Vienna, Austria, beats in time with music. Oftentimes, it is the meter of the 18th and 19th centuries, the classic and romantic era in Western music, that waft through the city’s streets. Occasionally, percussion more commonly found in funk, rock or pop echoes into the night.
Vienna has its share of concert halls, clubs, cafes, trendy bars and pop music venues. Its streets are filled with history and balanced with contemporary vision, be it the fashion spotted on the cobbled stone walks or at markets.
Vienna’s varied and graceful architecture complements its musical soul.
Along the Ringstrasse that circles Vienna, graceful and grand facades loom within manicured gardens inside the old city walls. There are former homes, estates and buildings from the Baroque, Neo-Renaissance and Gothic-Romanesque periods. It’s easy to gaze at the elegant 19th-century palaces, public buildings and residences.
There is the Hofburg Palace, where the Hapsburgs wintered. Vienna was the center of arts and intellect during and long after the reign of the Hapsburgs. The palace is now the official seat of the Austrian president and includes the home of the Spanish Riding School and its Lipizzaner horses.
The Vienna State Opera has a facade adorned by frescoes created to illustrate Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Mozart, the child-genius and influential composer, performed there. More than likely he played in the very rooms as Strauss, Haydn and Schubert, and perhaps Beethoven. At one time or another, all ventured to Vienna, the center of creativity of their time.
The Vienna Boys Choir is one of the oldest boys’ choirs in the world. For nearly 500 years, it has been one of the enduring symbols of the city and the country. The young sopranos and altos still sing mass at the Hofburg Chapel on Sundays, a tradition that started in 1498.
Near the Imperial Palace, there is a supersized courtyard at the center of MuseumsQuartier, one of the largest art and culture complexes in the world. The many courtyards, cafes and shops throughout the area make it an oasis in the middle of the city. Historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, and contemporary museums, form a unique architectural ensemble. Culture oozes from every corner.
Find the Architekturzentrum Wien and the Kunsthalle Wien for architecture and contemporary art. Throughout the year, there are free activities in the outdoor areas; these include dance performances, exhibitions and special seasonal programs, when visitors can become part of the event.
Visiting groups marvel at the architecture, make note of where to return during free time and find their way through the imposing complex to the city streets near the Gothic spires of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Construction of St. Stephen’s began in the 12th century, circa 1355. It is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country and the symbol of Vienna. Severely damaged during World War II, it was rebuilt from rubble within seven years. With 3 million visitors per year, it is the No. 1 attraction in the capital. There are tours of the cathedral and its catacombs, but it is the tour of the north tower that sets St. Stephen’s apart.
The north tower, which rises 446 feet, can be accessed by an express elevator. The Pummerin (the “boomer” bell) and 12 other bells hang there. The roof is made of 230,000 colorful tiles, laid to create the royal and imperial double-headed eagle and Vienna’s coat of arms.
During free time, groups can leave St. Stephen’s to shop. Visitors step into Zara’s to see how different the store would be from the ones back in the states; they are pleasantly surprised at the similarity. Their jaws may drop at the Gucci boutique before collecting gifts at the Gustav Klimt Museum to pack for those at home.
Groups may find their way to Demel, the legendary Viennese pastry shop. Allow time to sip a coffee and enjoy a pastry from the glass display case.
If the group reunites at St. Stephens, a flaker may be returning to its carriage stop just outside the main entrance. Flakers are hackney carriages drawn by two-horses. The length of a carriage ride varies between 20 and 40 minutes.
Historically, flakers were the vehicles of choice for unescorted lovers who wanted to be alone. Today’s flakers are equally discreet.