Sunday, February 12, 2012

Viennese Waltz

We love staying in Vienna. Whether it’s at the end of a long cycling trip (see the Donauradweg cycle route) or at the start of a new trekking adventure, Vienna offers diversions galore. Vienna is food, is wine, is beauty, and is culture.

Our trips to Vienna often start with an intense planning session in our hotel room. Where have we been, where haven’t we been, and where shall we wander. We try to include as many sights as possible, although sometimes we still don’t have enough time to see everything!

The Spanish Riding School is one of the oldest dressage schools in the world. Sure, it’s a bit pricy, but the elegance of watching horses trot in complex patterns, jump over gates and barriers, and generally be controlled by expert hands is a pleasure in itself. Not to mention the architecture. Book well in advance, however, as tickets are sold out very quickly.

Schönbrunn Palace and the zoo accompanying it are classic Baroque marvels that can take all day to explore. You mustn’t miss a tour of the residence and the chance to admire the opulent surroundings. We loved the Tirolian gardens there and nearly became lost. Fortunately, we stumbled across one of Vienna’s big secrets: a surprisingly good puppet show hidden near the back of the gardens. The zoo has everything a zoo could want: pandas, giraffes, and thousands of butterflies. The Borneo exhibition is always worth a look, although it does get very warm in there.

Vienna’s Ringstrauss (ring boulevard) is an awe-inspiring piece of architecture. Around four miles long, it circles the city center like a set of walls; indeed that’s where the city walls were until they were torn down in 1857. For a lovely walk, start at your hotel and follow the boulevard around. On the way, you’ll encounter the State Opera House, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Austrian Parliament.

If it’s food you want, we would recommend the sublime Hotel Sacher in Philharmonikerstrasse. It’s the ultimate in Viennese cooking. If you’re after something less pricy, try the M Lounge in Hermanngasse or the Restaurant Der Kuckuck in Himmelpfortgasse. Both are excellent restaurants serving great Austrian food. We felt the M Lounge was very cheap for the food it offered, and we were surprised it wasn’t full when we went there after our epic cycling trip.

Finally, you must visit Vienna’s historic center. It’s like looking at an old photo of how city centers used to look and then realizing you’re in the present. Vienna has so much to offer every visitor, from great zimmers, apartments, and hotels, to delicious food, great coffee, and amazing attractions.

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