Things to see and do - Vienna
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Vienna, the art of living :
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Vienna, the art of living
Vienna, the art of livingPedestrian, 8 km, 2 days
Vienna can be covered largely on foot and you can taste and breathe the city through its cafés and mythical concert halls... The splendour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as celebrated by Stefan Zweig is still present, not in the relics of the past, but as the embers of a fire that burns on for some of the greatest artists and writers of the 20th century.Customise this route and add it to My travel book
With its 137m spire soaring to the skies, St Stephen's Cathedral is the monument that is the most symbolic of Vienna. While the west façade has preserved its original Romanesque simplicity with the Giants' Doorway and Pagans' Towers, the cathedral was almost entirely rebuilt in Gothic style from the 14 to the 15C. The Pope made it a cathedral in 1469. With its numerous statues, the decoration on the Giants' Doorway is extremely detailed. Inside, the nave in all its majesty extends to the chancel for a total length of 107m, which is typical of hall-churches. Despite the crowd, it is as if you are drawn in by the immensity of space, intensified by the purity of the flamboyant Gothic lines. An immediate attraction is the enchantingly brilliant pulpit sculpted by Anton Pilgram in the 16C. To the left of the central apse at the bottom, in the Virgin's Chancel, visitors should try to decipher the remarkable carved scenes on the Wiener Neustadt altarpiece or those on the other side, on the tomb of Frederick III, representing the fight between Good and Evil personified by unpleasant creatures trying to disturb the Emperor at rest. From the south tower, if you are up to climbing the 343 steps, you will have one of the finest panoramic views of the city, from a height of 73m. For the less active, a lift in the north tower takes you to a height of 60m for the same purpose, but the view also includes the «Pummerin», the famous 21t bell which rings on special occasions. To complete the tour, why not visit the impressive Catacombs
A succession of courtyards, buildings and squares take you to the heart of the former Empire of the Habsburgs. To reach the heart of the palace, visitors pass through the In Der Burg courtyard flanked by the Léopold wing ( Leopoldinischertrakt), the residence of the President of the Republic, the Amelia wing ( Amelientrakt) and the Chancellery. On the residential floor is the suite of Imperial apartments with nostalgic memories of Franz-Josef and Elizabeth (Sissi). The adjoining Renaissance-style Schweizertor* or Swiss Gateway gives onto the Swiss Courtyard (Schweizerhof), the oldest part of the Alte Burg and the site of the first castle built in the Middle Ages. This courtyard leads to the Schatzkammer***, containing one of the most priceless collections of jewellery in the world. The Court's collection* of porcelain and silver also includes some exceptional pieces. To journey back through the ages, you need to go and see the events which imperturbably perpetuate imperial traditions. One of these is the famous Spanische Reitschule**, the Spanish Riding School parades in the Winter Riding School, followed by a visit to the small Lipizzaner horse museum in the nearby Stallburg. You should also attend a Sunday morning service at the Hofburgkapelle to hear the Vienna Boys' Choir perform. Not so easy would be an invitation to the Emperor's Ball, held once a year in the Redoute Chamber Wing. Hofburg also houses the National Library and a series of museums that would take over a week to cover in one visit.
This well-proportioned square, with an equestrian statue of Josef II in the centre, is one of the finest in Vienna. It resembles a Main Courtyard and is framed on 3 sides by several wings of the Hofburg whose façades were harmonised by Pacassi in the 18C. The National Library façade has a quadriga and large globes supported by atlantes. The fourth side is formed by two palaces.
With 1.5 million engravings and 45,000 drawings and watercolours, the Albertina Graphic Art Collection is undoubtedly one of the largest in the world. The Dürer Collection, assembled by Emperor Rudolf II in the late 16C is exceptional. There are many other masterpieces in the museum, by some of the greatest names in European art, from the Renaissance to the 20C. It would take too long to make a list, but it would be more or less on a par with the Fine Arts Museum collection in Paris.
The majority of the wealth of exhibits in the Kunsthistorisches Museum were acquired by the Habsburgs from their favourite artists. This explains the inevitable gaps which are offset by the principally excellent choices of these brilliant patrons. The museum's 4km of corridors take visitors to collections housed in 5 departments: on the mezzanine floor (right side) are the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collections** (Rooms I to VIII) and the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities** (Rooms IX to XVIII); on the left are the Sculptures and Decorative Arts** (Rooms XIX to XXXVI), a particular reflection of the Habsburgs enthusiasm for the arts. Due to lack of space, this unrivalled collection has to be presented on a rotation basis. However, the absolute masterpieces are to be found in the Art Gallery*** on the first floor. There has been no systematic choice, simply an accumulation of magnificent works. There is the world's largest collection of Brueghels (including three paintings from the Hunters in the Snow*** series). Of particular note (the list is incomplete) are the Flemish primitives ( Van Eyck, Van der Goes and Van der Weyden), Northern Renaissance ( Dürer, Cranach the Elder, Altdorfer, Schongauer, Holbein the Younger) and the Italian painters with Raphaël, Titian and Tintoretto ( Suzannah and the Elders**). Special rooms are dedicated to Van Dyck and Rubens. 17C Dutch painting is particularly well represented with Vermeer (The Artist's Studio***) and Rembrandt (his Self Portrait** is a must) as well as the great Spanish and Italian painters of that period (Velázquez and Carracci). This concludes a brief tour of one of Europe's greatest museums.
When it was completed on 10 November 1898, the Secession Pavilion represented a brutal intrusion of avant-garde architecture into the conventional sky of historicism, then very popular on the Ring. The site of this enormous white cube with a dome composed of 3 000 laurel leaves, made of gilded metal, the favourite metal of Academism, was perceived as provocation. It was rapidly given a few choice nicknames, «Mahdi's tomb» (after the famous Muslim leader of the Sudan, at war with England at the time) and, as it was not far from the popular Naschmarkt quarter, the dome was called the «golden cabbage). As an innovation it freed artists from considerable pressure, echoed by the motto on the façade which proudly proclaims, »to each century its art, to art its freedom«. The Secession movement created in1897 by Josef Maria Olbrich and his friends thus took the city, in a highly visible way and despite reticence, into the Avant-Garde style of the 20C, allowing it to play a role that only a few other European cities share with Vienna. The zenithal lighting and modular partitions of the Pavilion make it particularly suitable for the temporary exhibitions often held there. It also holds an additional treasure, located in the basement for security reasons: Gustave Klimt's dazzling Beethoven Frieze***, presented at the 14th Secession Exhibition in 1902, returned to the Pavilion in 1986. The painting, with its shimmering shapes and colours, is based on the various themes in the Ninth Symphony.
Developed in the second half of the 19C, the prestigious Wieden district lies south of the Innere Stadt, (inner part of the city). Near the Ring, the district unfolds with the famous St Charles Square**, the lively main junction for the city's underground and tramway lines. It is not only a busy thoroughfare for pedestrians but also a a crossroads of Viennese Baroque, Historicism, Secession and Jugendstil, architectural styles. The Church of St Charles Borromeo**, the masterpiece of one of the greatest of Vienna's Baroque architects, Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach, with its impressive columns and dome, stands on the most formal side of the square. Its curved forms match those of the underground station entrances known as Wagner-Pavillons*, designed by the Secession architect, Otto Wagner, as a contrast to the heaviness and attachment to the past of Historicism, the «neo» style in vogue in the Ring in the second half of the 19C. This style is in fact visible on the opposite side in two large neo-Renaissance buildings, the Künstlerhaus (House of the Artists) and the Musikvereingebäude, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Next to this abundance of shapes and ornamentation, the sober, discrete 1950s building of the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna* seems modest in comparison. The Secession Pavilion, a temple to this architectural movement is not far away. If you take a short stroll, you will also see the Naschmarkt, a large fruit and vegetable market and a flea market on Saturdays, a popular haunt of the Viennese.
The first performance at the Staatsoper in 1869 was Mozart's Don Giovanni and it closed its doors to the music of Wagner's Twilight of the Gods in 1944. A year later it was damaged by bombing. It was to reopen to the music of Beethoven's Fidelio in 1955, the year of Austria's international renaissance. This reflects the importance of the State Opera in the country's recent history and how it embodies music in Vienna. Its fine Renaissance façade on the Ring, together with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra form a worldwide institution with the world's greatest conductors and international stars passing through their portals. The list of all its outstanding directors is impressive. There was Gustave Mahler, for example, who between 1897 and 1907, gave the Opera its present status by the expressionism introduced into his orchestration and by the delicate attention paid to stage direction which was new at the time. Later, Herbert von Karajan (from 1956 to 1964) instilled new life into the dramatic style and founded the repertory system. Despite the 300 performances given at the Opera House every year, it is nevertheless very difficult to get tickets. Visitors should, however, at least take a look at the main staircase* and the Schwind Foyer*, which provide relief from the sober lines of the auditorium with its ultramodern machinery. In keeping with true Viennese tradition, Johann Strauss's mascot opera, the Fledermaus, is performed every year, cutting into the repertory cycle. Similarly, the auditorium is the venue for the Opernbal (Debutantes Ball) held to celebrate the entry of aristocratic young ladies into high society.
Belvedere was not created by an Emperor but by a general, Prince Eugène of Savoy, one of the most inspired of the time. Returning to more princely activities after his victorious campaigns against the Turks and Louis XIV, he commissioned the finest Baroque ensemble in Vienna. The two palaces, built between 1716 and 1722, are linked by a formal garden. Lower Belvedere houses the Baroque Museum and Upper Belvedere, the Art Gallery containing major 19 and 20C works.
When you leave the narrow streets of the old quarters, Vienna takes on a new dimension as you reach the Ring, the ring of boulevards around the city. It is more immense, more spacious and much more formal. In the midst of islands of green stand imposing public buildings whose façades face one another. Between 1857 and 1913, the old fortifications became the site of the most extensive urban development programme ever to be undertaken in the capital. A series of utilitarian and prestigious buildings, worthy of the imperial capital, as it was at the time, yet in tune with the new requirements of a modern city. Each building was designed in a «historic» style, corresponding to its function, according to the concepts of the time. It is the only place where, along a distance of 4km, you can put your knowledge of architectural styles to the test on such a large scale. The new Town Hall or Neues Rathaus, has a 98m-high belfry, inspired by the Flemish-Gothic belfry in Brussels on the Grand-Place, a style reminiscent of medieval towns. Next to it is the Parliament, in the form of a Greek temple, with the Pallas-Athene-Brunnen*, Pallas Athena's Fountain, an allusion to the city which invented democracy. Opposite, the Renaissance style of the University is in keeping with the period of the Humanists, while the late Renaissance Burgtheater* is reminiscent of the beginnings of classical theatre. There is however an overall homogeneity of architectural design, the «neo» style, which explains why it became an anathema to the Secessionist movement.
Housed in a formal, neo-Renaissance building on the Ring, the MAK or Museum of Applied and Decorative Arts possesses one of the world's largest collections. A new museology**, has been developed by contemporary artists, creating remarkable settings, and illustrating why the origins of modern design partially stem from Vienna's enthusiasm for Art Deco. The museum has displays of various medieval and Renaissance objects, as well as Baroque, Rococo and Classical. Some are noteworthy, such as the painted cherrywood table top** (Swabia, late 15C) or the reconstruction of the porcelain room of the Dubsky Palace in Brno (porcelain produced by the famous Vienna factory before 1730). However, it is the Empire section, in particular the simple, comfortable Biedermeier furniture of the day, illustrated by a cherrywood writing desk* dating from 1825, reflecting the astonishing creativity of 19C Vienna. The famous Thonet bistro chair, on show in the Historicism section, has not aged one iota while the Jugendstil and Art Deco periods are well represented by displays of glassware and furniture. A series of drawings** made by Klimt for the dining room of Stoclet House in Brussels (1905-1909) are characteristic of this period of intense research. The museum houses the archives of the Wiener Werkstätte**, the association of Viennese artists (1903 to 1932) which made an important contribution to the promotion of everyday arts in the 20C. The contemporary section shows that this research is still being pursued today. Finally, the museum has an extremely fine collection of Oriental carpets**.