Things to Do in Vienna - page 3
Set against a backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Schönbrunn Palace, the Schönbrunn Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) is the world’s oldest zoo, dating back to 1752. Today, the park houses some 750 species, including rhinos, polar bears, and pandas, and focuses on the conservation and protection of endangered species.
Set along the River Danube in the north of Vienna, the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) offer a respite from the bustle of Austria’s capital city, as well as dramatic views. Originally hunting grounds for Viennese royalty, the region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Today, its lush hills are a haven for wildlife and walkers.
An apartment located in Vienna’s suburb of Heiligenstadt, away from the bustle of the city, holds special meaning for many musicians. Here, Ludwig van Beethoven composed many of his famous symphonies and sonatas. In 1802, the composer retreated to this apartment in the countryside and wrote a letter to his brothers. In the famous unsent document, called the Heiligenstädter Testament, Beethoven expressed his despair over his advancing deafness. In the letter, he describes what it was like to be going deaf, he dealt with feelings of deep anger, and ultimately he found a way to continue with his life and his music. Other exhibits at the Beethoven Museum (or Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt) take a look at the compositions he created in the summer of 1802, and show the visitor what the area of Heiligenstadt was like at that time. Another room in the apartment examines the composer’s last months of life – and his death in the Schwarzspanierhaus (which no longer exists). The apartment’s rooms remain intact, and visitors can really get a sense of why this place was a calm writing retreat for the famous classical composer.
Mozart had multiple residences in Vienna, but only one survived to the present day. The Mozarthaus Vienna at Domgasse 5 served as the composer’s home from 1784 to 1787, during the height of his musical success. Within his first-floor apartment, Mozart penned some of his most iconic works, like the opera The Marriage of Figaro.
Audio-guided tours of the house begin on the building’s top floor, where exhibits explain the lifestyle and prominent figures of society life in eighteenth century Vienna. Heading down a floor, visitors are immersed in all things music; a highlight is a holographic performance of a portion of The Magic Flute. On the ground floor, visitors enter Mozart’s bedroom, furnished with pieces from the time to give a sense of what his living quarters might have looked like.
The lovely green, gold and white-marble pavilion on Vienna’s Karlsplatz has finally found a new purpose in life; designed by Otto Wagner in 1897 as part of the city’s new train station, it has now become the permanent home to an exhibition on the life of this extraordinary, forward-thinking Art Nouveau architect. The revamped interior of the Otto Wagner Pavillion Karlsplatz presents a detailed look at Wagner’s architectural legacy to Vienna, including churches and private houses as well as the Russian Embassy, which he completed in 1886. The museum also acts as a springboard to other Wagner-related sites around the city, such as his monumental Post Office Savings Bank on the palatial Ringstrasse.
St. Rupert's Church (Ruprechtskirche) is Vienna’s oldest church, and is made from stone taken from the ancient Roman settlement of Vindabona. It was originally Romanesque in design, with its origins reaching as far back as 740 AD. It has a dumpy and largely unprepossessing exterior that dates from the 12th century, although it has been destroyed by fire and repeatedly enlarged down the centuries. It is dedicated to St Rupert, who is (confusingly) the patron saint of Salzburg and also connected with salt mining, which was big business around Salzburg in the Middle Ages.
The simple interior is whitewashed with a simple stone altar, quite unadorned with the exceptions of the vast brass Baroque crucifix and the exquisite stained-glass windows dating from the 1990s, when the church was restored. However, one window has survived from the 13th century and it is found in the vaulted apse, depicting Christ on the cross with the Madonna and Child standing below.
A series of atmospheric concerts of ancient music take place in the church over the summer, with evening performances in July.
An outpost of Vienna’s fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum, Neue Burg forms a semi-circular wing of the Hofburg Palace complex, which was commissioned for the Habsburg Imperial Family in 1881. True to the Habsburg motto that bigger is better, the palace is of spectacular Baroque design inside and out; it originally contained the personal memorabilia of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 sparked off World War. Today the Neue Burg holds three important Imperial collections, including the Imperial Collection of Arms and Armor (Hofjägd und Rüstkammer), which moved into its palatial new home in 1935 and whisks through centuries of battle armor worn by both man and beast, displayed to stunning effect in long, marble-floored corridors. The Habsburg musical instruments (Sammlung Alter Musik Instrumente) arrived at Neue Burg post-war in 1945; highlights include archaic wind instruments, mandolines and priceless violins and the museum showcases the musical journey from harpsichord to modern-day piano. And finally, the opulent marble staircase of the Neue Burg is awash with artifacts removed from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, now in present-day Turkey.
Built into Vienna’s old city fortifications, the Beethoven Pasqualatihaus was named after its 18th-century owner, Josef Benedikt, the Baron Pasqualati. The musical prodigy Ludwig von Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770 but made his residence in Vienna for 35 years; for eight years from 1804 onwards, the fourth-floor apartment of this whitewashed townhouse was his home. The Romantic composer wrote several symphonies, his opera Fidelio and the famous piece ‘Fur Elise’ while living here. His light, airy suite of rooms have now been transformed into a museum of his life; highlights of the displays include copies of his instruments, various imposing marble busts, manuscripts from the Fifth and Seventh symphonies, personal papers and family paintings as well as the renowned portrait by German artist and musician Willibrord Joseph Mähler in 1804.
Part of the complex of Kunsthistorischen museums at the Hofburg Palace, the Imperial Carriage Museum opened four years after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was conceived as a home for part of the redundant fleet of 600 vehicles no longer required by the Imperial Family and opened in 1922 in the former Imperial Riding School, presenting the very finest carriages used by the Viennese court, from sedan chairs to ceremonial state coaches. Among the 170 vehicles displayed, highlights include the elaborate black-and-gold embossed coronation landau from 1825 and an ornate, late 19th-century hearse, subtly decorated with painted and carved black flowers.
However, the stars of the show, indicative by their sheer opulence of the wealth and power of the Habsburg dynasty, are the two gold carriages: the golden carousel made in 1742 for Empress Maria Theresia, and the Imperial Carriage, built for Emperor Joseph II in 1764. It is dripping in gilt and covered in ornate paintings and was so heavy that it could only be pulled by a team of eight horses, and then only at walking pace. Along with the vehicles comes a selection of Imperial saddlery, courtly robes and servants’ livery.
In Vienna’s Alsergrund district, the two imposing towers of the Votive Church (Votivkirche) welcome travelers to the city. The Votive Church is one of the most important neo-Gothic buildings in the world and is the second highest building in the city, right after the St. Stephen’s Church. As pretty as the church looks, the reason for its construction was actually a failed assassination attempt on the Habsburg Emperor. On the 18th of February 1853, tailor Janos Libenyi attacked young Franz Joseph I with a dagger, but the assassination attempt failed and the emperor survived. In gratitude for the salvation of His Majesty, his brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, called for a fundraiser to build a new church in Vienna. Soon after, construction began on the votive offering, a monumental white cathedral with rose windows, gabled portals and delicate spires and buttresses.
The interior of the Church shines with numerous chapels and altars. Most impressive are the main altar with the elaborately painted baldacchino, the octagonal baptismal made of Egyptian marble and a masterful Flemish woodcarving showing different scenes from the Passion. A special feature is also the Walcker-Organ, a beautiful instrument built in 1878 that is largely preserved in its original state.
More Things to Do in Vienna
Sitting on the Danube River in Lower Austria, Dürnstein is one of the most-visited villages in the Wachau Valley wine-growing region and is accessible from both Vienna and Salzburg. It’s a charming mix of medieval and Baroque architecture, with labyrinthine cobbled lanes and pastel-hued houses with red-tiled roofs. Full of traditional Austrian restaurants and stores selling local vintages, it’s the perfect lunchtime stopover on driving, cycling or walking tours through the valley. Often packed out by day – especially in summer – by night most visitors have left and the village reverts to its tranquil, romantic best.
Dürnstein Abbey perches right on the edge of the Danube, its stately blue Baroque tower is a local landmark. Although first mentioned as a nunnery in 1289, by the 16th century it had become an Augustine monastery and 200 years after that it was given its present Baroque facelift.
The ruins of Kuenringer Castle (also known as Burgruine Dürnstein), in which English King Richard the Lionheart was famously imprisoned on his way back from the Crusades in 1192, stand on a jagged promontory overlooking the town. According to legend, Richard’s minstrel Jean Blondel rescued him from captivity and it is Blondel’s name you will seen on several of Dürnstein’s bars and hotels. It’s a breathless 30-minute scramble up to the castle but rewarding for some of the best views along the Wachau Valley.
There are over 20 vineyards within stamping distance of Durnstein so the little town makes the perfect starting point for a day’s trip through the vines or to an estate to tour the cellars; you can also get to sample some of the Wachau’s crisp dry whites at the rustic little heurigen (wine bars) scattered around the region, although they are not open all year around.
Founded in 1741 by Empress Maria Theresia, the resplendent Burgtheater is not only the Austrian National Theatre, but one of the most important theaters in Europe. A popular tourist attraction, the 1,200-seat space is also a performance venue for classical, contemporary, and experimental theater.
Housed in the oldest part of the Imperial Palace, the Imperial Treasury of Vienna (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer) is one of the most significant treasuries in the world. The collection shows of the decadence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through its 1,000 years of treasures, as well as a variety of religiously significant relics. The highlight of the Secular Treasury is the behemoth imperial crown, a gemstone-embellished piece dating back to 962. Other items of note include a 2,680-carat Colombian emerald, one of the world’s largest sapphires, a golden rose, a narwhal’s tusk once mistaken for a unicorn horn and an ornate bowl which some believe to be the holy grail.
The Ecclesiastical Treasury, which often elicits a bit of skepticism in visitors, claims among its relics fragments of Jesus’s cross, a thorn from his crown and a swatch of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper.
The Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK) is one of the largest museums of modern and post-modern art in Central Europe. Founded in 1962, the museum features 10,000 pieces by 1,600 different artists, including some of the biggest names in 20th- and 21st-century art, like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Gergard Richter and Yoko Ono. Classical modernism, nouveau realism, Vienna Actionism, photorealism and pop art are all represented.
The museum’s Wednesday evening film program screens thematic film series and films related to the works of art on display. Visitors inspired by the art on display have the chance to participate in hands-on workshops to experiment with various artistic techniques. Once per month, Art on Thursdays invites guests to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine before taking a gallery tour.
The University of Vienna (Universität Wien), founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365, is one of the oldest universities in the German-speaking world. It has a long and rich history, and today has developed into one of the biggest and most renowned universities in Europe, especially in the field of Humanities. The university has been the academic home to many important historical figures, including 15 Nobel Prize winners. The university’s academic facilities occupy over sixty locations throughout Vienna, though the central building on the Ringstraße constitutes what’s commonly referred to as ‘die Uni.’
Entering the central campus from the Ringstraße, the university’s facade and open arcades mark the main entrance and show the birth of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of the arts. The adjacent arcade court was designed to commemorate famous scientists and academics, and is used a recreational gathering area for students. ‘Die Uni’ offers guided tours of the historic building on the Ringstraße, including the arcade court, the historic library, and the ceremonial chamber where graduations are held – just look up to view the
beautiful ceiling paintings done after original designs by the famous artist Gustav Klimt.
Starting life in the Middle Ages as a civic garbage tip, Freyung Square has morphed down the centuries into one of Vienna’s prettiest public piazzas. It’s a triangular cobbled space dominated by the Austriabrunnen (Austria Fountain), which was gifted to Vienna in the 1840s by sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler. The cobbles are bordered by the medieval monastery of Schottenkirche and – thanks to its location not far from the Hofburg Imperial Palace – a smattering of elegant Baroque palaces built by royal courtiers, including the ornately decorated yellow-and-white stucco façade of Palace Daun-Kinsky, which dates from 1717. The Ferstel Palace was built in 1860 and is home to Vienna’s famous Café Central as well as the upmarket, arcaded Freyung Passage shopping mall; nearby the Bank Austria Kuntsforum holds frequent cutting-edge contemporary-art exhibitions.
Freyung Square is also the venue for two of Vienna’s most popular and traditional seasonal markets; the weeks before Christmas herald an advent market dating back to 1772. At Easter the stalls appear again for two weeks, selling delicate hand-painted Easter eggs by the thousands as well as Easter palm fronds; there’s also a puppet theater and craft workshops for kids.
The Klosterneuburg Monastery, or Stift Klosterneuburg in Austrian, is an Augustinian abbey founded in 1114. The baroque structure, notable for housing men’s and women’s religious orders until 1568, has undergone several facelifts over the years, most recently in 1892.
The historic abbey dominates the skyline of Klosterneuburg, and the treasures housed within are just as impressive as the structure that contains them. Among the most valuable and impressive pieces is the enameled altar of Nikolaus of Verdun, one of the most exquisite examples of medieval enamel work. The altar, made in 1181, depicts a variety of biblical scenes on its 51 panels. Other highlights include a seventeenth century organ, a twelfth century Romanesque candelabra and fourteenth century stained-glass windows.
Throughout its history, the monastery has been involved in winemaking. Today visitors can tour Austria’s oldest wine-growing estate, visiting the baroque cellar complex and witnessing the production using traditional and modern methods.
One of the largest squares in Vienna, Karlsplatz is dominated by the huge, baroque Karlskirche church, which was built between 1716 and 1737 with designs influenced by the architect's visit to Rome. The square is also well known for a pair of pavilions that were created in 1898 and 1899 by Otto Wagner and contain marble slabs and green-painted, wrought-iron frames that are decorated with gold-colored sunflowers and gilded trim.
The western side of the square contains the Secession Building, which is an art museum, and the Naschmarkt, which is Vienna's most popular market. The eastern side of the park is bordered by a park called Resselpark where you can find several statues of famous Austrians. Also near the square are several cultural institutions including the Musikverein, a concert hall that is home to the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Kunstlerhaus, an art gallery and exposition hall. The History Museum of Vienna is located on the eastern side of the square as well.
Music lovers inspired to hear Mozart performed in Vienna find few venues that compare to the intimate Sala Terrena, at the House of the Teutonic Order (Deutschordenshaus). The ornate room has Venetian-style frescoes and seats only about 50 guests, making it a truly special place to hear the Austrian composer's works.
The Secession Building is one of the foremost examples of Art Nouveau in Vienna, completed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1898, it was designed as an exhibition hall for artist Gustav Klimt and his contemporaries to exhibit their rule-breaking paintings in the new ‘Secession’ style. The squat, gleaming white hall is adorned with gilded patterns and resembles an Egyptian temple with a lacy globe of golden leaves on top. The motto “To each time its art. To art its freedom” is inscribed in gilt over the main entrance. Now regarded as the greatest symbol of Art Nouveau styling in Vienna and included on many architectural walking tours of the city, the building was originally considered scandalous for its modernistic design, which contrasted with the Baroque and Neo-classical beauty of the Imperial palaces and mansions.
The basement of the Secession Building now houses Klimt’s ethereal green-and-goldBeethoven Frieze, which was painted in 1902 as a visual interpretation of the German composer’s Ninth Symphony. The vast painting is full of twisting, elongated female figures and adorns three walls; it measures in at 111.5 ft (34 m) in length. Elsewhere in the light-flooded gallery are temporary exhibitions featuring the experimental work of contemporary artists.
Vienna’s Augarten is a public park in Leopoldstadt, home to a former Imperial palace of the same name and several other buildings of note. The grounds themselves cover 52.2 hectares and are Baroque in design, remodeled from previous gardens in the early 18th century for the ever-acquisitive Habsburg Emperor Joseph II. The court architect Isidore Canevale was responsible for planting hundreds of trees that now provide the shady pathways as well as the layout out the formal flowerbeds. Facilities for visiting families in the gardens today include paddling pools, sports fields and a couple of restaurants, including Décor, rather fabulously sited in a former Nazi anti-aircraft bunker.
Other attractions in Augarten include the spectacular Baroque palace, now the winter home of the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir; a contemporary art gallery that is an outpost of the Belvedere; a film archive; and a Jewish study center. The star attraction of the park, however, is the Augarten Porcelain Museum, housed in a wing of a factory founded in 1718 and still going strong today. Exhibits include elaborate and historic pieces commissioned by the Imperial Family alongside more contemporary figures in Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
Hoher Markt is Vienna’s oldest town square, dating way back to Roman times; soon after World War II, sections of the Roman military camp of Vindobona were found below the cobbles and artifacts from these remains are now displayed in the Museum of Rome at No. 3. In the middle of the square stands the marble Baroque Vermählungsbrunnen (Wedding Fountain), designed by Baroque master-craftsman Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach in 1706 to commemorate the marriage of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa to Franz Stephan of Lorraine; it sits under an ornate bronze baldacchino.
However, the architectural highlight of Hoher Markt is the fanciful bronze-and-copper Ankeruhr (Anchor Clock) completed in 1917 by Franz von Matsch, the Jugendstil designer who was a contemporary of Gustave Klimt. It forms a 10-meter (39-foot) bridge abutting two vast townhouses then owned by the Anker Insurance Company and the clock face is four meters (13 feet) wide, portraying 12 copper figures from Vienna’s past, including Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who probably died at Vindobona; Charlemagne, King of the Franks; Emperor Maximilian I; Prince Eugene of Savoy; and Baroque composer Joseph Haydn. These copper figures form a carillon, with one figure emerging every hour accompanied by symbolic music; at midday all 12 appear in rotation.
Running for more than 300 kilometers, the Danube Cycle Path (Donauradweg) is a scenic path that follows the Danube River from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria. The road is both smoothly paved and wide, making it popular with cyclists of all ages and skill levels. In fact, it has been called the most popular place for leisure cycling in Europe. In total the bike path passes through nine countries.
With the Danube River flowing on one side and the scenery changing around you on the other, the landscape varies throughout the journey. Mountains, forests, castles, vineyards, and small European villages are common sights. This route passes through the historic Wachau Valley as well as the Austrian town of Linz. Most of the land is sparsely populated and the roads are calm and traffic-free, making this a relaxing way to enjoy the beautiful nature of this region.
If you love chocolate, there's one Vienna destination made for you—Chocolate Museum Vienna. With your ticket, discover how chocolate is made, and uncover the history of this delicacy, from the Maya to the Austrian royals. If you have a sweet tooth, don't miss a chocolate or praline-making workshop, and take home your tasty creations.
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