At the crossroads of European cultures
Quiet and refined, the Austrian capital's prestigious past does not outshine its dynamic present. As you stroll around, you will discover a Vienna that sparkles as much as its white wine.
It is sometimes characterised as provincial, ossified, withdrawn into its past, but Vienna is just the opposite. The Austrian capital is a creative, vibrant, and bold city. As a result, visitors often feel that a weekend is not enough time to enjoy its many facets. Sauntering about at will, you may mark a pause in front of a facade, stop to enter a church, visit one of Vienna's world-class museums, or simply give in to the lure of its traditional cafés and restaurants.
Certainly there are reminders of the city's past everywhere. The Habsburgs did not rule for six centuries without leaving their mark. The Emperor Franz Joseph in particular shaped the city, as did his wife Elizabeth, nicknamed Sissi and immortalised in cinema by Romy Schneider. Their memory hangs over the Schönbrunn Palace, the magnificent summer residence of the court.
Perhaps you will have the opportunity to attend one of the sumptuous balls that are held every winter after the famous New Year's concert, which invariably ends with ‘The Radetzky March'. Long dresses for women, shiny leather shoes, white gloves and coats for men: the old traditions are perpetuated. Music is still loved in the imperial court in Vienna, as it was in the past. Beethoven, who spent much of his life in Vienna, composed a number of masterpieces here, as did Mozart, who initially met with incomprehension from his contemporaries. Brahms made his career here, as did Strauss, the king of the waltz with his unforgettable ‘The Blue Danube'. The repertory of the National Opera, the Staatsoper, which opened in 1869, is legendary.
The museums contain a rich heritage spanning several centuries, so you will definitely find something to keep you busy for a few studious afternoons. For taking the air, especially with children, there is nothing better than a stroll in the Prater, the former imperial hunting reserve, which has become the favourite promenade of the Viennese. Here you can take a ride on the Great Ferris Wheel, the very one you see in The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and directed by Carol Reed (1948). For those who haven't seen this cinema classic, or never tire of seeing it again, it is screened regularly here.
But a trip to Vienna would not be complete without the pleasure of tasting the pastries, cakes, and coffees that are an inseparable part of its identity. Viennese cafés are an institution in themselves, and some, like the Café Sacher have even created their own specialties like the world-renowned Sachertorte. The range of pastry specialties such as Apfelstrudel, Topfenstrudel and Palatschinken with a Kaffee mit Schlag (coffee with whipped cream) is overwhelming, not to mention the savoury dishes like Tafelspitz, Backhendl and the classic Wiener Schnitzel. And right in Vienna there are 700 hectares of vines producing fresh whites that may also be enjoyed under the arbours of any of the Stadtheurigen, city wineries. What better way to get the real pulse of the city and become just a little bit Viennese?