When drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision song content for Austria in 2014, it put its capital into the limelight as the host for 2015. For a week in May, Vienna was alive with excitement. And when that was over, everyone headed for Vienna’s City Hall Square for the Music Film Festival (July 4 to September 6) to hear everything from Mozart to Elvis.
Aside from these celebrations of music there’s still plenty of reasons to visit the Austrian capital. Once the the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna has a rich intelectual and artistic legacy that is reflected in its buildings, statues and perfectly manicured parks.
But it isn’t all about its imperial heritage, Vienna seamlessly blends old and new: Baroque architecture, gay-themed traffic lights, 19th century coffee houses and legendary hot dog stands. The city has a lovely location in eastern Austria, on the banks of the Danube River, and manages to retain its regal air while offering a glimpse of the avant-garde.
Must spend the afternoon
Vienna is the epitome of coffeehouse culture. But if it’s a Starbucks to-go that you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong place. Afternoon coffee and cake is taken to a new level here, with many people whiling away hours reading the newspaper over a frothy melange coffee and a generous portion of apfelstrudel. This world-famous tradition dates back to the late 17th century and was recently added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Café Landtmann prides itself on being responsible for the Viennese coffee house institution and was once regularly frequented by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and composer, Gustav Mahler.
As to be expected from the international capital of classical music, Vienna’s concert calendar is crammed with operas, theatrical performances and music shows – many of them take place in historic locations and some even throw in dinner and a palace tour too. Sound of Vienna offers up a local extravaganza with music from Mozart and Strauss, operetta, ballet and waltz.
A different kind of ballet is presented at the Spanish Riding School where Lipizzan horses have been dazzling audiences for years with their distinctive paces and pirouettes, which they perform in perfect harmony with the music. There are various options to see the White Stallions: during morning training, at a tour of their stables or an afternoon show, and you don’t have to be an equine enthusiast to appreciate any one of those options.
Fuelled by its belief that “pretentious excess gets in the way”, Hotel Daniel combines simplicity and edgy urbanism. With its lazy interior, urban garden and rentable Vespas, this hotel likes to do things a little bit differently, and offers hammocks in the bedrooms and an aluminium caravan in the garden for those who think the same. It’s well located, just a short walk from the main train station, and neighbours the illustrious museum and palace, Schloss Belvedere, which is a stop-off point for any art lover.
Vienna is a giant bakery, so make sure to wear your elasticated waist trousers when venturing out to sample its culinary scene. It’s not just home to the Sacher-Torte, arguably the most famous chocolate cake in the world, but also shredded pancakes (Kaiserschmarrn), dense Bundt cakes (Gugelhupf), Topfelstrudel (apfelstrudel’s younger, cream cheese-filled sibling) and Christmas cookies of all shapes and sizes. There are ice cream parlours on most street corners and shops devoted to the humble wafer – Manner on Stephansplatz claims to sell around 4,000 wafers a day.
Top tip: Sacher-Torte lasts for up to two weeks and Hotel Sacher sells it in an easily transportable box, making it the perfect present to take home from your trip – as long as you don’t devour it beforehand.
If you haven’t got a sweet tooth, you won’t go hungry: goulash and schnitzel are widely served, and you can’t leave town without trying one of Vienna’s very own weiners. Bitzinger, next to the Albertina Museum, is a sausage stand that serves up the essentials: sausages and beer. Come rain or shine, businessmen, hippies and students alike can be found gathered around this Würstelstand late into the night, eating a cheese- or curry-infused weiner in a hollowed out bun. If you’re after something a little more formal, then try Motto am Fluss on the banks of the Danube.
Must visit museum
Vienna has an extensive selection of museums, ranging from predictably ornate art galleries, to slightly quirkier offerings, such as Johann Strauss’ apartment or Sigmund Freud’s office (albeit minus his famous couch, which lives in London). The Leopold houses an extensive collection of work from the city’s very own Gustav Klimt and his younger contemporary Egon Schiele.
Image credits: WienTourismus