A journey through the heart of continental Europe isn't complete without a stop in Vienna, Austria's imperial capital. Breathtaking palaces, beautiful architecture, cozy coffee houses, and a vibrant arts atmosphere surround you in this energetic, modern city that hasn't lost its old-world charm.
Vienna embraces its rich and interesting history, told through its stately buildings — many of them bearing the embellishments and impressive designs of the Baroque period. Although you can easily spend weeks exploring Vienna's museums, palaces, restaurants, parks, and other attractions, here are a few you won't want to miss — even if you only have a few days in the city.
A former royal hunting lodge, Schönbrunn Palace was built over a period of several decades in the early 18th century. In 1745, it became the imperial family's official summer residence. The Habsburgs imbued Schönbrunn with splendor and grandeur, creating a 1,441-room palace. Choose the extent of your tour with two ticket options, and enjoy a few hours strolling through the sumptuously decorated and richly furnished rooms. Before you leave, be sure to take a walk through the extensive gardens, featuring a maze, a zoo, and a palm house — along with fantastic views of the palace.
Spanish Riding School
The traditional riding school for Austria's famed Lipizzaner horses, the Spanish Riding School began in 1572 and is the oldest training center of its kind in the world. For centuries, performances were only open to guests of the royal court, but today the school offers public performances and tours to visitors from around the world. Purchase a ticket to see the Lipizzaner horses and riders in action at a morning training session. Alternatively, take a guided tour of the stables, or enjoy a memorable evening of dressage performance in the elegant riding hall, built between 1729 and 1735 by Baroque architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach.
Completed in 1723, Belvedere Palace began as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Designed by famed Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, Belvedere is actually a pair of palaces surrounded by extensive gardens. In 1776, Upper Belvedere became a museum when Maria Theresa and her son Emperor Joseph II moved the Imperial Picture Gallery to the site — and opened the buildings to the public. Since then, Belvedere has welcomed millions of visitors.
The museum houses Austrian art from the Middle Ages through the present, along with representative pieces from international artists such as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. Be sure to check out the museum's extensive Gustave Klimt collection, including his famous painting "Kiss". And enjoy a stroll through Belvedere's beautiful gardens, where you'll find fountains, sculptures, and terraces surrounded by symmetrically designed flowerbeds and green spaces.
Some of the world's most famous classical composers — including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Strauss — spent time in the city, and Vienna still draws excellent musicians from around the world. For a memorable evening, head to the Vienna State Opera, which offers more than 50 operas and ballets per year. Or, see what's on schedule at the Vienna Musikverein, a world-famous venue with some of the best acoustics in the world for symphonic music.
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