Vienna Introduction Walking Tour I, Vienna

Vienna Introduction Walking Tour I (Self Guided), Vienna

A city of green parks, opulent architecture and elegant shopping, crowded theatres and boulevards for leisurely sauntering—Vienna is rightfully regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The etymology of its name is subject to a debate in which some say it comes from vedunia ("forest stream"), which subsequently produced the Old High German “uuenia” (“wenia”), the New High German “wien” and its dialectal variant “wean”.

In the course of centuries Vienna has undergone numerous historical incarnations. By 1437, it had become the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and, in 1440, the resident city of the Habsburg dynasty. Imperial city since 1558, first as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, then, from 1804, of the Austrian Empire, and finally, from 1806 until 1918, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna briefly lost its capital status during the Anschluss (Unification) with Nazi Germany in 1938-1945, but then regained it in 1955, after Austria had reestablished its sovereignty.

For centuries Vienna has been a center of culture and modernism, harboring people of arts and science including, among others, Gustav Klimt (Secession movement in art), Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis), and Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos (architecture). Musical luminaries like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Johann Strauss father and son, to mention but a few, have all worked in Vienna, playing a pivotal role in establishing its long tradition in theater, opera, and classical music.

The historic center of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, such as those in Ringstrasse, aka the Ring. In 2001, Vienna's city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Viennese Lebenskunst (“art of living”) has survived changing rulers and times, enabling to live in Vienna at almost the same pace and in much the same style as centuries ago: listening to the same music in the same rebuilt concert halls, drinking the same sourish wines and consuming the same whipped cream at Demel’s, or sampling the same infinite varieties of coffee in countless cafes. It is even possible, on festive occasions, to ride in a traditional fiacre, the two-horse carriage driven by a bowler-hatted coachman.

As the world's number-one destination for international congresses and conventions, Vienna attracts annually over 6.8 million tourists. The least spoiled among great European capitals, downtown Vienna is easily manageable by foot. To acquaint yourself with some of its most interesting sights, take this self-guided introduction walk.
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Vienna Introduction Walking Tour I Map

Guide Name: Vienna Introduction Walking Tour I
Guide Location: Austria » Vienna (See other walking tours in Vienna)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Rathaus (City Hall)
  • Rathausplatz and Park
  • Volksgarten (People's Garden)
  • Neue Burg (New Palace)
  • Spanish Riding School
  • Hofburg Imperial Palace
  • Michaelerplatz
  • Demel
  • Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)
  • Graben Street
  • Stephansplatz (St. Stephen's Square)
Rathaus (City Hall)

1) Rathaus (City Hall) (must see)

The Vienna City Hall, known as the Wiener Rathaus, serves as the administrative headquarters for the local municipal government and the legislative assembly of Vienna, referred to as the Landtag. This impressive complex was built between 1872 and 1883 and was designed by an architect named Friedrich von Schmidt. A statue of Schmidt can be seen right behind the City Hall in Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz.

The building's facade is lavishly adorned and stands as a remarkable example of neo-Gothic architecture, taking inspiration from medieval structures in Flemish and Brabant styles. Its exterior boasts five towers, with the tallest one situated in the center, soaring to a height of 98 meters (about 322 feet).

The main tower of Vienna's City Hall features the iconic 3.4-meter "Rathausmann" iron statue installed in 1882. Climbing 331 steps rewards visitors with a stunning panoramic city view. Inside, the historic "Wiener Rathauskeller" restaurant serves traditional Viennese dishes in Baroque style. The City Hall is surrounded by Rathauspark.

The upper part of the building's facade features numerous sculptures and reliefs. Among these are three equestrian high reliefs depicting Franz Joseph I in the center, Rudolf III on the right, and Rudolf IV on the left. Flanking the main entrance are statues representing Power and Justice, with a portrait head of Friedrich Schmidt in the keystone, accompanied by his collaborators, Franz von Neumann and Viktor Luntz.

In the front parapet's center, there's an allegorical representation of Vienna, called Vindobona, flanked by standard-bearers displaying Vienna and Austro-Hungarian monarchy coats of arms. Nearby stand 18 statues of soldiers from different historical eras, alongside shield bearers with Vienna suburb (e.g., St. Ulrich and Rossau) and 12 crown lands (e.g., Carinthia, Tyrol, Salzburg, Upper Austria, Styria, Lower Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Carniola, Galicia, and Bukovina) coats of arms.

At the rear of the building, in the center, there is another statue of Vindobona, flanked by four allegorical figures: Justice, Strength, Art, and Science on the right, and Wisdom, Faithfulness, Education, and Charity on the left.

The City Hall's side facades showcase statues representing diverse professions. On Lichtenfelsgasse, you'll see figures like a carpenter, mechanic, goldsmith, musician, sculptor, master builder, painter, armorer, blacksmith, and shoemaker. Facing Felderstraße, statues represent a tailor, cloth maker, merchant, book printer, legal scholar, doctor, innkeeper, brewer, baker, and butcher.

There is a free German-language guided tour every Mon/Wed/Fri at 1 pm where they also provide audio guide devices in a number of languages. You'll need to give up your passport as a deposit.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Friday: 8:00 am - 6:00 pm.
Rathausplatz and Park

2) Rathausplatz and Park

The Rathausplatz is a square located near the new Rathaus (City Hall) and derives its name from this prominent landmark. It holds significant importance in the heart of Vienna due to its size, thoughtful design, and the architectural charm of the surrounding buildings. This square serves as a focal point for public gatherings, most notably the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) during the holiday season. Beyond the festive period, the square transforms into an ice skating rink in the post-New Year period and offers open-air film screenings, concerts, and festivals during the warm summer months. Additionally, the presence of handicapped-accessible public restrooms enhances its convenience for visitors.

Adjacent to the square lies the Rathauspark, a spacious green area adorned with a diverse array of trees and shrubs. Some of the flora here is quite exotic, including Gingko biloba and umbrella trees. A network of pathways crisscrossing the park provides an excellent opportunity for a leisurely stroll or some physical activity before attending an evening concert or indulging in the delectable offerings of street vendors.

Rathauspark stands out as one of the most frequented parks in the Austrian capital. Originally designed as a public park in 1863, it has remained in active use ever since, endearing itself to both locals and visitors alike.
Volksgarten (People's Garden)

3) Volksgarten (People's Garden)

The Volksgarten, also known as the People's Garden, is a public park located in the first district of Vienna, known as Innere Stadt. This garden, which is a part of the Hofburg Palace, was designed by Ludwig Remy back in 1821. Interestingly, this park was constructed on the site of the city's fortifications, which were demolished by Napoleon in 1809. It was subsequently made accessible to the public in 1823.

In the heart of this park, you'll find the Theseus Temple, a neoclassical structure crafted by Pietro di Nobile, which was completed in 1821. This temple, resembling a smaller version of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, was initially intended to house Antonio Canova's sculpture of Theseus. Canova himself played a role in the temple's creation.

Another noteworthy feature within the park is the Cortisches coffee house, constructed between 1820 and 1823, also designed by Peter Nobile. It hosted performances by Austrian Romantic composers Johann Strauss I and Joseph Lanner. In 1890, the Cafè Meierei was established, initially serving as a water reservoir but later converted into the Milchtrinkhalle in 1924.

Moving towards the northern section of the park, you'll come across the Empress Elizabeth Monument, a creation of Hans Bitterlich and Friedrich Ohmann, completed in 1907. This monument features a statue of Empress Elisabeth seated at its center, sculpted from an impressive 8000-kilogram block of Laaser marble, standing at a height of 2.5 meters.

Finally, at the southern end of the park, there's the Franz Grillparzer Monument, designed by Carl Kundmann and completed in 1875. This monument portrays the Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer in a seated pose, deep in contemplation, holding a book in his left hand.

Why You Should Visit:
A park to rival any with its rich tree canopy, rose gardens and benches placed throughout.
Very cozy and lovely place to sit down and have a rest or a little picnic.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Sunday: 6 am-10 pm (Apr-Oct); 7 am-5:30 pm (Nov-Mar)
Neue Burg (New Palace)

4) Neue Burg (New Palace)

The Neue Burg, also known as the New Palace, stands as the latest and most magnificent addition to the Hofburg complex located in Vienna. This imposing, curved extension to the Imperial Palace in Heldenplatz was meticulously crafted by the renowned architects Karl von Hasenauer and Gottfried Semper, who were part of the Ringstrasse architectural movement. The construction of this impressive structure took place over the span of 32 years, commencing in 1881 and concluding in 1913. It serves as a testament to the twilight years of the Habsburg Empire, which was grappling with growing aspirations for independence within its various territories. At this juncture, it appeared that the personal prestige of Emperor Franz Joseph was the sole force holding the empire together, and ironically, the Neue Burg was completed just five years before the empire's disintegration.

Despite the less than ideal circumstances for such an ambitious construction project, the work pressed on. Upon its completion, the palace served as the residence for Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Notably, in 1938, Adolf Hitler delivered his proclamation of the Anschluss, signifying the unification of Austria and Germany, from the terraced central bay of the Neue Burg to a vast assembly of tens of thousands of Viennese citizens gathered outside.

Today, Neue Burg is home to the national library's reading room and several museums, including the Ephesos Museum showcasing ancient artifacts from Ephesus and Samothrace, the Collection of Arms and Armour with remarkable weaponry, the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments featuring Renaissance-era instruments, and the Weltmuseum Wien exploring travel and ethnography. The Hofburg Congress Centre is also on-site.

Why You Should Visit:
To get a feel for Vienna's central district and its main landmark – one of must-dos at Hofburg.
Home to three collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.

Young people under 19 enter for free.
Wheelchair rental possible (reserve one day in advance). Notification by telephone approx. 15 minutes before arrival at the front desk suggested.
The collection of Ancient Instruments and that of Arms and Armor are only accessible via elevator at the ticket counter level; the Ephesos Museum can only be reached from this level via steps (total 60 steps).

Opening Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday - Sunday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Thursday: 10:00 am - 9:00 pm; Monday: Closed.
Spanish Riding School

5) Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School, also known as Spanische Reitschule, located in Vienna, is renowned worldwide for its longstanding tradition of preserving and practicing classical equestrian skills for over four and a half centuries. The school, likely founded by the Habsburgs in 1572, aimed to promote advanced horsemanship inspired by Spanish techniques. It's located at the original site, Emperor Maximilian's former residence, largely unchanged since 1729.

One of the school's most notable features is its association with Lipizzaner horses. These majestic animals are possibly the only horses globally that reside within an emperor's palace. The school primarily focuses on formal dressage training and imparts knowledge in the military tactics for which the Lipizzaners have been renowned since the time of Napoleon. Their performances continue to captivate audiences with their timeless charm.

The Spanish Riding School offers 70 to 90-minute public demonstrations in the Winter Riding School, a lavish structure from 1729. These performances, featuring exceptional horsemanship and music, have remained unchanged for decades and still captivate audiences. The Lipizzaner stallions, named after the Lipizza stud farm near Trieste, Slovenia, were created by crossbreeding Arab, Berber, and Spanish horses known for elegance and endurance. They start intricate step training at age three.

The interior of the school exudes elegance, featuring 46 columns, intricate plasterwork, chandeliers, and a coffered ceiling. The royal box and galleries for spectators grace the head of the arena. As riders make their entrance into the arena, it is customary for them to tip their hats in a gesture of respect to the portrait of Karl VI. The school courtyard is adorned with an equestrian statue of another emperor, Josef II.

Why You Should Visit:
If you're a horse lover, watching these incredible creatures is a must when in Vienna. But even you are not fond of horse shows, a guided tour (English/German) through the stabling and the riding arena with background information & details about the complex history and breeding system is worth a visit anytime.

If you like horses, it is great to see them train in the morning.
If you want to see them jump, go for the actual show. Make sure to book tickets online in advance to skip the long queues.
If you drop into the (not too expensive) on-site cafe for a coffee, drink or snack, you can go out to the terrace, adjacent to which is a wooden enclosure where you can see the horses and their riders practice before the show - and that actually won't cost you anything.

Opening Hours:
Tuesday - Sunday: 9am-4pm (Jan-Feb); Monday - Sunday: 9am-4pm (Mar-Dec). Fridays, in case of an evening show: 9am-7pm.
Hofburg Imperial Palace

6) Hofburg Imperial Palace (must see)

Situated at the heart of Vienna, the Hofburg has played a central role in Austrian history for over seven centuries. Prior to the dissolution of the monarchy in 1918, it served as the primary residence for the Habsburg Empire and the winter home for the imperial family. Initially constructed as a modest city fortress in 1279, it evolved over the years through successive expansions by various Austrian rulers, including emperors of the Holy Roman Empire starting in 1452 and emperors of Austria from 1806. It transformed into an opulent palace complex, becoming a key hub in European history.

Numerous architects contributed to the Hofburg's diverse architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to late 19th-century Historicism. In the 18th century, it underwent significant Baroque enhancements, including the addition of notable structures such as residences like Amalienburg and Albertina, the Imperial Chapel (Hofkapelle or Burgkapelle), the Treasury (Schatzkammer), the Burgtheater, the Spanish Riding School (Hofreitschule), and the Imperial Mews (Stallburg and Hofstallungen). Between 1723 and 1735, the Imperial Library (Hofbibliothek), now known as the Austrian National Library, was constructed to house the valuable book collection owned by the Habsburgs. The Great Hall, with its harmonious Baroque interior, ranks as one of the world's most beautiful of its kind.

Today, the Kaiserappartements and Albertina, the former state apartments and art collections, attract visitors with their extensive imperial treasures and world-class art collections. In one section of the Hofburg's underground, there used to be an imperial wine cellar spread across three floors. The remaining wine inventory was auctioned off after the monarchy's dissolution, and the space was repurposed as a storage area for plaster models of fountains and monuments.

The vast Hofburg complex covers an area of over 240,000 square meters, comprising 18 wings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms, where nearly 5,000 individuals currently work and reside. The rooms that once witnessed Emperor Joseph II's formulation of reformist policies, hosted the Congress of Vienna, and served as Emperor Franz Joseph's audience chambers are now the official residence and workplace of the Federal President of the Republic of Austria, located in the Leopoldine Wing since 1946. Additionally, the palace serves as the permanent headquarters for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Why You Should Visit:
To gain insight into the world of Austria's illustrious emperors furnished and decorated to the highest standards of historical authenticity.

There is also a chapel built inside the complex, which is open to the public. If you come for Sunday Mass, you will be able to listen to the famous Vienna Boys Choir performing here regularly.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Sunday: 8:00 am - 6:00 pm.

7) Michaelerplatz

Michaelplatz is a square in front of The Hofburg Imperial Palace. As you enter, you can't help noticing the impressive Neo-Baroque Michaelertor (Michael’s Gate) leading through the Michaelertrakt to the Hofburg’s inner courtyard. On both sides of the doorway are 19th-century fountains, created by Rudolf Weyer.

Opposite the gate is the grand Michaelerkirche (St Michael's church), formerly the parish church of the imperial court and one of the oldest Baroque churches in the city which lends its name to the square itself. The earliest parts of the church date back to the 13th century; according to legend, the Michaelerkirche was built in 1221, yet its present form originated in 1792. The porch is topped by Baroque sculptures depicting the Fall of the Angels. Inside are Renaissance and 14th-century frescoes, and a vividly carved, gilded organ (1714) by Johann David Sieber, the largest in Vienna, once played by Joseph Haydn. Off the north choir is the crypt entrance. In the 17th and 18th centuries, parishioners were often buried beneath their church. Well preserved bodies clothed in their burial finery can still be viewed in open coffins.

At the center of the square there is a viewing spot for an excavation of a Roman encampment. There are also some old Medieval foundation walls to be seen, plus the remnants of the old Burg Theater.

In contrast to this, overlooking Michaelerplatz, opposite the Michaelertor, is one of the most modern buildings in Vienna, called the Looshaus. Designed by Adolf Loos, it is now famous, although, back in the day, it was considered an eye sore for its rather simple, unadorned design. So much so, in fact, that when completed in 1912, the building caused so much outrage on the part of the Emperor Franz Joseph who declared that he would never use the Michaelertor ever again. The source of his indignation was the building’s starkly functional upper facade contrasting dramatically with the nearby fine ornate Baroque architecture. Today, the Looshaus is a working bank, but visitors are allowed into the lobby to view the elegant interior, which is richly clad in polished timber, green marble and mirrors.

Sitting just across from the Looshaus is the Palais Herberstin. Built in 1896, it replaced an older building that used to be a popular meeting spot for young writers and artisans. The old cafe, called Griensteidl, has been rebuilt in the new structure, though much of its regular crowd have moved to Café Central in Palace Ferstel.

Why You Should Visit:
Main entrance to the historic center of Vienna, there's just so much to see and enjoy – grand architecture or just a cup of coffee.

Doing one of the horse-drawn carriage tours is highly recommended, a great way to see the central part of Vienna and worth the money.

8) Demel

Demel is a famous pastry shop and chocolaterie in Vienna, established in 1786. The company bears the title of a Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court since 1874.

Demel was previously known as Hofzuckerbäckerei pastry shop, founded by Ludwig Dehne, a confectioner from Württemberg. Upon his early death in 1799, the business was continued by his widow for their minor son August Dehne. The latter inherited the company in 1832 and successfully managed the business, however, as his son pursued an academic career, he sold the company to his journeyman, Christoph Demel, in 1857.

Renamed Ch. Demel's Söhne in 1867, Christoph Demel's sons Joseph and Karl continued the business and were granted the title of a purveyor to the Habsburg court by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1874. In the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, notable customers of Demel included Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), Princess Pauline von Metternich, and actress Katharina Schratt. During the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany in 1938–45, the Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach and his wife Henriette were also regulars here.

If you want to travel back to the imperial times and enjoy an authentic Austrian dessert, this is a great place to go.

Opening Hours: 8:00am - 7:00pm Daily
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

9) Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) (must see)

St. Peter's Church stands on one of Vienna's oldest known religious sites, with a history dating back to the early 4th century AD. It's a spot that has hosted a church for centuries. The church we see today is a smaller version of a grander one built in 792, and the interesting tidbit is that it was founded by none other than Charlemagne himself. There's a plaque on the facade of the building that tells the tale of Charlemagne's involvement, adding a touch of historical significance.

In its current form, St. Peter's Church occupies a relatively modest space, nestled in St. Peter's Square. Its architectural style is predominantly Baroque, and it's worth noting that it ranks among the most intricately adorned churches designed in this fashion.

The exterior boasts a predominantly white and very light yellow color scheme. Two towers grace the building, defining its classic exterior appearance. These towers exhibit a slight inward curve, a design said to be inspired by the tent poles used by the Turks who once inhabited this region in the late 1600s.

Venturing inside is a must, as the church houses a splendid collection of paintings dating back to the 1700s. Many of the wooden carvings and altar pieces also hail from this period. Presently, St. Peter's Church is under the ownership and management of Opus Dei, a branch of the Catholic Church known as the "Work of God."

Why You Should Visit:
Definitely a good place to marvel at sumptuous Baroque architecture. Full of gold, marble, and finery!

Each day from 3 till 3:30pm you can listen to live organ music here for free (donation only). An impressive way to admire this church!
Choir performances are also frequent, with for-fee events in the underground vaults.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Friday: 7:00 am-8:00 pm; Saturday, Sunday: 9:00 am-9:00 pm.
Graben Street

10) Graben Street

The Graben, also known as the "Ditch," is a renowned street in Vienna with a rich historical significance. Its origins trace back to the Roman era, making it an enduring part of the city's history. Even historical figures like Richard the Lionheart once walked along this road during their visits to the city.

The street's name is derived from an ancient trench that used to roughly follow its path. Eventually, this trench was filled in, transforming the Graben into one of Vienna's first modern streets.

You can begin your journey at Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and make your way to the opposite end, Tuchlauben, while passing by some remarkable historic buildings. Among these landmarks are the Ankerhaus, once the residence of Otto Wagner, and the Palais Bartolotti-Partenfeld, a beloved summer residence of the renowned Baron family, to name just a couple.

During your stroll, be sure to visit the Generalihof, which once served as the headquarters of the Leopold Kozeluch Musikalisches Magazin ("Music Magazine") publishing house, established in 1784 and responsible for the initial publication of some of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's works. As you continue down the street, you'll come across the Grabenhof, an iconic building in the heart of Vienna's pedestrianized downtown. This building was the former residence of Joseph Ferdinand Sonnleithner, the founder of Vienna's famous music society. Erected in 1876 and designed by Otto Wagner and Otto Thienemann, it stands on the historical site of the Arkadenhaus, which existed since the late 16th century.

Your exploration of der Graben wouldn't be complete without a visit to the ERSTE Foundation building. This building houses the headquarters of the Erste Österreichische Spar Casse, Austria's largest savings bank, established in 1835.

Why You Should Visit:
To marvel at beautiful architecture and Baroque statues, and enjoy the musicians and street actors along the way, as you shop, eat, sightsee and soak up the life of Vienna.
A fantastic place to visit, especially during Christmas, with all the decorations, lamps and snow.
Stephansplatz (St. Stephen's Square)

11) Stephansplatz (St. Stephen's Square)

Stephansplatz stands as a central square in Vienna, situated at its geographical heart. This square takes its name from the Stephansdom, Vienna's primary cathedral and one of the world's tallest churches, which stands as its most prominent landmark. Before the 20th century, a line of houses separated Stephansplatz from Stock-im-Eisen-Platz. However, with the demolition of these structures, the name Stephansplatz came to encompass the broader area that includes both squares.

To the west and south, we find the upscale shopping streets known as der Graben, which translates to "the Ditch," and Kärntner Straße, with "Kärnten" being the German word for Carinthia. Opposite the Stephansdom lies the Haas-Haus, an architecturally striking modern building designed by Hans Hollein. Initially, public sentiment expressed skepticism about the juxtaposition of a medieval cathedral and a glass-and-steel structure. Nevertheless, it is now regarded as an exemplar of how old and contemporary architecture can coexist harmoniously.

Why You Should Visit:
While this might not be the best location for a gourmet meal, sitting in one of the local cafes does provide for world-class people watching in a prime historic location. With the Stephansdom dominating the scene, you can't go wrong.

While in Stephansplatz, walk around the side of the Stephansdom to see a miniature thereof. It's quite fun to see it tiny!

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