Photo courtesy of Vienna Tourism/Christian Stemper
The capital of Austria, Vienna, is a delightful and historic city of about 1.2 million people — with an idyllic setting on the banks of the Danube River. When you arrive there by river cruise boat, you might only have a day or so to explore a few of the amazing things this European gem has to offer. So, of course, you want to know the best things to do. Here are five cool and uniquely Viennese items to check off your list.
Suit up for the symphony. The city's heritage is ingrained with the orchestral strains of the world's greatest composers. Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Schubert made their homes in Vienna, at the center of which is the gorgeous neo-classical Vienna State Opera House. Make it a formal night, and check the performance schedule for the opera house or numerous other venues in the city that offer concerts featuring the classical music of the legends.
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Stroll the town square. St. Stephen's Cathedral serves as a compass for city wanderers, with its Gothic needle always visible while exploring Stephansplatz, the bustling city square. The massive church of Baroque and Gothic design dates to the 12th century and is open to visitors who can explore its two towers (climb for incredible views over the city), side chapels and catacombs.
Savor the Sweets? Yes, please. The city is popular for decadent desserts. Vienna is the birthplace of multiple confections and cakes. The Sacher-Torte is most famous, a chocolate cake thinly coated with apricot jam and topped with chocolate icing. The original secret recipe dates to 1832 and is kept at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, a quick walk from the State Opera House or Stephansplatz.
Settle in at a summer estate. Schonbrunn Palace is the former summer residence of Habsburg rulers. A day touring the numerous rooms accented in porcelain tile, gold leaf, priceless Indian and Persian carvings, tapestries and rosewood paneling and you begin to realize just how rich and extravagant a monarchy can be. The 1,400-room complex also features amazing gardens to wander through.
Schonbrunn Palace is a UNESCO cultural heritage site with incredible historical importance. A six-year-old Mozart performed there, Napoleon convened his generals there and Charles I signed an abdication of the crown in 1918 there as well, which triggered the demise of the monarchy.
Stretch your legs. See the city by bike, walk or run. Vienna is a pedestrian and cyclist paradise, with a well-designed systems of paths that explore the areas of the Danube or the heart of the city. Try the Danube Canal Bicycle Path, which joins to the Sightseeing Bicycle Path Ringstrasse.
If you're in Vienna on a cruise, your boat might offer bike use. Also, Vienna has a prominent City Bike rental system, with 120 stations where you can pick up your wheels for the day.
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Rather hike it than bike it? Head over to The Lobau area in the Donau-Auen National Park on the northern side of the Danube. The floodplain is called the Jungle of Vienna and is home to an impressive number of plant, mammal, reptile, bird and fish species. The green oasis contains well-marked hiking trail loops.