Vienna is one of the most cultured cities in Europe, with history, architecture, cleanliness, and etiquette all at it's forefront. Even their coffee culture is totally civilized and elegant. Like Café Landtmann, Café Central, Café Sperl are all meeting places for conversation and gossip for generations. Lingering over coffee at Café Sacher or Demel; there is usually a sweet near by to get your attention. The fact is, Viennese coffee houses were added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
Viennese history is easily accessible on foot, because the center of the city is within a ring…actually the Ringstrasse, which keeps you from getting lost. There are days’ worth exploration with Grand Palaces, State Opera, museums galore, as well as large and small neighborhood churches. There are twelve churches within the ring including St Peters, St Stephens, Michaelskirche, and the Capuchin Church and Monastery with the Imperial Crypt below. And Karlskirche is just across the Ringstrasse, a Baroque church on the south side of Karlsplatz, this magnificent church has a special panoramic lift to show the frescoed dome up close and well worth the time. Walking through the old town of Vienna is inspiring. You can literally walk through Hofburg Palace passage where the Spanish Riding School and those magnificent equine ballet stars perform. The Lipizzaner stallions are in view from their stables. These showy horses know how to wrangle an audiences and stick their heads out asking for more attention.
Vienna is known for their glorious ball season, what could be more cultured and elegant then whirling to the melody of Schubert or Mozart? This is very serious for the Viennese. Every school child knows how to waltz, it is part of the school curriculum! For those of you who would like a brush up there are several places to schedule a class or even pop in for an hour. On a trip to Vienna I was semi-dragged to lessons at Elmayer School which opened in 1919. Seriously, within minutes I was twirling and dipping with wide open arms and keeping my elbows parallel to the floor. It had nothing to do with my two left feet and everything to do with my instructor partner. Vienna’s national religion is the waltz and Thomas Schafer-Elmayer is considered to be the Pope. To put another point on this, you can go to the Austrian Embassy in Washington DC for Waltz lessons at 7 pm most weeks.
There is a very modern side of Vienna too. The Museum Quarter, DC Tower 1, Wien Mitte and the Vienna University Learning Centre….. but it is the romantic gentler period of the Hapsburg capital that inspires me. Architecture from baroque to art-nouveau, like the buildings across from the Naschmarkt to the neo-classical that is viewed at almost every turn. A favorite of mine is the Secession, a first in the upcoming modern movement in 1898. The locals call it the golden cabbage, because of its golden laurel leaf dome. But the detail of the building’s exterior art rises to match the interior.
What I really like about Vienna is that with all its highbrow culture, all the locals go to traditional restaurants, they are filled with locals and a few tourists too. One of my absolute favorites, is dining at Figlmüller “Home of the Schnitzel”. Since 1905 they have been serving guests the best local cuisine in a casual country tavern in the middle of the old city. I have never missed going there when in Vienna. Portion sizes are still made for a farmer that has worked all day in the fields, huge. It probably took me 20 visits before I realized they happily served half portions. You need "to walk" after a dinner here and perhaps that is why the Viennese waltz is four times faster than the typical ballroom waltz, you need to work off those schnitzel calories!
Figlmüller family now have six locations but, my favorite is the original right behind St. Stephen Cathedral.
Also do not miss:
Trzesniewski at Dorotheergasse 1