paintings and the edgy MUMOK museum showcasing modern art by the likes of Picasso and Klee.
Performance runs in Vienna’s veins. Whether it’s dancing horses, theatre, opera or classical music, the city has an exceptional pedigree for live shows and unrivalled venues. Indeed, visitors should plan ahead to secure tickets for the most prestigious performances, including the world-famous Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg. Holidaymakers flock from their hotels to its ornate viewing galleries to see elegant and specially-trained Lipizzan horses perform intricate dressage shows set to classical music. Nearby is the 18th century Burgtheater, which is among the German-speaking world’s finest theatres. In keeping with Vienna’s classical music tradition that includes composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and Gustav Mahler, the city routinely stages performances at venues like the acoustically fine-tuned Musikverein concert hall and the breath-taking Staatsoper opera house in Ringstrasse.
Vienna brims with epicurean delights. On the menu in its many restaurants and traditional Austrian inns or beisln are dishes like hearty Viennese goulash, tafelspitz boiled beef and Wiener schnitzels. Popular snacks include sausages served at Vienna’s ubiquitous street food stalls. For marvellous cakes and pastries like apple strudels and the chocolate-covered Sachertorte, take a seat in one of the city’s elegant coffee houses like the Café Central in old town, where cake shops and confectioners also abound. Wine bars serving Austrian wines and the open-air Naschmarkt selling local produce and international specialities are also worth a visit for foodies.