Be charmed by ViennaPosted on: 09 March 2010 by Mark O'haire
When visiting Vienna on a time constrained schedule, it's still possible to explore integral historical and cultural sites in both the arresting old city and beyond.
Vienna is impressive on all accounts. She is a modern metropolis who wears her history on her sleeve. She is a fashionable, bustling city who has managed to maintain her cultural charm.
I’d been to the Austrian capital before, but after spending just under five hours in the city centre, I felt a little undernourished as I hadn’t squeezed in one sight of the imperial city before moving on. So back I came, in the midst of a snow storm to discover what made the city tick, and more importantly, get my culture fix.
When travelling to new cities, I’m convinced you can get a good feel for the surroundings, see the main and major sights and attractions as well as having time to spare for a food stop, all within 48 hours. And Vienna didn’t disappoint.
So given a two-day timeframe for sightseeing, there are four attractions - Naschmarkt, Hofburg, Imperial Treasury and Schloss Schonbrunn - that can portray the Viennese story. These four major points of interest are all within 20 minutes of the main city centre and easily accessible by public transport - the highly reliable and efficient underground system which puts London to shame.
For lunch the first day, head straight to the Naschmarkt, which means snack market. Two isles of outdoor food stalls colour a kilometre long stretch, and the available victuals illustrate the ethnic diversity of the city.
Middle Eastern vendors sell crispy falafel, spicy kebabs and succulent gyros. Greek stalls offer marinated olives, stuffed tomatoes and grape leaves. Such ethnic cuisine peppers the rows of fresh vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, and local Austrian fare.
The Naschmarkt sits just outside the southern portion of the Ringstrasse, which encircles the old city.
Standing amid this colossal complex within the old city, one is surrounded by the Imperial Treasury, National Library, Imperial Apartments, Congress Centre, and the vast Museums Quarter that features everything from art, music and culture to natural history, arms and architecture.
Also part of the Hofburg are the Spanish Riding School, Butterfly House, Imperial Court Chapel where the Vienna Boys Choir sings, plus outdoor plazas, gardens and parks. Touring any of these landmarks gives an insight into the historical prominence of Vienna.
Within the Hofburg, the Imperial Treasury is a choice destination. Simply stated, it is a dizzying collection of jewels, relics and treasures of the Holy Roman Empire. From dazzling gem encrusted crowns, orbs and sceptres to a fantastical unicorn horn and indulgences, the Imperial Treasury is a must see. Hand held audio guides offer an interesting, self paced tour.
Schonbrunn Palace was the summer quarters for the Hapsburg dynasty. The estate is magnificently decorated and offers a glimpse into the lives of the most notable modern rulers, Empress Maria Theresa and her son Emperor Franz Josef II. Schonbrunn Palace is located approximately four miles outside of the city centre and is easily accessible by train, specifically the U-4. The individual audio guide provides attention grabbing stories about Schloss Schonbrunn and the family that lived within her walls.
Belvedere Palace, St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Prater are also must-see’s in-between a break to one of Vienna’s many excellent coffee shops. Famous for its coffee culture., "Let's have a coffee" is a very commonly heard phrase, because despite incursions by Starbucks and Italian-style espresso bars, the Kaffeehauskultur is still the traditional way to drink a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, meet friends, or even fall in love, Viennese-style.
Venture out of Vienna, along the travel loop of the Danube river and you’ll find both Salzburg and Hallstatt equally beautiful. Both are within easy reach by car, train and bus from the Austrian capital.
Heading east, Bratislava (the capital city of Slovakia), is only 50 minutes by train or car away from Vienna. In the past prices were one-fifth of what they are in Vienna but prices have increased since the budget-airlines started flying to Slovakia in the past 5 years and although cheaper, the saving isn’t too drastic.
If you’d prefer something more romantic, you can visit Bratislava on a day-trip from Vienna by taking advantage of one of the many boat’s and cruise liners that sail daily on the Danube to connect the two cities.
By Mark O’Haire
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