For a large city, Vienna is light years beyond its peers in providing real, woodsy space to roam, all within the city limits. Hundezones, designated areas for dog walking, allow for off-leash romps through the woods on- and off- the beaten path. It’s a dog paradise!
Less a Platz (square) and more a Straße (street), Schwarzenbergplatz (say that fast 3 times) is one of the most touristed sections of the Ringstraße. And it’s all very big and grand, in typical, imposing Viennese style. Within this large open area you can find a large equestrian statue of Field Marshal Karl Phillip, a very Soviet memorial to…well, the Soviets (imposed upon Austria as a forced thank you for the Red Army saving them during WWII), and this, the Hochstahlbrunnen fountain, which we think is much more enjoyable to sit near.
At the heart of it all, of everything in Vienna, is Stephansplatz, marking the center of the city. So named for St. Stephens Cathedral (Stephansdom), the square is a launching pad in all directions to explore historic buildings, famous composer dwellings, and shopping of every manner. It’s also a gathering place to connect after a long day of any of the above, or just to people watch. And there are plenty of people to watch!
Strauss in Stadtpark
It sounds like a play but it’s actually a lovely gilded statue of Johann Strauss, king of the Waltz, and one of Vienna’s favourite sons. In typical Vienna style, the park is a monster- 65,000 square meters (28 acres) worth- with intimate enclaves, grand promenades, Hundezones, concert halls, and yes, the King of the Waltz himself.
There’s plenty to be said about the Habsburgs and their empire but one thing that can definitely be said is that they knew how to plan a city built to be imposing, grand, and yet entirely accessible. The Ringstraße is the consummate example of their thoughtful urban planning sense. This grand boulevard is ring road (hence the name) around the historic district of Vienna, and by following it you will pass the medieval parts of the city, the major Austrian governmental buildings, Vienna’s own government offices in the beautiful Rathaus, and even Hofburg, one of the major royal palaces. We recommend you start at the State Opera House, one of the world’s grandest and most famous, and work your way right round to find it again. It’s 4 hours you will remember forever.
We’re totally lying to you; this isn’t the Danube proper. But the Danuba proper in Vienna isn’t very photogenic. However, this is the Danube WATER flowing here in the Donaukanal, which branches off the Danube and meets it again further downstream. It allows for better access into the heart of the city and also a better photography opportunity for us!
Right in the heart of it all is the Prater, a crazy, amusement park/biergarten. You can ride rides or get drunk but we don’t recommend both. Schnitzels and sausages can be found everywhere and there are rides for everyone, young or old. It’s open all day but we recommend the evening for the lights and the fun and the energy!
St. Marx Cemetery
Not all destinations require a cemetery visit, but in Vienna there are several that you simply don’t want to miss. One of these is St. Marx. Set literally against a major highway, St. Marx itself, closed since the late 1800’s, is quaint and a bit overgrown, adding to the mystique and allure. Within its hallowed grounds are numerous now-forgotten musicians and singer of their day as well as a few civic leaders. Oh, and this guy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
You would expect Vienna’s Museum of Military History to be stark. It’s anything but. Sure, it deals with some pretty depressing material- Vienna didn’t fare well in either World War- but the entry to the museum is both regal and honorable. For €6 you get several hours worth of mostly academic aspects of war but if you like military history, this is a can’t-miss visit.
Horse carriages, called Fiakers in Vienna, are easy to find. In fact, you’ll usually have your choice of a multitude inside the Ringstraße. But these guys are well cared for. They are all stables together on the outskirts of town where they are fed, shod, groomed, doctored...their own little village. What’s more they are almost all rescues of some sort, saved from the horse meat industry. Their work days are strictly regulated for heat and cold concerns. They can work no more than 260 days a year and no more than 4 days per week so they have it much better than most humans! Perhaps that’s why many live up to the ripe old age of 30
Franz Ferdinand's Auto
The car that started it all. The shot heard round the world that took the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Serbia landed right here, in this very auto, which is on display at the Heeregeschichtliches Museum. Anyone with even a casual knowledge of history will know that it sparked WWI and 4 years of then unprecedented bloodshed. In the accompanying case next to the auto lie the clothes he wore on that fateful day, as if lying in state.
The Cathedral of St. Stephen in the geographical center of Vienna is one of the largest churches in the world, and it’s also a thing of holy beauty. The church, in one form or another, has been standing in this spot since 1147 and has withstood time, concerts of the highest order from the world’s most famous composers, a few World Wars and a bomb or two. It’s free to view but it’ll cost you to get much past this view. Hint: it’s very worth it.
Stephansdom- The Tour
We said it was worth it, and it is. €19.90 will get you into the Nave with an audio tour in your favorite language, a guided tour of the catacombs (it’s possibly the coolest part of the church), a trip up to the bell tower (not for the faint of heart), and a look at the church’s treasures. Allow yourself a whole day for this experience so you won’t miss a thing. Booking is available online.
The Habsburgs didn’t suffer from lack of accommodation choice. The Hofburg, the former principal imperial palace right in the city, still functions today as as the residence and official workplace of the Austrian president. You can find the Hofburg right on the Ringstraße, opposite the Museumplatz Concerts are held here regularly and a stroll through the Volksgarten, the palace’s rose garden, is free. It’ll cost you €16.90 to get a guided tour but we recommend that before you do, study all three main palaces (Belvedere, Schönbrunn, and Hofburg) and decide which one(s) you want to visit to avoid “palace overload.”
It’s difficult to describe the scale of this cemetery. There are 3 public tram stops to get you to the part of the cemetery you want to visit. Within the 590-acre confines there are over 330,000 graves and over 3 million internments. It goes on and on and on, and every step is more beautiful than the last. The list of the famous dead is long and distinguished but in this particular section- Section 32A- the dead make the most beautiful music, if only we could hear them. Facing each other in lose quarters lie Brahms and Schubert and Strauss..and this guy, Beethoven. Sure, they’re dead but stand in Section 32A for even a few minutes and you know you’re in the presence of greatness.
We all love our summer palaces, don’t we? Belvedere served as the Habsburg’s summer dwelling and the layered garden walk surely helps one understand why. Nowadays it’s an art museum and wow, what a collection! Medieval art in near pristine condition, Renaissance and Impressionist paintings by the likes of Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh, and special exhibits that rival the world’s most prestigious museums. It’s not cheap- €23.50 for both the Upper and Lower buildings- but if art is your thing, the Belvedere is your place.
This neo-Gothic city hall was completed in 1883 and is the seat of government for the city of Vienna’s mayor and council. The platz (square) is home to seasonal events such as summer concerts, outdoor plays, and the Christmas market. It can be accessed via the Ringstraße, but it’s set back a bit from the main street so do yourself a favour and walk through the platz itself. You never know what you might find!
Nobody does Christmas markets like the Germans. Except perhaps the Austrians. The Wien Christkindlmarkt, set in the Rathausplatz is free, fun, and will take up your entire evening. Bring cash to get yourself some Glühwein in festive, commemorative mugs which you may keep or return to get your deposit back.
It’s not all regal and royal in Vienna. Sometimes its just wacky as hell. Frederich Hundertwasser envisioned this expressionist landmark and a stroll through this apartment and commercial center is to be transported through the looking glass. Walkways not at all even, homes that are more suited to a psychedelic trip, there’s not a straight line to be found anywhere in its 53-apartment, 16-terrace complex.