Vienna, Austria - Stein Travel
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Vienna

It is difficult not to be moved to hum a Brahms lullaby or a Strauss waltz as you explore the sights of Austria's beautiful Baroque capital, Vienna, which for centuries was the centre of the splendid Hapsburg Empire. The city remains infused with the grand imperial spirit in the form of magnificent palaces and grand mansions peppering the Innerestadt. The city's cultural heritage is mainly musical, the great composers like Strauss, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn and Mozart all having lived and performed here. Today the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the State Opera House help keep alive the city's tradition by offering more classical music performances a year than any other city in the world.

Vienna is a city of music, but it is also synonymous with gourmet fare, cream cakes, superb coffee, the angelic strains of the Vienna Boys' Choir and the proud prancing of the Lippizaner stallions at the world-famous Spanish Riding School.

Vienna started out as a Celtic settlement on the banks of the Danube and became one of the Roman's most important central European bases. Its central location on the strategic river contributed to the city becoming a mighty empire, reaching its peak during the tumultuous reign of the dazzling Hapsburg dynasty. At the end of the 19th century the golden age of empire began to decline as Vienna's coffee houses filled with radical intellectuals like Freud, Klimt and Mahler. The Second World War Nazi occupation left scars, but Vienna survived it all to remain a captivating capital that blends Italian romanticism with a Germanic orderliness.

Most of the city's tourist attractions are within the largely pedestrianised inner city area, which was once enclosed by the city walls. The walls have been replaced with the Ringstrasse, a wide ring road. Further out in the suburbs is the thrilling Prater amusement park with its massive ferris wheel, and the opulent Schonbrunn summer palace. Visitors also should not miss a trip to the Vienna Woods, peppered with ancient 'heuringen' (wine taverns).

Information & Facts

Climate

Vienna has a temperate continental climate, with warm, sunny summers and cold winters. The average temperature range in January is between 23°F and 34°F (-4°C to 1°C), while in July temperatures range between 60°F and 76°F (15°C and 25°C). Thunderstorms occur frequently in summer and snowfall is common in winter. Spring, autumn and the beginning of summer are perhaps the best times to travel to Vienna.

Eating Out

Austria's cuisine is a rich stew of historic, international influences. Many local chefs combine traditional Viennese dishes with the principles of nouvelle cuisine, creating Neue Wiener Küche (New Viennese cuisine). Vienna is well known for its pastries, and other famous dishes include Wiener Schnitzel, Gulasch and Tafelspitz(boiled beef with apple and horseradish sauce). The best desserts to try are Sachertorte cake and Apfelstrudel(apple strudel).

Café Central is one of the most famous cafés in the world with its clientele having included luminaries such as Lenin and Trotsky. The queen of Vienna's formal restaurant, Altwienerhof, is fittingly situated near the Schönbrunn Palace and serves some royally delectable dishes. Next door to St Stephen's Cathedral, Figlmuller's is reputed to serve the best schnitzel in Vienna. Do & Co, one of the city's favourite venues, offers not only great views from the seventh floor of the Haas Haus, but also serves superb Viennese, Asian and South American cuisine.

Getting Around

Vienna boasts one of the finest public transport systems in Europe; it is safe and easy to use, and consists of punctual buses and trams, a fast U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (railway). Most operate from about 6am to midnight; buses stop earlier but there are night buses on weekends covering the major routes. The U-Bahn is the fastest way to get around the city, while the S-Bahn is the cheapest way to get to the airport. The tram network is one of the largest worldwide and is the next best way of getting about with the added advantage of being able to see the city, although some lines don't operate on weekends. Buses are useful in the inner city where there are no trams. Fares are standard for all forms of public transport (EUR1.70 for a single), and once validated will allow one journey including transfers in the same direction. Travel passes are available, the Vienna Card is valid for three days and allows unlimited travel on public transport except night buses, and offers discounts at many attractions, shops and restaurants. Taxis are plentiful, reliable and metered, but have a list of surcharges and are among the most expensive in Europe. The most romantic, if expensive way to get about is by horse-drawn carriage, or Fiaker. A car is a burden in Vienna, but can be useful for trips outside the city.

Kids Attractions

Boasting wonderful scenery and amazing outdoors activities, Vienna is a great place for children on holiday and the family to enjoy. From walks, to bike rides and hikes, there is plenty to see and do in Vienna that will keep active children entertained for hours on end. Take a walk through the breathtaking Vienna Woods, or pack a picnic and head out for the day to the Wiener Prater where the kids will have ample space to run around and let off some steam, and when the novelty wears off, head to the Planetarium, which is also located here. Kids will love watching the world famous Lipizzaner stallions as the 'fly' through the air, or for superb views over the city of Vienna, take a ride on the Giant Wheel. When the weather is cold and wet, why not explore BOGI Park, Austria's largest indoor playground. Children will be beside themselves with the choices here and the opportunity to meet other kids. And if the children aren't scared of clowns, the Circus and Clown Museum is also worth a visit.

Language

The official language in Austria is German.

Money

The unit of currency is the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents. Currency can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change available in all towns, but it may be easier to use the ATMs. Banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but exchange offices at airports and major city rail terminals are open seven days a week. Major credit and debit cards are widely accepted though some small hotels and restaurants may only accept cash. Travellers cheques are also accepted.

Night Life

Laid-back Vienna does have a nightlife, its just not as frantic as other European capitals. The city's best bars tend to be in the Innere Stadt(inner city), with a range of venues spanning Irish pubs to designer bars, as well as time-capsule spots from before World War I - Adolf Loos's American Bar is a prime example. The Copa Cagrana's beach-styled bars serve beautiful fruit cocktails.

As far as nightclubs go, the Gurtel area is home to the Rhiz which attracts electronica fans and there are a couple of clubs near Nussdorfer Strasse which offer house music. For the more culturally inclined, many Viennese museums stay open late, the Albertina and the House of Music are classic choices.

Shopping

Vienna's most trendy shopping strip is the Mariahilfer Strasse, where hundreds of stores offer fashion, jewellery and accessories. In the city centre there are a variety of jewellery stores and boutiques. Local specialities include Augarten porcelain, ceramics, handmade dolls, wrought-iron work and leather goods.

Agent Provocateur is located at 14 Tuchlauben, the first outlet of the cult London underwear label in central Europe. Kiehl's started out 150 years ago in a small apothecary and is now a chic cosmetics brand; its flagship store is on Tuchlauben in Vienna. For arty T-shirts and sweaters by leading designers, visit Firis on Bauernmarkt.

On Freisingergasse, Schokoladekönig makes handmade chocolate treats, while Boehle stocks superior wines and traditional specialities (deli snacks) in Wollzeile. For spices and cookery books, visit Babette's on Schleifmühlgasse. Karlsplatz holds the Naschmarkt food market during the week and a flea market on Saturdays. Go to City Hall Square in December for the Christmas market.

The Kaufhaus Schiepek department store at Teinfaltstraße is definitely worth visiting for its variety of outlets, and for the more eccentric, Carnaby sells vintage fashion and accessories on Neubaugasse, while magicians' accessories and gimmicks can be found at Zauberklingl on Führichgasse.

Austria's VAT, as much as 34% on some luxury goods, is refundable with a valid receipt; tourists can also take advantage of tax-free shopping where advertised. With something for everyone in store, Vienna is the place to break in those shopping shoes!

Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Vienna is dominated by beautiful historic attractions and cultural treasures. With everything from palaces to 'flying horses', this splendid city has hundreds of interesting sites and attractions to explore. With lovely summers for sightseeing and snowy winters for skiing, Vienna's seasons are just as accommodating.

The Imperial Palace is home to the Schatzkammer, which is the greatest treasury in the world and holds treasure from as far back as the Holy Roman Empire. The Fine Arts Museum across from the palace houses many of the art collections gathered by the Habsburgs and is sumptuously decorated with marble, gold leaf and stucco ornaments. See the world famous Lipizzaner stallions, which appear to 'fly' in their superb performances. Another of Vienna's most recognisable attractions is the Giant Wheel, located in a large wooded park. And for those with song and dance in their hearts, the Vienna State Opera performs a vast repertoire of operas, operettas and ballets.

Vienna has been home to some of classical music's greatest composers, and visitors can easily spend a day touring the residences where Beethoven wrote his 5th Symphony, Haydn compsed The Creation, and Strauss wrote the Blue Danube Waltz; and no musical tour would be complete without seeing the Mozart Memorial.

Most of the city's attractions are encompassed by the Ringstrasse, which makes them easily accessible, especially on foot or by bike. The Vienna Card is handy for reduced fares when using public transport in the city, visit www.wienkarte.at. With such beautiful sites, cultural attractions and historic virtues, Vienna is definitely a city to spend some time in.

Time

Local time in Austria is GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

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