Vienna is one of the most elegant cities in Europe, renowned for its beautiful baroque architecture and sprawling palaces.
Sat on the banks of the River Danube, Vienna is a city full of culture that has an incredible musical heritage. In a country that was the birthplace of Mozart, the opportunities to enjoy classical music and operas are unrivalled.
The architecture is stunning too, and enjoying a slice of sachertorte in a Viennese coffee house is one of life’s best experiences.
To help you enjoy Austria’s capital like the locals, this is our insider guide to luxury travel in Vienna.
Why travel to Vienna?
Vienna is a beautiful city to wander through, but there’s also plenty going on beneath the surface. The theatres and concert halls are alive and kicking with opera, ballet, classic and contemporary music. It’s a great city for foodies, offering many options to indulge in a delicious pastry in one of Vienna’s many coffee houses or spend the evenings holed up in a cosy wine tavern. Lastly, those interested in equestrianism will delight in visiting the Spanish Riding School. With Vienna topping the annual Mercer Quality of Life Survey for the ninth year running, the locals clearly think it’s a wonderful place to live, and it’s not hard to see why.
Culture and history
Vienna is a decadent city, whose streets are lined with beautiful palaces and intricate cathedrals. This city owes much of its decadence to the Habsburg Empire, during which it became a centre for the arts, music and science. From the Hofburg Palace which served as the imperial winter residence to the breathtaking Schönbrunn Palace where the Habsburg rulers would spend their summers, Vienna’s history remains visible today.
Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Vienna, but there are many foodie delights to discover in this bustling metropolis. Street stalls serve up piping hot sausages, candle-lit cellar wine bars offer charming ambience and gastro-pubs keep classics like Wiener Schnitzel and goulash alive. Eclectic international food markets such as the Naschmarkt bring a traditional element to Vienna’s food scene, whilst ever-emerging brunch spots are pushing it into the future. Whatever it is you find yourself craving, Vienna’s plethora of eateries cater to almost every taste.
Culture and history go hand in hand with architecture, and in Vienna it’s no different. From classic baroque establishments to 19th-century Art Nouveau buildings, this city is filled with interesting buildings. In the centre of the city, St Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the most important Gothic structures in the country. The intricate multi-coloured tiles on the top of the cathedral are fascinating, with four imposing Gothic towers surrounding the sloping roof. From the Baroque period, the UNESCO World Heritage Schönbrunn Palace is one of Austria’s most important cultural assets. Opulent and home to a wonderfully maintained garden, it’s a don’t-miss for any lover of architecture.
What to do in Vienna
Vienna’s grandeur is evident on every street corner, with impressive palaces sitting neatly alongside contemporary boutiques and elegant cafés. Visiting these opulent buildings is a great way to get a glimpse of the Vienna of a bygone era, and there are plenty to explore. Serving as the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria today, the Hofburg Palace has a fascinating history. For more than 6 centuries, the Hofburg Palace was the main seat and winter residence of the Habsburg Empire until 1918.
Today, you can visit the residential apartments of the penultimate emperor and empress, Franz Josef and Elisabeth (also known as Sisi). The beautifully restored apartments are an accurate representation for what life was like at the centre of a European empire from the 13th to the 19th century. The Sisi Museum focuses on Empress Elisabeth as an individual, while on the ground floor of the apartments the former Court Table and Silver Room embody an era of decadence.
One of Vienna’s most decadent buildings, the Schönbrunn Palace was built under the orders of Emperor Leopold I in 1642 to serve as an imperial hunting lodge for his son. Later, the château grew into a palatial residence over the course of the eighteenth century. It remains as elegant today as ever, and is a great place for families to learn about Austria’s history. Children can play dress up by donning clothes traditionally worn by the imperial family. In the twelve rooms on the ground floor of the palace are all dedicated to getting families engaged in the story of the palace’s 18th century residents.
Perhaps the most famous palace in Vienna, the exquisite Belvedere Palace is a Baroque building set amongst beautifully landscaped gardens. Built by the famous architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrand to be the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy in the 17th century, the Belvedere Palace today houses the greatest collection of Austrian art in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belvedere Palace and Museum houses works dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. A trip to the palace is a must for art lovers, as Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting Kiss (Lovers) is housed here. Other household names also feature here, including Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Beautiful both inside and out, the Belvedere Palace is a stunning example of the grandeur that Vienna has become so famous for.
For a palatial building that isn’t so frequented by tourists, head to the Palace of Justice. A working institution, the Palace of Justice houses Austria’s Supreme Court and many other regional courts. Built from 1875 to 1881, the building’s 19th-century charm is still visible today. Although the outside of the building may pale in comparison to Vienna’s other palaces, the interior is something to behold. An impressive statue of Lady Justice sits atop a staircase fit for a royal, but the real highlight here is the fifth-floor café. The Justizcafe is a canteen that mainly caters for employees working in the courts, but if you drop in for lunch or coffee here, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view over Vienna from the charming balcony.
The feeling of gemütlichkeit is central to the Austrian way of life, expressed in English as a feeling conveying warmth, friendliness and good cheer. There are few better places to find these three things than in the traditional coffee houses of Vienna. During the 19th century, these cafés served as important meeting places for writers, artists, musicians and philosophers. Today, they play host to sophisticated businessmen conducting meetings and travellers wanting to indulge in local delicacies. For an authentic experience of old world Viennese charm, Café Central doesn’t disappoint. Once frequented by regulars such as Leon Trotsky, Arthur Schnitzel and Sigmund Freud, this strudel joint is the perfect place to people watch.
Arts and culture
For those with an interest in equestrianism, Vienna’s Spanish Riding School is a must-see. In existence for an awe-inspiring 450 years, it’s the only place in the world where the classic art of equestrianism is still taught in the Renaissance haute école style. Whilst visiting the Spanish Riding School, travellers can be inspired by the seemingly effortless movements of the Lipizzaner stallions. The architecture is brilliant too, with the decadent Baroque setting and detailed chandelier only adding to the landmark’s opulence.
Aside from the Belvedere Palace, there are many Viennese institutions paying homage to the city’s artistic heritage. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts is one such museum. Built as part of Emperor Franz Josef’s expansion of the city in 1858, the museum intended to bring together the artistic treasures that had been collected by the Habsburgs over the centuries. The museum was finally completed in 1891, and today the collections range from Ancient Egyptian and Greek to Medieval Art to the splendid Baroque and Renaissance period.
Where to stay in Vienna
Hotel Sacher Wien
Located opposite Vienna’s magnificent Opera House, the Hotel Sacher Wien is just as grand as the city it calls home. An elegant belle époque style runs through the hotel, reflecting the Austrian capital’s rich and illustrious history. Old-world charm is evident, with beautiful crystal chandeliers and oil paintings adding to the grandeur. Dining at the hotel is a real treat, with two different restaurants to choose from. The Röte Restaurant is a brilliant place to enjoy the surrounding view, with a conservatory looking out to the Opera House. In the Grüne Restaurant, diners can indulge in more modern, innovative dishes. During your stay here, you can indulge in a spot of local sachertorte at the famous Cafe Sacher or simply unwind in the spa and fitness centre.
A charming boutique hotel in the bohemian Spittelberg quarter, Sans Souci offers both style and substance. The MuseumsQuartier and the Hofburg Palace are both just a few minutes away, so it’s a great place for those interested in Vienna’s cultural scene. The building dates back to 1872, but the interiors are wonderfully modern, so it’s a perfect blend of old and new. Guests can enjoy modern Austrian cuisine at the Veranda restaurant where organic, regional and seasonal produce is the star of the show. For a glass of champagne or a cocktail, Le Bar is the perfect pre-dinner hang out spot. Sans Souci is a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of Vienna, featuring a stunning 20 metre indoor pool complete with crystal chandeliers, a modern fitness room and a fully-equipped spa.
Jacada’s Vienna experiences
Dinner and a concert at Kursalon Wien
In a city that’s famous for its opera, it’s no surprise that one of our favourite Vienna experiences is indulging in dinner and a concert at one of the city’s many opera houses. In the mid-19th century, the impressive Kursalon Wien was constructed and today, it’s one of the city’s best concert halls. The Kursalon houses a restaurant, where you can enjoy outstanding seasonal delicacies amongst a beautiful historic setting. The resident opera company here is the Salonorchester Alt Wien, one of the best-known interpreters of classical music. Presenting works by Mozart and Strauss, this concert offers an evening filled with Viennese charm. Lilting sounds of waltzes, piano concerto melodies and excellent opera vocalists are sure to create a magical evening.
Spanish Riding School experience
It is common knowledge that the Spanish Riding School is a perennial on Vienna itineraries, but our exclusive experience is something that’s not worth missing out on. You’ll get to enjoy a cocktail (or alternative beverage) in the reception room, along with an introduction to the history of the institution and a rehearsal performance. The movement of the Lipizzaner horses is simply unforgettable, as they move in perfect harmony with the soothing music. The Spanish Riding School and its world-famous horses offer the highest standard of horse-riding art in the world, all amongst truly stunning surroundings. Visiting this institution really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fiacre horse carriage ride
A fiacre horse carriage ride through the downtown area of Vienna is one of the most charming ways to explore the city’s attractions. It’s hard to imagine the sprawling cityscape without these horse-drawn carriages, as they appear in almost every district of the city. Adopted from the French, the term ‘fiacre’ originally referred to the horse-drawn carriages sitting on corner of the Parisian Rue de Saint Fiacre. The name ‘fiacre’ made its way over to Vienna in 1720, before which time all carriages in Vienna had been referred to as ‘Janschky’ coaches. A leisurely ride in a horse drawn carriage is a lovely way to explore Vienna whilst feeling as though you’ve travelled back through time.