by Barbara Cação and Diane Naar-Elphee, The Telegraph, March 21, 2018
Visitors to Vienna can expect amazing experiences aplenty, from scoping out the city from St Stephen's Cathedral, and exploring Empress Sisi's old gymnasium in the 600-year-old imperial palace to cruising down the Danube on a luxury sofa. Destination experts, Diane Naar-Elphee and Barbara Cação, share their guide to the best things to do in Vienna.
City Centre (1st district)
Tour the Ringstrasse by tram
Encircling the historic centre like a charm bracelet, Ringstrasse boulevard is studded with Prague's finest architectural gems. Touring Ringstrasse allows first-time visitors to orientate themselves while tracing Vienna's evolution from walled small town to powerful Empire and finally modern green city. Keep a look out for the lavishly stuccoed Museum of Fine Arts and the lush lawns of Heroes' Gate leading to the Hofburg Palace.
Insider's tip: Take the yellow Vienna Ringtram (Wiener Linier) from Schwedenplatz for a 25-minute roundtrip, including multilingual explanations (some travellers seem to find the Viennese dialect version hilarious). They only run every half-hour though, so plan ahead.
Contact: 00 43 1 7909 121; wienerlinien.at
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5.30pm, every full and half hour
Nearest metro: Schwedenplatz
Soak in city views from St Stephen's Cathedral
The highlight is undoubtedly the colourful mosaic roof made from 230,000 glazed tiles, which shimmers just underneath the North Tower's viewing platform. Visitors can best take in the Imperial Eagle mosaics in the North Tower, from Churhausgasse at street level, and from Sky Bar's roof terrace. Try and catch a service here – during these times, gates that might otherwise be closed are swung open for worshippers.
Insider's tip:The North Tower has a lift if the 343 steps up the South Tower are off-putting. If you're visiting at Christmas, attend an advent concert.
Contact: 00 43 515 52 30 54; stephanskirche.at
Opening times: Daily, 6am-10pm; Sun, 7am-10pm. Guided tours in English: Mon-Sat, 10.30am
Nearest metro: Stephansplatz (U1, U3)
Price: Free admission to main cathedral
Explore the imperial palace of Hofburg
The 600-year-old former Habsburg residence today houses a mixture of museums and ministries, a chapel and a library. The most peculiar site is undoubtedly the exercise room of Empress Sisi, a 19th- century fitness pioneer: her wooden gymnastics rings still dangle from a palatial door frame, and visitors can also marvel at her old wall bars. Don't miss the particularly blingy Imperial Treasurey or the striking baroque library (Nationalbibliothek).
Insider's tip: Sneak into Hofburg using a passageway left of Palmenhaus and onto Schweizerhof and Hofburg Chapel to discover its earliest remains. Take lunch at the National Library's canteen (it's cheap and stylish) – or join the locals for summer picnics in Burggarten.
Contact: 00 43 533 75 70; hofburg-wien.at
Opening times: Varies; check website for details
Nearest metro: Herrengasse (U3)
Watch the Lipizzaners perform at the Spanish Riding School
For more than four centuries, the Spanish Riding School has been training its graceful white horses (Lipizzaners) in the classical Renaissance riding tradition, earning the establishment coveted Unesco Cultural Heritage status. Balletic morning exercises (not daily; check before you go) and more elaborate performances take place in splendid baroque settings, to classical music and under glittering chandeliers.
Insider's tip: A guided tour gives visitors an insight into everyday horse training practices, and what it takes to become a member of this prestigious Riding School. During the riding school's Piber meets Vienna performances, which take place every summer, you can see the Lipizzaners graze in the Burggarten (normally in the late afternoon).
Contact: 00 43 533 90 31; srs.at
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 9am-4pm; Fri (if performances), 9am-7pm
Nearest metro: Herrengasse (U3)
Go to a ball
More than 400 formal dances sweep Vienna during 'ball season' every January and February. Balls are an illustrious tradition in Austria – the Ascot of a nation that hasn’t lost the ability to dance. The gatherings have lost little of their champagne-soused pomp, and there are all manner to choose from. The coffee brewers’ ball, which takes place inside the Hofburg, a former imperial residence incised with Corinthian columns and statues of Hercules, is highly recommended.
Insider's tip:In preparation, book a waltz dance lesson in English at one of Vienna’s most traditional ballroom dancing schools, such as Elmayer.
Price: Ball ticket prices vary; ££-£££
Browse the fine art collections at Kunsthistorisches Museum
Beauty, power and drama ooze from the Habsburgs' collection of fine art. While not overwhelming in size, this museum presents a rich and varied menu for Renaissance and Baroque art fans. Imposing statues line the hallway – you might spot a Greek Theseus about to thrust his sword into a centaur perhaps. In the picture gallery, look out for Durer's dazzling 'Young Venetian' woman who softly gazes across the room; in the Kunstkammer visitors will find the world's most lavish salt cellar too.
Insider's tip: Stop at the museum’s sumptuous café underneath the dome. On Thursday evenings, a gourmet dinner is served, followed by a special guided tour. In the summer, relax in one of the museum's arty deckchairs in front of the main entrance.
Contact: 00 43 525 24 0; khm.at
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm; Thur 10am-9pm; Mon (Jun-Aug), 10am-6pm
Nearest metro: Museumsquartier (U2)
Leopoldstadt (2nd district)
Ride the Wiener Riesenrad giant Ferris wheel
A slow whirl on this charmingly old-fashioned Ferris wheel is a must for traditionalists and cineastes alike. Built by British engineers over 100 years ago, the Riesenrad has received a couple of facelifts, including an electronic one to brighten up the night sky. It's been featured in a number of films, including The Third Man, The Living Daylights and Before Sunrise.
Insider's tip: Coincide a ride, which only takes 10 minutes, with a trip to the fabulous Vienna Chocolate Museum right opposite; a must for fans of Sacher Torte, Mozart confectionery and all things chocolate. The museum's chocolate workshop is fun and informative.
Neubau (7th district)
Peruse pop art at Museums Quartier
Vienna's largest museum complex, also known as MQ, is unmissable for modern art fans. Don't miss Schiele's provocative yet vulnerable female nudes, and his self-portraits, which offer a chilling taste of the spiritual abyss that characterised early-20th-century Vienna. Perhaps the most compelling thing about the gallery is how it juxtaposes international pop art and radical Austrian pieces: Warhol's Marilyn seems tame alongside Muehl's installation of body parts scattered on a table cloth.
Insider's tip: MQ's iconic Enzi lounge sofas in the courtyard are a nice place for a rest after traipsing around the gallery. Have your lunch at popular Glacis Beisl tavern, with a lovely outdoor space behind Mumok.
Contact: 00 43 523 58 81; mqw.at
Opening times: Varies; check website
Nearest metro: Museumsquartier
Hietzing (13th district)
Visit the Schönbrunn Palace and one of the world's oldest zoos
The sumptuous, sprawling estate, once the Habsburgs' summer residence, warrants a day in itself, particularly in good weather. Expect richly decorated but cosy rococo rooms in vibrant red and gold. When strolling through the baroque gardens, take in the vistas from Gloriette belvedere, and visit the cute pandas at Vienna's award winning zoo (reportedly the world's oldest).
Insider's tip: The original Tyrolean lodge 'Tirolergarten' next to the zoo is a good spot for lunch. In the summer, cool off at the secluded Schönbrunner Bad's public pool.
Contact: 00 43 811 13 0; schoenbrunn.at
Opening times: Palace and gardens: Daily, 8am-5.30pm (Nov-Mar, 8am-5pm; July-Aug, 8am-6.30pm). Zoo: Daily 9am-5.30pm (Nov-Feb, 9am-5pm; Apr-Sept, 9am-6.30pm)
Nearest metro: Schloss Schönbrunn (U4)
See a puppet show at the historic Marionette Theatre
While the likes of Haydn, Goethe and Schiller appreciated and contributed to Austria's marionette theatre tradition, Vienna's charming rococo marionettes are still a secret for many. Watching a performance is an opportunity to discover a forgotten part of Viennese tradition, and experience a Mozart opera in a different setting. After the show visitors are invited backstage to learn more about the marionettes.
Insider's tip: If you have younger kids, go for one of the children's performances, which include an adaptation of Mozart's Magic Flute. Get the most out of the show by reading a summary of the plot beforehand: there are no English subtitles.
Contact: 00 43 817 32 47; marionettentheater.at
Opening times: Performances on various days including weekends
Nearest metro: Schloss Schönbrunn (U4)
Donaustadt (22nd district)
Cruise Old Danube By Sofa Boat
Hoards of river cruise ships tend to steam along the main river, but the less touristy old Danube also fizzes with exciting activity. It's peppered with colourful weekend lodges, chic restaurants, floating concerts and watersports. The stretch of water has been turned into a tranquil oxbow lake, and outdoor enthusiasts can rent stylish sofa boats, 'paper boats' and e-water bikes - these can be reached via a 'James Bond'-style water shuttles from various metro stations on request.
Insider's tip: If you want to be served lunch or dinner on your travels, go for one of the larger sofa boats with tables. If it's hot, don't forget to pack a swimsuit.
Contact: 00 43 680 55 349 55; meine-insel.at
Opening times: Daily, 10am-11pm, Apr-Sep (reservation essential)
Nearest metro: Alte Donau or Kaisermühlen stations (U1)
This article was written by Barbara Cação and Diane Naar-Elphee from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].