Home to Mozart, Freud, Mahler and Klimt's heritage

Vienna has culture in spades. The capital of Austria is practically drowning in cultural delights from music to art to architecture. But this city on the much-praised Danube river is also a sea of historic calm in today's hectic world.

A city trip to Vienna in Austria is always a good idea. For the delicious mix of culture, food, atmosphere, and of course at Christmas when the city becomes extra atmospheric and cozy. The local name is Wien, in English, the city is called Vienna.

The city has many old buildings. Here you will find all the tips and the best sights for Vienna. These are the must-see attractions of Vienna.

Schönbrunn Palace

The beautiful Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

World-famous Schloss Schönbrunn was built by the House of Habsburg between 1696 and 1712 and is extravagant. Its name means beautiful spring, after a spring on the grounds that provided fresh water to the court. The palace has a rich history. For example, Emperor Franz Joseph was born here, and Mozart played here for Empress Maria Theresa when he was only six. There is a botanic garden on the grounds (with an ornate palm house) and there are stables.

Musik Theater Schönbrunn

There have been concerts at the palace for centuries. At first the were just for the royal residents, but eventually also for visitors and now for tourists. You can book to see performances in the famous palace. These days, there are lots of classical concerts, many composed by Mozart. There is also a renowned puppet theatre at the palace.


This museum is on the Schönbrunn grounds and houses many classic carriages that belonged to the Viennese court. There are more than one hundred carriages, sleds, and litters (ornate carried seats) on display. These include Maria Theresa’s golden carriage, the pram of Napoleon’s sons, and the black hearse of the Viennese court.


The famous Hofburg in Vienna.

The Hofburg is a famous imperial palace in Vienna. When Austria was an empire this palace belonged to Emperor Francis Joseph I and his wife Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who is also known as Sisi. There is a lot to see at the palace, including the New and Old Castles (Neue Burg and Alte Burg), the Imperial Treasury, the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule), the Sisi Museum, the National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), the Swiss Tower (Schweizertor) and the residences of the House of Habsburg.

New Castle

The New Castle, or Neue Burg, houses a number of museums. It includes the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Ephesos Museum (which has many artefacts from a place in Turkey with that name), the Collection of Arms and Armour, the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments, and the Museum of Ethnology. The Neue Burg is located at the Heldenplatz entrance.


The Imperial Treasury Vienna is part of the Museum of Art History. It is home to several different collections of crown jewels that belonged to the Austrian emperors, including the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, which was crafted around 962. There are also other valuables that belonged to the House of Burgundy, and precious items of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This part of the museum is located right near the Hofburg.

Spanish Riding School

The Spanische Hofreitschule is world-famous for its dressage with Lippizaner horses. The school was founded in 1572, making it one of the oldest in the world. You can see the classic style of dressage here, where man and horse almost seem to move as one. The remarkable horses are the result of centuries of breeding with Arabian, Italian and Spanish horse breeds.


The colourful Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna.

This remarkable residential complex was built in Vienna in 1986. It is a concept by the artists Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose actual name was Friedrich Stowasser. The colourful buildings stand out thanks to the large framed sections and purposely uneven lines. It was quite environmentally conscious, especially for its time. For example, they did not use any plastics, and it is very ergonomic in design. The square in front of the building is also designed in Hundertwasser style, as is the walkway across the square. Hundertwasser died on February 19th, 2000. You can find the Hundertwasserhaus at the Kegelgasse 34–38 and Löwengasse 41–43.

Sisi Museum

This museum is dedicated to the life of the empress Elisabeth. It was extensively renovated in 2004 and is part of the Hofburg Palace. Sisi married the emperor Franz Joseph at age 16 and remained quite elusive to many Austrians. Many people at the time felt she was too involved with Hungary and didn’t care enough about Austria. She was murdered in 1898 by an Italian anarchist, after which her popularity increased. The museum shows many items of her clothing, photos, paintings, lots of tableware, film posters, and even her death mask.


The Albertina Museum in Vienna.

The Albertina is a famous museum, but it’s really more a gallery of prints. It’s housed in the famous Habsburg Palace and displays the collection of Duke Albert of Saxen-Teschen. The collection includes more than 60.000 drawings and more than 1 million images including Dürer’s Hare and Hands folded in Prayer.

There are also works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Michelangelo, Rafael, Peter Paul Rubens, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. The print gallery was originally founded in 1776 and located in Presburg in what is now Bratislava (capital of Slovakia). It moved to the Albertinaplatz 1 in Vienna in 1795.

Museum of Art History

This museum includes several buildings, most prominently the main building. It was built between 1872 and 1891. It houses many paintings that once belonged to the House of Habsburg. The palatial rooms of the main buildings show many ancient works, especially from Europe. It has one of the best collections of Flemish and Dutch works, and includes pieces by Vermeer and Jan van Eyck, and the famous Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel (the Elder) from 1563. This museum is located on the Maria-Theresien-Platz.

Imperial Apartments

The lodgings of the House of Habsburg were home to Emperor Franz Joseph at the end of the 19th century. Many of the rooms of the Kaiser Appartementen are open to the public, such as the huge audience room, the private quarters and the richly decorated dining hall. Keep an eye out for the rococo stucco, the crystal chandeliers and the wall tapestries.

Vienna Boys’ Choir

Die Wiener Sängerknaben has an incredibly rich history. It dates back to 1498 and famous composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Bruckner wrote works for it. The choir is lauded around the world for its mixture of voices. The choir has been performing internationally since 1926, and still performs regularly in Vienna, mostly at the Hofburgkapelle.


Karlskirche in Vienna.

This famous baroque church thanks its existence to the plague epidemic of 1713. The emperor at the time, Charles VI, pledged to build a church dedicated to his namesake, patron saint Charles Borromeo, if the city was liberated from the plague. The Austrian Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach was hired to show off the wealth of the House of Habsburg. It was completed in all its beauty by his son Joseph Emanuel in 1739. It’s located at the Karlsplatz.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral has a famous gothic tower that pierces the Vienna sky, possibly the most well-known icon of the city. The church dates back to the middle ages. The Stephansdom has been restored many times, but has retained its remarkable Roman façade. Its interior is also very special. There are many funerary monuments, sculptures and paintings from the middle ages. A lot of the sculptures are by Anton Pilgram, which is special because many of his peers’ work has been lost over the centuries.

Schloss Belvedere

The impressive Schloss Belvedere.

Belvedere actually houses two old palaces, both of these were designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt for the French general Eugene of Savoy. The Untere Belvedere was built between 1714 and 1716, and though it’s smaller than the Obere Belvedere its architecture is no less splendid, the latter was built during 1721–1722.

These days the palaces are museums, boasting many gothic and baroque items. It also has works from the 19th and 20th century, for example that of Gustav Klimt. The two palaces are surrounded by an immense garden.

Vienna Philharmonic

This philharmonic orchestra gained fame thanks to its annual new year’s concerts on television. The Wiener Philharmoniker was founded in 1842 and still performs throughout the year at the Musikverein Wien, as well as Schloss Schönbrun. This orchestra also makes up that of the Vienna State Opera, under the name Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper. The orchestra has an interesting application process: you have to play with the Vienna State Opera’s orchestra for three years, and after that the members of the orchestra decide whether you can then join the Philharmonic.

Wiener Musikverein

This is a concert hall in Vienna, and pretty much the home base of the Vienna Philharmonic. It has a famous hall known as the Grosse Musiksaal. It was completed in baroque style in 1867 and has near-perfect acoustics.

Vienna State Opera House

Vienna State Opera House with the statue of Albrecht van Württemberg in Winter. ©WienTourismus / MAXUM

This building has a bit of a chequered past. The architects August von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll built this opera house between 1861–1869 for the imperial court. These days it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. This wasn’t always the sentiment, though. When it was opened on the 25th of May 1869 with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the building was labelled as having bahnhof architecture: the architecture of a train station! Tragically, this troubled Eduard van der Nüll so much that he took his life soon after. The Wiener Staatsoper has several halls for simultaneous performances.

People’s Opera of Vienna

The People’s Opera of Vienna is the second-largest opera house in Vienna. It was built to commemorate the fiftieth jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. The architects Franz von Krauß and Alexander Graf drew the plans, which are deliberately very different to the Staatsoper. It was opened on the 14th of December 1898, and these days you can also see operettas, musicals and concerts here.

Theater an der Wien

This theatre was opened in 1801 and has a famous history. Emanuel Schikaneder was an impresario, composer, actor and singer who worked on pieces such as Mozart’s Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) from 1791. Schikaneder and his opera company operated in the small Theater auf der Wieden, where The Magic Flute premiered. After the emperor granted him permission, he commissioned the Theater an der Wien in 1798, designed by architect Franz Jäger. The theatre was finished three years later and was immediately praised as being ‘the most lavishly equipped and one of the largest theatres of its age.’ A small part of the original smaller theatre was preserved, including its Papageno Gate, with a sculpture of Schikaneder depicting Papageno in The Magic Flute, a role which he wrote. The sculpture also includes his three children, who also played roles in that opera. You can still see performances in this theatre, which has been renovated since.

Museum of Natural History

The entrance of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

The most famous piece in the Museum of Natural History is the Venus of Willendorf, a fertility statue that is between 24.000 and 22.000 years old: one of the oldest pieces of art in the world. Just like many other objects in the museum, it was found in the surrounding Danube area. The statue is 11,1 centimeters in size and was found in 1908 in the village of Willendorf.

It caused a great stir amongst scientists when they discovered how old it was. The museum also houses objects from the Hallstatt culture, a civilisation from the early Iron Age. Other collections at the Museum of Natural History cover zoology, geology, paleontology (ancient fossils), mineralogy, and anthropology.

Verdun Altar

The majestic Verdun Altar.

Experts say that the Altar of Verdun is one of the most beautiful masterpieces from the middle ages in the world. This altar is made up of 51 enamelled panels, depicting scenes from the old and new testaments. It was designed by the goldsmith Nikolaus of Verdun, hence its name. It has nothing to do with the city of Verdun. The altar is located in the Klosterneuburg monastery, about thirteen kilometers north of Vienna.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn

This zoo is considered to be the oldest zoo in the western world. It was founded in 1752 and is located in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial residence. It was initially created as a menagerie for the emperor Francis I. It’s one of the few zoos in the world where you can see giant pandas.

It was the first zoo in Europe to have a natural birth of a giant panda cub, on the 23rd of November 2007. This zoo is more than 250 years old and has had extensive upgrades, but you can still see many of the original buildings here, combined with modern animal enclosures. They made particularly good use of the natural environment there with deciduous forest and rocky outcrops. You can find this zoo at Schönbrunn Palace.


Experts say that while Mozart lived at this small apartment on the Domgasse, he had particularly productive years. He only lived here between 1784 to 1787, but the small space with a limited view did inspire him to write some of his most famous pieces. These days, the apartments belong to a museum dedicated to the life and works of this famous composer.

Waltz along during Carnival

During the carnival season, or ‘ball season’ (known as Fasching) there are around 100 balls you can attend. You can dress up and spend the whole night dancing the famous Viennese waltz until the early morning. But you can also go to observe the tastefully decorated ballrooms and the many people in their finest attire. The famous opera ball in the Vienna State Opera was first held in 1877 and hosted by Franz Joseph, but there are numerous other balls during this time and you can join in as a tourist as well.

Viennese specialty coffee

Black coffee is called a Schwarzer (‘black one’) in Vienna. There are many kinds of coffee here, which are prepared with things such as powdered sugar, chocolate, orange liquor, etc. There is also a Brauner (‘brown one’) which has milk in it. You can try around 30 kinds of different coffee in Vienna: freshly brewed and full of flavour. Go try one for yourself!

Christmas in Vienna

Celebrating Christmas in Vienna. ©WienTourismus / Claudio Alessandri

There is often snow at Christmastime and there are several markets. The Christkindlmarkt near the town hall has a cosy buzz. As does the Spittelbergmarkt, located near narrow streets and surrounded by Biedermeier houses. It’s in the artists’ quarter and you should join them in drinking a warm cup of glühwein (mulled wine). There are decorations everywhere and the whole city exudes Christmas atmosphere. You could even encounter the Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys’ Choir) singing carols. It’s like stepping into a fairy-tale book. And while you’re there, you should also attend the New Year’s Kaiserball at Hofburg Palace.

Boat tour on the Danube

Most of us will know of this famous river, and you can get to know it even better on a tour boat and see Vienna from the water. No busy roads full of traffic, only the calming sound of water lapping the bow. And that music in the background sounds very familiar…

History of Vienna

Vienna’s history is tumultuous. There have been lots of different rulers, but also incredible growth. The royals of the House of Habsburg played a large part. These days Vienna is a city where you can step back in time, because it seems time has stood still here. It’s a place where geniality and gentleness meet. And you’ll notice the influence of the different eras everywhere: Romance, Gothic and Renaissance.

The city of Vienna has a long and rich history. Scientists have discovered that this part of Austria has been inhabited since 5.000 years BC, but the first real mention of something like a city is around 4.000 BC. The Celts settled along the Danube river, an ideal location for agriculture and stock breeding. They developed Noricum slowly into a larger settlement, though this ‘city-to-be’ was regularly plundered by Germanic people.

The arrival of the Roman empire brought along some peace for the city, and it flourished under the developing Roman culture. The Romans kept the Germanic people at bay. The town was named ‘Vindobona’. It doesn’t play an important role in the Roman empire. But this fertile land kept being a drawcard during several wars, and in the end the Germanic people win. However, in 433 the settlement is entirely destroyed by the Huns. Then there are invasions by the Lombards, followed by the Goths, the Avars and several Slavic groups.

A State Ball in Vienna. ©WienTourismus / MAXUM

Charles the Great

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, played a large part in the history of Vienna. He lead several battles nearby the city between 791 and 797. It was the start of another era of unrest and war, and Vienna belonged to Bavaria for a long time. The Hungarians, in particular, attacked the city several times. There wasn’t much growth during this time. It does seem that it was around this time that the current name for the city originated. In a publication from 881 there is a mention of a battle near ‘Weniam’, which later became ‘Wien’, Vienna’s name in Austrian.

Many history books also mention the Duke of Austria: Henry II, or ‘Heinrich Jasomirgott’. He moved his residence from Klosterneuburg (in Lower Austria) to Vienna in the 12th century. This brings development to the area, and he takes advantage of its strategic position (along an important pilgrim’s route) in the country. The city flourishes. Especially when a later duke, Leopold VI, gave the town city rights, as well as staple rights. This means traveling merchants were obliged to offer their wares to local traders.

But wars keep plaguing Vienna, with serious consequences. For example, duke Frederick II died in a battle with the Hungarians, ending the Babenberg bloodline. This was when the House of Habsburg came into power. But as can be expected from Vienna’s history, their long reign also wasn’t without conflict. This is the time that the Gothic architecture arrived in the city. The battles destroyed many buildings, so lots of them were rebuilt or replaced.

Adversity brings prosperity

It was Archduke Albert V (Albert the Magnanimous) who put Vienna on the map once and for all. He was crowned ‘King of the Romans’ in 1438, slowly turning the city into the centre of the Roman Empire. But it wasn’t until the end of the fifteenth century when Maximilian I was crowned, that the city really flourished. The practice of music, art and science was stimulated and the Renaissance made its entrance. Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy in 1477, heir to The Netherlands and Burgundy. It was a strategic marriage, of which there would be many to follow.

The following centuries were also tumultuous. Just like many other parts of Europe, Vienna struggled with the approaching Turkish empire. But, as is a common thread in history, after hard times, good fortune did return. Thanks to its strategic position and role in the roman empire, the pope, several Italian states and the Spaniards came to Vienna’s aid in 1683. Prince Eugene of Savoy used a big army to push back the Turkish troops. He was also the one who lead the deciding war between Australia and Turkey between 1716 and 1718.

House of Habsburg

After that, there was another time of poverty and death, and another revival of the city. The House of Habsburg acquired Hungary, and large parts of Slovenia and Croatia. Vienna was no longer on the border, but right in the middle of a large state. The city kept growing, though it was not without adversity. The last Roman Emperor, Francis II, decided to unite all of the Habsburg kingdoms and duchies into one Austrian state between 1804 and 1806. He married Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg in 1788, not to be mistaken with Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), who had the same last name but was born in 1837.

Vienna’s history also has an era known as the Age of Heroes (Heldenzeitalter), and statues commemorating these Vienna heroes can still be found throughout the city. For example: Gustav Klimt, Johann Strauss (jr. and sr.), Franz Joseph I, Maximilian I, Ludwig von Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sigmund Freud. It’s clear why Vienna plays such an important role in the history of art, philosophy and music.

Visiting Vienna

You can visit Vienna at any time of year.

  • Spring: Lots of flowers in bloom in and around the city, adding to the ‘sweet’ allure of Vienna.
  • Summer: This is the most popular time to visit, so it’s also the busiest.
  • Autumn: It’s still popular, but less crowded.
  • Winter: The quietest time of the year, except for Christmas and New Year, when the city fills up with people. There will be a chance of snow, which will add an extra dimension to places such as the Schönbrunn Palace.

Be aware!

Despite the many options for attending a concert in Vienna, you do have to book far in advance. Especially in the famous concert halls. So it’s worth booking in advance online.

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