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Vienna is the smallest state of Austria but has the highest population and therefore has a much higher population density than all other Austrian states. It is completely encircled by Lower Austria and had been part of it until it was made a separate state in the 1920s. The Romans had a fort at today's location of the inner city, which has been the capital of Austria since the 12th Century. As such, the city of Vienna was once the capital of a much larger country than it is today and was also planned to be populated by many more people. It has always attracted people from all over the Austrian Empire, which is still obvious today. Additionally Vienna is the cultural and economic centre of Austria. Vienna also lies at an international traffic junction of motorways and railways and has Austria's largest airport, as well as a harbour at the Danube. It is only one hour away from the Slovakian capital Bratislava, 3½ hours from Prague and four hours from Munich.
Vienna lies at the north eastern extensions of the Alps and at the rim of a large basin. The Danube lies in the eastern outskirts of the state, but part of it still flows close to the city, as it did in the Middle Ages, today in a concrete bed. An artificial 21km-long island, built for flood control in the main stream of the Danube, serves as a recreation area. An old backwater of the Danube is used for swimming and boating. The highest mountain in Vienna is only 542m high. Two different climates clash in Vienna: the Atlantic climate, with temperate summers and winters and much rain, and the dry Continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers.
Although Vienna is a city state, over 17% of its area is covered by forests and there are rather large areas of vineyards in the north of the state. Around the city a green belt is left untouched to ensure a good climate for the city and there are also agricultural areas as well as some nature reserves and of course many parks. It is the city with the highest percentage of green areas in the world.
The Viennese cuisine is very diverse and has many influences from countries of the former Austrian Empire. The most popular dishes are certainly Wiener Schnitzel, a thin slice of fried pork, but also roast pork and beef as well as beef broth with different 'fillings' such as dumplings or noodles. The many sweet dishes, cakes and desserts are famous all around the world.
For a break you should try one of the many Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) and also sample one of the various kinds of cake. To get them you don't necessarily have to go to the famous and expensive Hotel Sacher where the Sachertorte was invented.
The historic city centre is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and includes many important buildings of the former Austrian Empire. Not only the inner city but also other districts are heavily influenced by architecture from that period. Due to the UNESCO regulations, it is not permitted to build high buildings in the city centre so the few skyscrapers are sited at the outskirts and leave the impression of the city intact.
In the 1st Century AD, the Roman military base Vindobona was founded. Some of Vienna's inner city streets lie over old Roman routes. A small example of the ruins that can be found under the city can be seen at the Michaelerplatz behind the Hofburg. After the end of the Roman Empire, little was left of Vindobona.
In 976, the Babenbergers were in control of the Eastern March, an area about 60 miles wide, on the eastern border of Bavaria. It became the duchy of Austria. Liutpold, the count, extended its area at the expense of the Hungarians, and Austria and Vienna became more important again. When the Margraves of Babenberg moved their residence to Vienna in 1150, the city's importance increased even more.
The Habsburgs became the new sovereigns at the end of the 13th Century. In the 14th Century the city acquired a new, gothic appearance which didn't change significantly until the 17th Century.
After Vienna was besieged by the Turks for the first time in 1529, most efforts in building were made to construct new bastions and Vienna became the capital and residential city of the Holy Roman Empire. The imperial family lived in the Hofburg and, from the 17th Century, in summer residences in the suburbs.
Napoleon Bonaparte attacked Vienna in 1805 and 1809, and afterwards the regime of the chancellor Metternich brought big social problems. It was the beginning of industrialisation but also an era of great achievement in the arts. After the revolution of 1848, modernisation began.
In the second half of the 19th Century many suburbs became part of the city; the bastions were demolished and the Danube was channelled. Over 100 kilometres of water pipes between the Alps and Vienna - which were built in the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century - are still in use today.
Until World War I, Vienna was the capital of a huge empire, but the Republic of Austria is a small country. Due to its large population size in comparison to the rest of Austria, Vienna became a separate federal state. Between the World Wars, politics was dominated by the social democrats. The council housing of this time, especially, became famous.
After a political and economic crisis in the early 1930s, Austria joined Germany in 1938. Once again, surrounding villages became part of Vienna, which tripled in size. The allied forces bombed Vienna from 1943.
By the end of World War II, more than 20% of the city was destroyed. The allied forces divided Vienna into four zones and the extension of the city was partly annulled. In 1955 a state treaty brought freedom for Austria. The allied forces left and the economic upturn began.
Due to Vienna's location in the centre of central Europe quite a few international organisations also have a seat there, among them the OPEC, UNO and IAEO. Until 1989, the city was an important connection to eastern Europe. In 1994 Austria joined the European Union, and in 2001 the inner city of Vienna became a site of UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
Another UNESCO heritage site is the Baroque summer palace of the emperors, Schönbrunn, and its extensive gardens. Part of these gardens is also the world's oldest zoo.
The inner city
St Stephan's Cathedral stands in the centre of Vienna, at what was once one corner of the Roman fort. The first church at that place was built in 1147. It was altered and extended in the Gothic period. The first tower (136.44m tall) was built in the 15th Century, but the second one was never finished.
Around the cathedral you can find many small alleys with old buildings; it is worth just walking around and getting to know the place a bit. At the Graben, one of the most expensive shopping streets of the city, are quite a few old shops which were built in the 19th Century. This street also leads to the back entrance of the Hofburg. Many of the streets in this area still run on the same lines as the streets of the Roman fort.
The crypt of the emperors, which is very close to the cathedral, contains the sarcophagi of 12 emperors and 19 empresses and queens and was in use since 1633. All the sarcophagi are richly decorated, often with stone skulls and skeletons. Maria Theresia's tomb is the most magnificent. It contains the sarcophagus of the imperial couple as well as 14 others.
The Albertina is a collection of arts which was founded in the 18th Century by Duke Albert. The most important pieces he purchased were by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Dürer, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. The collection is still growing continually. It contains drawings, paintings, photos, posters and architectural sketches and models. The museum is very near to the Ringstraße, next the opera house and the Hofburg.
In the middle of the 19th Century the old bastions around the city were removed and replaced by a wide boulevard. This led to a kind of competition to decide who would build the most beautiful buildings along the new street. Many important buildings are placed along this street and it is a great example for historicism.
The most important buildings at the Ringstrasse are the state opera - where the famous Opernball takes place every year - the Museum of Arts History, the Museum of Natural History, the Hofburg, the Parliament, the Burgtheater, the City Hall and the University of Vienna.
Until 1918, the Hofburg was the residence of the Austrian emperors. It was built between the 13th Century and the 20th Century, and today accommodates many museums.
The oldest parts were probably built by the last Babenbergers and are set in the shape of a square. During the next centuries more and more buildings were added. The last big extensions were made after 1860, when two huge wings were planned opposite of the Museum of Arts History and the Museum of Natural History, but only one of the wings was finished.
At the 'back' of the Hofburg at the Michalelaplatz, unnoticed by most tourists, stands the Looshaus. It was built in 1911 and planned by the famous architect Adolf Loos and is one of the oldest modern company buildings in the city. At that time it was a big scandal to put a house with so little decoration next to the Hofburg.
The Imperial Apartments - Sisi Museum - Imperial Silver Collection
The tour through the museum first leads to the Imperial Silver Collection. You can see a huge amount of crockery and cutlery used by the imperial family. In the Sisi museum visitors learn more about the life of Empress Elisabeth. The most interesting part of the museum are the Imperial Apartments where you can see the 19th-Century rooms of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth.
Insignia and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, medieval royal objects, crowns of various emperors and oddities and more can be found in in the Treasury. The pieces are not only of high materialistic value but also tell the tale of over a thousand years of European history.
The Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only one in the world which still practises the horsemanship of the Renaissance. Visitors can watch the Lipizzans in training and performances, as well as visit the stables and the Baroque riding hall.
The Collection of Arms and Armour
Armour from the 15th Century to the 20th Century, representing most western dynasties, is displayed in this collection. They were not used in wars but had a representational function.
The Museum of Arts History was opened in 1891 and contained most of the collections of the imperial family. The rooms alone are impressive enough, but the building fulfils all the clichés of old museums. The walls of every room are painted according to the collections it contains, which is for instance the Egyptian collection. On the first floor a huge gallery of paintings can be found, with works by many important painters. On the ground floor you can find the Ancient Egyptian collection and Greek and Roman Antiquities.
The Museum of Natural History fulfils the clichés even more than the Museum of Arts History, which stands opposite to it. The long rows of wood and glass showcases filled with objects, animals and plants are standing in huge decorated rooms. The earliest collections are over 250 years old. On the ground floor are collections of minerals, prehistoric animals and objects from the early history of humankind. Almost the entire upper floor is filled with old stuffed animals.
Museum für angewandte Kunst - MAK
The Museum of Applied Arts was built in the 19th Century as the 'KuK1 Austrian Museum of Arts and Industry'. It shows designs of various artists as well as examples of mass production. They are presented chronologically, beginning with the early antiquity. Among the objects are textiles, ceramics, furniture and jewellery. The museum also has a large collection of historic objects from Asia.
Many different museums are to be found in the Baroque and the modern buildings of the Museumsquartier. This ensemble was once used as the imperial stables and lies in one axis with the Hofburg and the museums of Natural History and Arts History. The biggest collections are the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK - the Museum of Modern Art. The Leopold Museum is one of the most important collections of modern Austrian art. It contains the world's largest collection of Egon Schiele's work and pieces by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos and many others.
The palace Schönbrunn was a summer residence of the Austrian emperors and at that time was situated outside of the city. The first castle built in 1559 was destroyed by the Turks. A huge new palace was devised in the 17th Century, but the plans were changed and so the castle is now much smaller than it was intended. The palace and the gardens were altered a few times and today are part of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
The palace has 1,441 rooms and halls. About 40 of them can be visited – and it makes sense to see all of them and not take the smaller tour of 22 rooms. The way leads through the apartments of emperors from the Baroque period to the early 20th Century.
Today, the gardens of Schönbrunn are a public park. The design of the gardens is from 1750 and they have a size of about 185 hectares. A walk through the park leads through long boulevards and past many old fountains and statues. Opposite the palace, on a hill, stands the Gloriette. At this place it was originally planned to build the palace, but there is only a small, pretty building which serves as a café today. Extra tickets are required for the labyrinth and the orangery.
The Schöbrunn Zoo is the world's oldest zoo. In the 18th Century it was built as a private menagerie. The Baroque buildings are still in use, but of course new buildings were added to give the animals a better life than they would have in most of the old cages.
In the 18th Century the Baroque Belvedere palace was built for Prince Eugen von Savoyen. Today the palace contains an arts collection with works by Monet, Renoir and Waldmüller as well as the main pieces of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. The palace itself and the garden are a great example of Baroque architecture and from the upper part of the palace you have a beautiful view of the city.
In the Court Furniture Depository a wide range of historical furniture used by the imperial family, can be seen. The objects are partly arranged in rooms, partly just standing next to and on top of each other, which gives parts of the museum the atmosphere of a huge storage room – which in fact was its original use. The collection contains furniture from the Baroque period to the early 20th Century.
The Technisches Museum
The Technisches Museum shows all kinds of historic machinery and technology. People can see historic and modern objects of everyday life as well as industrial machinery, old musical instruments, cars, trains, planes and much more.
Other Things to See
All visitors should take a walk in the inner city of Vienna. Although some buildings are more famous than others, the mass of old decorated houses is impressive.
If you are interested in arts you should also have a look at the Secession, which is situated next to the Academy of Fine Arts and was built as a protest against the old understanding of arts. It is the most important building of Austrian Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). The building is a museum with changing exhibitions.
Right next to the Secession is the so-called Naschmarkt, a large market in which you can get anything from exotic fruits to meat and fish. There are local delicacies as well as food from foreign countries.
If you like amusement parks you should visit the Prater. There you can find everything from nostalgic old merry-go-rounds to modern rollercoasters - but all in all it is not in the best shape any more. The most famous attraction of the Prater is the Riesenrad, a large ferris wheel from which you have a good view over the city.
Fans of the Neujahrskonzert might like to see the Musikverein at the Karlsplatz. Once you are there you should also have a look at the Baroque Karlskirche. Right next to the church is also the Vienna city museum, which has lots of information about the history of the city.
The Zentralfriedhof of Vienna is one of the largest cemeteries in the world. Here are the graves of the composers Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss Sohn, but also of other famous Austrians like Hans Moser, Helmut Qualtinger and Falco. If you are there you should also have a look at the church in the centre of the cemetery, which is a beautiful example of art deco. The interior with the painted dome is especially nice.