Vienna is the capital of Austria, and home to 1.8 million people! And not just regular people, but happy people. Year after year, Vienna was ranked 1st from 2009-2016 in Mercer’s “Quality of Living” survey. Vienna was long the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire – therefore, it was a perfect place to stop to absorb some history lessons, culture, music and food.
How We Got There and Around
The ride from Český Krumlov was a bit complicated and ended up with us taking three different trains to get to Vienna. We didn’t mind, as the train rides were relatively short (less than 3 hours) and we had plenty of books to read on the kindle.
Once we arrived in Vienna, we took the U-Bahn and the city trams, as well as walked a lot. The public transportation was pretty easy to negotiate and had a fair amount of English signage.
Where We Stayed
Our apartment was close to the metro station, plus plenty of food and shops. On our first day we attempted to do a late dinner (after 8:30PM) and found it surprising that many shops and restaurants were already closed. After that, we ate much earlier.
What We Did
Museumsquartier – This cultural complex is the 8th largest cultural complex in the world (at 60,000 square meters). It is architecturally very beautiful. There are also museums, exhibitions, and a place for artists to work. We hung around and lounged in the sun a bit.
Volksgarten – This public park opened in 1823, and is one of the more beautiful parks we have seen on this trip. The park has thousands of roses, too bad we didn’t come during their big bloom in Spring, I can’t imagine how even more pretty it is. We enjoyed lunch in the beer garden and strolled through the park to check out the monuments – the Theseus temple, the monument to “Sisi”, and the monument to writer, Franz Grillparzer.
Parliament Building – We didn’t have a chance to go inside, but did admire its beauty from outside (even with its renovation being done). The building itself was built in 1884 in a neo-greek style. The Pallas Athene Fountain is quite the statement piece in front (the statue was erected there by 1902).
Wiener Rathaus – There are many frustrating things about traveling in summer – the crowds, the rise in prices, and especially the construction/festivals. We were excited to check out this old town hall, only to see that they were preparing for a major film festival, so everything was blocked. This stunning building was built in 1883, and currently houses the Mayor of Vienna.
Soviet War Memorial – This memorial commemorates the +17,000 Soviet soldiers who died to defeat the Nazis in Vienna (the Vienna Offensive). The memorial opened in 1945, and today is the subject to vandalism pending Russian politics and offenses.
Karlskirche – This church opened in 1737, and is in the style of baroque. The church was a tribute to those who died during the great plague epidemic. This church also had a staircase/elevator that led us up scaffolding to see the dome paintings up close and personal. I did find this experience to a be a bit scary.
Stadtpark – Another public park, but compared to Volksgarten, not as beautiful. Still, a pleasant stroll with beer and ice cream was pleasant enough.
St. Stephens Cathedral – This is one of the city’ tourist staples, for obvious reasons – the multi-colored roof, giant towers, and the fact that it is really old (current church built in 1365). The unique colored tiles on the roof create an image of the Austrian coat of arms. Steve and I did a tour of the tower and got a great view of the nearby plaza.
St. Francis of Assisi Church – Not normally part of the tourist rounds, we read about checking out this Catholic church from a blog. The church opened in 1910, and looks like a castle from a fairytale story. I was surprised at how plain the church is on the inside (compared to most Catholic Churches). Inside the church is the Elizabeth Chapel, dedicated to the Empress Elizabeth “Sisi”. The church is situated in Mexikoplatz – a square dedicated to Mexico, for being the sole country to protest the League of Nations against the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
Schönbrunn Palace – This was the summer palace for 300 years of the Habsburg royalty. Steve and I did a tour of the palace and spent ample time roaming the gardens. The tour was all done on audio (included in the price) and reminded us visiting the Palace of Versailles. Even the rooms were similar, which makes sense since they were probably renovated and refurbished around the same time. Coincidently (or not), one of the Habsburg rulers, Empress Maria Theresa, is the mother of Marie Antoinette. The palace tour took us a few hours. We spent time in the garden for some time before a rain storm came, which we hid in a beer garden for a few hours. The Gloriette is quite impressive and is the main feature of the gardens. There are several sculptures and fountains, it’s easy to wander for hours in the garden. My particular favorite is the Neptune’s Fountain, easily seen in front of the Gloriette.
Hundertwasserhaus – This apartment building is a joint venture from artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and architect Joseph Krawina. The apartments are colorful, unique, and a popular place for curious tourists to stop and gawk (like us).
Hofburg Palace – The Hofburg is the former imperial palace for the Habsburg dynasty, and the current residence and workspace for the President of Austria. Today, besides the President’s residence, it also includes the imperial library, the treasury, the Burgtheater, the Spanish Riding School (which sadly we didn’t see), the imperial mews and the museum. The museum consists of three parts:
- Imperial Furniture Museum – This audio self-guide took us through the famous Habsburg dining ware – which consisted of gold, silver and porcelain beauties.
- Sisi Museum – This museum was dedicated to the life and mystery of Empress Elizabeth “Sisi”. This museum was also a self-guided audio tour, with displays of her artifacts, and exhibits about her “odd” behavior. After going to this museum, my curiosity for her has grown – if you have any biography book suggestions, let me know.
- The Apartments – Though not as impressive as the Schönbrunn Palace, the apartments were quite nice.
We are not even close to being done in Austria, but since it is one of the more expensive countries on our list, we decided to be happy with just Vienna. When we return, I would love to see Salzburg, explore national parks, and a few quiet towns.