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5 places to visit in Vienna

Jan Richardson / 06 December 2016 ( 13 March 2017 )

What springs to mind when you think about Vienna? The Viennese Waltz? Empire? Wienerschnitzel? The Spanish Riding School? Glühwein? Christmas Markets? Sachertorte? Well, why not book your trip and discover it all for yourself?

Beautiful view of famous Schonbrunn Palace with Great Parterre garden in Vienna, Austria
One of the most impressive Baroque complexes in Europe is the former summer residence of the imperial family of Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace.

Vienna developed from its Celtic and Roman origins, through Medieval and Renaissance times, into Austria’s largest city and in the 12th century the city was nominated Austria’s capital - and one of its nine states - by Duke Henry II of Austria.

Situated close to the borders of its neighbours, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, Vienna has worked with these regions to create a Central European multinational region and its historic city centre has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Vienna’s Baroque cityscape was largely created in the 18th century by Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresia of the Habsburg Dynasty, and contributed to by Emperor Franz Joseph a century later.

Maria-Theresien-Platz, is a large public square linking the Museumsquartier with the Ringstrasse, flanked on both sides by two identical buildings facing one another: the Natural History Museum, Naturhistorisches Museum, and the Museum of the History of Arts, Kinsthistorisches Museum.

It was also the Emperor Franz Joseph who was responsible for ordering the brilliant construction of the Ringstrasse (or Ringstraße), the 5.3km long ring-road that circles the city, and its accompanying monumental architecture.

Wherever you go in Vienna city centre, you will find yourself, at some point or another, on - or crossing - the Ringstrasse. A good idea when sight-seeing in Vienna is to purchase a Wien-Karte, valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours for travel on free public transport and gaining entry to some attractions with discounts.

Vienna has long been regarded as one of the world’s chief capitals of music. It is home to many famous musicians - the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, the Strauss family, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler.

It was also the birthplace of the waltz. If you have a penchant for classical music, you cannot fail to find a concert taking place somewhere in Vienna almost every day.

Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)

Beautiful view of famous Schonbrunn Palace with Great Parterre garden in Vienna, Austria
Beautiful view of famous Schonbrunn Palace with Great Parterre garden in Vienna, Austria

One of the most impressive Baroque complexes in Europe is the former summer residence of the imperial family of Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace.

Since the reign of Empress Maria Teresia, the Schönbrunn has hosted many grand statesmen of Europe in its magnificent state rooms. 

The complex is comprised of the Palm House, a maze, a zoo, an orangery and the Imperial Carriage Museum, as well as a delightful park, the wonderful Gloriette Arcade and the Neptune fountain.

Why not take an audio tour of the palace and admire the splendour of 22 of its 1441 rooms, including the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful wife Elisabeth, ‘Sisi’, and the Mirror Room, where Mozart gave his first performance for Maria Teresia at the age of six.

Make sure you give yourself enough time for your visit here - there is so much to see.

Spanish riding school (Spanische Hofreitschule)

Horses at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna
Horses at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

If you are a lover of equestrian performances, the Spanish Riding School is a spectacle not to be missed. Watch in awe as the handsome white Lippizaner stallions, perfectly trained and controlled by their smartly attired riders in their historic costumes, perform their ‘airs above the ground’ to their captivated crowd.

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna has been practising as an institution of ‘Haute Ecole’ for over 450 years; its Lippizaner stud stallions are specially bred in Piber to demonstrate their skills in the Winterreitschule, located in the Hofburg, just off Michaelerplatz.

Make sure you book your ticket before you go, to avoid disappointment, as there are specific times for the performances. 

If you wish to continue your equestrian theme and fancy a popular traditional tour of Vienna’s old city by horse and carriage, Michaelerplatz is the place to catch it.

Hofburg Palace

Horfburg Palace at night
Horfburg Palace at night"

On your tour of the 13th century Hofburg Palace, you will see the former imperial residences of the Hapsburgs and the Austrian Empire’s power-house at its height.

Today, however, it is the official seat of the Austrian President. In the rooms in which Emperor Joseph II once created his revolutionary reform programme and where Emperor Franz Joseph held court, you will now find the offices of the President, the Chancellor and the Secretaries of State.

As you approach the building, you cannot fail to be impressed by the beautiful Baroque pillared edifice with its marble and gold decorative statuary you might have already spotted as you passed by on your carriage ride.

The Hofburg Palace, in the heart of the city, now hosts an International Congress Centre, a venue in which many people from all over the world choose to hold their international events.

But, going back to the Hofburg’s historic function, it is also home to the Imperial Silver Collection, which includes gold and porcelain as well as silver and features the incredible 30m long Milan centrepiece - a reminder of the splendour of the former imperial banquets.

The Sisi Museum houses memorabilia representing the legendary Kaiserin Elisabeth, affording interesting insights into both her personal and imperial life.

When you visit the Imperial Apartments of the Kaiser and Kaiserin you will get an idea of how it must have felt to be a popular imperial couple. Unlike at Schönbrunn, where the furnishings are richly embellished, all the suites here are decorated and furnished in an historically authentic manner.


The Naschmarkt, Vienna
The Naschmarkt, Vienna"

For the gastronomers amongst you, you would be hard pushed to find anywhere with a greater abundance of fresh foods in Vienna, or probably even in Austria, than in the fabulous Naschmarkt, where you will find a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and German sausages, as well as a plethora of Viennese souvenirs to take home.

Interestingly, the German word ‘nasch’ translates as ‘nosh’, a slang English word for food, possibly adopted during former Germanic settlements of Britain.

Spend an enjoyable hour or two meandering between row upon row of heaving stalls, packed with mouth-watering foodstuffs, and even if you resist the temptation to buy anything, the colours and smells in the Naschmarkt will make your visit well worthwhile.

There are plenty of cafes in which to rest, quench your thirst or satisfy your hunger pang along the way.

St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

St Stephens Cathedral, Bratislava
St Stephens Cathedral, Bratislava"

The majestic St Stephen’s Cathedral, Stephansdom, with its attractive spire and towers, has stood overlooking the heart of the old town for more than 700 years and is one of the main attractions in Vienna.

You can view this beautiful cathedral - literally - from top to bottom: climb the 340 steps or so up to the South Tower, Türmer Stube; take the lift up to the North Tower, Pummerin, and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city; or go down to explore the catacombs below.

With its Romanesque and Gothic architecture, St Stephen’s cannot fail to impress you.

The first thing you will see on entry is the ornate Giant's Door, with its dragons, lions, monks and demons.

Other characteristics include the Bishop's Gate, reserved originally for female visitors, and the Singer Gate, for male visitors. See also the 16th century pulpit, ornately decorated in Gothic style, and the Gothic organ case, amongst many other very intriguing sculpture and artwork features of the cathedral.

St Stephen's, whose construction was commissioned by Duke Rudolf IV in the 14th century on the site of two earlier churches, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. 

It stands in Stephansplatz, the geographical heart of Vienna, cosily tucked in amongst the popular shopping streets of Graben and Kärntner Strasse.

Make sure you have your camera as you will surely want to take a photograph of this picturesque cathedral. St Stephen's carries great religious significance and many great people have graced its doors: Mozart was married here and Haydn sang here as a choirboy.

With its striking multi-coloured roof, it has become one of the city’s most recognisable and revered landmarks, lovingly referred to as ‘Steffi’ by the Viennese.

If you embark on an informative tour of the lovely St Stephen’s, you will not only see the wonderful sights it has to offer, but also learn about the history of the cathedral and of the city itself.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.