Best Cities of 2016: Vienna

The city of Vienna is a masterpiece: in its art, its architecture, and its culinary scene. The only city on earth that has a cuisine destination named after it, it is also the European heart of opera and classical music. It is a place where myth meets modern, as seen here in the Neptune Fountain, which sits at the top of the Great Parterre in the gardens at Schonbrunn Palace, the royal summer retreat, commissioned by the great Austrian Empress Maria Theresa in the late 1700s.

 

opera

The city will celebrate its adopted number one classical music son, Mozart, for the 260th anniversary of his birth (He was born in Salzburg). Mozarthaus, the museum, that once was his home is also celebrating its 10th anniversary. And, speaking of sons, Vienna is still the headquarters of the Vienna Boys Choir, and world-famous opera houses, such as the Palais Auersperg, above, which continue to perform Mozart’s masterpieces.

MTplatz

But this city does not just dwell on its well-cultured past. The MuseumsQuartier Wien (MQ) is an area of the city that straddles the modern with the Baroque. At the turn of the millennium, the royal stables were re-envisioned into a cultural complex of almost as grand proportions as its neighbouring Maria Theresien Platz, a square directly across the Ringstrasse, or Ring Road, lined with some of the most historic and opulent buildings of the period.

mtplatzfountain

The public square is home to the Natural History museum, as well as the Art History museum – where you’ll find works from Klimt and Bruegel. In the former stables of MQ, you will find the museum of the modern arts and contemporary and sometimes controversial exhibitions. The stables for the Spanish Riding School – home of the famous white Lipizzaner horses – are a short stroll away, through the Hofburg Square.

schonbrunn

And stroll, you should. Take in Schönbrunn Palace, where you can now spend the night! Live like an emperor, or an empress, for a price of course, and have a pajama party in the Schönbrunn Palace suite, a two bedroom imperial hideaway. If a slumber party’s not your thing, after viewing the imperial apartments – and some of the 1,441 rooms – via public tour, take to the grounds of this royal summer retreat. It’s the site of the what’s said to be the world’s oldest zoo, and the beautiful gardens here are just a preview to the variety of green spaces the city offers. Some 850 parks dot the landscape. It’s no wonder Vienna has consistently ranked as the best place to live on the planet.

sausage

And then there’s the food. From strudel to sausage, there’s no shortage of traditional tastes. Including street food. In fact, a typical 3 pm snack here comprises of a quick stroll to the local sausage stand (Wurselstand), choosing your flavour – everything from hot dogs to Kasekrainer (spicy pork and cheese) to Bratwurst (white pork sausage), with mustard, a slice of hardy rye bread, and a cold beer on the side for good measure. Stand up eating it, and watch the citizens go by. Tip: Two of our favourites: Bitzinger Wurstelstand, near the Albertina Museum, and the Hot Dog stand (look for the neon sign) near St. Stephans Square across from Aida bakery, below, are two great people-watching spots. This is where the Sacher Torte was invented, its name coming from the Hotel Sacher, where you can still indulge in an apricot-laced chocolate slice today. And did we mention the hot apple strudel? This Austro-Hungarian delicacy is one of the reasons Vienna is on every sweet-tooth’s list. (To make you own apple strudel, go here.)

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cafemuseum

Viennese coffee is as varied as the sweets, and legend has it that they’ve been filtering it since the 1600s. The Café Museum, above, opened in 1899, has played host and regular hangout to some of the 20th Century’s most interesting creative minds, from painters Klimt and Schiele, to architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. Loos designed the original interior, which was then redesigned in the 1930s by another famous architect, Josef Zott.

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We were fortunate enough to fly Austrian Airlines business class, where, even before arriving in Vienna, we were given a history of coffee, and among 10 different brews from which to select, all in flight. The chef, was on board, too, as seen below, something of a rarity but perhaps not for long – we also spotted a chef on board during a Turkish airlines flight to Istanbul.

cobenzl

As for the wine, you don’t have to leave the city to take a sip of the local vintage in a vineyard. Many are still within the city limits, so book a trip to a traditional Heuriger, Vienna’s answer to the local pub, or vineyard, such as Cobenzl, above. The house wines tend to run toward Gruner Vetliner, so if you fancy a fairly newish white, and a bit of revelry, local musicians included, this is the place.

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Come to think of it, the thought works for just about the whole city of Vienna. Prost!

Thinking about Vienna? For more, go to www.vienna.info. Also take a look at Insight Vacations, they visit Vienna on many of its European itineraries, including Bohemian Rhapsody, where you can participate in a private tour of Schonbrunn Palace, as well as an exclusive classical music performance at the Palais Auersperg. For flights, check Austrian Airlines, one of Star Alliance’s European hubs, at ca.austrian.com.