Twenty reasons to visit Vienna


The cliched Vienna of stiff collars and imperial grandeur is symbolised perfectly by the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School. In displays of skill and dexterity, the white horses prance around one of the Hofburg's grand courtyards carrying their impeccably attired riders. There's a reason the school has been going for more than 400 years; the show is hugely impressive.


Also within the Hofburg Palace complex is the Hofburgkapelle, home of the city's other practically obligatory stately performance. This is where the Vienna Boys' Choir gathers for Mass every Sunday morning. The choir's status as an utterly reliable cash cow means the boys regularly reprise for concerts in bigger venues throughout the week, but for keeping-it-real choristry, 9.15am on a Sunday is the time to rock up.


This is the city where Haydn, Mozart and Strauss (among others) made their names and fortunes. And you'll not get too far in central Vienna without someone in a wig and a silly costume trying to hand you a flyer for some sort of classical-music concert. Many of these are fairly lame greatest hits affairs played by a small band of musicians and aimed at tourists. The real deal comes with the Vienna Philharmonic, unquestionably one of the greatest orchestras in the world. They play concerts and grand balls throughout the year in various venues.


To get a better grip on Vienna's musical heritage, the Haus der Musik is arguably the best spot in town. The top floor is devoted to the various geniuses who made Vienna the world's centre of classical music, with each major composer given a section devoted to his life and works. The other floors are patchier. But the bit where you get to conduct a digital Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is great fun.



Tick-box tourist law decrees that you have to eat schnitzel in Vienna, and while locals may roll their eyes at the mere mention of Figlmuller, the gut-bustingly gigantic schnitzels served at the long-standing visitor favourite make for marvellous photo ops. Anyone managing to leave room for a strudel for dessert deserves respect. For carnivores, Vienna's other must-try dish is tafelspitz, a boiled beef dish served in a broth with lashings of horseradish. Plachutta does it best.;


Even for those who are bored rigid traipsing around Europe looking at churches, St Stephen's Cathedral is an impressive sight. It's an architectural hodge-podge, the spindly Gothic spires not exactly providing a perfect match for the colourful mosaic tiled roof or Romanesque western section. But this doesn't really matter - it commands attention through its sheer size and presence. The amount of detail inside and general aura of grandeur should keep you happily absorbed for hours.


Befitting the home city of the Habsburg empire that once stretched across much of Europe, Vienna is jam-packed with buildings designed to wow. Many are clustered around the Ringstrasse, the grand boulevard that Emperor Franz Josef I had built in 1857. It was showing off on a gargantuan scale - walk around and you'll feel very small indeed. Highlights include the Flemish-Gothic town hall, the Renaissance-style university buildings, the neo-baroque Burgtheater, and the neo-classical parliament. It's architecture 101, but supersized.


If the pompous wedding cake-esque buildings of the Ringstrasse don't do it for you, Hundertwasserhaus may be your required cup of tea. Austria's equivalent of Gaudi, Friedensreich Hundertwasser was let loose on this municipal housing project, creating a surreal fantasy world of improbable bulges and garish colours. You can gawp from outside but you can't go in. Equally odd (and wonderful) is Hundertwasser's Fernwarme in the city's north - it's a rubbish incinerator that looks like it has been designed by Willy Wonka.


Near the Fernwarme is the headquarters of Austria's premier winemaker, Schlumberger. The wine-tasting sessions are a decent introduction to Austria's take on champagne, but it's the maze-like underworld of vaulted cellars that are really fascinating. Book a tour and prepare for kilometres of eerie tunnels full of tens of thousands of bottles in storage waiting until they're ready to drink.


The real heart of Austrian wine can be found in the idyllic heurigen, or wine taverns, on the green outskirts of the city. The tour buses head to the folksy Grinzing area, but the best bets for both the quality of wine and food and an authentic local feel are elsewhere. Heuriger Wieninger and Weinbau Gobel in the north-eastern 21st district are excellent, picturesque choices for a lazy Sunday afternoon in the sunshine.;


Coming a close second in the grinning-like-a-contented-simpleton stakes is the Donauinsel, a 21-kilometre-long narrow island in the middle of the Danube River. It's wonderful to just stroll aimlessly along, but should you wish for further entertainment, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to break the walk. Throw in beaches and swimming areas - plus canoe, bicycle or rollerblade hire - and it's essentially a low-key holiday resort within the city. The ideal tonic for museum fatigue.


If a culture fix does appeal, the Museumsquartier is where traditional Vienna meets the mellow, modern city. The Leopold Museum focuses on 19th-century art, with a particularly strong representation from Egon Schiele, while the Kunsthalle offers 20th-century international works, and Mumok is firmly contemporary. But the area is most triumphant as a social space - the revamp unveiled in 2001 turned it into a hugely popular complex of bars, cafes, oddly shaped sun loungers and occasional DJ sets.


Just behind the Museumsquartier is Neubau - the 7th District. And it's a perfect illustration of how Vienna's character gets more casual and inventive once you get beyond the Ringstrasse. Much of the city's most interesting indie shopping can be found here. The Spittelberg area is home to Lena Hoschek's kitschy feminine fashion - as loved by Katy Perry and Dita Von Teese - while Kirchengasse is the best street for cool but affordable streetwear. Neubaugasse has all sorts - from gorgeous stationery to handmade children's toys.


In late November and December, the ruddy of cheek and their chestnut-selling predators descend on Spittelberg for the most atmospheric of Vienna's Christmas markets. The clue is in the plural - what sets Vienna's festive chintz-flogging apart is that there are so many markets spread across the city. Others can be found at Karlsplatz, Maria-Theresien-Platz and outside Schonbrunn Palace.


The Habsburgs' summer palace doesn't really need the markets to bring in the crowds - it has long been Vienna's star attraction. It's well worth stumping up for the tour of the lavishly decorated state apartments. The Hall of Mirrors, stories of a child Mozart performing for the imperial family and the surprising Asian influences add to the regal atmosphere. But the giant expanse of gardens and parkland behind the Schonbrunn allows you to make a day of it. As a bonus, they're home to the world's oldest zoo, too.


A different kind of wildlife can be found along the Gurtel - the ring road that separates the inner and outer districts. The arches of the train line running overhead have mostly been turned into bars, with the stretch between Westbahnhof and Nussdorferstrasse stations particularly boisterous. Kick off at long-standing favourite Chelsea then follow your thirst and dancing shoes from there.


The other major hub of gleeful drinkers can be found at the Naschmarkt, which is theoretically a food market but a lot of people seem much more interested in hanging around the stalls with a beer in hand. There are also plenty of good, affordable restaurants to be found in the vicinity. Right in the heart of the Naschmarkt itself sits Umar, where you point at your fish and they cook it for you in the restaurant.


Vienna's permanent fairground is equal parts quaint and gaudy. Some rides are genuine stomach-churners but they're offset with a mini golf course, a carousel, a hall of mirrors and a ghost train. The Riesenrad - the big wheel turned into a film icon by The Third Man - is the symbol of Vienna. Views from the top are excellent, but the Prater's real charm lies in the gorgeous waterside parkland to the south of the amusement park.


Fancy languishing in a palace without the hefty price tag? Well, The Altstadt does a cracking job of offering highly individual rooms in a grand historic house, often for less than $150. The owner is an art collector who scatters his hoard throughout the premises, while free tea and cake is served at 4pm every day. And there's an added bonus. It's right opposite Spittelberg and therefore an easy stroll home from the bars and shops.


Vienna does weird niche museums better than pretty much any city on earth. Museums of contraception and abortion, crime, art fakes and burials are all thrown in to the head-scratching mix. The Palais Mollard - part of the National Library - doubles up, however. It's home to both the Esperanto Museum - tracing the development and history of the world's premier made-up language - and the Globe Museum. The latter has hundreds of oddly fascinating, centuries-old globes exhibited. The fun lies in spotting the staggering inaccuracies in our ancestors' view of the world.

The writer was a guest of Vienna Tourism (