Vienna is an incredibly beautiful city, where wide open spaces are filled with art, music and life. And while postcards, guidebooks and well-travelled friends paint a picture that’s… well, picture perfect, it’s easy to be sceptical if you’re swapping a desert summer for a holiday in springtime Vienna.
After about six hours of being cooped up in a flying steel container, you’ll step out of Vienna airport and be slapped across the face by Mother Nature. Every cliché in the book seems to fit – fresh, crisp air, long streets lined with blooming flowers and shiny, happy people laughing (okay, they’re not shiny, but they’re definitely happy about something). To find out what’s making them so joyful, you’ll need to visit more than a few tourist spots, drink your bodyweight in coffee at charming cafés, walk along historic streets and feed swans on the beautiful River Danube. Follow our easy guide for a slice of Austrian bliss.
The Baroque Schönbrunn Palace (www.schoenbrunn.at) is arguably one of the most popular attractions in Vienna, and it’s easy to see why. Built between the late 16th and early 17th century, it is both grand and beautifully ornate. Yet it’s when you move away from the palace and walk towards the gardens that you’ll be truly impressed. The huge park at Schönbrunn Palace, opened to the public in 1779, spans more than a kilometre in each direction. Take a walk and you’ll come across cultivated flower beds and interesting features, such as the cute little maze. With trimmed hedges and confusing pathways, try to find the middle then see how long it takes you to get out.
Savour strudel sprinkled with history
You can’t leave Vienna without enjoying apple strudel from one of the city’s many coffee shops. Most still follow home-made recipes, where blankets of crumbly pastry cover a gooey, sweet apple filling. We recommend visiting the Café Prückel in Luegerplatz (www.prueckel.at), which boasts a traditional ’50s feel. Alternatively, make a reservation at Cafe Landtmann (www.landtmann.at), opposite the University of Vienna and beside the Burgtheater, for the apple strudel ‘Hofbackstube’ – apple, cinnamon, butter breadcrumbs and raisins are rolled into hand-made strudel dough and baked to perfection. This beautiful café, more than 130 years old, was apparently a favourite haunt of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler and (more recently) Sir Paul McCartney.
Sample the park life
Previously the Emperor’s hunting ground, Prater Amusement Park was unveiled in the 18th century and is now open March to October. It boasts more than 250 attractions to keep everyone entertained, from shooting booths and rollercoasters to cinemas, restaurants and cafés, miniature golf and a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, featuring not only famous waxworks, but also interactive exhibits. Take a ride on the giant Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel, which featured in classic British movie The Third Man – it offers incredible views.
Climb a mountain
Look up towards the north of Vienna and you’ll see Leopoldsberg mountain in the distance. You can visit this fabled peak using Vienna’s well-connected transport system. If you’re starting from the city centre, take the underground line to Schottentor Universität station, close to the University of Vienna. From there, you’ll need to get on the 38 tram to Grinzing and then the 38A bus to the mountains of Kahlenberg and further up to Leopoldsberg. Pick up a copy of Vienna’s public transportation map from the stations – it’s incredibly simple and residents are happy to help panicking tourists. At the top of the peak is a small Baroque church, built in the 16th century, which is clearly visible from Vienna below. Its interior features historic prints and documents relating to the Turkish siege. Spend some time marvelling at the panoramic vista of Vienna and the Alps from 425 metres above the city – very serene.
Tour weird and wonderful museums
In Vienna, you’ll find museums dedicated to everything from the traditional to the weird, including a rather eerie funeral museum (www.bestattungwien.at), where there are more than 1,000 exhibits related to death. You’ll learn about everything from funeral customs and burial rites to how the Viennese feel about death. If a morbid afternoon doesn’t appeal, try the Alt Wiener Schnapsmuseum (www.schnapsmuseum.com). The old Viennese factory, where the museum is now housed, was set up in 1875 and is dedicated to Austria’s popular beverage.
Listen to musical greats
Home to a stream of well-known composers, including Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Strauss, this city has a lot to offer in terms of classical concerts. Before you arrive, check where the Vienna Chamber Orchestra (www.kammerorchester.com) is playing and book a ticket, or look up the Venice Residence Orchestra at the Palais Auersperg (www.wro.at). The show, which is geared towards tourists but reasonably priced, sees the chamber orchestra play popular Mozart and Strauss pieces and traditional waltz and ballet dances. The acoustics in the hall are perfect, creating an ethereal effect. You’ll never appreciate the masters more than you will in Vienna.
Need to know
Austrian Airways flies direct from Dubai to Vienna from Dhs2,175 return. www.austrian.com
Where to stay
Hilton Vienna Danube
This recently renovated hotel is right by the River Danube, and there’s a subway station within walking distance that will take you to the city centre. Rooms are large and spacious; ideal for honeymooning couples. Rooms start at Dhs725 a night.
www.hilton.com (+43 1 727 770)
This arty family-run hotel is located next to the Vienna Prater amusement park. The interior is decorated in bright colours and its classical facade is more than 120 years old. Rooms from Dhs500 a night.
www.derwilhelmshof.com (+43 1 214 5521)
The decor may be dated and the rooms basic, but this hotel is hugely comfortable for the price and location, and in easy reach of attractions including Saint Stephens Cathedral. Rooms start at Dhs300.
www.hotelmozart-vienna.at (+43 1 317 1537)
History and geography
• Vienna is the capital of Austria and one of nine states in the country. It has a population of about 1.7 million and is the 10th most populous city in the European Union.
• Like many European cities, Vienna was built by Romans and has a history that can be traced back to the first century AD. The first Roman military camp was called Vindobona, and would have been where the core of the city is today.
• When the Iron Curtain was in place, from 1945 to 1989, Vienna served as a bridge between the West and the communist countries of Eastern Europe.
• Austria joined the European Union in 1995.
• The euro bank notes used throughout the EU were designed by Robert Kalina from Vienna’s Oesterreichische Nationalbank.