The Hofburg Palace, or Imperial Palace, was the home of the Austrian Hapsburgs
for 600 years. The first fortifications were erected by King Ottakar Premyst
in the 13th century and were added to by every generation until it became
the monumental structure it is today. As well as housing the president's
offices, the palace now encompasses 22 separate museums, the National
Library, a 14th-century Augustinian church, the famous Spanish Riding
School and the Royal Chapel, where every Sunday the Vienna Boy's Choir
sing Mass (they have performed for the Royal Court since 1498). It will
be impossible to even catch a glimpse of everything on display at the
Hofburg, so visitors should be selective. The most popular of the museums
is the Kaiserappartements, which takes visitors on a tour of the Kaiser's
imperial apartments. Also worth visiting is The Treasury, which houses
the magnificent crown jewels, including St Stephen's Crown which dates
back to the 12th century and was used to crown all Hungarian and subsequently
Austrian Kaisers. The silver and Porcelain Treasury contains exquisite
hand painted porcelain from all over the world.
Across from Hofburg Palace, this huge building houses many of the fabulous
art collections gathered by the Habsburgs as they added new territories
to their empire. One highlight is the fine collection of ancient Egyptian
and Greek art. The museum also has works by many of the great European
masters, such as Velásquez and Titian.
On display here are Roger van der Weyden's Crucifixion triptych, a Memling
altarpiece, and Jan van Eyck's portrait of Cardinal Albergati. The museum
is renowned for the works of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The 16th-century
Flemish master is known for his sensitive yet vigorous landscapes. He
did many lively studies of peasant life, and his art today seems almost
an ethnographic study of his time. Don't leave without a glimpse of Brueghel's
Children's Games and his Hunters in the Snow, one of his most celebrated
This sumptuous baroque palace (1700) is one of Vienna's most popular attractions.
It has 2000-rooms-worth of imperial splendour (of which 40 can be visited),
complete with a classically landscaped garden. Additional attractions
(with separate entrance fees) include a maze and the world's oldest zoo.
The pinnacle of finery is reached in the Great Gallery. Gilded scrolls,
ceiling frescoes, chandeliers and huge crystal mirrors create the effect.
Numerous sumptuous balls were held here, including one for the delegates
at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15). The Mirror Room is where Mozart (then
six) played his first royal concert in the presence of Maria Theresa and
the royal family in 1762. His father revealed in a letter that afterwards
young Wolfgang leapt onto the lap of the empress and kissed her.
Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the oldest and last riding school
in the world where classic dressage is still practised in its purest form.
This Institute was founded in 1572 and named for the Lipizzaner horses,
which are of Spanish origin. The Imperial Court Stud was originally situated
near the village of Lipizza (hence the name of the horses) but since the
collapse of the Danube Monarchy in 1920 have been bred at the Federal
Stud in Styria. The horses perform their tricks in the Winter Riding School,
which was commissioned by Emperor Karl VI. Performances take place between
February and June, September and December but are in high demand and booked
up months in advance (details on their website). The easiest way to see
the horses is during their training sessions. Tickets are only available
at the door, and cannot be booked in advance. Situated in the stables
is the Lipizzana Museum, which displays the history of the school.
The dominating feature of the church is the skeletal 136m (446ft) Südturm,
or south tower; nicknamed 'Steffl', it has a cramped viewing platform
but is worth an elbow or two to get a glimpse of the enchanting postcard
views of Vienna. The church was re-created in Gothic style at the behest
of Habsburg Duke Rudolf IV in 1359, who laid the foundation stone and
earned himself the epithet of 'The Founder' in the process. Südturm
took 75 years to build and was to be matched by a companion tower on the
north side, but the imperial purse withered and the Gothic style went
out of fashion, so the half-completed tower was topped off with a Renaissance
cupola in 1579. Austria's largest bell, the Pummerin ('boomer bell'),
was installed here in 1952.
One of Vienna's most recognisable attractions, the Giant Wheel is located
in a large wooded park and playground known as the Prater. It was built
in 1897 by an English engineering firm and is the only one of its era
still standing (the ferris wheels in Chicago, London, Blackpool and Paris
have long since been destroyed). The wheel with its 15 gondolas takes
twenty minutes to manoeuvre around and offers magnificent panoramic views
of the city.
St. Stephan's Cathedral
A basilica built on the site of a Romanesque sanctuary, this cathedral
was founded in the 12th century in what was, even in the Middle Ages,
the town's center. A 1258 fire that swept through Vienna virtually destroyed
Stephansdom, and toward the dawn of the 14th century a Gothic building
replaced the basilica's ruins. The cathedral suffered terribly during
the Turkish siege of 1683, then experienced peace until Russian bombardments
in 1945. Destruction continued when the Germans fired on Vienna as they
fled the city at the close of World War II. Restored and reopened in 1948,
the cathedral is one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe, rich
in woodcarvings, altars, sculptures, and paintings. The 450-foot steeple
has come to symbolize the spirit of Vienna. The 352-foot-long cathedral
is inextricably entwined with Viennese and Austrian history. It was here
that mourners attended Mozart's "pauper's funeral" in 1791,
and it was on the cathedral door that Napoléon posted his farewell
edict in 1805.
The Belvedere consists of two splendid rococo mansions, designed in the
early 18th century, which face each other across formal, sloping grounds
which offers excellent views over the city. From the outside it is Vienna's
finest palace complex, built by Prince Eugène of Savoy (1680-1735),
the famous general who saved Vienna from the advance of the Ottoman Empire.
The museums in the two palaces house some of Vienna's most renowned art
galleries, offering excellent examples of Austrian art from the middle
ages to present day. Their displays include an unrivalled collection of
paintings by Klimt as well as famous works by Schiele and Kokoschka, Renoir
and Monet. The Medieval and Baroque works are presented in the Lower Palace
where many rooms have been preserved in their original state.
The Schatzkammer is the greatest treasury in the world. It consists of
two sections: the Imperial Profane and the Sacerdotal Treasuries. The
first displays the crown jewels and an assortment of imperial riches;
the other contains ecclesiastical treasures. The most outstanding exhibit
in the Schatzkammer is the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire, which
dates from 962. It's so big that, although it's padded, it probably slipped
down over the ears of the imperial incumbents. Studded with emeralds,
sapphires, diamonds, and rubies, the symbol of sovereignty is a priceless
treasure, a fact recognized by Adolf Hitler, who had it taken to Nürnberg
in 1938 (the American army returned it to Vienna after World War II).
Also on display is the imperial crown of Austria, worn by the Habsburg
rulers from 1804 to the end of the empire. Be sure to have a look at the
coronation robes, some of which date from the 12th century.
The spa town of Baden bei Wien washes the eastern edge of the Wienerwald
(Vienna Woods), and has been soothing furrowed brows since Roman times.
Beethoven came here in search of a cure for his deafness, and returned
many times despite his lack of improved hearing. The town really took
off in the 19th century, embraced by Biedermeier types and the Habsburgs.
Some of the best day trips out of Vienna take in the small towns and villages
that line the Danube. Such a town is peaceful Krems, which reclines along
the river's northern banks, surrounded by the terraced vineyards that
for centuries have been its mainstay. There's not a heap to do in Krems
other than take a quiet wander by the cobbled streets, empty courtyards,
baroque churches and atmospheric city walls.
Birdwatchers flock to Neusiedler See, hoping to spot some of the 300 bird
species that call the wetland area of reed beds home. The town of Rust,
on the lake's eastern shore, is inundated with storks from March to August,
and countless roofs are topped with the nests of the storybook birds.
The town is also famous for its wine, and is dotted with atmospheric wine
taverns. Nearby Mörbisch has a Hungarian accent, because of its proximity
to the border.