Recently we received an email from Priceline offering a Priceline promo code for 30% off vacation packages. And we decided to take it. We booked a trip to one of, if not the, most historical city for coffee in the world: Vienna. We had a magical time, and learned a lot about our favorite brew along the way.
Vienna, Austria’s Elegant Capital
Think of Vienna and you probably think of music – perhaps the catchy and familiar tune of ‘The Blue Danube‘ by Johann Strauss. Vienna has long been considered to be the world capital of classical music, with more well-known composers having lived and worked here than in any other city. Statues of famous composers are all over the city, although the most well-known and most photogenic is the gilded statue of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark.
Vienna still offers a wide range of music, including opera, baroque, classical and waltz performances which take place all over the city. Performances range from smaller concerts in churches, museums and other venues to concerts by the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The famous New Year’s Concert is held in the city every January 1st and is considered to be one of the city’s great cultural experiences, although getting tickets for this prestigious event can be a challenge.
Vienna’s City Center
Apart from its musical heritage, Vienna attracts visitors because of its well-deserved reputation as one of Europe’s most elegant and beautiful cities. The center of Vienna is the old part of the city. It was built around the 13th-century St. Stephen’s Cathedral. One of the highlights of the cathedral is its decorative tiled roof, containing over 250,000 colorful tiles. The narrow streets in this neighborhood still retain their medieval layout, although today many of them are lined with bars, restaurants and shops.
The most fashionable neighborhood in Vienna is the area known as the Hofburg quarter. What was originally a small fortress was developed over the centuries into the huge Hofburg Palace, the home of the rulers of Austria, the Hapsburgs, for 600 years. Today the impressive Hofburg complex contains several museums, as well as some delightful gardens and churches. You can see the treasure amassed by the Hapsburgs during their rule, including relics from the Roman Empire, and the family crown jewels. The elegant streets around the palace are home to many of the city’s best shops, restaurants and hotels.
The Hofburg Palace is also home to the world famous Spanish Riding School. The school was founded in 1572 by the Royal Family as an institution to test and enhance horsemanship skills. Today, you can still attend regular shows with the specially bred Lipizzaner stallions and marvel at their skillful and intricate marching routines.
The city center also contains Vienna’s museum quarter. Several small museums dedicated to folklore and modern art can be found here among the leafy streets, although the main attraction here is the Museum of the History of Art, one of Europe’s best museums. Displays range from Greek and Roman exhibits to art from the Far East and Egypt and galleries of European paintings. One of Europe’s most prestigious theaters, the Burgtheater, can also be found nearby. Even if you can’t attend a performance, don’t miss a guided tour of the lavish interior and its foyer with portraits of famous actors and actresses.
One of the city’s most impressive sights lies a few miles outside the center. Schonbrunn Palace was the former residence of the Imperial Royal Family and is situated in beautiful gardens with flower beds, fountains and even a small zoo on the grounds. The palace itself is filled with ornate furnishings and is richly decorated; the highlight is the spectacular long hallway known as the Great Gallery, which is still used today for state receptions.
One of the best-known structures in Vienna is a fairground ride. The giant Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park dates from 1896 and has become one of the symbols of the city. It was featured in the Orson Welles movie ‘The Third Man’. The Prater Park itself is considered the oldest amusement park in the world and offers a dozen of nostalgic rides, snack bars and beer gardens.
….And the Coffee
One experience unique to Vienna and not to be missed is the coffeehouse. Just as London has its pubs and Paris its pavement cafes, the coffeehouse is a Viennese institution. A typical coffeehouse is more than just a place to drink coffee- it’s a meeting place, and the cost of your drink allows you to linger and talk for as long as you like. Most coffeehouses also serve light snacks and alcohol and of course, those rich Viennese pastries and cakes. You can find these welcoming establishments all over the city but the oldest and most famous is perhaps the Frauenhuber, where Mozart regularly performed.
It’s fair to say that Vienna perhaps doesn’t have the big sights of some other European cities, such as Paris or London. Its appeal lies in its handsome boulevards and public buildings, the ambiance of its cafes, and, of course, its fascinating musical heritage.