Walking Tour of Historic Central Vienna

Vienna: city of music, city of intellectualism, city of dreams has stolen my heart in just one weekend! We flew to Vienna a few weeks ago to meet our friends Leila and Ian, and had an incredible storybook weekend. Today, I'm going to show you around some of the sites that we saw in the historic section of Vienna, mostly within the Ringstrasse.

(For more things to do in and around Vienna, please see my blog titled "Vienna--Most romantic weekend city" https://www.mylovelylifeabroad.com/2019/04/vienna-most-romantic-weekend-city.html  )

Photo from my Romantic weekend in Vienna blog

But first, would you like a tiny bit of history and some fun facts?

1. Austria's capital, Vienna lies in the country's eastern side, along the Danube River. 
2. It was settled early by the Romans as a military camp (you can still see the remains of the old city just outside the Hofburg Imperial Palace gate), but Vienna as we know it was founded in the 10th century. 
3. It was the seat of the Habsburg Empire for over 700 years, and was once one of the largest cities in Europe. In fact, back in the 19th century, there were 200,000 people living within the city's inner Ringstrasse. Today, there are 20,000. 
4. The drinking age in Vienna is 16 (for wine and beer).
5. It is the only city in the world to have a major wine producing region within city limits.
6. Pez candy was invented here. The dispenser was shaped like a cigarette lighter because cigarettes were banned at the time. Their slogan was "No smoking--PEZing allowed!"
7. Vienna is home to the oldest zoo and the oldest ferris wheel in the world.
8. The snow globe was invented in Vienna.
9. From 1838-1945, there was no Austria, as it was taken over by Germany. 
10. Adolf Hitler was actually Austrian. He was born in the upper Austrian town of Braunau Am Inn.
11. After the WWII ended, Austria regained total independence on the condition that it would forever be neutral--Austria never joined NATO or the Warsaw Pact. 
12. In 2018, Vienna was named the #1 city in the world by the Global Liveability Index. 

Beyond that, Vienna's artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, Sigmund Freud, Klimpt and Wagner.  I just love this city and I can't wait to show you some of its charms.

So GET UP GET UP GET UP!!! If you are up for an early morning adventure, and you think you can drag yourself out of bed in time, I highly recommend a 7:30 visit to the Palace of Justice, arriving just when it opens... for beautiful photos and no tourists!

Palais of Justice (Justizpalast)
Seat of the Supreme Court
Justizplatz: Schmerlingpl 10-11. Open 7:30am-5. Guided tours M,W,F at 1pm.
From the outside, the the Palace of Justice may not draw your attention, if only because Vienna has so many beautiful buildings.

But once you step inside, you will find yourself in one of the most impressive interiors Vienna has to offer. The huge grand staircase, dominated by the statue of Lady Justice, the wall decor, pastel colors and the beautiful light shining in from the glass ceiling will leave you breathless.

Few people know that this building is open for public entrance and thanks to this, it is not invaded by tourists. After passing the security check, you can enter and take pictures on the ground floor, or walk up the grand staircase for some beautiful photos from the balcony. Afterward, why not go up to Jutizcafe on the 5th floor for an early morning coffee?  The cafe is mostly occupied by people working in the Palace of Justice, but the view from the balcony is one of the best in Vienna.
Related image

Another great place to visit in the morning is the Hofburg Palace complex. It is quite close to the Palais of Justice, and as you enter the area, you will first see the large Volksgarten and Heldenplatz square, as well as the Prince Eugen Statue and the Neueburg wing of the Hofburg Palace, which houses several museums.  

The Hofburg

The Hofburg is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. In fact, it has been the seat of government since 1279! The name Hofburg translates to "Castle of the Court" and indeed it is! The palace was constructed in the middle ages and was the principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. Because of its sheer size, I'm not going to discuss all of the various museums and offices that make up this massive complex, but of note are:
--The "Swiss Wing" and the gate entrance that bears the many titles of Ferdinand I. 
--The Vienna Boys Choir performs at the Hofburg Chapel. You may purchase advance tickets online. 
--Austrian National Library (considered the most beautiful in the world)
--Imperial Treasury, home to Crown Jewels
--The Collection of Arms and Armor
--The Spanish Imperial Riding School
--The Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments and Imperial Silver Collection Tour
--Burggarten (Palm House), Butterfly House, Brasserie Palmenhaus

Imperial Music Chapel
Home of the Vienna Boys' Choir. Mass is sung every Sunday at 9:15. Franz Schubert and Joseph Haydn were both choirboys here, however Haydn was evicted for cutting the braid off of a schoolmate.

Hofburg Imperial Palace Tour
Open 9am-5:30, ticket price is €15/person.

The Hofburg Imperial Palace is a large complex of ornate buildings where the Hapsburg family resided....except in the summer, when they lived at the Shoenbrunn Palace. The ticket entrance for the Hofburg Palace tour is located in the rotunda walkway near Michaelplatz, and across from the Spanish Riding School, and is well worth the price of admission. 

You can purchase a joint ticket for the Imperial Silver Collection, the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments either online or at the ticket office within. 

The Imperial Apartments tell the history of the very lavish lifestyle of the rulers who lived here. The Sisi Museum is a beautiful and non-biased tribute to a very enigmatic Empress. It very much helped me to understand Sisi's story before going to the Shoenbrunn palace. 

I'm not normally too interested in silver collections, but this one is jaw-dropping for the sheer amount of silver and china that on display from over 700+ years of Hapsburg rule.

Spanish Imperial Riding School
Josephsplatz A-1010
Morning Practice T-F, 10am-12pm, €15.
Performances, 11am Sat, Sun, €30+

The Hofburg Palace is the home of the famous Lipizzaner horses, and the oldest riding school in the world, established in 1565. It is named the Spanish Riding School after the Spanish horses that became the basis for the Lipizzaner breed. 

If you are around on a weekend, I suggest you try to attend one of the 11:00 am performances. If not, you can attend a 10:00 am practice if you purchase advance tickets.  Try to purchase actual physical tickets at a major hotel or Visitor's Center, because with paper computer ticket vouchers, you have to wait in a long line, and then go in after all the physical ticket holders, and I'm not sure it's worth it for the practice. (Note: for the practice, you probably won't need to stay for more than 1/2 hour. Also, if possible, try to get seating on the lower balcony).  

When you leave the Hofburg complex through the gate, you will be in the Michaelerplatz circle. Take note of the ancient remains of the old city, which are set in the ground before you, as well as the beautiful sculptures on the Kirche St. Michel Catholic Church. 

Also, look directly across the square and you will see Loos House. Constructed at the same time as the Hofburg, it was architect Loos rebellion against Franz Josef and the Neo-Rococo style of the Hofburg. This building represents the passing of the torch from the age of monarchs to the modern era.

The street in front of you is Kohlmarkt, a short block laden with exclusive designer shops. 

But if you are hungry, like me, hang a sharp right as you leave the Hofburg Palace and head toward Albertina Place. There are three restaurants that you might enjoy just near there: Café Sacher,  Brasserie Palmhouse, entrance just to the left of the Albertina Museum, and The Guest House Vienna, directly across the square from the Albertina.

Insider Tip: Europeans eat lunch late, so if you are there before 12:00, you are likely to zip right in and get a seat! We were first in line at Café Sacher, and got the center table! (and if you decide it's too crowded, you can always go for a coffee and dessert at one of these 3 after you hit the Albertina Museum and Opera House)

Café Sacher
Address: Philharmonikerstrasse 4
This is the home of the famous Sacher torte, two layers of chocolate cake separated by apricot jam, then covered with dark chocolate icing. It was invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher. They are surprisingly dry, but no matter, you are taking part of history! If you find it too crowded (you must queue up outside),  you can always have your cake and coffee next door at the Sacher Hotel, where the Sacher Torte became famous. 

Some locals sitting next to us came to the Sacher Café specifically for an incredible chocolate/banana frozen dessert on a stick, which is rolled in seeds. I didn't see it on the menu, so you might have to ask for it. Next time, that's what I'm having for dessert! It looked amazing!

Brasserie Palmhouse
Burggarten 1
Although we did not eat here, it looks like an amazing spot, right next to the Palm House in the Hofburg palace complex. If it is nice weather, sit outside on the balcony!

The Guest House Vienna
This brasserie cafe was full every time I walked by, and has a great contemporary vibe. It's on my list for my next visit.

This tiny square opposite the Albertina Museum is filled with sculptures that make up "The Monument against War and Fascism".  On the spot of the holocaust memorial  "The Gates of Violence", over 200 people were buried alive in an underground shelter when the area was bombed in WWII. 

Albertina Museum 
Address: Albertinaplatz 1
Adult: €11 admission

The Albertina Museum, with its titanium canopy (affectionally called the "Diving board") is Vienna's museum for modern and contemporary Art. We visited the Batliner Collection: Monet to Picasso. 

This great little museum has such a range of work, ranging from Rubens to Monet. Here are a few that will give you an idea of what we saw. 

Vienna Opera House
Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna

This Neo-renaissance building with arched windows half columns, and a copper roof was built in 1869 and is the most famous opera house in the world. All the greats have performed here, including Placido Domingo, Pavarotti and Maria Callas. You can take a guided tour or come for an evening performance. The season runs from September through May, and you can purchase tickets online or right outside, under the large screen. An hour before each performance, standing room tickets go on sale for €2-5.  

Outside the Opera, walk down the promenade on Karntner Strass, and you will find the Vienna Walk of Fame, a collection of stars representing famous composers, singers, musicians and conductors with silver stars. 

Now, walk up Karntner Strasse from the Opera House.

Karntner Strasse
Karntner Strasse, a pedestrian street now known for its souvenir shops and street musicians, is the road that the Crusaders used when traveling to the Holy land in the 12th century. 

Capuchin Church and Imperial Crypt
After walking a few blocks, the road will widen on your left... turn left here. (the road to the right is Johannesgasse). This will lead you to the Capuchin Church, with its triangle roof, houses the Imperial Crypt, a final resting place for Hapsburg royalty and various Austrian emperors, Maria Theresa, Franz Josef and Josef II, who was the patron to Mozart.

Neuer Markt is currently under massive construction (April 2019) but it would generally house the Four Rivers Fountain, topped by Lady Providence. I thought it would be a market, but it is more of an elongated square, with various retail shops surrounding it. Much of what you see around you was rebuilt after being bombed by England in WWII. 

Now, head back to Karntner Strasse, and it will soon lead you to Stephenplatz Square, which is home to the gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral, built in 1300, and known for its 450 foot tower and beautiful green tiled roof. 

St. Stephen's Cathedral

When you go inside, the cavernous Cathedral will blow your mind. Right now they have thousands of pink rocks suspended from the ceiling, creating somewhat of an upside down spring bouquet. 

There are 2 tower self-guided tours you can take. If you want the green roof shot, go to the left. You will also get to see one of the giant bells when you reach the top.

When you leave, notice red and white bricks on the ground in front of the church, marking where earlier churches once stood.  If you want to see an ancient underground chapel, go down the escalator behind the public toilets in the subway station, and there is a window where you can look in and see the 13th century Virgilkapelle. You can go in the underground museum for a small fee. 

Facing St. Stephens is the very modern Haas Haus, a 1990 building meant to echo a Roman fortress. It is possible to go up to the rooftop restaurant and enjoy a wonderful view of the square.

On the other side of the square is the Equitable Palace, which was built in the 1800's for the USA insurance company, Equitable Life.

To your right is The Graben, a 3-lane pedestrian street which was originally a moat for the Roman military. The Graben actually means "ditch", so it all makes sense! 
As you walk down The Graben,  you will pass a few notable sights:

Holy Trinity Plague Column 
honors those who died in the Great Plague of 1679.

St Peter's Church
Located just off the Graben pedestrian street is the green copper-domed St. Peter's Church.

From here, it might be time for another break... Let's pop into the famed Cafe Central for a coffee and snack!

Café Central

Corner of Herrengasse and Strachgasse
In the late 1800's, this café was the meeting place of the minds for the intellectual society in Vienna. Freud, Stalin, Hitler and Trotsky all held court in this traditional coffee house. Even today it is famous for great coffee and cake... among tourists!

But, to me, the crown jewel lies right behind Cafe Central: Ferstel Passage, also known as Freyung Passage.

Freyung/Ferstel Passage
This local's favorite pedestrian passageway is an architectural jewel, and many small boutique shops are located here.

You may be worn out at this point, and I would have to agree that it has been a very full day. Vienna is one of those towns like London or Paris, that can't truly be seen in one weekend. So I fully get that the next three spots may be best saved for another day. But I include them here, because they are part of this historic area of Vienna, and maybe you will want to do some of these instead of what I've offered. Anyway, if the soles of your feet haven't given out, carry on!!!

Marie-Theresian Platz
Back down on the Ringstrasse, near the entrance to the Hofburg, cross the street,  and you will be face to face with the Marie-Theresian Platz (Maria Theresa Monument), flanked by two seemingly identical buildings, the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Maria Theresa Monument
At the top of Vienna's largest monument, Empress Maria Theresa holds a scroll from her father, granting the right of a woman to inherit the throne. The monument also honors historical figures that helped shape Vienna. If you look closely on one of the monument's four sides, you will see "Papa" Hayden with his hand on the shoulder of young "Wolfie Mozart".

Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum)
I didn't have time to go into the Natural History Museum, but the Museum of Art History is wonderful. Besides having the honor of being the largest art museum in Austria, it has the distinction of having had one of the most famous art heists in history. Cellini's Salt Cellar sculpture was stolen in 2003 and later recovered, after being buried for 3 years, in a forest outside Zwetti, Austria. 

The building itself is gorgeous and an inspiration to photographers everywhere. Here are some shots of the inside the museum.

When you leave the museum area, work your way back along the Ringstrasse until you finish at Stadtpark. Along the way are just a few more sights!

Statue of Mozart in the Burggarten

Church of St. Charles at Karlsplatz
You can spy this church as you walk down the Ringstrasse. Do take a detour, as it makes for a gorgeous photo. The outside of the church is pure white, with a gorgeous copper roof.  If you are here in June, make sure to check out “Lange Nacht der Kirchen”, meaning Long Night of the Churches, a musical celebration. This church hosts many Mozart concerts on a regular basis.

Just behind the Stadtpark, next to the Vienna Marriott, you will spy a beautiful palace, peeking through the buildings. It is the Palace Coburg, also known as the Palais Saxe-Coburg. I don't know about you, but I've watched Victoria, and so I've heard so much about the Saxe-Coburg family, of which Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) was part of. Now it is a boutique hotel, but it does have a storied past, among other things, it was the venue of the historic Iran Nuclear Arms Deal of 2015.

And now, as the sky deepens to a lovely purple twilight and the shadows grow long, I leave you at our last stop, Stadtpark.


Stadtpark is a large manicured municipal park, separated into two sections by the Vienna River, and located on the Ringstrasse. It's a lovely place to relax, watch the birds swim, or eat in a beautiful Viennese restaurant. This is a park where locals go to enjoy themselves anytime, day or evening. There are many statues throughout the Stadtpark, but one of Vienna's most photographed is monument to Johann Strauss.

So now I bid you Gute Nacht, and leave you to waltz in the moonlight, to the lovely strains of Strauss that are drifting from the opulent Kursalon waltz venue. 

In the immortal words from The Sound of Music...
"Goodbye, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen"....but never "Adieu" to lovely Vienna!


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