Stately and imperial
Vienna was the seat of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled much of Europe for hundreds of years. Fittingly, the predominant architectural style in Vienna is imposing and grandiose, and perhaps a little on the austere side.
Vienna is very popular with tourists. In Heldenplatz, there are literally hundreds of horse-drawn carriages awaiting the loads of tourists that tour buses disgorge in front of the Hofburg palace. As you can imagine, the stench from so many horses can be a bit overwhelming. By contrast, Prague has perhaps half a dozen carriages at most.
The tour of the Imperial apartments in Hofburg Palace is disappointingly short, unless you’re really curious about the personal lives of Kaiser Franz Jozef and Kaiserin Sissi. Furthermore you cannot take any photos! The Imperial Museum in Innsbruck is much more satisfying, and you can take all the photos that you want.
Schoenbrunn is perhaps the only other European palace that can claim (almost) equal footing with Versailles. I prefer the vast tracts of luxuriant green space surrounding this palace to Versailles’.
Example of heroic architecture found in the government district of Vienna. The fountain in front of the Parliament depicts Pallas-Athena.
The summer residence of the Habsburgs, Schoenbrunn rivals the palace of the Sun King in ambition and opulence.
Tree-shaded walkways crisscross Schoenbrunn’s garden and statues are partially hidden in the green hedges. I prefer Schoenbrunn’s more picturesque and friendly garden to Versailles’.
The graceful spires of the Votive Church make it my favorite church in Vienna. Its relatively isolated location means it’s less frequented by tourists than other churches. I love it. We stayed about 2 blocks away and so it was the first one I saw on my walking tour. As my luck would have it, the base of the church was undergoing renovations, like many of the attractions I visited in June :(
Like most structures, the Votive Church is at its most ethereal when limned by the early morning light.
The lofty interior of the Votive Church will leave you breathless. The subdued lighting makes it looks most mystical.
When we arrived, twilight was around 10pm. Now would have been a good time to get some night-time photos. Unfortunately thanks to some hotel mix-ups and my own difficulty navigating Viennese streets, we didn’t check in until 10pm, by which time we was so hungry we had to go look for dinner. Fortunately, Votivkirche is just a few blocks from the pension, so we walked by there the following night.
A stone’s throw away from the Gothic gem Rathaus is this imposing Classical edifice. Parliamentary statuary on Ringstrasse.
The edifice occupying one end of Heldenplatz is the Nationalbibliothek, which means of course the National Bibliothek :)
St. Stephen’s Church, Vienna’s most imposing landmark, is the heart of the city. The square in front of it is packed with throngs of tourists.
For a closer look at the amazing tiled roof of Stephansdom, visitors can ride an elevator to the top of the North or the South tower (for a fee of course). My tourbook recommends going up the South tower as it looks towards Vienna’s government district. However I got things mixed up and went up the North tower instead. Even though the view isn’t as good as the south side, this was actually better as you cannot go outside the South tower. You can also take a look at the massive bell here. Thankfully it didn’t toll when I was up there.
The original tile roof of Stephansdom was burned down towards the end of WWII during fighting between Nazi and Soviet troops. It was rebuilt in the 1950s.
Below the Austrian eagle you can see the year of completion of the roof.
Another superb Gothic interior.
The flower-bedecked window sills are an especially nice touch.
Maria Theresa statue
Between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art History is a manicured plaza dominated by a regal statue of a youthful-looking Empress Maria Theresa (ruled 1740-1780), perhaps the most influential of the Habsburg monarchs.
The manicured Volksgarten in front of the Rathaus is a great place to take a break. Rows of green chairs line the sides of the garden and many locals come here to read, talk, and relax. At one end is the Burgtheater.
Even though Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg, Vienna adopted him as well.
Winter’s was recommended by the pension owner as a place with traditional cuisine. It normally closes at midnight and we arrived around 10:30pm. However we were promptly informed that the kitchen would be closing soon, so we hurried to make our selections. However it turned out that most of the things we wanted were already out, and there was only 1 serving of gnocchi left. So we ended up choosing the goulasch which were still available. When the goulasch was brought out there were barely a few pieces of beef per portion and it was all too salty! Perhaps the chef scraped the bottom of the pot to make 3 portions. Hmm. Then it came to dessert. We wanted the sachertorte and the apfelstrudel. There was a big piece of mold on the slice of sachertorte! We returned it to the kitchen and lost our remaining appetite. However, the owner, who had earlier extolled the virtues of his menu, had the temerity to bring it back out to us, with the moldy side cut off, saying unapologetically “You know, it’s chocolate short-cake” as if we were country bumpkins abroad. This sort of sloppiness ought to get the place shut down (it would be in the US). We paid and left. I understand that ours may be an isolated case, but needless to say our lodging and dining experience here has not been satisfactory at all.
We made a reservation at Pension Franz via info.wien.at. From the web the photo looks very nice, and it’s wihin shouting distance of the Votivkirche. We took our time getting here from Salzburg, even stopping at Schoenbrunn first. When we arrived at the Pension at last, the furniture and decoration indeed were sumptuous. However the clerk said they didn’t have a room for us. Why not? Well, some guests decided to stay a few extra days. But not to worry, he contacted a pension right down the street which have availabilities and would actually be cheaper. We were anxious just to check in and go to dinner, so we packed off and tried to find Pension Liechtenstein. Thanks to all the one-way streets, we finally arrived at Pension Liechtenstein, about 8 minutes away on foot, about 45 minutes later. This one was decidedly run-down, and one of the rooms smells of fish with the windows open. We seriously considered driving to a hotel and get a room regardless of the cost. Fortunately after some negotiations we got a different, much nicer room which was supposedly “reserved”. We finally settled in around 10pm, and could finally started thinking about dinner. Pension Liechtenstein was indeed cheaper, and is only 2 blocks away from the Votive Church (I can see it by sticking my head out the window). The breakfast bufffet was great and the clerk/owner was very helpful. He made a phone call to Cesky Krumlov for us telling the Pension there that we’d be coming (call it lesson learned). Turned out he and his managing partner were Chinese born in Vietnam and both came to resettle in Vienna many years ago. Interesting. In retrospect we should have persisted at Pension Franz, but everything turned out all right at the end.
Last visit: 2003 Pros: Splendid architecture, easily navigable, attractions all located close to one another Cons: Too many horse-drawn carriages In a nutshell: A little aloof for my taste