Welcome to Vienna, the City of Emperors. Vienna is the capital of Austria, a German-speaking country situated partly in the Alps and fully at the heart of Central Europe. Vienna has long been recognized by historians and tourists as the gateway between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. A wonderful city to enjoy, relax and spend time in one of the historic Vienna hotels.
Vienna was once the imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Reminders of its grandiose past abound, from the Hofburg Palace to some amazing pieces of public art - most Vienna tours focus on this period of the city's history.
Vienna's past importance as the seat of the Hapsburgs also mean that its inhabitants tend to be well mannered, even courtly. It's still traditional to while away an afternoon in a coffee house, reading the newspaper and indulging in a pastry or two. If you're saving yourself for dinner, try traditional Viennese cuisine in one of Vienna's many elegant restaurants.
Vienna's history can be traced as far back as the Celtic times, but its most prosperous period was during the rule of the Hapsburg empire, from the 15 th to the 19 th centuries. The Hapsburgs' legacy is still present today in many of Vienna's buildings and traditions.
Among Vienna's many royal palaces and residences are Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg, and the Belvedere. Built to resemble France's Versailles Palace, Schönbrunn Palace is one of Vienna's most spectacular buildings and one of the city's leading tourist attractions. The palace was once the home of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and mother of Marie Antoinette. Within the palace grounds are well-manicured gardens, a maze, a Palm House with an impressive collection of exotic plants, a zoo, and a Coach Museum that houses the royal coaches and sedan cars.
Another of the Hapsburgs' contributions to Viennese culture is the Spanish Riding School, home of the famous Lippizzaner Stallions. The Spanish Riding School is housed within the expansive Hofburg complex and includes a museum, stables, and an exquisite performance arena.
Encircling Vienna's city center is the Ringstrasse, a grand boulevard lined with museums, churches, shops, and cafés. "The Ring" separates the Stephansdom and Hofburg Quarters from the suburbs.
Vienna is well-known for its musical heritage. The Vienna Opera House is one of the world's most renowned musical venues. The Vienna Boys Choir is a time-honored Austrian institution, founded in the 15th century by the Hapsburgs. The Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert, featuring the music of Strauss, Mozart, and their contemporaries, is the hottest ticket in town. The concert has gained popularity since its first performance in 1939 and is now broadcast in over 50 countries. Tickets sell out years in advance.
The Prater Park provides visitors with a more laid back type of amusement. The Prater is one of Europe's largest funfairs, complete with rides, games, food stands, and beer gardens. The park's most famous landmark is its giant Ferris Wheel, which provides riders with spectacular views of the park and its surroundings.
Vienna has an active coffee culture, and there are many coffee houses to choose from. Lovers of a different type of brew have a number of Austrian beers to choose from at any of the city's beer halls. Vienna is known for several culinary specialties, such as the Vienna sausage (or frankfurter ); Wiener Schnitzel; apple strudel; and the Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake served at the famous Sacher Hotel.
Vienna's main center is best explored on foot, but the city also has an underground system called the U-Bahn as well as trams, buses, trains, and even horse-drawn carriages.
The city of Vienna is divided into 23 districts. The first district, also known as the inner city, is the oldest and grandest part of Vienna. It encompasses the Old and New Palaces, the great museums, the National Opera, and the city cathedral. Many streets in the inner city have been permanently closed to vehicle traffic, turning it into a large pedestrian zone. Open-air cafes and quaint shops abound among the Gothic architecture and cultural institutions.
The inner city is encircled by the Ring, a boulevard lined with shade trees and broad sidewalks. Bicycle lanes run along the edge of the Ring and streetcars down its center, making it easy to travel the perimeter of the old city. Walking the Ring will take you at least half a day, even without detours into the many splendid streets and plazas that open from it. Also lining the edge of the Ring are the Palace Garden, the People's Garden, the National Parliament, and City Hall.
Park and Canal
Lying on the quietest segment of the Ring is Vienna's City Park, a modest urban oasis hemmed in by two theaters, one museum, and a small train station. The park is divided in two by a tributary of the Vienna Canal. You can follow this short span of water to the Canal itself. At the corner is the Urania, an astronomical observatory and movie theater. Walk around the front of the Urania and you will find yourself in the bustling pedestrian area of the Franz Joseph Quay. In the middle of the quay, you can turn away from the canal and walk back into the core of the inner city.
Separating the traditional Viennese neighborhoods from its newer suburbs is the New Danube, a heavily embanked portion of the Danube River. In the middle of the river is the Danube Island, a long, manicured piece of turf criss-crossed with asphalt trails and dotted with gravel beaches. The island is so spacious that even on the brightest summer day, it is never crowded by the hikers, cyclists, inline skaters, and sunbathers who flock to it. Opposite the island is the modern United Nations complex, featuring the tallest buildings in Vienna. A short walk beyond the United Nations are the shaded lagoons of the Old Danube, where you can rent a small boat and paddle among the swans.
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