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    Visiting Vienna Austria

    History, Beauty, Music & Charm

    Location: Vienna Austria

    Vienna. Wein. Wow. Somehow in all my travels Vienna had eluded me. Now that I have been there, I have no doubt I will be back. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – right up there with Budapest and Paris, two of my favorites. But Vienna is not Paris and it’s not Budapest. It is its own unique city with fascinating ancient and recent history and a charm and beauty like no other. Today let’s talk about Visiting Vienna Austria.

    Beautiful gardens at every turn
    Vienna is home to incredible art and antiquities


    The rich and varied history and significant cultural and archaeological influence of Vienna have made its historic core a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here is what the UNESCO website has to say about the distinctive history of Vienna.

    Vienna, situated on the Danube River in the eastern part of Austria, developed from early Celtic and Roman settlements into a medieval and Baroque city, eventually becoming the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    Schonbrunn Palace summer gazebo

    During the Ottoman conflicts in the 16th and 17th centuries, the medieval town’s walls, which surrounded a much larger area, were rebuilt and provided with bastions. This remained the core of Vienna until the medieval walls were demolished in the second half of the 19th century

    Baroque Architecture

    n 1683, Vienna became the capital of the Habsburg Empire and developed rapidly, becoming an impressive Baroque city. The Baroque character was expressed particularly in the large palace layouts such as the Belvedere Palace and garden ensemble. A growing number of new palaces were built by noble families, many existing medieval buildings, churches, and convents were altered and given Baroque features, and additions were made to representative administrative buildings.

    Interior Schonbrunn Palace

    Several historic Viennese buildings are now associated with the residences of important personalities such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, when the city played an essential role as a leading European center for music. (Source UNESCO)

    Charles II of Spain – Habsburg Monarchy

    Habsburg Dynasty 600 Years

    Charles II of Spain – Born 6 November 1661, Charles was the only surviving son of Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, who were uncle and niece. While European nobility commonly married within the same extended family to retain property, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were unusual in the extent to which they followed this policy, resulting in poor health and disfigurement as seen here. (Wikipedia)

    The Habsburg Dynasty was in power for more than 600 years.

    Vienna after WWII Bombing

    The Second World War created havoc in the city. Vienna was bombed 52 times during World War II, destroying much of the city. However, today the city is fully restored and more beautiful than ever. (Photo Google Images)

    Visiting Vienna Austria

    We had six days to explore this beautiful city. Prior to arrival we had booked several activities, as well as a room at the Mercure City Center hotel, an easy walk from the main historic center of the city. Our room was comfortable, staff was excellent and the breakfast was well done each morning. Here is how we spent our time Visiting Vienna Austria.

    Stephen’s Cathedral, built in the 12th century, in the historic center


    Our early flight from Belgrade got us to Vienna around 10am. Efficient exit process through Vienna International Airport and to our hotel before 11am. Too early to check in, we dropped our bags, and headed out for a full day.

    Visitors flock to Vienna and carriage rides are popular


    We started at the world renowned Kunsthistorissche Museum. We had purchased tickets in advance, but I think in April we could have walked in. But during the busy summer months, you should reserve your tickets. Built in 1891 the museum is home to a vast collection of the Habsburg Imperial Family and considered one of the premier museums in the world. You could easily spend an entire day. We were there for about three hours and barely made a dent. We focused primarily on painting and sculpture. When I return to Vienna I will certainly see this museum again.

    Rembrandt self portrait Kunsthistorissche
    Velasquez at the Kunsthistorissche

    Leopold Museum

    Our next stop was the Leopold Museum, Vienna’s Art Nouveau collection featuring Austrian artists including the incomparable Klimt. The modern art collection of Dr. Rudolph Leopold makes up the majority of the work, including a vast collection of the works of Egon Schiele and many other artists of the Vienna Succession Movement.

    Egon Schiele

    Austrian National Library

    We popped into this beautiful building on our way to the MozartHaus and found a wonderful surprise. Since 2005, the collections have been located within the Baroque structure of the Palais Mollard-Clary. Founded by the Habsburgs, the library was originally called the Imperial Court Library. Stunning architecture as well as antiquities share the space with a vast collection of ancient tomes

    Austrian National Library


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived the final ten years of his short life in Vienna with his family. The house he lived in and composed some of his greatest works, is now a museum to his life. Surprisingly ordinary, the house sits on a main street within the historic core. Touring the MozartHaus museum includes a well done audio guide with facts and details about the life of this remarkable talent. However, the movie Amadeus was actually filmed mostly in Prague.



    It had been a long and productive day and we were starving. Time to visit Vienna’s oldest restaurant Griechenbeisl serving traditional Viennese food for 550 years. We dug into this giant Pork Knuckle with sauerkraut and potatoes and delicious local beer. Perfect end to our first day in Vienna.

    Port Knuckle at the historic Griechenbeisl

    Art & Music

    Guten Morgen Wein – day two. Today we had booked a walking tour through Get Your Guide of the Imperial Palace area, which encompasses most of the historic center of the city. Our tour included an orientation of the area with stops outside the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Austrian National Library, the Imperial Gardens, many pedestrian streets and the stalls of the Lipizaner Horses (more on that tomorrow). Inside the Hofburg Imperial Palace Additionally we toured Sisi Museum, where numerous personal items that once belonged to Elisabeth (Sisi) illustrate the true personality of the frequently misunderstood Empress. 

    Hofburg Palace
    Empress Elizabeth (Sisi)
    Sisi Museum – look at that waist!!


    We used Vienna’s easy tram system to head out to the Belvedere Museum, the former summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today the beautiful Baroque buildings are the heart of the Belvedere collection including 24 paintings by Gustav Klimt with his golden images “The Kiss” and “Judith”. “The Kiss” is probably Austria’s most famous work of art.

    The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
    Judith by Klimt

    In addition to fantastic art collection, the gardens at the Belvedere are exquisite. Be sure to save time for a lovely stroll around the pond to enjoy the gardens on a sunny day.

    The Gardens at the Belvedere

    To Market to Market

    After the Belvedere we hopped back on the tram and headed to the Kutschkermarkt, a neighborhood market outside of the center. Still early in the season, but we enjoyed the beautiful selection of flowers and produce, live music and crafts. Lots of seafood outdoor restaurants here as well, but we opted for a lovely and authentic Italian meal instead.

    Italian in Vienna

    Mozart Concert

    After a quick rest and change of clothes back at the hotel, we were back on the tram heading to a Mozart Concert by the Vienna Music Society. The wonderful concert, with orchestra in period costume, was so much fun, and the Golden Hall was exquisite.

    The Musikverein was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1870. The Golden Hall in the Musikverein is known all over the world, not only because of the annual worldwide broadcast of New Year’s Concert by the Vienna Philharmonics, but also for being permanent seat of the Vienna Philharmonics and main stage of the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. I highly recommend this when in Vienna.

    The Golden Hall
    The Vienna Music Orchestra preparing to play

    Lipizzaner Stallions

    When I imagined visiting the Lipizzaner Stallions in Vienna, I imagined traveling outside of the city to big green equestrian field, like I might in Kentucky or Maryland. Oh no. These spectacular horses perform right in the heart of Vienna, in their own Baroque chandelier-ed arena built for the Spanish Riding School in 1729.

    The Lipizzaner horse is one of the oldest breeds in Europe. The breed got its start in 1580 when Archduke Charles of the Austro-Hungrian Empire established a stud farm at Lipizza near the Adriatic Sea in modern day Slovenia. This occurred shortly after his brother, Maximilian II, had imported Spanish horses to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. It was from the stud farm at Lipizza that the breed gets its name. Archduke Charles greatly desired to create a horse that was not only suited for war, but also for pulling carriages and performing in the manner of classical riding. Learn more here.

    We booked our tickets in advance to see the morning performance of The Spanish Riding School. Not being a horse person myself, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I loved it. Absolutely astonishing the beauty, grace and athleticism of these magnificent animals. The riders also were amazing. It is highly competitive to be a rider at the school and it takes commitment.

    To undergo training at the Spanish Riding School means a lifelong education, which is always subjected to the needs of the horses. It is tough, takes eight to ten years and requires iron discipline. The handed-down oral tradition of classic equestrian art still applies today and is passed on from generation to generation. The horse takes center stage and determines the duration of the training. Currently, there are three chief riders, eight riders, five assistant riders, as well as five trainees at the school. Learn more. Do not miss a Lipizzaner performance when in Vienna.

    Performance venue for the Lipizzaner Stallions
    Lipizzaner Stallion


    Day three in Vienna and I still hadn’t had any Weinerschnitzel – Vienna’s signature dish. So I had read about a restaurant near to the Lipizzaner Stallions called beim Hofmeister. Their website said serving Weiner Traditional food since 1725. So we not only enjoyed a giant Weinerschnitzel but we ended with delicious Austrian Sachertorte as well.

    Sound of Music in German

    We booked ahead tickets for Rodgers and Hammerstein iconic Sound of Music at the beautiful Volksoper theater. Even though the show was in German, we know the songs and the story well enough to enjoy it nonetheless. It was a great performance, with highly talented cast and great sets. I recommend it when in Vienna.

    Vienna Volksoper (photo Volksoper)


    I will have a separate blog post coming up about our day trip to Bratislava Slovakia (my 134th country), but let me suggest here what a nice day trip it is. If you have the time, take a day to cross the border and visit this lovely medieval city of Bratislava Slovakia. An easy one and half hour drive on a clean and efficient Flixbus bus system is a perfect way to go for less than $20 round trip. During the summer months you can also enjoy a Danube River cruise from Vienna to Bratislava and back with a six hour stay in the city. Watch for an upcoming blog post with more details about our day four visit to Bratislava.


    Two Icons

    There is still much to see in beautiful Vienna, and on day five we hit two iconic Vienna sites. I recommend booking tickets ahead for both the Vienna State Opera House and the Schonbrunn Palace.

    Vienna Opera House

    I have been to several opera performances in my travels, and I’m not personally a connisseur of opera. But you don’t need to love opera to love this tour. We booked ahead and I’m glad we did as the tours were sold out. This backstage tour of how this beautiful theater puts on over 300 performances a year was one of the most interesting things I have ever done. Get your tickets here.

    Vienna State Opera House Theater
    Vienna State Opera House

    Schonbrunn Palace

    Schloss Schonbrunn is not to be missed on a visit to Vienna. It is Vienna’s most visited site so get your tickets ahead. Lots of tour busses full of visitors come here, so be prepared for lines, even if you have advanced tickets.

    Tickets include an audio guide, which was really well done and easy to understand. The wealth and opulence of this summer residence of the Habsburgs is mind-boggling. Reminiscent of Versailles, Schloss Schonbrunn became the glittering focus of court life during the reign of Maria Theresa. From this time on, it played host to the leading statesmen of Europe.

    We arrived an hour before our ticketed entrance time and spent an hour exploring the gardens, forest, labyrinth and walking up the hill to the summer gazebo. Here the view back towards the city, and down to the palace is beautiful.

    We entered the palace at our ticketed time, dropped our backpack and went through security. Picked up our headset and then began the tour. All of that took about half an hour. The tour itself you can take as long as you want going from room to room guided by the audio. We spent about two hours.

    We found the Vienna tram an easy way to get from the city to Schonbrunn Palace, about 5km outside of Vienna.

    Beautiful day at Schloss Schonbrunn
    Palace Gardens
    View from the Gazebo
    Obscenely ornate inside the palace
    Gold, tapestries and crystal everywhere

    Evening Refreshments

    Since it was such a hot and beautiful day, we ended this day five with beers sitting along the river watching the boats go by. Then a simple cold meal of the popular Vienna Brotchen open faced sandwich at Trzesniewski. Delicious.

    Brotchen is a popular Viennes sandwich
    Beers on the river

    Final Day

    There are many more museums in Vienna that we did not see…we will save these for our next visit. We had a late flight on our final day, so we decided to get a late check out at the hotel, and spend the day on the Danube River.

    Along the Danube

    First we enjoyed a walk from the Tram station on the Danube island in the middle of the river. Then we walked along the river front near the river cruise port. Sitting along the river we enjoyed a cold drink before boarding the cruise. We had booked the cruise onboard Blue Danube City Cruise. Our choice was the shorter option of about an hour and half, but a longer three hour cruise with lunch is also available. Although the loud speaker was very difficult to understand when sitting outside, we still learned a lot and enjoyed just seeing the sites from the water on a very beautiful day. Of most interest was passing through the locks.

    Passing through the locks
    Cruising the Danube
    Local wine on a beautiful day


    We hated to leave beautiful Vienna, but it was time. So we booked at table at the famous Lugeck in the heart of the beautiful historic center. We enjoyed a lovely meal outside under the umbrellas, as we reminisced about this fantastic city and all it has to share.

    Impeccable Asparagus Soup
    Kaiserschmarrn, famous Austrian pancake

    Danke Schön Wein

    What an amazing city and I truly think I could spend a couple of months here. Thank you Vienna. Danke Schon Wein. You are a shining example of preservation and graceful growth in the modern world. I will return. Danke.

    Vienna we will be back.

    Thank you for reading our post Visiting Vienna Austria. See last week’s post Visiting Serbia for the First Time here. Be sure to come back next week for a mega post about my ten days in Madagascar.