Vienna: A First-Person Guide

I always pictured Vienna, Austria as the place where old, stodgy folks traveled to listen to long-winded operas and talk about old wartime devastation of Europe.  Admittedly, Vienna is more sedate than some of its neighboring capitals, but it still offers a bunch of fun things for action-minded travelers.

Stephansdom Quarter

We arrived by train and took a solid-looking Mercedes right to the door of our hotel, the Wandl, next to St. Peter’s Church in the Stephansdom Quarter. Peterskirche is jammed into a small square – its copper dome looks like a bull in china shop. It is modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome and the interior makes similar attempts at being lavish. The pulpit is especially glorious.

Hofburg Quarter

We walked down Graben street, people watching and enjoying monuments, until we hooked a left on Kohl Markt toward the Michaelerplatz. The square is an oddity – the excavations of the Roman garrison gape open in the middle of the plaza while the Hofburg complex hugs the western side. The plain-jane Loos Haus anchors the northeast corner and Michaelerkirche reigns on the southeast corner. The square is filled with horse-drawn carriages toting gullible tourists around town.

Schottenring & Alsergrund

The 19th-century Votivkirche is the most notable sight in this part of town. The two imposing spires reach to the heavens and give this Gothic church real credence. Apparently a deranged tailor tried to assassinate Emperor Franz Joseph in the mid-1800s on this site. After the bumbled attempt, funds were collected to build a church here.

Townhall & Museum Quarter

The Townhall and Museum Quarter seems very regimented, with imposing buildings arranged squarely around plazas and parks.

Anchoring each side of Maria-Theresia-Platz is the Kunsthistoriches Museum and the Natural History Museum. Across the street on Messeplatz is the Museum Quarter, which will soon accommodate the collections of the Museum of Modern Art including works by Gustav Klimt (think The Kiss).

opera & Naschmarkt

The Staatsoper, or Opera House is the prize in this motley neighborhood. Opened in 1869, the building represents the cultural profundity of Vienna. Architecturally, the exterior columns of the Neo-Renaissance edifice exude strength while the bronze statues of Love, Humor, Fantasy, Drama and Heroism provide artistic expression. The interior is worth raving about as well. The Grand Staircase lives up to its name and the Schwind Foyer is superb.

belvedere Quarter

This neighborhood is sprawling, grandiose and for the most part, serene.  One is reminded of the imperial European era.  Be prepared to do quite a bit of walking to see it all.

Most people go straight to the palaces and gardens of the Belvedere. Yes, we saw all that, but there are some other hidden gems worth seeking out and exploring.  Odd nooks and tiny museums can be found after some moderate exploration.