Best Things To Do In Vienna

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You don’t have to find the things to do in Vienna so much as they find you. Whether it’s just taking a walk through the Naschmarkt, the splendid open-air food market on the west side of town, lounging with the papers over an excellent cup of coffee in Cafe Diglas, picnicking with the Viennese as they take in the open-air films in the mayor’s office forecourt, booking a concert at the renowned Vienna Philharmonic, or hitting one of the party barges lining the Danube, it’s all there, easy and natural. Vienna suggests its own pleasures. Here are the some must-see attractions while in Vienna.

The Hofburg

The seat of power for the Habsburgs for centuries, the Hofburg’s core, wings, and gates splay this way and that inside the Ring, a giant octopus hauled onto a dock. It holds the Spanish Riding School, the Royal apartments, dozens of reception rooms, and the Schatzkammer (or treasury), which contain the Empire’s amazing crown jewels. The jewels alone will take a morning and give a fine picture of just what kind of effort went into holding the Empire together for seven centuries. Empress Elizabeth “Sisi” of Austria-Hungary has become the tragic/romantic fetish royal of millions, so the Hofburg offers quite odd souvenirs with her likeness. A useful favorite for weeping tragically, as Sisi herself apparently did during her disastrous marriage to Franz Josef I, are the Hofburg’s pocket-sized packets of facial tissues with a bust of Sisi on each leaf of paper. Hotels that are within walking distance to the Hofburg include The Hotel Sacher Wien and the Park Hyatt Vienna.

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Spanische Reitschule (The Spanish Riding School)

The Spanish Riding School is now an arm of the Bundesgestüt, or Federal Stud, which has a grand farm in the north of the country where the splendid dappled-white Lipizzaners for the performances in the Hofburg are bred. There are performances in summer, but most of the stallions are shipped to the stud for their studly duties during the warm months, while numbers of the mares with offspring are brought down to acclimatize the colts to town. In play in their stable courtyard, they’re delightful to watch, which you can do every day, for free, through the gate in the Reitschulgasse, which runs from Michaelerplatz between their stable and the backstage area of the venue. The Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof is located nearby the Spanish Riding School and only a few steps from the Hofburg Imperial Palace.

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Haus des Meeres (The Aquarium In the Flak Tower)

As World War II ground on, Hitler had a problem—namely, that the “invulnerable” capitals of the Third Reich were getting pummeled by the Allies. As elsewhere, in Vienna he built enormous 11-story flak towers in order to put radar and gun emplacements up in the sky, closer to the bombers. At the end of the war, the flak towers proved too expensive to rip down. Vienna has one that’s still derelict, but on the western flank of the Ring, one of them has been creatively converted into a giant aquarium-in-a-skyscraper/bunker. There are tropical species, rare turtles, and up top on the eleventh floor, just next to a fine cafe with a beautiful view of Vienna, is the piece de resistance, the hammerhead shark room. For a splendid morning laugh, go. If you’re staying at the Hotel Sans Souci or the K + K Hotel Maria Theresia, this attraction is just a 15-minute walk away.

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The MuseumsQuartier

The MuseumsQuartier—MQ for short—houses no less than a half-dozen major cultural institutions of Vienna. (If you want to stay in the heart of the area, consider Le Meridien Vienna hotel.) The leading lights of the vast complex, a former 18th-century imperial military riding school, are the Leopold Museum, with the world’s best collection of Egon Schiele and his fellow Vienna Secession artists, and MUMOK, which is Vienna’s version of New York’s MOMA. Additionally, there’s an architecture center, a dance center, the youth theater called Dschungel Wien, or Jungle Vienna, and a children’s museum called ZOOM. There are three fine restaurants, all of which have excellent outdoor terraces in the summer. It’s a must-stop, even if just for a quick refreshing bite outside on the glorious portico to the old indoor riding ring, served from the open-air kitchen at ground level.

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The Albertina

The story of the Albertina, far and away Vienna’s most incredible collection, is one of appetite. Named for its first and most major patron—Duke Albert of Saxony, Austrian Empress Maria Theresia’s son-in-law, who had married into his cousins, the Habsburgs—it was his world-beating appetite for art that drove him to amass the world’s largest collection of graphics and drawings from Renaissance grand masters to the masters of the late 18th century. His first donation was a million pieces of art. The collection has grown since then and now encompasses graphics, painting, sculpture of the classic modern masters of the 20th century and moves to the present day, yet another cultural index of the Habsburgs’ vast reach. The Hotel Sacher is just across the walkway—and just a few blocks away is the more casual Hotel Ambassador.

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The Bratislava Ferries

The little-sister towns of the Empire—meaning Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava—are still strongly connected to Big-Momma Vienna, none more so than the smallest of the sisters, Bratislava. Tied up down on the Schwedenplatz moorings in the Danube are the coolest ferries going, the Twin City Liner, swift catamarans, all with a first class lounge, catering and wine. The top end for the catamarans is about 38 knots, or about 42 mph, which means it takes about an hour-and-a-half, give or take, to disembark directly in the Old Town of the Slovakian capital. The short commute means, in turn, that a day trip is possible, if you don’t want to spend the night in Bratislava. For a few dollars more, book the Captain’s Lounge seats. Call it a trip out to view the Empire. If you want to stay closer to the river, consider the Hollmann Beletage Design & Boutique Hotel.

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Sigmund Freud House

The brilliant father of psychoanalysis lived long and well in the leafy north residential section of Vienna, at Berggasse 19—or Mountain Street No 19—before seeing the writing on the wall under the Nazis and moving to London, where his descendants, among them his grandson, the British painter Lucian Freud and his great-granddaughter Bella, the fashion designer, made names for themselves. Freud’s house in Vienna has quite a lot of the original objects, including his surgical and medical kits, as well as the original nameplates, the hooks for umbrellas and hats in the entrance hall, and some of the furnishings. It’s fun to remember that Freud was, also, a doctor. A fascinating couple of hours plumbing the depths of your soul here, and you’ll have an extra spring in your step as you bounce off to a jolly cocktail hour. The luxurious Palais Hansen Kempinski is within walking distance.

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