Walking Vienna’s Old Town
I went to Vienna with low expectations.
How I dare to say something like that about one of the most beautiful cities in Europe? After all, half of the planet has a desire to visit. Most of my friends looked uninterested about my Central / Eastern European travel plans until the word Vienna came out of my lips. The mention of the city provoked elation.
“Vienna!!! I have dreamed for years of visiting the city,” was the reaction I heard like ten times.
I understand there are legitimate reasons to look forward to visiting the city. But, on the other hand, I have read articles describing it as cold, unwelcome and with no soul. That worried me a bit since I am the kind of traveler who is very interested in human interaction.
After strolling around the city for a day, I was more than happy with what I experienced.
There is no discussion about the aesthetics of Vienna. If you look left, there is a palace. If you look right, there is another palace. Your eyes get saturated with one grand building after another. And, did I mention those buildings are squeaky clean? Their pale-colored surfaces shine like gold under the sun.
However, I found the city to be more than a striking beauty. I discovered a city full of life. During that first stroll, we bumped into a film and gastronomic festival. We passed lively markets, terraces full of people eating alfresco and shops full of flowers. Concert venues were scattered around the parks and the Museum Quarter.
It was fun to absorb the festive atmosphere. Plus, it was fascinating to have the opportunity to talk to locals and visitors from all over the world. After all, Vienna ended up being a blast!
I found the action concentrated around the Innere Stadt or Vienna’s Old Town. This part of the city is surrounded by the Ringstrasse. This circular road follows the outline of the former fortification walls. Most of the main attractions, including the Habsburg residence or palace, are located in or around this area.
The distances can be covered by foot or using public transportation such as the tramways or Metro.
The Museum Quarter is one of the premier cultural areas in the world. It has an area of 60,000 square meters and it holds about eight different institutions. The buildings have Baroque (former Imperial Stables) and Modern influence. An entire day can be spent in here.
Maria Threresien Platz
This large square houses two more museums: the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. The buildings are near identical, except for the statuary on their façades.
As the name implies, a huge statue of Empress Maria Theresa (mother of Marie Antoinette, last queen of France) stands in the middle of the square.
This was the former winter palace of the Habsburg rulers and part of it is used as the residence and workplace of the President of Austria.
The magnitude of this palace is beyond the scope of this post. You are going to notice its enourmous size if you visit Vienna. In my opinion, the palace represents the center of the city. It cannot get unnoticed. We saw an exhibition about the Imperial Kitchen (more interesting than how it sounds) and entered the living quarters of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi (Elizabeth). The Spanish Riding School is located in the grounds too.
This square is dominated by the Michaelertor, the entrance gate to Hofburg. Roman and medieval ruins can be seen in the square.
Many carriages congregate at this point.
Note: I took pictures of them but I am not a fan.
It was time to hit one of the pedestrian parts of the city. These streets are full of high end shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries. Indulge a little bit and have some ice cream, chocolate or cake. This was my favorite area to sit down and people watch.
When walking around, it is impossible to miss churches such as St. Peter and St. Stephen (the mother church of Vienna).
A visit to Vienna would not be complete without taking a look at its Opera House.
The institution is one of the busiest opera houses in the world producing 50 to 60 operas per year and ten ballet productions in approximately 300 performances. It is quite common to find a different opera being produced each day of a week. As such, the Opera has 1,000 employees (that is crazy!).
This was my favorite church in Vienna. It is located on the edge of the Old Town and it is surrounded by a park.
I felt like this area is highly visited by locals when compared to other places in the center. Kids were riding bikes, dogs where taking a dip in the fountains and adults were enjoying a bite from a nearby stand.
The Austrian Parliament Building, built in Greek Revival style, is where the two houses of parliament conduct their sessions. We stopped by the building late in the afternoon but we were able to appreciate the straight lines and imposing statues.
This building houses the city hall and Vienna’s mayor office. It is interesting to see the country’s parliament and the city’s main hall located almost next to each other.
The Rathaus is one of Vienna’s most iconic structures and the square in front of it hosts numerous activities. This is where we found the film and gastronomic festival.
The Burgtheater or the Imperial Theater is located across the street.
It was my pleasure to take you around a small part of the Imperial City. Hope you join me in the future in order to discover more of what the city has to offer.
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