Willkommen to Vienna: A city of art, culture and music
Vienna, Austria’s glorious capital is located on the banks of the mighty River Danube and close to the borders of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Vienna’s historic centre features imposing castles, opulent buildings reflecting Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles, beautiful verdant parks, and the late 19th century Ringstraße.
The centre of Vienna was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and in 2018 a study undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked the city as the best in the world for its quality of life. The city, which is crammed with art museums, places of interest and popular attractions continues to draw more than 6.8 million tourists every year.
My explorations of Vienna’s rich cultural heritage began at the dazzling Hofburg Palace, which was the centre of the Habsburg monarchy from 1273 to 1918 and includes the Imperial Treasury where the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which dates back to the 10th century, is displayed.
The glittering treasures include the Imperial Austrian Crown, which was made for the Emperor Rudolf II in 1602, the Imperial Cross, the Holy Lance and an extensive collection of elaborate coronation vestments. Also on display is one of the world’s largest emeralds and of course it is absolutely mesmerising. The Hofburg Palace is also the principal venue for the world famous Silvesterball, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on 31 December this year.
Keen to develop a deeper understanding of the Habsburgs I headed for the Imperial Apartments, which served as the residence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, who was affectionately known as Sisi. The 24 rooms offer the visitor an opportunity to take a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era and with 24 rooms crammed with twinkling crystal chandeliers, beautiful furniture, statues and works of art, there is much to admire. The Sisi Museum, also within the Hofburg complex, celebrates the life of Empress Elisabeth and exhibits include many of her personal possessions and portraits, which capture her beauty.
Seeking a place to relax, I headed for another popular attraction, which is a short stroll away, within the Hofburg Palace complex. The Imperial Butterfly House, which was once a retreat for Emperor Franz Josef I and Sisi, the Empress of Austria, is a tropical oasis, housed within a beautiful Art Noveau palm house, provides the ideal spot to take a seat when a busy itinerary affects the feet. 400 free flying, colourful butterflies flutter around past waterfalls, settling on exotic plants and enticing all visitors.
Due to its impressive musical legacy, which stretches from the era of Viennese Classicism up to the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna is known as the city of music and has been home to many celebrated composers of international recognition. Birthplace of Schubert, Strauss, Schoenberg and Berg, Vienna also became home to Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Mahler and Mozart.
To appreciate Vienna’s musical heritage I attended an exceptional performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Karlskirche on Argentinierstraße. St Charles Church, one of Vienna’s many architectural gems, was completed in 1739 and features the most beautiful cupola. The High Altar, which has undergone renovation, captures the viewer as it has regained its original colourful grandeur.
The frescoes within the cupola represent the glory of Saint Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI, and it is a spectacular sight. In 1741 Vivaldi died in Vienna and he was buried a few metres away from Karlskirche, which is the ideal venue for such a stirring concert, expertly performed by the Orchestra 1756 on period instruments.
Following the concert and in search of a tasty bite to eat, I headed for the Café Motto am Fluss located on Franz Josefs Kai, beside the Danube. Whilst admiring the view and watching the various vessels sailing sedately by I sampled the delicious Asparagus Risotto, which was served with aplomb, and accompanied by a glass of 2017 Gruner Veltliner Belle Naturelle, it was a first class dish.
For a more formal affair, the Restaurant Motto am Fluss, on the floor below, serves an outstanding dish of crispy pork, glazed in Tong Hao, chilli, honey and served with spicy carrot and a glass of 2017 Chardonnay Juris enhances the flavours to another level.
There is a wide selection of hotels in Vienna but for those seeking space, peace and privacy the Aparthotel Adagio is ideal. The property is located on Uraniastrasse beside the Danube with tram stops right outside and the historic city centre is within walking distance. Facilities include a fitness centre, a sauna, private indoor parking, complimentary Wifi and a self-service laundry room.
My spacious one bedroom air-conditioned apartment featured a huge balcony overlooking the Danube and it was the ideal spot to relax with a tipple after a full day of explorations. The lounge featured contemporary furnishings including a plump sofa and footstool with a huge television/radio and the kitchen included all the gadgets required to rustle up a breakfast.
There is a supermarket with an excellent deli just a short hop and skip away but as my cooking skills are rather lacking I succumbed to a late lie-in and opted for the scrumptious hot and cold buffet breakfast and made plans for the day.
Another of Vienna’s major attractions is St Stephen’s Cathedral and I took a leisurely stroll beside the Danube and then made my way to Stephensplatz. Founded in 1137 the cathedral is an outstanding example of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles and features a multi-coloured opulent roof consisting of 230,000 glazed, patterned tiles, which, when flooded in golden sunlight is a magnificent spectacle.
On the south side, there is a mosaic of the double-headed eagle which represents the empire, once ruled by the Habsburgs. St Stephen’s Cathedral is the resting place of Frederick III, the first Emperor of the House of Habsburg. His tomb is adorned with 240 statues and is a fine example of medieval workmanship. The cathedral, which was constructed in limestone, soars 446 feet high and the south bell tower is a principal feature in Vienna’s skyline. It is said that the composer Beethoven realised the extent of his deafness when he noticed birds flying out of the bell tower and did not hear the bells ringing.
Strolling back towards my hotel and feeling peckish I spotted the Hard Rock Café on Rotenturmstraße. I was swiftly escorted to a table in the British section and as I devoured the delicious baby back ribs and sipped on my sparkling blackberry sangria I tried, to no avail, to avoid being distracted by a spellbinding collection of memorabilia.
This includes Mick Jagger’s military style coat worn during the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour, Ian Anderson’s (of Jethro Tull) flute convair, John Entwistle’s (of The Who) bass guitar, the Moody Blue’s Minimoog synthesizer and signed photographs of the Beatles, the piccolo trumpet played on Penny Lane, and Sgt Pepper’s horn arrangement, signed by the Fab Four.
I raised my glass to the wonderful city of Vienna and to the music and lyrics of Lennon and McCartney…… ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make’.
Top Tip – Flights to Vienna
‘Fly the flag’ with British Airways direct from London Heathrow to Vienna. Opt for business class, which includes a guaranteed aisle or window seat, 2 x 32 kilos checked baggage, a dedicated check-in area and access to the BA lounge. For more information visit britishairways.com
Top Tip – Airport transfers and local transportation
Book private airport transfers for London Heathrow and Vienna. Take advantage of a reliable and punctual first class service. Prices are all inclusive and guaranteed in advance, so you can sit back and relax upon arrival. Visit blacklane.com
Top Tip – Attractions and getting around
Purchase a Vienna Pass, which includes entrance fees to more than 60 attractions. For more information visit viennapass.com and for getting around a Vienna City Card valid for 24,48 or 72 hrs includes access to all public transport and discounts on a wide variety of attractions and more. Visit viennacitycard.at
Top Tip – The Vivaldi Four Seasons concert and the Imperial Butterfly House