Vienna City Guide

Vienna is famed for its culture and architecture, which go hand in hand to create an exquisite city on the banks of the Danube.

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Marrying architectural opulence with an incredible depth of history, Vienna is heralded as one of Europe’s foremost cultural gems — and for good reason.

History  

Vienna owes its majestic antiquity to over two thousand years of history, in which the city has rose from humble Celtic origins to become one of the world’s preeminent destinations. Like many European capitals, the Romans helped to shape modern-day Vienna, establishing the frontier city of Vindobona here in 15 BC.

In 976, Vienna was embraced by the Eastern March, a district of the Danube established by Leopold I of Babenberg. The Babenberg Dynasty relocated to Vienna in 1145, and its lineage still exists in the city to today. By 1440 Vienna had grown to become the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and rapidly became a global centre for the arts, science, fine cuisine and, of course, music.

After the Ottoman Empire made several failed attempts to occupy the city in the 17th century, Vienna was proclaimed the capital of the Austrian Empire in 1804. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Vienna became world renowned for its classical music, and spawned the First Viennese School in the late 18th century - a nickname given to three of the city’s most famous composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Hampered minimally by the First World War, Vienna continued to expand and develop rapidly in the 19th century, and was seen as a centre for high culture and modernism in Europe. Following Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, Vienna was split into factions between the allies and Russia, but wasn’t subject to the same level of attrition as Berlin.

In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty was signed, beckoning in a new era of peace and prosperity in Vienna, and Austria more generally. Since then the city has flourished, and most of its illustrious architectural wonders have been rebuilt or restored to their former glory — providing a charming backdrop for today’s sightseers to enjoy.

Cultural Highlights 

There’s a reason Vienna is dubbed Europe’s cultural capital. The city drips heritage, history and intrigue, making it a wonderful place to visit whether you’re staying for two nights or a week.

Ringstrasse 

Flanking Vienna’s historic Innere Stadt quarter, the Ringstraße is no ordinary ring road. Established in the 19th century, this ‘Lord of the ring roads’ is protected by UNESCO on account of its exquisite architectural beauty. The road passes many of Vienna’s most esteemed buildings, including the Vienna State Opera, Academy of Finer Arts and the opulent Palace of Justice, so it’s a great starting point on an all-encompassing tour of the city.

Kunsthistorische Museum 

Arguably one of the most prestigious fine art galleries in the world, Kunsthistorische Museum boasts a vast roster of exquisite works from the likes of Rubens, Caravaggioo, Titian and Brueghel. If you aren’t partial to art spotting, the museum is worth visiting for its architecture alone, which is considered the finest example of 19th century design anywhere in Europe.

Burgtheater

First opened in 1741, the Burgtheater remains one of the world’s most significant German-speaking theatres, and regularly hosts award-winning productions which feature prompts in English. Even if you don’t book seats for a show, the opulence of the building’s architecture makes it a must-see, and tours of the theatre’s majestic interior are also available.

Where to Shop

Culture isn’t the only thing on offer in the midst of Vienna’s charming boulevards. The city comes close to Paris in terms of high-end retail, and has cultivated a reputation for supplying exquisite handcrafted jewellery. Here we explore a handful of the best places to shop in Vienna.

Golden Quarter

Luxury shopping doesn’t come much better than Vienna’s Golden Quarter. Stretching for several blocks within the city’s iconic Old City, this illustrious neighbourhood contains a number of flagship stores, including Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Saint Laurent and Roberto Cavalli. For those serious about shopping, this is the place to be.

 

Kohlmarket

If jewellery is on your Viennese shopping list, make for the city’s prestigious shopping zone, Kohlmarket. Stretching from Hofburg Palace to Kärntner Strasse; Kohlmarket is home to Vienna’s jewellery crafting elite, including Wagner, Schullin and Bucherer. Recently, these traditional Viennese jewellers have been joined by a selection of other luxury brands from across the globe, including Cartier, Wellendorff, Chopard and Tiffany.

Mariahilfer Strasse

For those who prefer their shops to be all in one place, Mariahilfer Straße is the place to go. The street dissects the 6th and 7th districts of the city, and boasts a raft of stores — from cutting edge boutiques to high street names. There are also several high-end souvenir and gift shops, where it’s possible to pick up that most Viennese of items, the snow globe.

The heritage and charm of Vienna is best savoured as part of a luxury river cruise with Scenic. Aboard our 5-star Space-Ships, you’ll cruise through the heart of the city atop the Danube — experiencing first-hand, the beauty of this great city.

To browse our collection of handpicked Danube river cruises, visit the homepage or call us on 0808 278 7213.

Must-see sights

Ringstrasse

Flanking Vienna’s historic Innere Stadt quarter, the Ringstraße is no ordinary ring road. Established in the 19th century, this ‘Lord of the ring roads’ is protected by UNESCO on account of its exquisite architectural beauty. The road passes many of Vienna’s most esteemed buildings, including the Vienna State Opera, Academy of Fine Arts and the opulent Palace of Justice, so it’s a great starting point on an all-encompassing tour of the city.

Kunsthistorische Museum

Arguably one of the most prestigious fine art galleries in the world, Kunsthistorische Museum boasts a vast roster of exquisite works from the likes of Rubens, Caravaggio, Titian and Brueghel. If you aren’t partial to art spotting, the museum is worth visiting for its architecture alone, which is considered the finest example of 19th-century design anywhere in Europe.

Burgtheater

First opened in 1741, the Burgtheater remains one of the world’s most significant German-speaking theaters, and regularly hosts award-winning productions which feature prompts in English. Even if you don’t book seats for a show, the magnificence of the building’s architecture makes it a must-see, and tours of the theater’s majestic interior are also available.

Schönnbrunn Palace

From local food festivals to the city’s iconic Christkindlmarkt, the Vienna City Hall is an iconic 19th-century civic building which is at the heart of many of Vienna’s foremost events. Built between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic style, the City Hall’s design is said to comprise over 30 million bricks – giving you an idea of its immense scale.

Vienna City Hall

From local food festivals to the city’s iconic Christkindlmarkt, the Vienna City Hall is an iconic 19th-century civic building which is at the heart of many of Vienna’s foremost events. Built between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic style, the City Hall’s design is said to comprise over 30 million bricks – giving you an idea of its immense scale.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St Stephen's Cathedral
From local food festivals to the city’s iconic Christkindlmarkt, the Vienna City Hall is an iconic 19th-century civic building which is at the heart of many of Vienna’s foremost events. Built between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic style, the City Hall’s design is said to comprise over 30 million bricks – giving you an idea of its immense scale.

Cultural Features

The Hofburg

Once the imperial palace of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, the Hofburg is entrenched in the culture and heritage of Vienna. Originally built in the 13th century, the palace has been upgraded, renovated and added to several times over the centuries, and now stands as one of the most esteemed Baroque buildings in Vienna. The palace served as the official winter residence of the Habsburgs, and continues to serve as the official residence of the President of Austria.

Spanish Riding School

Forming part of the Hofburg, the Spanish Riding School is one of the most famous stable yards in the world, and one revered for its beautiful Lipizzaner stallions. This magnificent school has long been part of Viennese culture, putting its famous stallions through their paces with the grandiose haute école (high school) of classical horsemanship since 1565. The stable’s stock of Lipizzan horses perform classical dressage within the Hofburg, while visitors can also see them training up close at the Winter Riding School.

Palais Liechtenstein

Steps from Vienna’s famous Volksgarten and Burgtheater, the Palais Liechtenstein is among the finest Baroque buildings in the city, having served as the winter residence of the Liechtenstein family since the 17th century. One of the foremost buildings of Vienna’s High Baroque Era, the Liechtenstein Palace showcases some of the finest Baroque and Rococo designs in Vienna – making it the perfect place to enjoy an exclusive evening of culture and music with Scenic Enrich.

Food and Drink Highlights

Wienel Schnitzel

If you only try one local food in Vienna, make it the iconic wiener schnitzel. Developed in Vienna in the 1800s, this classic Austrian dish comprises a thin slice of veal, seasoned with salt and pepper, coated with eggs and breadcrumbs, and fried for a few minutes in oil. Locally, it’s served with a wedge of lemon and roast potatoes – for a no-nonsense taste of Austria.

Where to find it

Countless eateries claim to serve the best wiener schnitzel in Vienna, but we think Pfarrwirt has to be up there among the very best. Established in the 19th century, this is the oldest Wirtshaus in Vienna, and is famous for its authentic schnitzel.

Pfarrwirt 

Viennese Coffee

Vienna is fiercely proud of its café culture, and no visit to the city would be complete without stepping into one of its grand, turn-of-the-century coffeehouses for a cup of traditional Viennese coffee. Made using a blend of ground coffee beans, fig extract and whipped cream, this warming beverage is a delightful treat after a busy day of sightseeing.

Where to find it

There can be nowhere else: Café Hawelka. This family-run café is a Viennese institution, and has been serving up traditional Viennese coffee and cake for generations.

Café Hawelka

Fun Facts

  • Thanks to its reputation for classical music, Vienna is known as ‘the city of music’. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Straus and Johannes Brahms are some of the legendary musicians who were born or worked extensively in the city.
  • Vienna is one of the only capital cities in the world which produces wine within its city limits. Few people know that the Austrian capital is home to 1,700 acres of vineyards, producing varieties including Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Weißburgunder.
  • The Vienna Zoo is the world’s oldest and only Baroque zoo. Located in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, the zoo was established in 1752, and was once home to the private menagerie of Empress Maria Theresa.
  • Did you know that croissants aren’t from France as many people believe, but are actually from Vienna? The Austrian kipferl was developed in the 17th century to commemorate Austria’s victory over the Ottoman Empire, and this is from where the croissant was inspired.
  • During the Cold War, Vienna was divided into four separate zones: USA, UK, France and the Soviet Union. However, unlike Berlin, no walls were built to physically split the city, and Vienna was reunified in 1955.

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