Although Vienna now rules over a country only slightly larger than South Carolina, it still feels like the capital of an empire. The city offers an inexhaustible wealth of architectural grandeur, a rich artistic legacy and some of the finest museums in the world. Today, it has just 1.8 million inhabitants, but the immense Hofburg Palace, seat of the Habsburg imperial dynasty, recalls Vienna’s past as capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most places are within easy reach, and if your legs become weary, there are always the spotless red-and-white trams that constantly trundle around the Ringstrasse, the great circular boulevard that defines the Innere Stadt, or old city. And perhaps only Paris can boast as many delightful cafés.
Vienna’s café scene is justifiably world-renowned, but certain famous institutions, such as Café Central, are now geared entirely for tourists. When we unwind with a glass of wine or a slice of torte and a mélange (cappuccino), we prefer a place where you have at least a chance of seeing residents relaxing with friends or reading a newspaper.
One of my favorites is the wonderfully Old World Café Sperl, with stuccoed ceilings and appealingly worn velvet banquettes, even though its torte selection is limited. I also love the 1950s time capsule of Café Prückel, which has more tempting tortes, and the soaring, barrel-vaulted conservatory of the Palmenhaus, a popular café that originally served as a Victorian-style palm house for the adjacent Hofburg palace.
Memorable Museum Visit
Our favorite part of the Hofburg palace, the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury), opens at 9 a.m., an hour before most other museums in Vienna. If you arrive first thing in the morning, you’re likely to find the exhibits blissfully quiet. But even in high season, these rooms are rarely very crowded. Note that they require a separate ticket from the rest of the Hofburg and are closed Tuesdays.
The impressive Gothic Stephansdom draws big crowds, but few know about the Domschatz (cathedral treasury), which opened a few years ago. After you pass through the main doors of the church, turn immediately to the right and take the elevator up. Beyond a room filled with ornate reliquaries and crucifixes is the cathedral’s organ loft, which has breathtaking views of the entire nave. It is an experience well worth the €6.00 entry fee.