Vienna by heart
Stallions, silver, strudel… Vienna’s muscular architecture belies the sweetness of a city with something for everyone.
Looking down into the Kunsthistorisches Museum cafe.
The magnificent Kunsthistorisches Museum is said to be one of the best art galleries in the world. Under-19s get free entry (this is one way to grow a culture-loving population) and inside there are old masters and piles of Habsburg treasures.
Book ahead for the gourmet evening on Thursdays, when the museum is open until 9pm. Feast on the world’s largest collection of Bruegels between courses, with a Belgian chocolate fountain to finish. The restaurant and cafe – in the museum’s Cupola Hall – is a fine place to take a break from gallery gallivanting any time.
The Habsburgs of Wien
Of the many palaces and museums of Vienna that celebrate the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I, my pick is the Sisi Museum and adjoining Imperial Apartments of the Hofburg right in the heart of the city.
An excellent audio guide begins with a tour of the gobsmacking Silver Collection and then tells the story of Empress Elisabeth’s (Sisi) life as you walk through the apartments. From her exercise room to the hard-working emperor’s audience chamber, it’s completely fascinating.
The Empress Elisabeth's private apartments in the Hofburg Palace.
PHOTO: Vienna Tourist Board/Austrian National Tourist Office
A portrait of Empress Elisabeth.
Wheels, wings and hooves
The Wiener Riesenrad is one of the world’s oldest ferris wheels, with superb views from its slowly rotating enclosed gondolas. It’s not to be missed (in more ways than one: you can see it from all over Vienna). The wheel rises up from the famous Prater, a public park with free entry and a fun fair. Away from the dodgems and back in the old town is Schmetterling Haus, a giant, humid butterfly palace.
Around the corner is the famous Spanish Riding School with its gleaming, snorting Lipizzaner stallions. Take a guided tour, book well in advance for a show or hang out in the lane where the horses cross back to their stables and see them for free. We saw ‘A Tribute to Vienna’, the riding school and the Vienna Boys’ Choir on the same bill. It was unforgettable.
The cake trail
Everyone has a favourite cafe in this city of coffee houses and cake. Cafe Eiles is popular with artists and writers. Renowned author Lily Brett says: “The topfenstrudel here is always my downfall. On the first day, I think the slice is enormous. By the third day, I have decided that it is quite a small serving and I need two.”
I also recommend the spinach and rosti at Eiles, and don’t miss Cafe Demel, Viennese confectioners since 1786. Head inside and find a tiny table to try their sachertorte and excellent coffee, and linger in the shop, a veritable jewellery store of sugary creations.