Vienna is a city that still longs for its glory days of old when it played front and center as host of the Habsburg court. The remnants of this empire is still imprinted in this city in many ways – the aristocratic mansions and palaces, the wealth of Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, the city’s artistic and musical heritage, and the polite manners and etiquettes of the Viennese. It is perhaps this window to Austria’s royal past that attracts so many tourists to Vienna each year.
Visit Vienna and you’ll find great art, architecture, music, literature, operas, and theater. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, for instance, has one of the world’s greatest collections of artwork, housed in a building that is itself a display of art with its famed octagonal dome and sandstone façade. The inside of the building is decorated with marble, gold-leaf, ornamentations, and paintings. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, which stores much of the Habsburg’s former art collection, includes Greek and Roman Antiquities, Egyptian monuments, and medieval and Renaissance paintings featuring work by masters like Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, van Eyck, Rubens, and van Dyck. Across the Maria Theresien-Platz from the Kunsthistorisches Museum is the Naturhistorisches Museum, one of the most important museums in the world. It features prehistoric objects, many of which need to be scientifically maintained. The well-known 25,000 year-old Venus of Willendorf and the skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur are highlights of the museum’s collection. The Naturhistorisches also exhibits numerous extinct animals or plant specimens.
Both the Kunsthistorisches and the Naturhistorisches are located on the famous Ringstraße, a circular road located in the Innere Stadt district of Vienna. The Ringstraße was commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I in the 1850s to replace the old city walls that had been in place since the 13th century. Along this road, you’ll find many other worthwhile sites including the Parliament Building, the Votivkirche, a 19th Century neo-gothic church built as a thank-you present to God after a failed assassination attempt on the Emperor Joseph I’s brother, and the Museumsquartier, which is the city’s cultural center and the eighth largest cultural area in the world. The Museumsquartier is home to baroque buildings, a convention center, and large art museums like the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation.
Other important Viennese sites include the Stephansdom, the famous Romanesque and Gothic cathedral built in the 12th century, the Belvedere, the Hofburg and Neue Hofburg, and the Schönbrunn. The Belvedere consists of two baroque palaces separated by a formal, French-mannered garden built by Prince Eugene in the 18th century and home to the Austrian Gallery, which contains a collection of masterpieces from the medieval and Baroque era by such painters like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The Hofburg is the imperial palace of the Habsburg where the Habsburg lived in the winter and the Neue Hofburg is the newest and largest section of this palace. There are a host of museums at the Hofburg, including the Ephesus Museum, Ethnological Museum, Collection of Arms Museum, three branches of the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Schatzkammer. This latter museum houses the crown jewels of the Habsburgs. The Schönbrunn, on the other hand, is the Habsburgs’ former summer residence characterized by its impressive maze of gardens and Rococo-style architecture.
Besides feasting your eyes on the magnificent art and architecture of Vienna, it is worth checking out a theatre play at the Wiener Metropol and an opera at the Wiener Staatsoper, the same venue where Mozart’s famous Don Giovanni was first performed. It is also a must to check out a Viennese Kaffeehaus and sample Vienna’s famous varieties of coffees like the Melange, Kapuziner, Kleiner Brauner, or the Kaffee Verkehrt.