Best Things To Do in Vienna
Vienna is a city that relishes its past, and it has the attractions to prove it. Whether you're interested in the long-reigning Habsburg family, classical music composed by Vienna's own Mozart, or antiques; this city has enough to keep you entertained for days. Most sites are located within the Innere Stadt, such as the Haus der Musik (House of Music) and the MuseumsQuartier Wien. However, even those which are not centrally located, such as Schönbrunn Palace, are easy to reach.
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Towering above the streets of the Innere Stadt, this massive cathedral is the true centerpiece of Vienna. St. Stephen's has stood in this very spot since the early 12th century, but little remains of the original aside from the Riesentor (Giant's Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens). The Gothic structure standing today was built in the early 1300s and has survived the Turkish siege of 1683. It was here that mourners came to pay their respects to Amadeus Mozart in 1791. In 1805, Napoleon used St. Stephen's doors to post his farewell edict. And it weathered attacks from both German and Russian armies during World War II. Today, this stunning cathedral remains an active house of worship, a national icon and a top tourist attraction.
After you've toured the main section, head underground to the catacombs where many victims of the Great Plague of Vienna were laid to rest. Move on to the gruft, or vault, where numerous urns contain the remains of members of the Hapsburg royal family. Before you leave, you should climb the 343 steps to the top of the South Tower or use the elevator to reach the lookout terrace at the North Tower – you'll be treated to a spectacular view. Visitors call this one of those "must-visit" attractions in Europe, praising the gorgeous church and its surroundings.
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The works at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts, range from ancient Egyptian and Greek objects to masterpieces by numerous European masters, including Titian, Velasquez, Van Dyke and Rubens. In fact, the collection here is so extensive that many people say the walls of the Hofburg Palace look bare in comparison. The building itself, which opened to the public in 1891, impresses travelers as well; its facade features ornate sculptures.
Recent travelers appreciated the wide range of work on display at this museum and note just how large the building is and how much art is held within. A few suggested breaking up the day with a quick cup of coffee at the on-site shop.
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Originally constructed in 1696 as a hunting lodge, Schönbrunn Palace later became the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Habsburg ruler), Schönbrunn evolved into an expansive paradise with ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens comparable to King Louis XIV of France's palace at Versailles. A tour will lead you through apartments belonging to Maria Theresa as well as Emperor Franz Joseph, his wife Elisabeth, and Archduke Franz Karl. Other highlights include the Blue Staircase, the Mirror Room and the Hall of Ceremonies. Also plan to spend at least an hour in the gardens, which are connected by shaded promenades that extend diagonally from the Gloriette, a stunning Roman-style arch overlooking a vast pool. Located within the grounds is Tiergarten, the oldest zoo in the world.
Travelers say the grounds are beautiful, the tour is insightful and the zoo is entertaining for the whole family, but many warn about how crowded this attraction gets. Many suggest visiting first thing in the morning to avoid the congested atmosphere.
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Every Monday through Saturday, hundreds of vendors flock to this market in the Wieden District (located just south of the Ringstrasse) to sell fruit, meat, dairy products and other local food items. This open-air extravaganza, Naschmarkt, is considered one of the largest of its kind, and it's a great intro into everyday life in Vienna. In addition to shops, you'll find food stalls and small eateries throughout. Recent visitors said you should come hungry to this market and plan to sample a few things from each stand.
You don't have to pay to peruse, but you'll want to bring some cash in case you see something that whets your appetite. The market is generally open from around 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Also, make sure to keep an eye on your belongings – the market is crowded and popular with tourists, so beware of pickpockets.
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Vienna has long been a musical epicenter. It was here that renowned composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Mahler and Strauss lived, composed and performed. So it's hard not to be tempted to stop in a site known as the House of Music (Haus der Musik) during your time in the city. This small but fascinating museum showcases the works of Vienna's elite musicians with displays featuring manuscripts and sound bytes. Exhibits also explain the evolution of sound and the mechanics behind our ability to hear. Plus, there's an entire floor dedicated to the Vienna Philharmonic where you can even use a virtual wand to conduct the musicians. (Be careful, though, if you mess up they may ridicule you.) Travelers say if you're a classical music fan (or even a fan of the science of sound), a visit to the House of Music should be a priority.
You'll find the Haus der Musik located in the Innere Stadt just a few blocks southeast of the Hofburg Palace complex. It's open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is 13 euros (about $15) for adults and 6 euros (about $7) for children younger than 12. Discounts are available for students, seniors and groups. For more information, check out the museum's website.
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It began in 1752 as an exotic menagerie amassed by Franz Stephan, the husband of Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler) and the country's Holy Roman Emperor. Today, Tiergarten is the oldest zoo in the world, home to about 750 animal species (around 8,500 animals total) ranging from tigers to lemurs. The zoo hosts daily animal talks and feedings that visitors can watch, with animals like orangutans, elephants, penguins and otters.
Since its founding, Tiergarten has undergone many a renovation to bring it up to par with modern facilities. Travelers say that while the cost of admission is on the pricey side, it's worth it to see the variety of animals and impressive facilities at this zoo.
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Straddling the southwest section of the Ringstrasse, the MuseumsQuartier Wien is an enormous cultural institution comprising numerous top-notch museums. If you're interested in art, head to the Leopold Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Austrian masterpieces dating from the 19th century to the present. Next door, the Museum of Modern Art is home to the national collection of 20th-century works by famed artists like Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Adjacent to the MUMOK, the Kunsthalle Wien showcases an ever-rotating collection of avant-garde exhibits.
If art isn't really your passion, you may benefit more from a visit to the Architekturzentrum (Architecture Center). Or, if you're traveling with children, you might like the ZOOM Kindermuseum's interactive displays on everything from life underwater to life on the big screen. The Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) is also a hit with the younger set.
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Since 1869, the Vienna State Opera has been the city's premier venue for the performing arts and a major focal point of Viennese life. Its directorship is one of the most prestigious positions in Austria. The Staatsoper still hosts performances, but you can also tour this magnificent building on a guided tour. You'll find 40-minute tours run every day (times vary depending on the performance schedule) and allow you a behind-the-scenes look at this beloved landmark. Tours come highly recommended by previous visitors. If you're interested in learning more about the Staatsoper, head over to the Staatsopermuseum, which displays photographs and articles spanning the house's history.
While some visitors say viewing a performance here is worth the pricey admission fee (especially opera lovers who called the experience unforgettable), others note that you can enjoy the performance for free: In April, May, June and September, live opera and ballet performances are screened on the front of the opera building.
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If you're can't get your art fix at either the MuseumsQuartier or the Kunsthistorisches Museum, you're sure to find satisfaction at Belvedere. There are actually two palaces here – separated by an ornate 17th-century French-style garden – which some say are the best examples of Baroque architecture in the world. Formerly home to such notable Austrian figures as Prince Eugene of Savoy and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the buildings now house an impressive array of Austrian art from such renowned artists as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. Travelers love the gardens, ornate buildings and array of paintings on display at this attraction.
Belvedere Palace sits just southeast of the Innere Stadt, between the Wieden and Landstrasse districts. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the Lower Belvedere building offering extended hours on Wednesdays. Admission varies depending on the different buildings you're interested in visiting and special exhibits on display; though, children up to 18 can enter for free at all sites. Guided tours are available and there are a variety of combo ticket packages available as well. For more information, visit the palace's website.
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Unlike Vienna's other royal residences, Hofburg is like a city within a city. Sitting on the southwestern edge of the Innere Stadt, the 13th-century palace shelters several individual attractions, and if you want the full royal experience, you'll need to spend at least half a day here.
Experienced travelers say it's best to start in the middle of this massive complex and work your way out. The oldest parts surround the Swiss Court, named for the Swiss guards who used to patrol the area. And from there you'll find the Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments), more than 2,000 rooms where the royal family lived. Only a dozen or so are open to the public. Take some time to explore the Kaiserappartements' Sisi Museum, which offers insight into the life and death of Vienna's beloved Empress Elizabeth. Then swing by the Imperial Silver Collection or the butterfly house. (For more information about the Kaiserappartements, click here.)
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Judenplatz earned its name back in the 13th century when it was first designated as the Jewish Ghetto. For centuries, this neighborhood remained the epicenter of Jewish life in Vienna, an identity that still lives among the exhibits found at the Museum Judenplatz. This small yet effective branch of the Vienna Jewish Museum (located a little south of Judenplatz) details the role Viennese Jews played in the development of city life, leading up to when they became the targets of violence during World War II.
Located below the museum, the Mittelalterliche Synagogue (Medieval Synagogue) gives a more authentic look at the history of Jewish life in Vienna. Constructed in the mid-13th century, this synagogue was once one of the largest in the world. It was systematically torn down starting in the 14th century as the surrounding neighborhood fell victim to pogroms. Finish your tour of the area with a visit to the nearby Holocaust Memorial. Many say a visit here is a moving and humbling experience.
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