What comes to mind when you think of Vienna? For me, it is the imperial ambiance that could be found at every turn. From the opulent Hofburg, the marvelous Stephansdom to the grandiose Schönbrunn, the legacy of the Habsburg monarchy seems strikingly alive in this city.
Vienna’s root dates back to 15 BC when the Romans established the military base Vindobona on the Danube River. In the following centuries, this settlement developed into a cultural, economic, and political center.
Vienna eventually became the capital city of Austria at the beginning of the 19th century. Its focal point is the Innere Stadt (inner city) – an outstanding architectural ensemble in which Baroque palaces and gardens blend with grand buildings and monuments in numerous architectural forms.
1. Vienna Old Town
The Innere Stadt encompasses the entire Vienna historical center. At the center of it is the Stephansdom (St. Stephen Cathedral) – the city’s most recognizable symbol. It was firstly built in the 12th century to meet the town’s religious needs. But in 1258 a fire completely destroyed the original building.
The cathedral received its current form in the Gothic style after the reconstruction in the 14th century. Stephansdom has borne witness to several important events in Habsburgs and Austrian history, including the famous “Viennese double wedding” which brought the Habsburgs both the Hungarian and Bohemian crowns.
Within walking distance from the cathedral is Hofburg – the main residence of Habsburgs monarchs. Constructed in the 13th century and expanded over the centuries, it was the empire’s heart for more than 600 years. The Baroque palace comprises various edifices such as the St. Michael’s Wing, the Court Library, the Imperial Butterfly House, as well as the Neue Burg (New Palace).
The whole complex is about 240,000 m² in size and decorated in various architectural styles, from Gothic to Baroque and Neo-Classicism. Today, the Hofburg Palace is home to numerous museums with outstanding collections, the Spanish Riding School, and the seat of the Austrian Federal President.
At the periphery of the Innere Stadt, you can find the marvelous Vienna city hall in Neo-Gothic style and the Greek-inspired Austrian Parliament Building. Both were constructed in the 19th century under the rule of Emperor Franz Joseph. They are lined along the magnificent Ringstraße – a circular, grand boulevard surrounding the old town.
The Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) with its unmistakable cupola is also located on this boulevard. The church is the last work of the eminent architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. It was built as the result of a vow taken by Emperor Charles VI during a plague epidemic. Finished in 1739, St. Charles Church is widely considered as the most outstanding Baroque religious building in the city.
Outside the old town, the imperial atmosphere is clearly visible on the splendid Belvedere. Built in the early 18th century by the famous architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, the Baroque palace was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. It comprises two palaces: the Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere, as well as an extensive garden. It is counted as one of Europe’s most stunning Baroque landmarks and listed as UNESCO Heritage Site since 2001 (together with the city’s historic center).
Today, it houses the greatest exhibition of Austrian art dating from the Middle Age to the present day, including works by Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by the iconic artist Gustav Klimt. Kiss (Lover) – his most popular masterpiece – holds an honorable position in the Upper Belvedere.
3. Schloss Schönbrunn
Another architectural gem that should not be missed is Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace) located in the western part of Vienna. The palace’s history dates back to 300 years ago when Emperor Leopold I ordered to build an imperial hunting lodge for his son, Crown Prince Joseph. Over the course of the 18th century, it grew into a palatial residence and the young Prince, later to become Emperor Franz Joseph, spent a great deal of his life here.
With over 1400 beautifully decorated rooms (several are opened to the public) and an extravagant garden, the former imperial summer residence is one of the country’s most popular attractions. The palace is surrounded by an enormous Baroque garden extending for 1.2 kilometers from east to west and approximately 1 kilometer from north to south. In the garden, you can find many beautiful sites such as the Maze, the Neptune Fountain, or the Gloriette.
Tips for visiting Vienna
- Vienna’s old town is relatively compact and can be explored by foot. But thanks to the city’s excellent public transport system, it can be done by metro as well. Another alternative is using tram 1 or 2, however, they only run along the Ringstraße.
- Belvedere is not always crowded. But you can buy the ticket in advance to avoid the (possible) queue at the ticket office.
- As a tourist hotspot, Schloss Schönbrunn is usually crowded. Thus, it is strongly recommended to book the online ticket in advance.
- Considering a combo-ticket if you want to visit both the palace and the garden. Only the ticket to the palace is time-slotted. Other attractions in the garden can be visited whenever you want.