Vienna – Something old & something new

With woods, grassland, parks and gardens accounting for around half its area, Vienna is the city in Europe with the highest ratio of green space.

“Urban green” such as Stadtpark (with the most frequently photographed motif in the city, the golden Johann Strauss monument) is joined by the woods and grassland of Prater, the extensive Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, sections of the Vienna Woods, vineyards, farmland and the wetlands of the legendary Danube River. During the summer temperatures rarely rise above 30º C, and in winter they hardly ever fall below -5º C.

From Roman Camp to Capital of the Republic

Vienna’s history goes even farther back but it made its first major breakthrough at around 15 B.C., when the Romans founded the military camp Vindobona. The city of Vienna was first mentioned in documents in 1137. Around 1155 the Dukes of Babenberg chose it as their residence, and from 1278 it was where the Habsburgs reigned more than six centuries. Today’s cityscape is dominated by the Baroque and the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. However, Emperor Franz Joseph I also made his mark on the city when he levelled the city walls in 1857 and oversaw the completion of the splendid Ring Boulevard. He died during World War I after reigning for 68 years. In 1918 Vienna became the capital of the Republic of Austria. Following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, Vienna was designated a “Reichsgau” (an administrative district of the Third Reich). In 1945, it was again proclaimed capital of the Republic of Austria.

Imperial Romance and World-Class Art

Architecture dating from imperial times has left an indelible mark on the city. Magnificent edifices, predominantly in baroque, historicism (“Ringstrasse”) and art nouveau styles, and the city’s grand scale cause you to forget that this is the capital of the small Republic of Austria with only 8.4 million inhabitants. In Vienna, you re-live the romance of a long lost empire.

Yet it is not only the city’s imperial architecture that renders it a city of beauty. Vienna also boasts world-renowned museums, art collections and works of art. The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Fine Arts) houses the world’s largest collection of paintings by Bruegel, as well as the newly renovated Kunstkammer, a unique collection of artefacts and oddities, which reopened in 2013. Meanwhile numerous works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele are exhibited at the Belvedere and the Leopold Museum in the MuseumsQuartier, a cultural attraction of international standing located in the city centre close to famous museums, opened in 2001. This centrally located cultural complex is an architecturally fascinating combination of baroque (the former Imperial Stables) and future-oriented design by architects Ortner & Ortner. With 60,000 square metres of usable floor space on eight different levels, it is one of the ten largest cultural complexes in the world, offering a unique mix of uses.

Key attractions include the Leopold Museum (mentioned above) with the world’s largest collection of Schieles and works by renowned modern Austrian artists such as Klimt, Kokoschka and Gerstl; the mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Architekturzentrum Wien, and Kunsthalle Wien. Two festival halls are used for high-profile events such as the Vienna Festival, the ImPulsTanz dance festival and even for pop concerts. A children’s museum, a children’s theatre, an information centre for youngsters, and a number of attractive restaurants, cafés and shops complement the rich array of cultural offerings.

Close to the State Opera House, the Albertina houses the world’s largest collection of graphic art, spanning 60,000 drawings, some million prints and an extensive collection of photographic and architectural material. And you can now enjoy good food in the Albertina’s Do & Co restaurant after attending one of the exhibitions.

The Belvedere palaces and formal gardens make up one of Europe’s most attractive Baroque ensembles. The Upper Belvedere is home to the world’s leading collection of Austrian art, with examples spanning everything from the middle ages to the 20th century. Among the absolute highlights is the world’s largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt – including his best-known composition, The Kiss. By contrast, the Lower Belvedere and the Orangery host a constantly changing line-up of seasonal exhibitions. A short distance from the Upper Belvedere is the former Austrian pavilion from the 1958 World Exhibition, which was given a new lease of life as a modern art museum from 1962 to 2001 under the name of the “20er Haus”. In November 2011 the newly adapted architectural gem opened its doors to the public once again as the “21er Haus”, presenting Austrian art from 1945 to the present day against its international context.

On April 24, 2004 – 150 years after the marriage of Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) and Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916) – the Sisi Museum opened at Hofburg palace. The exhibits on show include a number of Elisabeth’s personal belongings including a replica of the dress she wore on the eve of her wedding, her morning coat, and the monarch’s parasol, fans and gloves. A walk-in reconstruction of the luxury state railway carriage used by the travel-mad empress can also be viewed.

City of Music – Traditional & Modern

Vienna has traditionally accorded the arts great respect, and over the centuries has never ceased to foster creativity and attract people from all over the world. Vienna boasts 50 theatres, including four opera houses and several stage musical theatres, 150 museums, numerous galleries, and renowned drama, music and dance festivals. All this ensures an extraordinarily rich cultural programme throughout the year, making the city one of Europe’s leading cultural centres.

Vienna, as a city of music, enjoys a paramount reputation around the world. No other city has been home to so many composers of international renown. Some, such as Schubert, Strauss, Schoenberg and Berg were born there, others, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms and Mahler chose to live there. It boasts one of the world’s finest orchestras – the Vienna Philharmonic – as well as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and several other orchestras and ensembles of note. The Vienna State Opera is one of the world’s leading opera houses, and is joined by three more in the city (Theater an der Wien, Volksoper, Kammeroper).

The Vienna Boys’ Choir enchants music lovers the world over. The choir’s new state-of-the-art concert hall, MuTh, located next to the boys’ school and residences in the Augarten park, opened in 2012. In addition to classical music, Vienna has also made its mark as a city of musicals, and recent successes in electronic music show that the avant-garde is also taken seriously in Vienna. A very special way to enjoy music is presented at the House of Music – a unique high-tech voyage of discovery into the phenomenon of music – where sounds become visible, organ pipes may be walked on and visitors can become virtual conductors and composers, all on an area of 2,000 square metres. A further attraction is the Mozarthaus Vienna which opened on January 27, 2006 – Mozart’s 250th birthday – in his former residence at Domgasse.

Lifestyle: Imperial Nostalgia & Contemporary Trends

The juxtaposition of what is traditional – coffee houses and wine taverns with typical Viennese congeniality – and what is modern – events such as the Life Ball and the Festival of Electronic Music – conveys a lifestyle that appeals to the modern tourist. A choice between relaxation and serenity, or action and stimulation can be made depending on your mood.

The Naschmarkt, Vienna’s multinational fruit and vegetable market which also features a flea market every Saturday, has witnessed the emergence of an extraordinarily diverse gastronomic scene in its vicinity over the past years. Mariahilfer Strasse, a street linking the historic centre with Schönbrunn Palace, has been transformed into the city’s largest shopping street since the completion of the U3 underground line. During the summer, Viennese and tourists alike throng not only to Prater park with the famous Giant Ferris Wheel, but also to the Copa Cagrana on Danube Island – which boasts the Danube Island Festival, Europe’s largest free open-air party in June. Beach atmosphere can also be soaked up at the numerous riverside bathing areas along the Danube Canal where summer sun is accompanied by cool drinks. And the wine tavern districts on the gentle hillsides of the Vienna Woods extend an invitation to seriously “study” Vienna and its wines.

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