Most people visit Vienna (Wien) with a vivid image in their minds of a romantic place, full of imperial nostalgia, opera houses and exquisite cakes. Even so, the city can overwhelm with its eclectic feast of architectural styles that range from High Baroque through the monumental imperial projects of the late nineteenth century and on to the decorative Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) style of the early twentieth that has been used with great effect on several of the city’s splendid U-Bahn stations.
Innsbruck: This dramatically located Gothic and Baroque city has a gem-like medieval core and also offers some wonderful outdoor activities, like hiking, skiing and climbing.
Bad Gastein: A budget base for excellent skiing. At the end of the day, soak those aching muscles in one of the town’s hot water spas.
Hallstatt: Do not miss this picture-postcard village in the lovely Salzkammergut region.
Schönbrunn: This is by far the most magnificent of the Habsburg’s many palaces.
Melk: Spectacularly perched on a woody bluff overlooking the Danube, Melk’s monastery is a must-see.
All things Mozart: An Austrian icon, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg. Visit his house (pictured), and try to catch a Mozart-related concert or two.
Viennese art: From the Kunsthistorisches to the Albertina (pictured), Vienna has one of the world’s greatest collections of art.
The Sound of Music: Musical fans will find some of their favorite things on a Sound of Music tour of Salzburg.
Coffee and cake: Indulge in mouthwatering treats in one of Vienna’s ornate coffee houses.
Seasonal food, Graz: Taste everything from pumpkinseed oil and homemade sausages to creamy local cheeses and Styrian apples – Graz is a foodie’s dream.
The boutique scene – particularly along Kirchengasse, Neubaugasse and Lindengasse in the district of Neubau – is exploding with affordable, young designers’ spaces selling quality creations unlike any other. Neubau’s northern edge also brims with the city’s idiosyncratic Altwaren (old wares) shops (rummaging through second-hand treasures and trash is de rigeur) and Jugendstil (art nouveau) showrooms filled with furniture and jewelry. In the tiny Innere Stadt downtown, the Hoher Markt area and Bauernmarkt and around, find more fashion and small boutiques, many selling locally designed clothes, accessories or food. Kärntner Strasse and Mariahilfer Strasse are the prime high streets, with international heavyweights, but off the main drag discover a few winners selling local specialties such as porcelain, ceramics, handmade dolls, wrought-iron work and leather goods.
Stephansdom: The obvious place to begin exploration is Stephansplatz, the pedestrian-ized central square, dominated by the hoary Gothic Stephansdom. It is worth paying to explore the interior more fully, with the highlights of the main section the Wiener Neustädter Altar, a late Gothic masterpiece, and the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III.
Judenplatz: Though one of Vienna’s prettiest little squares, Judenplatz is dominated by a deliberately bleak concrete Holocaust Memorial by British sculptor Rachel Whiteread. The square marks the site of the medieval Jewish ghetto and you can view the foundations of a fourteenth-century synagogue at the excellent Museum Judenplatz at no. 8, which brings something of medieval Jewish Vienna to life. Buy a joint ticket (€10) to also visit the intriguing Jüdisches Museum, Dorotheergasse 11, a museum of Jewish tradition and culture.
Kärntnerstrasse and Graben: From Stephansplatz, pedestrian-ized Kärntnerstrasse runs south past street entertainers and shops to the illustrious Staatsoper. A more unusual tribute to the city’s musical genius is the state-of-the-art Haus der Musik, Seilerstätte 30, a hugely enjoyable museum of sound. Running west of Stephansplatz is the more upscale Graben, featuring an extremely ornate plague column (Pestsäule), built to commemorate the 1679 plague.
The Hofburg: The immense, highly ornate Hofburg palace houses many of Vienna’s key imperial sights. See some of the finest medieval craftsmanship and jewelry in Europe, including relics of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg crown jewels. The Hofburg is also home to two of the most enduring tourist images of Vienna: singing boys and prancing horses. Steps beside the Schatzkammer lead up to the Hofmusik Kapelle, the venue for Mass with the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
On the north side of the Hofburg, the imperial stables are home to the white horses of the Spanish Riding School, known for their extraordinary, intricate performances. Either book for a performance well in advance; or attend a morning exercise session; or, join a guided tour of the school and stables. To just take a peek at the horses, look into the stables (Stallburg) from the glass windows on Reitschulgasse. The Albertina, houses one of the world’s largest graphic art collections, with works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Dürer and Michelangelo.
The Secession: The eccentric, eye-catching building crowned with a ‘golden cabbage’ by Karlsplatz is the Secession building, the gallery built as the headquarters of the movement of the same name in 1898. Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrech, and decorated by several luminaries of the group, including their first president Gustav Klimt, their aim was to break with the Viennese establishment and champion new ideas of art and aesthetics, and it still puts on contemporary exhibits. The only permanent artwork is Klimt’s 'Beethoven Frieze' downstairs.