When you enter downtown Vienna, you will be awestruck. You walk past opulent palaces and magnificent gardens, and you can't resist exclaiming, "Is this real life?"
Move over Paris, Rome and London; there is a new cultural capital in Europe - Vienna. Eight years in a row, a reputed HR consulting firm has selected Vienna as the most 'Livable City' in the world. There are multiple reasons why Vienna has won this accolade numerous times...
Not only is Vienna steeped in tradition, with its past well preserved, it also has a thriving contemporary art and culture scene. Vienna's magnificent history is visible even today in the plethora of well-preserved palaces, museums of masterpieces, churches and majestic coffeehouses. If you're not convinced of Vienna's cultural legacy, you will be, when you learn that many brilliant artistic talents, including Beethoven, Schubert, Straus, Gustav Klimt and Mozart, have lived here.
Vienna also has the perfect mix of quaint cafs, trendy bars, restaurants, vibrant street markets and entertaining music festivals.
So, it has a never-ending list of things to do. Here are some of the things you can do in Vienna on a two-day itinerary.
Hofburg Palace, Liechtenstein Palace, Belvedere Palace or Schnbrunn Palace? Where do you start? There's a palace for every preference. In Vienna, you will be spoilt for choice. I suggest you begin with the city palace, Hofburg Palace, in downtown Vienna.
The picturesque Hofburg Palace is the former imperial palace of the Habsburgs, (one of the most influential royal houses of Europe) and the current official residence of the president of Austria. Inside the palace are the Spanish Riding School, The National Library and the Sisi Museum.
If you have more time, go for a show at the Spanish Riding School to see trained horses perform.
Walking around the palace, (the area is known as Ringstrasse, one of the most magnificent boulevards in the world) you will also see the Austrian Parliament Building, the Vienna State Opera, the University of Vienna, and the MuseumsQuartier. The MuseumsQuartier is the centre of Viennese cultural life with numerous museums, cafs, restaurants and bars. If you're interested in the magnificent art collection of the House of Habsburg, go to the beautiful neo-classical domed building, the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
If you prefer contemporary art, visit MUMOK, which has an impressive array of risqu and avant-garde works of modern artists.
After the museums, make your way to Stephansplatz, the square at the geographical centre of Vienna, to see St Stephen's Cathedral. Distinctive with its chevron-patterned (tiles laid out in a V pattern) roof and impressive church interiors, it is considered to be the most important landmark of Austria.
Don't miss one of the best views of Vienna by taking an elevator to the top of St Stephen's Cathedral. If you have time before exploring Vienna's nightlife, visit the Liechtenstein Garden Palace for its spectacular gardens, beautiful architecture and stunning works of art.
Day Two in Vienna begins with a sojourn at the UNESCO-listed summer palace, the Schnbrunn Palace.
This palace, with its Baroque architecture, French-style gardens, the world's oldest zoo, and spectacular city views, is the former summer residence of the Imperial Habsburg family.
We had a 4 pm tour of the palace, so we had a few hours to unwind. We chose to join the Viennese and have a picnic lunch in the city palace gardens. After a divine nap on the grass, we made our way back to the Schnbrunn Palace, via the U-Bahn (Vienna's primary public transport).
I suggest doing the complete tour of the palace, as well as taking a walk in the palace gardens. Forty of the total 1,441 ornate rooms are open to the public. The tour of the palace gives insight into the lavish life of the Habsburg family. One of the rooms open to the public is where Mozart first performed for the Habsburg family.
The Schnbrunn Palace gardens are beautifully laid out. There is a building at the end of the palace gardens known as the gloriette, which offers a beautiful view of the palace grounds and the city of Vienna. The gloriette also has a caf, which served the best apple strudel with vanilla custard I've ever had!
After the Schnbrunn Palace, continue your trip to visit the stunning Belvedere Palace. This building complex consists of two palaces (Upper and Lower Belvedere), and the Belvedere Museum. An extensive garden, tiered fountains and sculptures connect the two palaces. Take a quick tour of the Upper Belvedere Palace and the museum to see the impressive Austrian art collections. Don't miss Gustav Klimt's works such as The Kiss, the famous painting of lovers embracing in a field of flowers. End the sightseeing with the Riesenrad Ferris wheel, which is similar to the London Eye, for a spectacular view of Vienna.
If you have more time, go for a free walking tour of Vienna, or take a bike tour around the Wachau Valley, a beautiful hilly region near the Danube, west of Vienna.
The Viennese appreciate the finer things in life. This is reflected in their luxurious coffeehouses serving scrumptious cakes, restaurants showcasing traditional and innovative cuisines, vineyards, wine bars and taverns. Vienna is where the caf society was invented.
The Viennese have refined the art of relaxing over coffee and cake. Stop over in Naschmarkt, the biggest daily market in Vienna with Austrian and international food stalls. Grab Austrian comfort food - pumpkin soup, wiener schnitzel (pan-fried veal cutlet, one of the national dishes of Austria), sausages, strawberry rhubarb strudel, and the divine Sacher Torte at one of the traditional Austrian restaurants or coffeehouses. You can't leave Vienna without enjoying its thriving nightlife. Get drinks in the upcoming Grtel neighbourhood with numerous pubs, live performances and clubs.
Your first trip to Vienna will only be the tip of an iceberg. On every visit, Vienna shows you just enough, to be content, but to begin longing to be back for more.