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”.
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.
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.
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.