As a kid I heard that Vienna “meant nothing” to the 1980s pop star Midge Ure. However, the frontman of the British band Ultravox had his biggest hit by giving the city a nod, so even then I knew it was worth checking out. Kevin McIndoe recommends, Vienna.
Some 35 years later, this capital of classical music and the home of Mozart, Freud and Gustav Klimt makes this a very special place indeed. And its cafes serve up the best coffee and cakes I’ve ever had.
It’s a vibrant, very clean and uber-efficient city that has often been overlooked in favour of its European rivals.
But Vienna was last year voted the best city in the world to live in, in a poll by the Mercer Quality of Living Worldwide. And I can see why. The city, which sits on the River Danube, boasts more than 120 square metres of parks and gardens, making it one of the greenest in the world.
Vienna’s lofty status in the 19th century is all too clear through the grandeur of its imposing imperial palaces and Baroque architecture. Its formidable artistic legacy is assured for all time but there’s also a hip and happening side to Vienna, with a whole new generation of writers, artists and musicians keeping the city current.
With a bewildering array of cafes, shops, street markets, museums and art galleries, my only problem was how to fit them all in. Still, there are plenty of places to buy a pretzel and a coffee (the best in Europe to have one outside Italy) to refuel.
My favourite place- For me, it has to be the House of Music in the Palace of Archduke Karl, in the old city centre. Six floors of conventional and high-tech music displays will let you see, hear, read about and experience some of the city’s formidable musical legacy while having a go yourself. Holograms of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn hover through the air, and there’s a Mozart feature that brings the great man from Salzburg to life. Another interactive display will let you conduct the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra. Whether or not you can wield the baton like a maestro your prowess will get a verdict at the end of it. And the kids will love a set of steps that double up as piano keys, and which light up on a wall panel with every note they step on. Pretty sharp, I’d say.
Highlights- It has to be the Habsburgs, doesn’t it? And the coffee and cakes. The world of the mighty Habsburgs is one every visitor should get a handle on, from the magnificent Schonbrunn and Belvedere Palaces, the Ring Boulevard, and the heart of their vast empire and their main home, the Hofburg (Imperial Palace). You can easily spend the whole day at Schonbrunn Palace, the family’s summer residence. It’s not Austria’s top tourist attraction for nothing. It’s a paragon of Baroque architecture, the rooms of which display furniture, art and tapestries that reek of the power, prestige and glory of its owners. There are also wonderfully lush gardens (and a zoo) for the kids to let off some steam. After visiting the Hofburg, you will find one of the best places to get your caffeine fix (and some great food) in the wonderful Palm House. It’s a splendid steel and glass building that cosies up to a side wall of the Hofburg and is a tourist draw in its own right. You can pile your plate with home-made pastries, and come back again for dinner in the evening.
Lowlights- Trains and subway stations. While lacking the ticket barriers you can find in other cities (like London) you must stamp (i.e. validate) your ticket before you get on any train, tram or bus. Some of the machines are not always easy to find but if you don’t and you get caught, expect to pay a fine of 70 euros. Also, online booking for tourist attractions is often vital unless you like standing in a queue for a couple of hours.
Souvenirs- Naschmarkt is the city’s most famous, and it’s where you can find stalls selling vintage antiques and artefacts. It’s also a farmers’ and street food market so you won’t go hungry while you’re browsing, either
Getting there- You can fly to Austria’s capital with Oman Air, via Dubai.
Where to stay- As you would expect, every hotel chain has fallen over itself to get a prime location for its Vienna base. Trivago, Expedia, Kayuk and Booking.com are the best places to start looking.
1. Visit Mozart House, one of the composer’s homes
2. Visit the Sigmund Freud Museum (the couch is still there)
3. See the iconic Wiener Riesenrad ferris wheel at Prater
4. Wander down Stephansplatz, the city’s official central point
5. Chill out in the trendy Freihausviertel area