Austria City Travel + Tourism Guide: Vienna

Vienna

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

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Vienna is a very old city that shows its age, perhaps not as overtly as, say, Rome, but the things of old stamp its modern life more strongly here than in, say, Paris or London.

With evidence of human habitation going back 25,000 years, a Celtic trading post from around 500BC and made a Roman city by 15BC, Vienna has a history. The very layout of the roads circling most of Vienna's Innere Stadt follows the walls that used to surround it.

Vienna's glory days started about 550 years ago when it became the seat of the Habsburg family, rulers of the conglomerate of states comprising mainly Teutonic and Slavic Europe known as the Holy Roman Empire.

 State Opera House, Vienna. Schonbrunn Palace , Vienna.

The wealth it attracted and the power it exercised made it also Europe's center of courtly culture right up until the start of the 19th century. For the visitor to Vienna, that imperial legacy is what gives the city its true dazzle. There are too many awe-inspiring palaces and churches, eye-popping museums, and horizon-expanding galleries - not to mention theaters, opera houses, monuments, statues, ruins and reading rooms - to see more than a fraction of within a week or two.

That's not to say Vienna isn't also modern. The city boasts the first socialist government in Europe. Even before its socialistic First Republic (1918-1934), "Red Vienna" as it was known had been governed by the forward-looking Christian Democrats. But the flavor of that modernity is still decidedly bourgeois as opposed to 'street'. While its art and entertainment life may have caught up with what's happening, outside of certain cutting edge sections of the Gurtel area there is still much about Vienna that is decidedly quaint. Part of what keeps it from being dull, however, is the mix of communities, roughly a quarter of Vienna's population coming from outside of Austria.

Everyone who knows the name Vienna also knows the name Danube. The city's trademark river (the 'Donau' to locals) runs in a roughly north-south direction along the city's eastern flank, forming the border of what there is of sightseeing interest. The only attraction east of it is the Donaupark on what is effectively the elongated 'stranded island' known as Kaisermuhlen on the river's east bank.

Vienna is fairly compact. Innere Stadt as the center of the city's 'clockface' lies exactly halfway between the north-eastern Donauturm Tower in Donaupark (at '2 o'clock') and Schloss Schonbrunn Palace (at the opposite '8 o'clock' edge of the city on a tract shared with the zoo) - making for a diameter of just over 9km (5 1/2 miles). Innere Stadt is encircled on three sides by the Ringstrasse ring road, and on the other by a diversion of the river Danube, the Danube Canal. Further out is another ring road, the Gurtel, along which is centered the city's red light district, and also a lively bar and nightclub scene.

The transport system is a cheap, reliable and efficient combination of subways (U-Bahn), trams (yes, trams!) and buses. Vienna is also a very cyclable city, and bicycle rental shops abound.

Most of Vienna's sights are crammed into the Innere Stadt, which is encircled on three sides by the Ringstrasse ring road, and on the other by a diversion of the river Danube, the Danube canal. Further out is another ring road, the Gürtel, along which is centred the city's red light district, and also a lively bar and nightclub scene.

Donauturm in Donaupark, and built in 1964, is, at the time of writing, the city's tallest structure, at 252m (827 feet). We recommend you start your tour of Vienna here, getting a bird's eye view of the city and its environs. The view from the top makes it clear how green Vienna is - almost half of its area (a larger proportion than any other capital city in Europe) consists of parks, woods and gardens.

Running to your left and right for 21km parallel with the legendary Danube is the Donauinsel (Danube Island). It was dredged up as an anti-flooding measure to create an extra channel called the New Danube that runs alongside the main river.

Donauinsel is a rollerblading and cycling - and in summer, sunbathing - haven. Around Donauinsel U-Bahn subway station are a lot of places to eat, drink and go night clubbing.

From there, let's go straight to the center, the Innere Stadt. Nearly everything Vienna offers the tourist is here.

The Innere Stadt began life as a Roman military camp in 8AD. The town that developed from it grew into the Vienna of today, and the Innere Stadt, as the city's heart, is preserved as a World Heritage Site.

In the 16th century it was encircled with defensive walls, which, although razed in 1857, have left their traces in the Ringstrasse that circles the district. There is no better way to get a feel for Vienna than to simply follow the Ringstrasse and gawp - whether from the No.1 or No.2 Tram, from the seat of a bicycle, or just in your shoes.

Innere Stadt

Try and end your circuit of the Ringstrasse at Karlsplatz and walk up the Innere Stadt's main pedestrianized thoroughfare, Karntner Strasse. 700m on, moving with the crowd past the buskers and street artists, brings you to Stephensplatz.

Riesenrad, Prater, Vienna.

© Wien-Tourismus
/ POPP & HACKNER

Stephensplatz, with its own subway station, is considered the heart of Vienna, and is dominated by Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral). It was long thought that the earliest church on this site was built during the 11th century, but recent excavations have shown that there may have been some kind of church as early as the fourth century. The current gothic marvel dates from 1359, although there has been substantial reworking over the centuries.

The cathedral has two towers, the 136.7m (448 foot) South Tower which dominates the Vienna skyline, and the 68m (223 foot) North Tower. Steps lead to a viewing platform in the South Tower which offers and excellent panorama of Vienna (9am-5.30pm, 3 euros). There is a lift up the smaller North Tower, which is also home to the 21-tonne Pummerin, the biggest bell in Austria (9am-6pm Mar-Nov, 4 Euros). The North Tower was meant to be as tall as the South, but building had to stop when the Empire's funds ran low.

The cathedral is roofed with strikingly colorful tiles depicting the eagle of Austria. On the outside of cathedral at the north end you can find a crucifixion statue known to the Viennese as 'Christ with a Toothache', and the place where Mozart's corpse was blessed after his funeral. Inside the cathedral the catacombs are well worth seeing. They house not only the remains of plague victims but urns containing certain internal organs of members of the Habsburg dynasty, too! Guided tours of the catacombs start every 10-15 minutes between 10 and 11.30am Mon-Sat, and 1.30 and 4.30pm Mon-Sun, and cost 4 euros.

About 500m SW of Stephansplatz is: Hofburg, the Imperial Palace, or the Summer Residence, of the Habsburg dynasty, and now the official seat of the Federal President of Austria. The palace grew over the centuries with no particular plan, each generation trying to outdo their predecessors. The result is a huge complex which takes days to explore. The center, and the oldest section, is the Swiss Courtyard, so named after the Swiss Guards who used to protect it. The palace is home to numerous attractions including:

Spanische Hofreitschule, The Spanish Riding School is the oldest riding school in the world. You can see them perform classical dressage ('equine ballet') at performances, or watch them practice if you come along at the right time. The performances are often fully booked and take place irregularly, so check out the website www.srs.at. Prices vary, ranging from 40-160 euros. The alternative is to watch them training. Tickets to training sessions are sold at the Visitor Center, 1 Michaeler Platz (Tue-Sat, 9am-4pm), or Gate 2, Josefplatz (9am-12pm) and cost 12 euros for an adult.

Schatzkammer, the Imperial Treasury. Imagine the amount of treasure you could build up ruling half of Europe for more than half a millennium. It's all here. Gems and jewels worth more than Premiership football players, and in the Sacred Treasury, fragments of the True Cross and one of the thorns from Christ's crown (8 euros, 10am-6pm Wed-Mon).

Kaiserappartements, the Imperial Apartments once occupied by Emperor Franz Josef I (7.50 euros, 9am-7pm).

Mythos Sisi, a museum dedicated to Empress Elisabeth, wife of Franz Josef I and Austria's most admired Empress (7.50 euros 9am-5pm, 5.30pm Jul-Aug).

Nationalbibliothek, The National (once the Imperial) Library, contains almost a quarter of a million old books, some of them many centuries old. Even if you don't have the time or inclination to start perusing, the library is worth a visit for the stupendously big and elaborate baroque Grand Hall, or Prunksaal, completed in 1735 and stacked with almost a quarter of a million old, and often priceless, tomes. From the Michaelertor you can also check out the Esperanto Musuem dedicated to the would-be international constructed language invented by the Jewish Pole, L.L. Zammenhof, in 1887. (5 euros, 10am-4pm).

Neue Burg part of Hofburg, Vienna.

Neue Burg

Neue Berg Museums - The New Palace Museums are three museums under one roof. The Sammlung Aler Musik Instrumente is a collection of ancient musical instruments. The Ephesus Museum contains artefacts from the ancient Turkish towns of Ephesus and Samothrace. The Hofjagd und Rustkammer (Arms and Armor) Museum displays mainly 15th and 16th century weapons and armor (8 Euros, 10am-6pm Wed-Mon)

Museum Fur Volkerkunde, The Ethnology Museum, contains countless artifacts from non-European civilizations, with an emphasis on South and Central America. The Museum is closed for refurbishment until Spring 2007 (www.ethno-museum.ac.at).

Right next door to and south-west of the Museum Fur Volkerkunde is the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine of Arts. Facing it is its architectural twin, the Naturhistorisches Museum, or Museum of Natural History. Between them is the topiaried Maria Theresien Platz, named after the powerful and immensely colorful Maria Theresia (Maria Theresa), Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria empress who ruled the Holy Roman Empire for 40 years from 1740 to 1780.

Maria Theresa is said to be one of the few aristocrats in her age who married for love - a love so strong that legend has it that she and Francis Stephen managed to break one of their honeymoon beds. Also, a keen horsewoman, she had the staircases in Bratislava Castle constructed with a shallow enough gradient to let her ride her horse up and down them. Her statue dominates the square.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine of Arts) contains Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, and a picture gallery which includes works by Bruegel, Rembrandt and Rubens. This is one of the most highly rated museums in Europe. (10 euros, 10am-8pm Tue-Sun, 9pm Thurs).

Natural History Museum, Vienna.Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

Naturhistorisches Museum, (Museum of Natural History) directly opposite it - and virtually indistinguishable from it except for differences in the statuary on the facade - houses the 25,000 year old Venus of Willendorf statue (see Austrian History), along with a fine collection of rocks and pickled animal parts (8 euros, 9am-6.30pm Thu-Mon, 9pm Wed)

On the south-west side of Maria Theresien Platz is the Museumsquartier (the former imperial stables) converted into a museum complex only in 2001, but already one of Vienna's top sightseeing destinations. It is home to no less than five museums.

The Leopold Museum - a beautiful, airy space full of works representing the Viennese Secession, Viennese Modernism and Austrian Expressionism. It is particularly famous for its collection of works by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918).

MUMOK (the Museum of Modern Art) - a collection of 20th century art. Some very famous names represented such as Picasso, Warhol, Johns, and Klee. To be honest, however, a rather dingy complex after the Leopold Museum, and the Viennese Actionism section with its obsession with the uglier aspects of human and animal biology may well spoil your day!

 St. Michaels Church, Vienna.

© Wien-Tourismus
/ Gerhard Weinkirn

Architekturzentrum Wien (Vienna Architecture Center), Museumsplatz 1.
Regularly updated exhibitions focusing on the architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries, and on the architecture of the future.
Open Mon-Sun 10am-7pm. Adults/Concessions EUR7/5, under-6s free.
Access:
Subway: U2, U3 (Station "Volkstheater / MuseumsQuartier")
Bus: 48A (Station "Volkstheater / MuseumsQuartier")
Tramway: 49 (Station "Volkstheater / MuseumsQuartier")

Tanzquartier Wien
Founded in 2001, Vienna's cutting edge dance and performance venue, expanding the horizons of dramatic expression.
Museumsquartier, Museumsplatz 1
A-1070 Wien
Tel: 43-1-581 35 91

The Albertina has reopened: home of the world's largest graphic art collection with over a million and a half printed works and 50,000 drawings.

And the Museums-Quartier is the world's eighth largest cultural complex. Famed for its collection of Albrecht Dürer drawings, the Albertina also contains works by Bruegel, Bosch, Cezanne, Da Vinci, Klimt, Matisse, Michelangelo, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and others.

The Albertina building itself was founded in 1768 and is named after Albert, an Austrian Duke, who commissioned the place. Exhibitions are changed every three months and are dedicated to a particular theme or artist.
A must-see on any visit to Vienna. (tel: 534 83 544)

Outside the Vienna city centre

Schloss Schönbrunn - The Schönbrunn Palace to the west of Vienna's city center was the summer residence of the Habsburgs and ranks among Vienna's and indeed Austria's top sights.

The original commission for Leopold I by Austrian architect Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723) was for a palace bigger than Versailles in Paris, but this was later scaled down to a mere 1441 rooms.

Schönbrunn Palace was completed in 1700. Some of the highlights inside the palace include the Round Chinese Room with a hidden doorway and the Blue Chinese Room, where Charles I abdicated in 1918, and the Million Room, named after the amount of money Maria Theresia supposedly spent on decorating it.

The Great Gallery, with its frescoes, chandeliers and mirrors, was the location for the legendary meeting between Kennedy and Khrushchev in 1961.

There are two different tours around the Schönbrunn Palace, and a further range of ticketing options which include various other features along with the tour. The Imperial Tour takes in 22 rooms and takes little over half an hour.
Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

Schonbrunn Palace

(Adults 8.90 Euros, Children 4.70 Euros, Students 7.90 Euros). Access by U-Bahn to Schonbrunn or Hietzing Stations.

The Grand Tour takes in 40 rooms, the main extra being some state rooms used by Maria Theresia and her husband, and takes about 50 minutes (Adults 11.50 Euros, Children 6.00 Euros, Students 10.20 Euros). Both tours include an audio guide. If you want an actual tour guide, it costs a little extra.

The Palace Gardens are huge and free to enter. Features include fake Roman ruins, fountains, a maze, and the Gloriette. The Gloriette was erected in 1775 atop a small hill from where you can get some of the best panoramic views in Vienna, and now houses a cafe where you can cool off after the climb up.

Tourist Offices

Vienna Tourist Board Information Office
Albertinaplatz/cnr of Maysedergasse
(right behind the Vienna State Opera)
Open daily 9am - 7pm)

Tourist Information, Vienna Airport
Arrival Hall
Open 7am - 10pm

Getting There

Air

Wien-Schwechat Airport
www.viennaairport.com
Vienna's main airport is 20km to the southeast of town and connected to City Air Terminal (Landstrasse & Wienmitte U-Bahn) by City Airport Train (CAT). Journey time is 16 minutes. Alternatively, take the cheaper S-Bahn to Wienmitte and Wien-Nord.
There are frequent buses to Schwedenplatz in the center taking about 20 minutes and also bus routes to the Sudbahnhof and Westbahnhof.
There are direct flights from Vienna to the UK (London, Manchester, Birmingham), Ireland (Dublin), Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Leipzig, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich, Stuttgart), Portugal (Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Madeira and the Azores), Moscow, Kiev, Sydney and many other international destinations. Austrian Airlines is Austria's national carrier.

Train

Vienna's main station is the Westbahnhof for trains arriving from the west and north including services from Germany, Switzerland and France. There are direct services to Munich, Frankfurt, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg, and Zurich. Trains from Italy and the east arrive at Sudbahnhof. Transfer between the two stations is by tram #18 or S-Bahn to Meidling and then U-Bahn Line #6.

Bus/Road

Vienna's major bus terminal is City Air Terminal (Landstrasse & Wienmitte U-Bahn).

Getting Around

Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Vienna.

© Wien-Tourismus
/ Gerhard Weinkirn

Getting around central Vienna on foot is no problem though for covering larger distances the Wiener Linien city transport system consisting of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, buses and trams is extremely efficient. The 24-hour or 72-hour Netskarte which allows unlimited travel on the system. The Wien Card available from tourist offices allows for unlimited 72-hour public transport and reduced admission to many of the city's sights. There are also weekly and 8-day passes - the latter can be used by two people for four days each.

Vienna's U-Bahn (subway) has five color-coded lines and runs both above and below ground. The suburban rail network - S-Bahn - runs to the airport and outlying districts.

Vienna's streetcars or "Bim" as they are known cover most of the city and are an atmospheric way of getting around. Check for routes on the stops. Vienna has night bus services running from approximately 12.30am-5.00am when daytime services start up.
Bus and tram stops
are marked by a green "H" (for Haltestelle) and display the name of the stop, bus numbers and destinations, a map of the city transport network and timetables. There are fewer services on weekends and national holidays.
Bus numbers #1A, #2a and #3A buses pass through the Innere Stadt: #1A Schottentor-Stubentor, #2A Schwedenplatz-via Hofburg to Burgring, #3A Schottenring-Schwarzenbergplatz.

Bicycles can be rented at cheap rates from the main train stations and in Stephansplatz and there are designated cycle paths crisscrosing Vienna.

Car Hire

Car hire is available at the airports and in the major cities.

Accommodation

Featured Hotels

Grand Hotel Wien - dates from 1870, 5-star luxury hotel with 205 rooms.

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Football Teams

FK Austria logo.Vienna's football clubs include FK Austria (Austria Vienna) who were founded in 1911 and play in the 11, 500 capacity Franz Horr Stadion. One of Austria's most well-known clubs along with rivals Rapid Vienna, Austria Vienna, the Violetten, were dominant domestically in the 1970s and made the European Cup Winners Cup Final in 1978.

Famous players to don the violet shirt include the legendary 1930s Wunderteam star Matthias Sindelar and more recently icon Toni Polster. To get to the stadium take U-Bahn Line #1 to Reumannplatz in the south, then tram #67.

Rapid Vienna Logo.SK Rapid Wien date from 1899 when they were founded by workers in a hat factory and play in the 17,000 capacity Gerhard Hanappi Stadium (U-Bahn Line #4 to Hutteldorf). The team in green and white stripes were the nation's dominant club until the 1930s and only made a comeback domestically and internationally in the 1980s with the opening of their then new Hanappi stadium in 1977.

Rapid reached but lost two European finals - the 1985 Cup Winners' Cup Final to Everton and the 1996 final to PSG. Rapid still hold the record for most domestic titles and famous former players include Ernst Happel, Hans Krankl, Herbert Prohaska and Andreas Herzog.

VfB Admira Wacker Mödling began life in 1997 following the merger of VfB Mödling and SCN Admira/Wacker. The team from a southern suburb of Vienna play their home games at the 12,000 capacity Bundesstadion Südstadt. Admira had previously merged with Wacker in 1971. The original Admira were successful in the 1930s and famous for their all black kit and for appearing in Wim Wender's movie The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty.

Their location outside Vienna has lead to a lack of a fanbase and the club is now under Iranian ownership and languishing in the second tier of Austrian football.

First Vienna FC is Austria's oldest club, founded in 1894 by English gardeners working on Baron Rothchild's estate. The team play in yellow shirts and blue shorts (from Rothchild's horse racing colors) at the 5,000 capacity Hohe Warte Stadium. Take U-Bahn Line 4 to Heiligenstadt. After their glory days in the late 1920s "Vienna" now play their football in Regionalliga Ost - the third tier of domestic Austrian soccer.

Wiener Sportclub (WSC) once beat Juventus 7-0 in the 1958/59 European Cup but like First Vienna, the team in black and white, have fallen on hard times dropping into the regional leagues and almost disappearing from view.

The Ernst Happel Stadium, like England's Wembley, is not used usually for club games but is Austria's largest stadium, located in the Prater Park.


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