Vienna is packed with a rich musical history, grand palaces and, er, apple strudel. WORDS: Rebecca Galton
With a stomach full of apple strudel and a brain full of facts, I felt like I’d had really experienced Vienna. I hadn’t, of course, I’d only been there for a day and a half. But I felt like I had – and that is what counts when you’re pushed for time on a European city break.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in a city like Vienna – famous for classical music, baroque and rococo architecture, the Habsburg dynasty and more – and there’s not much time to take it all in on a weekend. But if you head out to the Schloss Schönbrunn you can get a taste of what it’s all about (literally, if you take time out to watch the apple strudel-making show).
The Schloss Schönbrunn, the baroque palace that was Marie Antoinette’s home as a child, is a microcosm of Vienna – touching on many of the things for which the city is famed.
You can learn about its royal inhabitants, its baroque exterior and the rococo excesses of its interior. You can visit the room Napoleon is said to have slept in when he inhabited the palace in 1805 and 1809, and the famed Spiegelsaal (Hall of Mirrors) where Mozart performed when he was just six years old. And, did I mention, you can also eat some apple strudel?
The Habsburg Dynasty
You know Marie Antoinette, right? Well, she of the many shoes and the woeful Sofia Coppola film, was brought up in Austria before being sent off to France to marry Louis XVI. Her mother Maria Theresa ruled the country for 40 years and in that time also gave birth to 16 children (busy woman!). Anyway, the royal brood lived at Schönbrunn, in its 1441 rooms, among its impressive French-style formal gardens, overlooking the world’s oldest zoo.
Cute little Mozart played his first royal concert in the palace’s Spiegelsaal in 1762. According to a letter written by his father, young Wolfgang finished playing and then leapt into the lap of the emporess Maria Theresa and gave her a big old smooch.
Once your tour of the palace is over and you’ve taken in all the frescoed ceilings, crystal chandeliers and gilded ornaments your eyes can handle, head out to the gardens. For a view back to the palace, climb up to the Gloriette – the garden’s crowning glory – and don’t forget your camera, the views are spectacular.
Also, if you’re feeling in a childish mood, you’ll have a right royal ball in the maze and labyrinth. Watch out for stray squirts of water as you navigate your way through the labyrinth and head into the hedge maze, if only to get to the middle and watch others run into dead end after dead end. Don’t leave without laughing at your warped self in the wacky mirrors. It’s the most fun you can have without hallucinogenic drugs.
The Tiergarten was founded in 1752 and is the world’s oldest zoo. If you’ve bought the Gold Pass (€36 for adults), entry to the zoo is included. Check out the 750 animals – including lemurs, armidillos, pandas and tigers. Try to co-ordinate your visit with feeding times, or, if you’re feeling a bit peckish yourself, dine at the former imperial breakfast room at the centre of the zoo’s bike-wheel layout.
The Apple Strudel
If you’ve skipped your five-a-day due to all the busy sightseeing, sign up for the apple strudel show, where they’ll happily hand out a free sample. The chef talks you through the process as he spins the stretchy pastry around in a manner you know you’ll never be able to reproduce at home. Still, take a recipe sheet if you’re feeling ambitious.
The Schönbrunn Palace is in Vienna’s 13th district. Catch the U-Bahn line number four to the nearest station, Schönbrunn. Visitors can choose from the Imperial Tour (which takes in 22 rooms in the palace and costs €9.50), the Grand Tour (40 rooms for €12.90 with an audio tour), the Classic Pass (the Grand Tour plus entrance to the Gloriette, maze and Apple Strudel Show, for €16.90) or the Gold Pass (also includes entrance to the zoo, desert house, palm house and carriage museum for €36).
Get the go around
If you’re looking for a high vantage point for a few crafty photos, then head out to the Prater amusement park and climb on board the Riesenrad.
This Ferris wheel is not just a thrill ride – actually, it’s not much of a thrill at all, unless you’re scared of heights, rickety old structures or the combination of both – it’s a 65m tall symbol of Vienna, a movie star (see The Living Daylights, The Third Man and Before Sunrise) and a history lesson as well.
Built in 1897 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, the structure was damaged by bombs in World War II but rose triumphantly from the ashes to rotate once more, thus symbolising the reconstruction of Vienna.
The ticket includes entry into the Panorama – which is basically disused cabins filled with models of historical scenes, including Roman Vienna, Turkish invasions and World War II.
• Rebecca Galton travelled to Vienna with Opodo (0870-277 0090; www.opodo.co.uk. City breaks start at £98