Long, long before there was a Starbucks in Vienna there was a thriving coffee-house culture, where musicians (such as Beethoven and Mozart) would play, and writers and poets - and ordinary Viennese folk - would meet to drink coffee, eat Gebaeck (pastry), read newspapers and debate the issues of the day.
If some of these coffee houses with red plush and glittering chandeliers resemble palaces, they are nothing compared to the real palaces in Vienna. Austria's stately capital city was centre of the Habsburg Empire for more than 600 years and boasts the Hofburg (winter palace), Schönbrunn (summer palace) and the Spanish Riding School where the Lipizzaner horses live.
The top museums to visit are the Kunsthistorisches Museum (has the world's fourth-largest art collection); the Belvedere (once a palace, boasts collections by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele); and the Sigmund Freud Museum on Berggasse 19. The Naturhistorische Museum is said to be the finest natural history museum in the world.
Cheap flights to Vienna land at Vienna International. Book early and book often; between food and drink and music and culture and history, one visit to Vienna will not be enough.
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Vienna has four seasons with cold winters and warm summers. Rainfall is light with only nine or so days of rain or snow a month. November through February are the coldest months with temperatures dropping to -5 or so in January and December. Summer is from Easter to mid-October and can be quite hot and sticky. July and August are the warmest months with temperatures reaching the mid-20s. The fohn, a warm wind from Italy over the Alps, is known for making tempers flare.
When to fly to Vienna
Vienna’s high season is April through October with July and August the peak months. The winter sports season is also busy, and many Austrians visit the city for the Christmas, New Year, and Easter holidays. Advance reservations are a must during the peak seasons.
The weather in June and September make them perfect months for visiting, but they are still quite crowded.
In late spring to early summer and late autumn to early winter the weather is still pleasant enough for travel, and there is less demand for restaurant tables and hotel accommodations. Hotel rooms are also less expensive during the off season.
Getting around Vienna
Vienna is easy to get around, with public transport system in the form of trams and metro lines stretching out to the suburbs. If you’re moving on to other cities such as Prague or Budapest, you can take a train or ride a ferry down the Danube River.
Vienna insider information
- The spectacular imperial Schonbrunn Palace is one of the city’s major tourist draws.The palace has 1,441 rooms and was built between 1696 and 1712. The plan was to build a palace to rival Versailles, but Austria’s pockets were not as deep as France’s. The complex includes sets of faux Roman ruins, an Orangerie, a zoo and a maze. It is UNESCO listed.
- Hofburg, the Imperial Palace, winter residence, as opposed to the Schonbrunn Palace, which was the summer residence, boasts top museum collections, the offices of the Austrian president, an international convention centre, the hall in which the Lipizzan stallions of the Spanish Riding School perform and the chapel where the world-famous Vienna Boys' Choir sings mass on Sundays and holy days.
- The trained and beautifully groomed white Lipizzan stallions are considered the oldest classic horse race in Europe. They perform on Sunday mornings, tourists can also watch them rehearsing in the mornings (Tuesdays to Saturday).
- The Naschmarkt is a charming area with cafés and small shops outside the Ring. There is a flea market there on Saturday mornings.
- St Stephen's Cathedral is where Mozart, Vienna’s most famous resident, married in 1782 and, sadly, had his funeral mass just nine years later, in 1791.
- Domgasse 5 is the only one of Mozart’s apartments that still exists. He lived here between 1784 and 1787. In 2006 it opened as Mozarthaus Vienna: a new centre devoted to the life and works of Mozart including the historical apartment. There is also a café, museum shop and event area.
- Karlskirche, (St Charles’ Church), is one of the most outstanding Baroque churches north of the Alps.
- Vienna has many beautiful parks including the Türkenschanzpark, one of the biggest parks and known for its botanical plants, Stadtpark and Volksgarten. The Belvederegarten is outstanding; they are the grounds of the baroque Belvedere palace.