The imperial splendour of Vienna confirms its place among the grandest capitals in Europe. A trip to Vienna is a pilgrimage for classical music lovers, who may want to bump it to the top of any Europe vacation itinerary. For many of the great composers whose creations fill concert halls and opera houses around the world, Vienna was a place to learn from the very best, and realise a dream. Learning a little about their lifestyles, one starts to wonder how little has changed between the world of the celebrated composer in 18th century Vienna and today’s rock stars. In the 21st century, the imperial capital of the once sprawling Habsburg Empire is still the world’s centre of classical music, and much more.
Must-sees on a Trip to Vienna
A great Vienna city break usually starts at the Innerstadt, the central ring that encompasses the city from the Donaukanal to the enormous Hofburg complex. The latter is arguably Vienna’s star attraction, containing many of the city’s greatest hits including the Spanish Riding School, the Imperial Apartments and Sissi Museum, the Imperial Treasury, the Albertina art museum, the Museum of Ethnography, the State Hall of the National Library, and, of less interest to tourists, the modern Austrian parliament. In short, this is a city within a city that shouldn’t be rushed.
Then, there’s the Imperial family’s summer residence, the arguably even more splendid Schoenbrunn, located in Vienna’s suburbs. If you’re a fan (or have a German grandmother who’s a fan) of Ernst Marischka’s Sissi trilogy of films, you’ll recognise Schoenbrunn right away. It’s home to a small zoo, a children’s museum, a strudel-making demonstration, and one of Austria’s largest collections of exotic plants.
Even if you’ve made a beeline to Vienna for its music heritage, it’s worth visiting both palaces to put not only Austria’s history into perspective, but the important role music has consistently played in Austrian society. Of course, you’ll also want to spend a few hours gawking at their sheer opulence. The Hofburg has its own orchestra, while palace concerts are always popular at the less formal Schoenbrunn.
Musical Attractions in Vienna
While the love of music can be felt across the city, there are several spots worth checking out in particular. Mozart afficionados will want to swing by the Mozart Apartment to roam the legendary composer’s former home in Vienna, or perhaps even take in a concert. For families visiting Vienna, it’s hard to go past the Haus der Musik, a museum packed with interactive exhibits, from crafting your own arrangements to conducting the Vienna Philharmonic itself – albeit in virtual form.
The jewel in Vienna’s musical crown is of course the Vienna State Opera House, located next to the Hofburg complex. At minimum, it’s worth taking a tour, usually guided two or three times a day with admittance to the main auditorium and live commentary to put some of the building’s opulence into context. Vienna takes immense pride in its state opera, yet despite the grandeur of its heritage and reputation, same day ‘standing’ (leaning) tickets can be had for as little as 10 Euros if you don’t mind waiting in line for when they go on sale 80 minutes before curtain (arrive early, they do sell out). Full priced seated tickets are comparable to other major opera companies around the world.
If you’re really serious about Austria’s musical heritage, consider adding an extra day or two in Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace, whose fame was heightened in North America by The Sound of Music.
Beyond the Concert Hall – Quirky, Artistic Vienna
While Vienna is a classicist’s dream come true, it’s also a rich cultural destination for those in search of a bolder artistic vision. It might be the home of Mozart and Sissi, but it also gave the world Klimt and Hundertwasser. A deep dive into the quirkier artistic side of Vienna begins at the superb Leopold Museum in the city’s renowned MuseumsQuartier. Spend an hour or two here for a crash course in modern Austrian art before exploring the Secession, which has showcased cutting-edge Viennese art since 1897. Both museums border the fashionable but never stuffy Neubau district, historically a haven for artists, Bohemians, students, LGBTQs and alternative Viennese of all stripes.
On the eastern side of the Innerstadt, the Weissgerber neighbourhood supports a wide range of galleries, cafes, and museums, not the least of which are the Hundertwasser Museum and Hundertwasser Haus. The former, also known as KunstHaus, houses arguably the largest collection of the master’s work, while the latter is one of the most eye-poppingly beautiful and colourful buildings in Austria, offering a refreshing contrast to all that Imperial baroque splendour.
Of course, you can always combine the two at the trio of museums that make up the Belvedere Palace complex, which houses a large collection of Klimt’s creations, including The Kiss.
Creativity in the Coffee House
It’s said in Vienna that the cure for all the world’s great ills lies in a visit to the coffee house! So, you’ll want at least a couple of visits to this most traditional of Viennese establishments while you’re in town. We’re not going to tell you which ones to visit, as each offers its own charm and, in many cases, history (and it would be a separate article entirely). Take your time with the experience and enjoy its uniqueness, from the upscale formality to the often dizzyingly long list of coffees on offer. It’s a good idea to do a little prior research and have one or two popular Viennese coffees in mind before you sit down, but more importantly, make sure you have room for cake!