Port of Vienna
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Yet, as much as it lives in the past, Vienna has hauled itself into the present with elegance and style. Visitors will discover a compact but diverse, multicultural city, with a thriving art and design scene, some truly fabulous shopping, superb contemporary art collections, and acres of gorgeous parks and gardens. Here, you'll find a happy devotion to the good life, whether it's sipping a cocktail at one of the hip bars on the Danube Canal or the gemutlichkeit (the Austrian term for "coziness") of tasting wines grown on the hills around the city in a traditional pub garden in the village of Grinzing.
Because most of the big attractions are around or inside the Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that encloses the first district, or city center, Vienna is easy to explore. In fact, you could spend days in the first district alone, shopping on the elegant Karntnerstrasse, exploring St. Stephen's Cathedral and countless other Baroque churches, devoting time to galleries and museums and immersing yourself in the famous coffee culture.
The many river cruise lines that call on the city provide a mere snapshot of this thriving center of European culture with little deviation from the very well-trodden tourist trail. But Vienna caters to a diverse range of interests, and the good news is that if you come back for more, or want to explore it alone, the city is a snap to navigate independently.
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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.
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.
Good to Know
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.
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.
By Subway: 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.
By Tram/Streetcar: 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.
By Bicycle: 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.
On Foot: 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.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Euro. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.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.
Food and Drink
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.)
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.