Vienna: A Fusion of History, Culture and Art

Vienna, the capital city of Austria, is a captivating destination renowned for its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning architecture. With a legacy deeply rooted in the Habsburg dynasty, Vienna offers a unique blend of imperial grandeur and contemporary charm.

The city is renowned for its architectural masterpieces, ranging from the grandeur of Schönbrunn Palace to the modernist designs of Otto Wagner and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Strolling through the streets, visitors can admire a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and contemporary creations.

Rinstrasse

The Ringstrasse (or simply Ring as it is called) is the grand tree-lined boulevard that encircles Vienna’s historic center, following the path of the old city walls. The current layout was designed in the mid-19th century by Emperor Francis Joseph, who had a series of magnificent buildings constructed along it. Among these is the City Hall (Rathaus), the most impressive building on the Ring, immense in Gothic style. In front of it, one of Vienna’s largest Christmas markets is held in December. Other palaces worth visiting include the Parliament, with its neoclassical facade and a grand fountain of Athena, and the University, which can be freely accessed even in the late evening (I told you, but I recommend taking a guided tour to see the interior). Finally, the Palace of Justice (Justizpalast) features a beautiful atrium with staircases, arcades, and glass roofs. If you want to learn more about the Ringstrasse and the buildings in the area.

Stephansdom

Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) is one of Vienna’s symbols, a Gothic masterpiece located in the square of the same name, right in the heart of the historic center. What strikes you the most when you stand in front of it is the beautiful roof covered with colorful glazed tiles. On one side, it features the double-headed eagle emblem of the Habsburg Empire, as well as the coats of arms of the city of Vienna and Austria. The cathedral has 4 towers, with the tallest one reaching 136.44 meters. By climbing a staircase of 343 steps, you can reach the top and enjoy a panoramic view of Vienna. Inside, there is a beautiful Gothic-style stone pulpit, a baroque-style main altar, valuable side altars and chapels, the cathedral treasury, and numerous tombs of historically significant figures, such as Emperor Frederick III and Prince Eugene of Savoy. An alternative and enchanting way to visit it is by attending a classical music concert inside.

Karlskirche

Karlskirche (St. Charles’s Church) Alongside St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Karlskirche remains the most beautiful church to visit in Vienna, in my opinion. This Baroque church was built between 1716 and 1739 and features two large columns on its facade inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome. The dome reaches a height of 72 meters, and you can climb it using an elevator to get a close-up view of the beautiful frescoes. When I last visited Vienna (October 2020), there was also a large installation by Tomas Saraceno inside the church—a magnificent sight! In front of the church, there is a pond with a sculpture by Henry Moore that allows you to take magnificent photos

Hofburg: The Winter Residence of the Habsburgs

Vienna is synonymous with the Habsburg Empire, Maria Theresa of Austria, Francis Joseph, and his wife Princess Sisi. The Hofburg Palace represents the ultimate expression of their wealth and power. More than a palace, it is actually a city within a city. The winter residence of the Habsburgs consists of several closely connected buildings that have been expanded and modernized since the 13th century. The Habsburgs lived in these palaces for 600 years, from 1279 until 1918. One of the palaces now houses the offices of the President of the Republic, while others contain various museums, libraries, chapels, and other monuments. What do I recommend visiting in the Hofburg? Certainly, the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments, the National Library, and the Augustinian Church. The Imperial Apartments are where Sisi lived with Francis Joseph, and the rooms are magnificent! With the same ticket, you can also visit the Silver Museum, showcasing the tableware used by the rulers (absolutely stunning!). You can purchase tickets and/or guided tours through this website. But the highlight of the Hofburg for me is the National Library, one of the most beautiful historical libraries in the world. The baroque-style State Hall of the library will leave you speechless, truly (entrance fee: 7 euros). Right next to it, don’t miss the Augustinian Church, a neo-Gothic church housing the tomb of Maria Theresa’s daughter, a masterpiece by Canova. If you have more time, you can also visit the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) and the Imperial Crypt (Kaisergruft), where most members of the royal family are laid to rest.

Belvedere Palace: The Summer Residence of the Habsburgs

A visit to Vienna would be incomplete without seeing Belvedere Palace, built for Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1714 and considered one of the most beautiful Baroque palaces in the world. Initially, there was the Lower Belvedere (the prince’s summer residence), and later the Upper Belvedere was also constructed for court festivities and banquets. Between the two palaces lies a beautiful French-style garden. After the prince’s death, the palace was purchased by the Habsburgs and became another official residence. The Upper Belvedere now houses a rich art collection, including the famous painting “The Kiss” by Klimt—it actually has the largest collection of the artist’s paintings in the world, with 24 of them. In the Lower Belvedere, you can visit the prince’s private apartments and ceremonial halls, all in baroque style.

Let’s now return to the Habsburg dynasty to visit their summer residence, the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace located to the south of the city. Initially designed as a hunting estate for Ferdinand II, it was enlarged by Leopold I and chosen by Maria Theresa as the residence for her family and the imperial court. The palace and its immense gardens are second only to the Palace of Versailles in terms of grandeur and wealth. The interior of the palace includes 1,441 rooms, all furnished in Rococo style, and what you can visit today are the sumptuous imperial apartments. There are 40 rooms open for visitation, which you can explore all (and I recommend it) if you purchase the Grand Tour ticket (22 euros) or only 26 rooms if you purchase the Imperial Tour ticket (18 euros). The most beautiful rooms can be visited only with the Grand Tour. The magnificent French gardens, on the other hand, are free to enter, but you’ll need a ticket to go up to the panoramic terrace of the Gloriette, a monument from which you can see the entire park up to the palace. If you have time, stop by the beautiful café inside the Gloriette for a drink. For an even more immersive experience, you can attend a classical music concert inside the palace; you can find all the information to book it here.

  1. Leopold Museum: Masterpieces of Modernism

Vienna is home to an embarrassingly large number of important museums, so you will have to choose according to your tastes and interests. The ones mentioned in this article represent my personal selection. Several museums are located in the Museum Quarter, one of the largest museum complexes in the world, spanning 60,000 square meters of exhibition spaces ranging from ancient to contemporary art. Among those housed within it, one museum that you absolutely must visit in Vienna is the Leopold Museum. It houses one of the largest collections of Austrian Modernism, with numerous works by Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Moser, and others (skip-the-line tickets are available here).

  1. The Ringstrasse (City Hall, Palace of Justice, etc.)
  1. Secession Building

Vienna is famous, among other things, for starting a movement that went down in history as the Viennese Secession. The founders were 19 avant-garde artists, including Klimt, Hoffmann, and Moser, who designed and built this modernist building as an exhibition space for their own and other works. Today, the building hosts contemporary art exhibitions (10-15 per year) and houses the permanent exhibition of Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze. Personally, unless you are a passionate fan of Klimt and want to see all his works in Vienna, I believe it’s more worthwhile to admire the Secession Building from the outside. However, the choice is yours. If you are interested in this artistic movement, I recommend joining the free Vienna Modernist Tour, a 2-hour tour exploring the city’s most beautiful modernist buildings.

  1. Naschmarkt and Otto Wagner’s Art Nouveau Buildings

Not far from Karlskirche, there is the bustling Kettenbruckengasse, a large street where you’ll find Naschmarkt (“delicacy market”), Vienna’s most famous market that originated in the 18th century as an agricultural market. Today, this market is a mix of traditional stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat, and more, as well as food stalls and small street food restaurants where you can find everything from typical sausages to international street food. However, I recommend visiting here primarily to see the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings designed by Otto Wagner. You can easily recognize them as they are adorned with floral-patterned tiles or exquisite bas-reliefs. If you want to take a break, make sure to stop by Café Savoy or Café Sperl, two beautiful historic cafés located just a stone’s throw away.

Vienna – Otto Wagner Art Nouveau building designed by Otto Wagner Vienna – Otto Wagner Art Nouveau building designed by Otto Wagner

  1. Hundertwasser House and Kunst Haus

With these unpronounceable names, we refer to two remarkable buildings designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, one of the most important Austrian architects/artists/ecologists of the 20th century. Hundertwasser can be considered a precursor of bio-architecture, and his buildings and surfaces are inspired by the soft irregularity of organic forms—no straight lines, no perfection. Hundertwasser House is a public housing building managed by the city of Vienna and is not visitable inside (apartments are rented for 5 euros per square meter). The city verifies the real needs of the families and prefers those households where individuals are particularly interested and active in the contemporary art world. However, you can visit the interiors of Kunst Haus, another building designed by Hundertwasser, which houses the Hunderwasser Museum. There you can see his paintings, graphic works, and understand his architectural and naturalistic theories. The bar in the inner garden is also very beautiful.

Vienna – Hundertwasser House Hundertwasser House

  1. Spittelau: Fernwärme and Zaha Hadid’s Faculty of Architecture

Moving along the Danube Canal to the north, you reach the area of Spittelau, near the large university campus of Altes AKH, which was transformed from an 18th-century hospital. Like all university areas, this zone is lively both during the day and in the evening, and there are plenty of bars, clubs, and street art along the canal. In this regard, the most beautiful street art can be found under Zaha Hadid’s Faculty of Architecture, which overlooks the canal. Just behind it, you can’t miss another building designed by Hundertwasser: the Fernwärme, a magnificent colorful building that houses a waste incineration plant.

Vienna – Spittelau Street art in Spittelau Vienna – Hundertwasser Fernwärme

  1. Schönbrunn Palace: The Summer Residence of the Habsburgs

You might be interested in: Guided Tour with Skip-the-Line Entry to Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens.

Vienna – Schönbrunn Schönbrunn Palace Vienna – Schönbrunn Room in Schönbrunn Palace Vienna – Schönbrunn The Gloriette in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace

  1. Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History)

Among the things to see in Vienna, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is certainly one not to miss, especially if you are a lover of 16th and 17th-century painting. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is one of the oldest and richest museums in the world and was officially inaugurated on October 17, 1891, in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The emperor commissioned the museum to house the immense collection of artworks owned by the Habsburgs and make their heritage accessible to all. The most important part of the museum is undoubtedly the Picture Gallery, which displays works by Correggio, Mantegna, Tintoretto, Veronese, Canova, Michelangelo, and many others. In addition to paintings, there is also an Egyptian-Oriental collection, collections of Roman and Greek antiquities, sculpture and decorative arts, as well as the numismatic cabinet.

  1. Historic Cafés (Sacher, Central, etc.)

One of the experiences not to be missed in the Austrian capital is sitting in one of the many legendary coffee houses in the city. Austrians love to sit at the bar, have a cup of coffee, leisurely read the newspaper, and perhaps indulge in a cake or some other delicacy. Some historic cafés are grand and elegant, such as Café Central, Café Demel, or Café Savoy, while others are more understated, like Café Sperl and Café Korb (Freud’s favorite). A special mention goes to the café in Hotel Sacher, a true institution in Vienna. Here, you can indulge in the authentic and famous Sacher Torte (my absolute favorite cake!) and admire its luxurious décor. Sitting on those red velvet sofas, we all feel a little noble… let’s be honest!

Vienna – Hotel Sacher Café at Hotel Sacher

  1. Museums Homes (Mozart, Freud, Strauss…)

During its golden years, Vienna was inhabited by a number of musicians, artists, and scientists who had a significant impact on the world in the centuries that followed. We’re talking about Mozart, Beethoven, Freud, Strauss, Klimt, Schubert, and many others. Some of the residences where these historical figures spent a few or many years have now become museum homes and can be visited. Among the most significant are certainly Mozart’s Residence, located near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where the musician spent 2 and a half years, and Freud’s Residence.

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