Aristocratic and arty — that’s Vienna. The Austrian capital, known as Wien in German, hums with a vibrancy created over centuries of imperial excess (the Hapsburgs, the palaces, the Lipizanner stallions) and artistic expression (the waltzes, the Klimt masterpieces, the art nouveau details). This is a city built on a grand scale but still able to beguile visitors with pockets of quirky charm, such as the giant Ferris wheel at the Prater amusement park, the subterranean wine cave bars, and the colorfully offbeat Hundertwasserhaus.
What We Love
The Belvedere: This 18th-century estate combines two things Vienna does best: splendid Baroque palaces with gardens and amazing artwork, namely many paintings by Gustav Klimt, including “The Kiss.”
Franz Josef & Sisi: He may have been Emperor, but it was his bride, Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed “Sisi”), who captivated 19th-century Vienna — and the city’s visitors ever since. Tour the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Imperial Palace to find out how, from her exercise obsession to her fabulous wardrobe.
Best Known For
Its Formal Balls: Each year the city hosts more than 450 dances, most during Carnival in January and February, when people arrive from all over the world eager to show off their Viennese waltz.
The Ringstrasse: More than 150 years old, this 187-foot-wide boulevard that encircles central Vienna is home to some of the city’s most important buildings — all viewable from the efficient trams that run along its regal loop.
Café Culture: Whether you’re in the mood for a chocolate-and-raspberry Sacher torte, a sweet or spicy Viennese sausage, a hoppy Wiener lager, or a glass of Grüner Veltliner, Vienna has a café for you. And Wiener schnitzel? It was invented here.
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Who It's Best For
Individualists: Like the young lovers in “Before Sunrise” (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and decide to get off in Vienna and wander, Vienna is perfect for any traveler whose motto is “This looks interesting. Let’s check it out.”
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Service Without a Smile: Vienna’s waiters seem to come in three varieties: stiff, harried, and indifferent.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.