Vienna is a city which has been synonymous with art and music – the birthplace of Schubert and home to countless 19th and 20th-century legends including Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Schoenberg and Mahler to name but a few, as well as thinkers like Sigmund Freund, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Erwin Schrödinger and a plethora of artists and performers. And to say that Vienna revels in its cultural past is an understatement. As Gustav Mahler famously said “If the world ends I want to be in Vienna; everything happens there 25 years late”.

A view into the Belvedere gardens © Lisa Boucher Herger |
A view into the Belvedere gardens
© Lisa Boucher Herger |
Vienna watches and observes the hustle and bustle of other major cities with a wry eye, quietly sipping a glass of Sekt (Austrian bubbly) and observing what works and what doesn’t for years before implementing any modern updates. While this can be a source of stress for anyone wanting to file paperwork in August, pay with credit card or buy milk on Sunday, the tenacious hold Austria has held on the sanctity of tradition, as well as the importance of “Ruhe” – peace and quiet often in the form of holidays – certainly have their added value and contribute to Vienna's consistently-high-ranking for standards of living.

In terms of musical enjoyment, Vienna boasts three world-class opera houses. The Staatsoper needs no introduction, with its some 50 productions offering nearly daily performances ten months of the year, and the Volksoper can be a lovely place to see operetta or musical theatre as well as classic operatic fare. One of the most exciting venues is the Theater an der Wien, offering consistently exciting productions, as well as the Kammeroper, the pocket-sized home stage for the young artists of the Theater an der Wien. For those who prefer concerts to opera, both the Konzerthaus and the Musikverein, with its opulent golden busts, is a favourite haunt of the Who’s Who of classical music with programs packed to the gills from mid-September through to the end of June.

The Staatsoper © | Christian Stemper
The Staatsoper
© | Christian Stemper
For museum-lovers, Vienna is equally as decadent. A rainy week can be a beautiful thing in the opulent Kunsthistorisches (Art History) or Naturhistorisches (Natural History) museums. The Albertina is a hot-spot for travelling collections, whilst the Habsburg palaces, the grounds of the Schönbrunn and the Belvedere summer palaces are famous for their respective museums as well as for their sculptured gardens. If it’s bling you are after, look no further than the Schatzkammer (Royal Treasury) museum, packed with everything from crown jewels to robes to ornate weaponry.

The Kunst Haus garden © W. Simlinger | Kunst Haus Vienna
The Kunst Haus garden
© W. Simlinger | Kunst Haus Vienna
Two personal favorites are the colorful Kunst Haus Wien, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and the Museumsquartier, touted as the eighth largest cultural center in the world, which houses the Leopoldsmuseum, the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art), the Zoom childrens’ museum, the Tanzquartier (center for dance) and the Kunsthalle in one compact complex. What's more, the Museumsquartier is full of restaurants, cafes and innovative outdoor seating, and houses a plethora of theatre, fashion and musical events as well as seminars and information fairs throughout the year.

If you are an architecture buff, a ride around the Ringstrasse, the road which marks the old city walls and encloses the first district, offers a wealth of 19th-century constructions including Parliament, the Börse (Stock Exchange), the Burgtheater, the Rathaus (City Hall) and the neo-gothic church the Votivkirche. Within the first district, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is not to be missed, and a jaunt around the Hofburg, the former seat of the Habsburg Empire, offers everything from the imperial riding stables filled with Lipizzaner horses to the splendid National Library to the chapel where the Vienna Boys’ Choir can be heard every Sunday morning.

A Viennese Christmas market © Johann Werfring | Wikicommons
A Viennese Christmas market
© Johann Werfring | Wikicommons
Seasonally, there is not a bad time to visit. Autumn is perfect for visiting the numerous Heurige (wine taverns) and quaffing the latest vintage of local Grüner Veltliner or Welschriesling whites to live folk tunes and so-called Wienerlieder. Advent is the time to eat roasted chestnuts from street vendors and visit the numerous Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets) which pop up the city over. A plethora of grogs (Punsch or Glühwein) are available in seasonal mugs, as well as artisanal crafts, souvenirs and gifts. During January and February, don your tuxedos and gowns and experience one of the 450 balls which take place annually during Carnival in Vienna. The most sought-after take place in the Staatsoper, the Imperial Palaces, the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, City Hall and the Kursalon.

Drinks at the Schweizerhaus © Clemens Pfeiffer | Wikicommons
Drinks at the Schweizerhaus
© Clemens Pfeiffer | Wikicommons
If the weather is favorable, the Prater area – formerly the hunting grounds of Emperor Joseph II – contains not only the famous Riesenrad (Giant Ferris Wheel) and other amusement park attractions in the area known as the Wurstelprater, but also six million meters of green space including paved footpaths for running, biking and blading. The Prater also hosts family-friendly restaurants, including the Schweizerhaus with its famous cold press beer, the Stadionbad (a large outdoor swimming pool), the Ernst-Happel Stadium and the Prater Dome (Vienna’s largest discotheque). The Danube areas, island and canals povide alternative opportunities for relaxation, lined as they are with restaurants, biking paths, swimming spaces and graffiti art.

Bad weather just means it is time to experience a bit of Vienna’s legendary coffee house culture, now considered an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO. Trips to the legendary coffee houses are a must – the Café Hawelka, Café Central and Café Prückel are the most famous – though here you are likely to meet that famous Viennese phenomenon: the surly waiter in a dark suit.

Café Central © Wikicommons
Café Central
© Wikicommons
The experience is made well worth it, though, with the ready abundance of Melange, Einspänner and Großer Brauner (all popular Viennese coffee creations), which can be enjoyed for hours without interruption along with the many newspapers available free of charge. The Viennese coffee house is often described as a public living room, and trips here will help you understand that most Austrian of traits: the desire to be alone amongst many. Vienna is a city as packed with culture as its cakes and Schnitzel are with calories. The trick is to plan ahead and not overwhelm yourself. If you miss something on this trip, don’t worry, Vienna is unlikely to change all that quickly.