Whether you cram in culture or while away hours in a traditional cafe, Vienna ensures an inviting visit – even when the temperatures are chilly. And 2017 – which will see the Austrian capital celebrate a whole host of anniversaries ranging from the Blue Danube Waltz to the birthday of Archduchess Maria Theresa – is the ideal time to go.
TNT has some ideas to get you started…
Vienna elates at any time but especially so throughout 2017: the city’s calendar is creaking with festivals and events to commemorate anniversaries ranging from 150 years of the Blue Danube Waltz (get the backstory on Johann Strauss’ world famous waltz at the Museum of the Johann Strauss Dynasty’s special exhibition from 16 Feb-31 Dec, www.strauss-museum) to the 300th birthday of Archduchess Maria Theresa. The Habsburg ruler was one of the most influential leaders in European history – numerous reforms date back to her rule. From 15 March to 29 November 2017, the large scale 300 Years of Maria Theresa: Strategist Mother-Reformer exhibition (www.mariatheresia2017.at/) will take up residence at four locations across the city, while the Belvedere will be looking at the monarch’s relationship with fine arts at the upcoming 300th Birthday Exhibition of Maria Theresa exhibition (30 June-5 Nov). The Austrian National Library (www.onb.ac.at) is also getting in on the act and is set to stage the Maria Theresa: Habsburg’s most powerful woman exhibition from 17 February to 5 June 2017.
Elsewhere art aficionados will want to make a pilgrimage to the remarkable Kunst Historiches museum (www.khm.at/en) – home to artwork by Rembrandt, Brueghel, Vermeer, Velazquez, Titian, Tintoretto and almost every great artist you can imagine. Other museums that reward a visit include the Leopold Museum (www.leopoldmuseum.org/en) and the modern art gallery MUMOK (www.mumok.at/en).
And of course no trip to Vienna would be complete without heading for the Hofburg – the sprawling home of the Habsburgs that’s filled with grand staircases – and seeing Stephansdom, the gothic cathedral whose spire dominates the busy square of Stephansdom. The Mozarthaus Vienna – where Mozart famously composed The Marriage of Figaro – is another must.
But the real joy of Vienna is to be found in wandering the atmospheric, cobbled streets and alleyways of the old city taking in the sights, smells and shops…
It would be a criminal offence to visit Vienna without whiling away at least one afternoon in a traditional Viennese cafe. Despite their glorious olde world ap-pearance, these gorgeous coffee houses are more alive than ever and act as an oasis in people’s daily lives. For the Viennese, the coffee house doesn’t only serve as a spot in which to enjoy an excellent cup of coffee (expect to choose from at least 20 different types) and slice of Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake invented by chef Franz Sacher for Chancellor Metternich in 1832). Rather it’s an entrance ticket to a bygone world where the Viennese can read (or write) books, dream, think and trade gossip. Three can’t miss cafes include Cafe Frauenhuber – where Mozart once performed – Cafe Landtmann (www.cafefrauenhuber.at, whose high profile past guests include Sigmund Freud) and Cafe Central (www.cafecentral.wien/en). The latter is where Leon Trotsky once made revolu-tionary plans for Russia.
Of course it’s not all about coffee and cake. Vienna is perhaps best known for the Wiener (Viennese) schnitzel — cuts of veal, fried in a traditional manner until golden crispy brown – at Plachuttza sur Oper. And don’t miss the chance to try a sausage from one of Vienna’s many sausage stands – popular with students, of-fice workers, opera goers and the late night party crowd alike.
But for a truly memorable meal, look to Le Ciel (www.leciel.at) – an award winning restaurant by Toni Moerwald serving sophisticated dishes you’ll be dreaming about for months. Want to recreate some of the traditional fare you’ve been scoffing? Sign up for a cooking class at Wrenkh (www.wrenkh-wien.at) where Chef Carl will show how to whip up an authentic Viennese meal with which to wow your housemates back home.
Planning on visiting Vienna during the festive season? The Austrian capital’s array of Instagram-worthy Yuletide markets should be top of your itinerary. Dating back to the late 13th century when winter gatherings of traders were held around a town’s main church, they are the perfect place to soak up some festive goodwill (and gluhwein, natch) plus pick up the odd Christmas present (think Christmas baubles, hand-blown glass, beeswax et al). Standouts include the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung – one of Vienna’s most picturesque squares – and the Belvedere Palace Advent Market which sells everything from stollen to sauerkraut. However the creme de la creme of Christmas markets is arguably the one on Rathausplatz (www.wienerweihnachtstraum.at/christkindlmarkt-und-eistraum/) – home to Vienna’s tallest Christmas tree – where adrenaline seekers can lace up their skates and glide across a 4,000m2 fairytale ice trail. Trust TNT when we say that Vienna’s Christmas markets have plenty to tempt even the most dyed in the wool Yuletide grump.
That said, if you’re looking for the ultimate Christmas present, pick up a glass snow globe over at at the Perzy Snow Globe Museum (www.viennasnowglobe.at/). Around 200,000 globes are produced here every year by Erwin Perzy III – grandson of snow globe inventor, Erwin Perzy – who insists on keeping the recipe for artificial snow, a family secret…
Then shop to it on Mariahilfer Strasse – aka Vienna’s longest shopping street. Emperor Franz Joseph used to travel along Mariahilfer Strasse as he shuttled be-tween Schönbrunn Palace and the Hofburg. Today, this partly pedestrianised street is Vienna’s number one shopping destination and hums with activity at any hour. Even if you aren’t into retail therapy, it’s worth strolling along Mariahilfer Strasse for the atmosphere alone.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town during December – when Vienna is arguably at its most magical – get yourself to the gala evening of the Christmas in Vienna concert, www.christmasinvienna.at (one of the most renowned christmas concerts on the continent). Held at the architecturally impressive Wiener Konzerhaus (www.konzerthaus.at/en), attendees can look forward to an assortment of festive music from around the world brought to you by international celebrities of the concert scene. One caveat: ditch the denim and dress up. Casual ‘normcore dressing maybe the order du jour in London but not so in Vienna.
Alternatively make a beeline for a ball as, for more than two centuries Vienna has been the uncontested ball capital of the world. Each year the city hosts around 450 events, from elegant high society galas to wild carnival parties. Whatever form they take, the lively strains of the Viennese waltz are de rigueur. A unique blend of age-old Austrian traditions and magnificent court ceremonial, the romance and charm of a Viennese ball can’t be beaten. Two left feet? Put the panic on hold: countless dance schools offer crash courses in the art of waltzing. TNT can recommend the traditional Elmayer dance school (www.elmayer.at/en/) with its waltz jour fixe (every Saturday 4-5pm, year round, in English) or the feted Rueff dance school (www.tanzschulerueff.at) with its waltz 101s. Neither require prior registration – just show up on the day.
If a Viennese ball sounds a tad too formal for you, then check out the city’s con-temporary nightlife: trendy new clubs and chi chi bars are springing up all over the shop – sometimes in the places you would least expect to find them. Case in point? The Giant Ferris Wheel, or Riesenrad as it is known locally, which shot to international fame thanks to its role in Carol Reed’s classic film noir The Third Man, is now known as much for its nightlife scene as it is for being a symbol of Vienna’s world-famous Prater. Get the party started at the Fluc club (www.fluc.at). A short hop from the Praterstern station right in front of the Giant Ferris Wheel, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a drink at the bar or get down on the dance floor. One level down you’ll find Fluc_Wanne, a former pedestrian under-pass, where an ever-changing line-up of DJs and bands play until the early hours. Meanwhile Café Else (www.cafeelse.at), on the other side of Praterstern, is a fashionable, relaxed hang-out serving up breakfast, electronic beats and up-and-coming artwork all day.
For more Vienna ideas and inspiration, visit www.wien.info/en
Words: Kaye Holland