36 Hours in Vienna
The 150 year old majestic Ringstrasse is only one reason to visit a city where virtually any activity, from strolling through a museum to sipping coffee, leaves one feeling pampered. Video: New York Times
Lovely Vienna has oodles of culture and musical history, an abundance of top art museums and architecture fit for an empire. Yet this former imperial showpiece is now a small nation's modest capital: an intimate, liveable and surprisingly fun city of cake-crammed cafes, lovely parks and sedate, polite people. Ride its trams, pedal its cycle paths, walk its promenades, sit on public benches and soak up the atmosphere. Be tempted by it charms, and Vienna always seduces.
The energy of the baroque era isn't so much seen in stuffy apartments at the Hofburg Palace (hofburg-wien.at) as in performances at the Spanish Riding School (srs.at) and classical concerts in the Hofburg Chapel (hofmusikkapelle.gv.at). Across the road, the MuseumsQuartier (mqw.at) is one of Europe's pre-eminent art-gallery ensembles. On the city's outskirts, Schonbrunn Palace (schoenbrunn.at) is an architectural masterpiece surrounded by park-like gardens. An evening at the State Opera (wiener-staatsoper) is the final cultural must.
Nothing says Vienna quite like coffee houses. Soak up a late 19th-century ambience at Cafe Sperl (cafesperl.at) among marble-topped counters, billiard tables and cream cakes. Cafe Pruckel (prueckel.at) is one of the Ringstrasse boulevard's venerable coffee houses, known for strudels, but has abandoned ornate interiors for a 1950s look. Cafe Central (cafecentral.wien), once the hang-out of Trotsky and Freud, is also quintessentially Viennese. If you're looking for an almighty schnitzel, try family-run Figlmuller (figlmueller.at).
Vienna, with its gracious boulevards and grand architecture, is the perfect strolling city. Walk through the mostly baroque 1st District old town, sashay on around the Ringstrasse and eye composers' statues among the flower beds in the 1862 Stadtpark (wien.gv.at). The city's hip 7th District behind the MuseumsQuartier is crammed with trendy fashion boutiques selling leather goods, designer T-shirts and cutting-edge clothes. Lastly, the 4th District is a bohemian enclave full of art galleries and bistros.
Vienna has plenty of composers' homes but, if you have kids, head instead to Haus der Musik (hausdermusik.com), an interactive music museum that lets you experiment with sound morphing and conduct a virtual philharmonic orchestra. When major art galleries pall, Vienna offers entertaining minor museums such as the delightfully eccentric Third Man Museum (3mpc.net) devoted to the famous 1948 movie set in Vienna. Sigmund Freud Museum occupies his former apartment and has interesting exhibitions.
Hotel Topazz (hoteltopazz.com) hunkers in the old town and yet is defiant with a cylindrical facade punctured with round windows. Chic designers rooms have art nouveau echoes and cheeky lamps with duck's legs. If you want a greater design challenge then head to the Jean Nouvel-designed, avant-garde Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom (sofitel-vienna-stephansdom.com), where lovely luxuries (Bose sound system, Nespresso machine) meet grey minimalism and fine city views. The top-floor restaurant features an eye-popping, video-installation ceiling.
Take the Vienna Ring Tram (wienerlinien.at) and plug into headphones for information about sights along the 25-minute loop around the famous Ringstrasse boulevard, lined with museums and sumptuous buildings in a variety of architectural styles.
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office and Emirates Airlines.