What to visit in Vienna
For a person, who goes to Vienna without a travel agency and knows nothing about this city, a visit can be quite a challenge. Unlike Prague, Bratislava or other well-known cities, the most famous attractions of Vienna are not located in the strict centre (except Stefansdom) but they are scattered throughout the entire city. The following article will help you plan a two- or three-day stay, so that you can see everything and not leave the place with an empty wallet.
A modern centre instead of the Old Town
Vienna is a completely different city than Cracow or Prague. You can barely find any narrow, medieval streets covered with pavement, there is no such Old Town like the ones that we’ve used to know. An equivalent to an Old Town in Vienna can be Innerstadt (an inner town) surrounded by a ring – a busy two-street alley, where you can find many impressive palaces. But Innerstadt, unlike the Cracovian Old Town, isn’t entirely monumental – the historic tenement houses are mixed with modern buildings from glass and iron, which hold stylish boutiques and department stores. Everywhere there’s plenty advertisement signboards and a whole lot of people. And Viennese buildings, both tenement houses and more modern buildings, can easily impress anyone with its size and massiveness. In other words, if you’re looking for calm, narrow streets, where you can feel the mood of a medieval town, you’ll hardly find such places here, unlike in Prague or Bratislava
Meanwhile, a typical site in Vienna looks more similarly to a modern city, than a medieval village.
If we would judge Vienna only by its strict centre and compare the Viennese Innerstadt with the Old Town of Cracow, Lviv, or Prague, it might not be too good for the capital of Austria. Many tourists aren’t so happy modern look of the Viennese Old Town, the numerous new buildings, adverts and flashing neon lights. Innerstadt is definitely not a place to feel the atmosphere of the Habsburgs city (we will tell you about a few such places later), but the modernity and well-equipped shops with expensive clothes and flashing neon lights had to leave an impression on people coming from behind the iron curtain – Vienna doesn’t represent that better, capitalistic world for Polish people for nothing, even though it’s easy to get lost in it.
However, you can feel the mood of the old, Habsburgs city outside the commercialized Innerstadt. Although you should obviously see the Inner City itself, along with St. Stephan’s cathedral – but don’t stop here for long, because you simply won’t have enough time to see other more interesting and historic places.
The city of many quarters
The characteristic feature of Vienna is that all the most important monuments and most interesting places scattered throughout the entire metropolis rather than being gathered together in one place. You can get to some of them, like the Prater, the University or the Belvedere on foot, but others, equally important, can be found in the city’s outskirts (like the Schonbroon palace or the Kahlenberg hill). Not to mention those quite modern places, for which there is usually no time, such as Donustadt or the unusual trash incinerator, which is considered an architectural wonder.
Because of all this you’ll need at least two or three days to visit Vienna. Here’s the best way to do it:
On the first day visit the places located in the centre, which you can stop by without using the public transport (Including the Prater amusement park). On the second day you should go to Schonbrunn palace, and later – to the Kahlenberg hill, taking a stop for lunch and good wine in the wine district of Grinzing. On the third day you should discover the modern part of the city (Including the Danube district with the Donauturm tower), and in the afternoon take another walk through your favorite places in the centre, or just walk around shops, have some fun in the Prater, visit some museums.
Visiting the centre
As I’ve already mentioned, the most important part of the strict centre after Innerstadt is Ring – the district surrounding the Inner City. There used to be defensive walls here, but Franz Joseph ordered to ruin them in order to have large green promenade. (something like the Cracovian Planty, only much, much larger) and open the city for new areas.
In the direct neighborhood of Ring there are numerous impressive monuments. Here you can find the famous Viennese opera and philharmonic and a bit further – the mighty Hoffburg castle, which is the former emperors’ headquarters. On extension of Hoffburg there is a museum quarter – it’s worth stopping there and at least seeing this place from the outside, if there’s not enough time to visit the museums. When you go a bit further, you can see the town hall, which might remind you of London’s Big Ben. And beside that, around Ring there are lots of other castles and churches, which are almost impossible to mention.
About 2 kilometers away from Ring there is the Viennese University. If you have some time, you should definitely visit it. The especially interesting thing is the nearby Madmen’s Tower, which you can read about in the article entitled “The dark monuments of Vienna”
At the opposite side of Innerstadt, behind the Danube channel, you can find one of the most important symbols of Vienna – the Prater amusement park with its famous Ferris wheel. It’s been said that if you haven’t visited Prater, you haven’t been in Vienna at all. Prater is an enormous park-entertainment-sport complex pulling on all the way to the eastern end of Vienna. It is located between the Danube river and the Danube channel. Its most important part, which contains the famous funfair, is located in the city centre. You can enter the park for free and only pay for certain attractions, such as merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, scary rooms etc. This place can be delightful not only for young children – anyone can find something special for themselves. Walking around this place without using its attractions is already quite an interesting experience. The prices of certain specific attractions are usually a few euros (3-4 and more)
At the funfair there is also plenty food stands and typical Viennese restaurants, where you can drink beer and eat something good for quite an acceptable price when it comes to Vienna.
In a further part of the park, which is not that interesting from a two-day tourist’s point of view, you can find numerous sporting places, such as a golf course, a horse-racing track, a sports hall and others. If you go further, you’ll reach a hatching forest, which is a favorite places for runners skaters, and bicyclists.
The Schonbrunn castle
One of the most important places in Vienna is Schoenbrunn – a big and beautiful castle, home of the Habsburgs. You should definitely buy an entrance ticket to go inside and see the wonderful rooms, which were the living and working places for Franz Joseph, Mary Teresa, Mary Antonina, the son of Napoleon Baby Eagle and many other famous people. During the visit you’ll receive something that is reminiscent of a telephone with a recorded description of the visited rooms and stories connected to them, in Polish. Plus, it is really fun to listen, and a 1-hour visit really allows the tourists to feel the atmosphere of the empire and find out more about the Austro-Hungary than on boring history lessons.
Schoenbrunn was a place holding numerous historic events. This was the place of the famous Viennese Congress, in the Mirror Room the 6-year old Mozart gave his first concerts, here Napoleon was doing his conferences. In the Blue Chinese Living Room the last emperor Charles the 1st signed the act of abdication, which meant the end of the Austro-Hungary. In the later times Schoenbrunn was also the place of numerous important meetings and events.
Around the palace there is an enormous garden, which can impress anyone with its sizes. You can find many interesting monuments here, like the palm house, the labyrinth, the Japanese Garden and the “Roman Ruins”. But probably the most important thing around here is the world’s very first ZOO. It was built in 1752, at beginning it was a royal zoo and is today considered one of the most well-organized places of its type in the world. A visit to the Viennese zoo might be quite a pleasure for kids – it is the best place to go with children behind Prater.
Grinzing and Kahlenberg
From Schoenbrunn you should go to Mount Kahlenberg and stop by the wine district of Grinzing located by the hillsides.
Vienna has a lot of faces – aside from “the city of the Habsburgs and music” and “the modern metropolis” there is also the recreational Vienna. The capital of Vienna is one of the most green metropolises in Europe, partly because the hills surrounding the city, which are the beginning of the Alps. On the mountain slope there always have been wine villages, currently absorbed by the ever expanding city.
Grinzing is a well-kept, peaceful villa district full of climatic wineries and restaurants.
The prices here are much more acceptable than in the city centre. That’s why it’s really worth stopping here for lunch and order delicious Austrian wine, which is very often home-made.
Meanwhile, the nearby Kahlenberg hill is the most “Polish” place in Vienna. This is the place where Jan Sobieski the 3rd set off to the victorious battle with the Turkish people (the battlefield is perfectly visible from here, it is located upon river Danube, nearby the Donaupark), and earlier he took part in a Holly Mass in a small, nearby church, which is since then in the power of Polish princes.
You should definitely go to Kahlenberg hill in the evening to admire the beautiful nighttime panorama of the city.
The modern Vienna
If you also have an occasion to come to Vienna on the third day, it’s worth thinking about on discovering the modern face of the city as well. I won’t be a famous discoverer if I say that Viennese people don’t spend all of their free time having fun at the Prater, visiting museums or walking around the monumental centre. If you also want to discover the regular, everyday Vienna, you should visit a few modern districts.
The modern look of Vienna is mostly the Danube neighborhood, with numerous bays, rowing and sailing clubs and dominating skyscrapers of the business quarters of Donau city. This is the place where one of the headquarters of ONZ and many other international concerns are located. Donau City is considered an example of an urbanistically consistent skyscraper complex, which is contrasting with the chaotic building of the Warsaw centre for instance – see the photos for yourself.
The characteristic thing about Donau city is the fact that the local office complexes are smoothly connected with green areas and recreational areas. So, on the first side we have the river Danube with fields of green along it, on the second side – a quiet bay, which is a paradise for beginning sailors, rowers and fishermen, and on the third side – the giant and curiously designed Donau Park. In the middle of the park there is a faraway visible Danube tower, which is worth visiting, because on its top you can not only see the whole city, but also, in the better weather, the Alps and Slovakian Karpaty.
When talking about the modern look of Vienna, I just have to mention the unusual garbage Incinerator, located 4 kilometers away from Ring (North of Innerstadt). The Viennese Incinerator is not only ecologic and functional, (the trash is delivered by train, so there are no garbage cars making their way through the city) but it is also an architectural wonder and a destination of numerous tours.