Listening to Mozart: It is said that at any time of the day or night in Vienna, someone somewhere is playing the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You might hear it at an opera house, a church, a festival, an open-air concert, or, more romantically, performed by a Hungarian orchestra in a Belle Epoque cafe. Regardless, "the sound of music" drifting through Vienna is likely to be the creation of this prodigious genius.
Cruising the Danube (Donau)
Johann Strauss used a bit of poetic license when he called the Donau "The Blue Danube" -- it's actually a muddy green. Cruising the river is nevertheless a highlight of any Viennese vacation. Worm & Koeck Donau Schiffahrt GmbH (tel. 0732/783607; www.donauschiffahrt.de) offers 1-day trips with cruises priced for most budgets. While on board, you'll pass some of the most famous sights in eastern Austria, including towns like Krems and Melk.
Watching the Lipizzaner Stallions
Nothing evokes the heyday of imperial Vienna more than the Spanish Riding School (tel. 01/533-9032; www.srs.at). Here, the sleek white stallions and their expert riders demonstrate the classic art of dressage in choreographed leaps and bounds. The stallions, a crossbreed of Spanish thoroughbreds and Karst horses, are the finest equestrian performers on earth. Riders wear black bicorn hats with doeskin breeches and brass buttons. The public is admitted to watch; make reservations 6 to 8 weeks in advance.
Heurigen Hopping in the Vienna Woods
Heurigen are rustic wine taverns that celebrate the arrival of each year's new wine (heurig) by placing a pine branch over the door. The Viennese rush to the taverns to drink the new local wines and feast on country buffets. Some heurigen have garden tables with panoramic views of the Danube Valley; others provide shaded, centuries-old courtyards where revelers enjoy live folk music. Try the red wines from Vöslau, the sylvaner of Grinzing, or the Riesling of Nussberg.
Feasting on Tafelspitz, "The Emperor's Dish"
No Austrian dish is more typical than the fabled tafelspitz favored by Emperor Franz Joseph. Boiled beef sounds dull, but tafelspitz is far from bland. A tender delicacy, the "table end" cut absorbs a variety of flavors, including juniper berries, celery root, and onions. Apple-and-horseradish sauce further enlivens the dish, which is usually served with fried grated potatoes. For Vienna's best tafelspitz, try the Sacher Hotel Restaurant, in the Hotel Sacher Wien (tel. 01/514560).
Revisiting the Habsburgs
One of the great dynastic ruling families of Europe, the Habsburgs ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire from their imperial court in Vienna. You can still witness their grandeur as you stroll through the Inner City. The Hofburg, the family's winter palace, is a living architectural textbook, dating from 1279. Also be sure to visit Schönbrunn, the sprawling summer palace, which lies on the outskirts of the city and boasts magnificent gardens.
Biking Along the Danube
A riverside bike trail between Vienna and Naarn links scenic villages, including Melk and Dürnstein. As you pedal along, you'll pass castles of yesteryear, medieval towns, and latticed vineyards. Route maps are available at the Vienna Tourist Office, and you can rent bikes at the ferry or train stations.
Attending an Auction at Dorotheum
Vienna is a treasure trove of art and antiques, and as many estates break up, much of it goes on sale. The main venue for art and antiques is the state-owned auction house Dorotheum, Dorotheergasse 17 (tel. 01/51560-0). Founded in 1707, it remains one of the great European depositories of objets d'art. Items here are likely to be expensive; if you're looking for something more affordable, try the summer Saturday and Sunday outdoor art and antiques market along the Danube Canal (between Schwedenbrücke and Salztorbrücke).
Savoring the Legendary Sachertorte
Café Demel (tel. 01/535-1717), the most famous cafe in Vienna, has a long-standing feud with the Sacher Hotel Restaurant, in the Hotel Sacher Wien (tel. 01/514560), over who has the right to sell the legendary and original Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam. In 1965, a court ruled in favor of Hotel Sacher, but Demel still claims that the chef who invented the torte brought "the original recipe" with him when he left the Sacher to work for Demel.
Unwinding in a Viennese Coffeehouse
The coffeehouse still flourishes here in its most perfect form. You can spend hours reading newspapers (supplied free), writing memoirs, or planning the rest of your stay in Vienna. And, of course, there's the coffee, prepared 20 to 30 different ways, from weissen ohne (with milk) to mocca gespritzt (black with a shot of rum or brandy). A glass of ice-cold water always accompanies a cup of coffee in Vienna, as well as the world's most delectable pastry or slice of cake.
Strolling the Kärntnerstrasse
Lying at the heart of Viennese life is the bustling, pedestrian-only Kärntnerstrasse. From morning to night, shoppers parade along the merchandise-laden boulevard; street performers, including musicians and magicians, are always out to amuse. For a break, retreat to one of the cafe terraces for some of the best people-watching in Vienna.
Playing at the Prater
Ever since Emperor Joseph II opened the Prater to the public in the 18th century, the Viennese have flocked to the park for summer fun. The Prater has abundant tree-lined paths on which to jog or stroll (the Viennese, in general, are much fonder of strolling). The amusement park boasts a looming Ferris wheel that was immortalized in the Orson Welles film The Third Man. Open-air cafes line the park, which also provides an array of sports facilities, including tennis courts and a golf course.
Enjoying a Night at the Opera
Nothing is more Viennese than dressing up and heading to the Staatsoper, one of the world's greatest opera houses, where ascending the grand marble staircase is almost as exhilarating as the show. Built in the 1860s, the Staatsoper suffered severe damage during World War II. It reopened in 1955 with a production of Beethoven's Fidelio, marking Austria's independence from occupation. Both Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler directed here, and the world's most renowned opera stars continue to perform, accompanied, of course, by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Hearing the Vienna Boys' Choir
In this city steeped in musical traditions and institutions, one group has distinguished itself among all others: the Vienna Boys' Choir, or Wiener Sängerknaben. Created by that great patron of the arts, Maximilian I, in 1498, the choir still performs Masses by Mozart and Haydn at the Hofburgkapelle on Sundays and holidays from September through June.
Discovering the Majesty of St. Stephan's Cathedral
Crowned by a 137m (450-ft.) steeple, Dompfarre St. Stephan, Vienna's cathedral, is one of Europe's great Gothic structures. Albert Stifter, the acclaimed Austrian writer, wrote that its "sheer beauty lifts the spirit." The cathedral's vast tiled roof is exactly twice the height of its walls. Intricate altarpieces, stone canopies, and masterful Gothic sculptures are just some of the treasures that lie within. Climb the spiral steps to the South Tower for a panoramic view of the city.
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