The big attractions are all in the city center, so there's not much to see around the Reichsbrucke area. The Prater amusement park is about seven blocks from the river, and the Danube Island (Donauinsel), a skinny, 21-kilometer strip of land running along the center of the river, is very close. The island serves as the city's recreational area in summer. It's used for jogging, walking, cycling and roller-blading and is lined with bars, restaurants and river beaches.
The gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral
(Stephansdom) defines the skyline of Vienna, with its huge bulk and colorful tiled roof, bearing the Habsburg coat of arms. Visit the catacombs, or climb 343 steps to the top of the south tower to enjoy 360 degree views of the city to the Vienna Woods beyond. (Stephansplatz 1; open 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
(Museumsplatz 1), a redevelopment of the 18th-century imperial stables, is a collection of superb museums. The cultural district features the Leopold museum (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed on Tuesday), the Museum of Modern Art
(open Monday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday to 9 p.m.) and the Kunsthalle
(open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.), an exhibition center. The whole complex contains bars, restaurants and grassy areas, and during the summer, hosts live events, from bands to fashion shows.
The Haus der Musik
is one of the finest interactive museums in Europe, exploring the history of Vienna in the context of classical music. There are scientific rooms to demonstrate the physics of sound; rooms where you can compose your own melody and have it played by an orchestra; rooms dedicated to the most famous composers (including a poignant exhibit where you can experience Beethoven's decline into deafness); and the highlight, a chance to "conduct" the Vienna Philharmonic. Warning: If you're not up to snuff as a conductor, you could be booed off by the virtual orchestra.
The Spanish Riding School
, one of the world's most famous schools of equestrian art, is closed in July when the renowned Lipizzaner stallions go out to grass, but you can get tickets online for training sessions and performances at other times of year. (Michaelerplatz 1; open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays when there is a performance 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Hear the Vienna Boys' Choir
sing every Sunday at the Hofburgkapelle (Hofmusikkapelle, Hofburg) apart from in July and August, when they're on summer break. Tickets are in great demand; book early.
In April, May, June and September, anybody can watch one of the approximately 150 performances at the Vienna State Opera
for free on a giant screen outside the opera house on Herberg-von-Karajan-Platz. Attendants even provide rugs for spectators to sit on.
At Schonbrunn Palace
, you can tour dozens of rooms, including the magnificent apartments once occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth, as well as those that belonged to Maria Theresa, the powerful Habsburg ruler. Outside the palace are sweeping Baroque gardens, fountains, a maze, greenhouses, a carriage museum and even a zoo.
Take a trip out of town to the Zentralfriedhof
, one of Europe's biggest cemeteries, with more "residents" than Vienna itself. This is not as macabre as it seems. The cemetery is exceptionally tranquil and beautiful, with impressive Art Nouveau architecture, and all the graves of the city's famous musicians are clustered together: Beethoven, Schubert, a memorial to Mozart (who was buried in a pauper's grave) and the entire Strauss family. (Opening hours vary by season; summer hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.)
Check out the Naschmarkt
, the city's most colorful food market, with all kinds of artisan products. Try a balsamic tasting or munch on Vietnamese spring rolls. In summer, buy giant peaches and bunches of plump cherries for snacks. (located just outside the Ring; open early daily.) There are some great, quirky shops nearby; designer vintage at Flo Vintage on Schleifmuhlgasse, or handmade herbal remedies at Saint Charles Pharmacy on Gumpendorferstrasse.
Visit the Prater
, the world's oldest amusement park. The park is a huge green space used by the Viennese for recreation outdoor activities, such as picnics and cycling, as well as for the many rides. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. Individual attractions have their own opening hours, and you pay for each ride individually with fees starting around 1.50 euros. The biggest attraction is the giant Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad
for spectacular views across the city. It's open in summer from 9 a.m. to 11.45 p.m. The Prater is easily accessible by subway (U-Bahn), with Praterstern on the U1 line the closest stop.
Stroll the streets of Spittelberg
, the up-and-coming district just beyond the Museumsquartier. The neighborhood features beautiful Biedermeier houses and hidden squares. This is one of the city's main art and design districts, with trendy cafes and small, one-off boutiques.
Take a Third Man tour
, following the locations of the famous 1949 Orson Welles' film, including the city sewers and the famous Riesenrad (Ferris wheel) in the Prater.
Public transport is so easy to master in Vienna, there's barely any need to take taxis. If you're planning to use public transport for more than a couple of journeys, buy a 24-hour ticket for unlimited rides. Tickets need to be validated in the machine onboard the trams or at the gate into the underground stations.
: There are five underground lines (the U-Bahn), and the service is fast and efficient. The nearest U-Bahn to the Reichsbrucke, where most ships dock, is Vorgartenstrasse, served by the U1, which takes you straight into Stephansplatz and St. Stephen's Cathedral.
: Above ground, the trams are fun and offer the best views; tram line No. 1 goes right round the Ringstrasse for a bargain-priced sightseeing tour of all the main Baroque buildings. Or for a circuit of the Ring by tram with commentary and a multimedia presentation for tourists, a special, yellow Vienna Ring Tram departs every half hour from Schwedenplatz (although you can get on or off at any of the stops around the Ring).
By Horse-Drawn Carriage
: You can also tour Vienna by Fiaker, the shiny, horse-drawn carriages that carry romantics around old town, day and night. You can book in advance online at fiaker.co.at
: Citybike Wien is a free bike system with more than 100 stations around the city center at which you can pick up and drop off bikes. The first hour is free, and it's only 1 euro for the second hour and 2 euros for the third.
: The city center is compact and a real treat to explore on foot, especially the tangle of narrow streets around St. Stephen's Cathedral. Pick up a free map from the tourist information booths around the city.
Vienna is all about the food, whether it's the exquisite pastries beckoning from glass display cabinets in every cafe, or a giant platter of Wiener schnitzel, the city's trademark dish of lightly breaded veal served with parsley potatoes and a twist of lemon. In recent decades, the city also has seen an explosion of alternatives, with Michelin-starred restaurants, Indian, Thai and Turkish outlets and gourmet vegetarian venues.
Locals queue up outside Trzesniewski, a Polish sandwich shop on Dorotheergasse. You buy bite-sized open sandwiches on black bread, each one packing a punch thanks to liberal doses of paprika and pickle, washed down with a tiny glass of beer. The place is a city institution. (Dorotheergasse 1; open Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Sample the perfect Wiener schnitzel at Plachutta zur Oper, near the opera house. As well as being famous for its schnitzels, this elegant spot is a favorite for power-lunching locals. (Walfischgasse 5-7; open daily from 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.)
Don't miss the experience of a traditional Viennese coffee house. They're everywhere, and each one has its own following. Every coffee house serves coffee from an extensive menu and cakes from a mouth-watering display, but many have wider menus for lunch or dinner. Some are rich in history; Caf? Leopold Hawelka is a tiny, dark, crowded room, the walls plastered with sketches and drawings offered by artists too poor to pay for their coffee. (Dorotheergasse 6; open Monday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., holidays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Cafe Frauenhuber claims to be the city's oldest, where Mozart made his final appearance as a pianist on March 4, 1791. (Himmelpfortgasse 6; open Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, Sundays and holidays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) Walk to the rear of Demel and gaze through the glass wall at the show kitchen, a mesmerizing and mouthwatering experience for the baking enthusiast. (Kohlmarkt 14; open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Where You're Docked
Most river cruise ships tie up on the Danube at the Reichsbrucke terminal on Handelskai, a seven-minute ride by U-Bahn (underground railway) into the center. There is no actual city center mooring because the Danube was diverted years ago to the east of the city to avoid flooding.
Some ships dock at Nussdorf, a pretty wine-growing village to the north, at the foot of the vineyards. It's easy to travel into town by tram from there, although it's a longer ride than from the Reichsbrucke dock.
Watch Out For
Vienna is a very safe, clean city, although pickpockets inevitably operate in the most crowded tourist areas, such as around St. Stephen's Cathedral.
Keep an eye on shop opening hours; stores are closed on Sundays, and some shut for lunch every day.
Pay attention to good manners; it's customary to greet shopkeepers when you walk in and to say goodbye when you leave. In a coffee house, never, ever ask for a take-out cup. Viennese like to take their time, and coffee drinking is considered sacrosanct, unless you're in Starbucks.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Euro. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com
. There are ATM's all over Vienna. Always check whether a credit card will be accepted when you visit a smaller shop or restaurant; some places are cash only.
German is the official language of Austria, although Austrians speak with a particular accent. (This will not be distinguishable to a non-German speaker.) In tourist areas, everybody speaks English, but it's polite to say guten Morgen (good morning) or guten Tag (good day) when you walk into a shop or restaurant, and auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) when you leave.
It's possible to buy all manner of tat in Vienna bearing likenesses of Strauss, Beethoven, Mozart or the giant Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park. Practically every shop in the center sells Mozartkugel, chocolate-covered marzipan balls in a gold wrapper adorned by Mozart's face. Riedel glass, Augarten porcelain, Austrian wine and handmade Christmas decorations rank among the best quality items to buy in the advent markets. Or check out the museum shops for art deco vases, art books and classical music CDs. Money to burn? Head for Lena Hoschek in Spittelberg for classical dirndl costumes with a twist (and designs for Katy Perry and Dita von Teese), or Nina Peter Hautnah, just off Karntnerstrasse (the main shopping street), whose exquisite gloves are worn by all manner of celebs, including Lady Gaga.
No competition: It's the Aperol Spritz, which is the cocktail to be seen sipping in Vienna. An import from Venice, this drink is a mix of white wine, soda water and the bitter, herbal aperitif Aperol, served over ice with a slice of orange. Everybody drinks it all summer long.