48 Hours In: Vienna

The Austrian capital is alive with the sound of Mozart. But there's much more, finds Simon Calder; museums, dancing horses - and superb coffee houses
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

On a fine day in early spring, there are few cities as atmospheric as the Austrian capital. Amid some of Europe's grandest architecture, you can find echoes of the great artists and musicians - notably the birthday boy, Mozart. Best of all, Vienna's other specialist subject is self-indulgence.

TOUCH DOWN

You can fly to Vienna's Schwechat airport from Heathrow on Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; www.austrianairlines.co.uk) and British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), or from Manchester on BA. The only low-cost operator is FlyNiki (0870 738 8880; www.flyniki.com) from Stansted. From the airport, 17km to the east, the quick way in is aboard the CAT (City Airport Train) which leaves every half-hour to the station known as Wien Mitte/ Landstrasse (1), for a fare of €9 (£6.40). A taxi to the city centre will cost about €45 (£32).

Other no-frills airlines use Bratislava airport, about 60km east across the border in Slovakia. Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com) and SkyEurope (09057 222 747; www.skyeurope.com) fly from Stansted; easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies from Luton. Direct buses run from the airport to central Vienna, taking around an hour (or more if the border is busy); the price is €11 (£8).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Vienna is easy to get to grips with, thanks to Emperor Franz Josef, who created the Ring around three-quarters of the city centre - the fourth side is marked by the Danube Canal. You will probably spend most of your time within Vienna's District 1: the Innere Stadt. The main drag is the Kärtner Strasse pedestrian precinct that leads from the Opera (2) to St Stephen's Cathedral (3). The city's tourist information office (00 43 1 24 555; www.vienna.info) is on the corner of Maysedergasse and Tegetthofstrasse (4). It is open from 9am to 7pm daily. Nearby is the MuseumsQuartier (5), with museums catering for all kinds of visitors, from children to fans of modern art.

CHECK IN

When money is no object, the address of choice is Philharmonikerstrasse 4, better known as the Hotel Sacher (6) (00 43 1 51 456; www.sacher.com). The hotel is steeped in intrigue; it served as the headquarters for the British forces of occupation, and Graham Greene stayed here while devising The Third Man. For such a heritage, and the best of 19th-century opulence and character, you will pay about €370 (£264) for a double room; breakfast is an extra €28 (£20) per person.

There are plenty of good mid-range hotels in or near the centre, of which the most unusual is the Pertschy Pension (7), occupying the 17th-century Cavriani Palace at Habsburgergasse 5 (00 43 1 534 490; www.pertschy.com). Grand, high-ceilinged rooms are arrayed around a courtyard. In March, the price for a double is a very reasonable €97 (£69), including breakfast.

TAKE A RIDE

Vienna's public transport is superb, with trains, trams, buses and underground (U-Bahn) operating a unified system. A single ticket costs €1.50 (£1.10); you buy it from the bus or tram driver or, for trains and U-Bahn, from a ticket machine; it is valid for an hour. A 72-hour pass costs €16.90 (£13), and gives discounts on a range of the city's museums.

For a Viennese whirl around the Ring, choose tram 1 (clockwise), or tram 2 (anticlockwise). The full circuit takes about an hour, and you'll get a great view of some superb architecture.

TAKE A VIEW

... of the Spanish Riding School (8), from a grandstand seat overlooking the arena. The immaculately trained and groomed horses perform mostly on Sunday mornings at 10am, but it is cheaper and more fun to watch them rehearsing - Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10am to noon on most days, admission €12 (£8.50). Call 00 43 1 533 9031 or visit www.srs.at to confirm times.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Austria's capital has all the usual retail suspects; the equivalent of Oxford Street is Mariahilfer Strasse, west from the MuseumsQuartier (5); its Regent Street is Kärtner Strasse; and Bond Street is Graben. For a selection of more individual stores, wander along Naglergasse (9). The Naschmarkt (10) - an interesting collection of cafés and small shops just outside the Ring - is worth a visit on any working day, but on Saturday mornings it is taken over by the city's weekly flea market.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Trzesniewski (11) is a Viennese institution at Dorotheergasse 1, with a fine 1949 relief outside. During opening hours - 8.30am-7.30pm from Monday to Friday, 9am-1pm on Saturdays - you will find a handsome, busy delicatessen where the service of tasty finger-snacks or fish, egg or meat (€0.80/60p each) is brisk. Spend a few minutes inspecting the pictures of famous Austrians eating here. Wash lunch down with the smallest beer of your life, which comes in at a meagre 125ml helping (one-fifth of a pint).

TAKE A HIKE

The tourist office (4) has details of dozens of guided walks, including no fewer than three about Mozart. The most unusual, though, is Vienna in the footsteps of The Third Man - a walking tour that takes you through the seedy side of post-war Vienna. It is scheduled to take place each Friday at 4pm, but call in advance on 00 43 1 774 8901 to make sure it is running. The meeting point is Stadtpark U-bahn station (12), and the cost of the two-to-three-hour trip is €16 (£11.50).

AN APERITIF

Loos American Bar (13) is an art nouveau extravagance on Kärtner Durchgang, where you can raise a Manhattan (€9/£6.50) to Adolf Loos, who created the building 98 years ago. Note the warning on the door banning sightseeing and photographs. Loos designed many other striking 20th-century structures in the city.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Monday to Friday, you can dine at Reinthaler (14) at Gluckgasse 5. This cheap and cheerful subterranean restaurant feels rather like a first-class waiting room in a 1950s continental railway station. It opens from 9am to 11pm, but not at all at weekends. For the real Viennese thing, order a Lebensknödelsuppe - a liver dumpling in clear soup - followed by melt-in-the-mouth boiled beef. The wine and beer are excellent value.

On weekend evenings, head out of town to one of the Heurigen - taverns offering wine and food in abundance. The best collection of Heurigen is to be found north of the city in Stammersdorf - the main street has several. Get there on tram 31, followed by a bit of a walk.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

St Stephen's Cathedral (3) is the heart and soul of the city. Before you venture into the cavernous and rather gloomy interior, look just to the right of the main entrance for the figures "O5", behind a clear piece of plastic. This was the symbol of the Austrian resistance during the Second World War (the "5" signifies E, the fifth letter of the alphabet, making "OE" - the start of Österreich, German for Austria).

Inside, look halfway along on the left-hand side for a figure apparently climbing out of the wall; this is a self-representation of the sculptor who was responsible for the handsome pulpit inside.

Mozart married here in 1782, and his funeral took place nine years later. The cathedral opens 7am-10pm daily, but closes to tourists at weekends between 1pm and 5pm.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Vienna has more sublimely beautiful coffee houses than any city on the planet. One of the finest for a leisurely Sunday morning is the Cafe Prückel (15) at Stubenring 24 (00 43 1 512 6115). It opens 8.30am-10pm daily. You can lounge on sofas and soak up the 1950s ambience while you sip an exquisitely bittersweet Cafe Melange (half coffee, half milk), or sit up and demolish the breakfast, which is good value.

For something more substantial head for the crystal palace known as the Palmen House (16) which occupies the southern edge of the Burggarten and serves immaculate Sunday morning fare amid tropical flora.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Just beyond the extraordinary Soviet War Memorial (17), the Belvederegarten is one of Vienna's many beautifully formal open spaces. Wander through the neat gardens to the palace (18) at the southern end which houses the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (00 43 1 5881 6225; www.belvedere.at) - home to some excellent 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art, in particular Klimt's The Kiss. The collection has just been depleted by five Klimt pictures that are being returned to the US, but it is still a fine location and collection. It opens 10am-6pm daily except Monday, admission €9 (£6.50).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

You cannot move in Vienna for reminders that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 250 years ago (in Salzburg, but never mind that). The composer whose image graces Austrian one-euro coins moved to Vienna in 1781. By this time he was 25 - late middle age, given his tragically early demise. In 1785, after Mozart had lived in a sequence of short-term lodgings, Joseph Haydn persuaded him to move to Domgasse 5 (19). Last month, this reopened as the amazing Mozarthaus (00 43 1 512 1791; www.mozarthausvienna.at). The admission price of €9 (£6.50) includes an audio guide that takes you around four brilliantly conceived floors. It combines the latest technology (such as opera by hologram) and select artefacts (such as the panpipes brought back from the South Pacific by Captain James Cook, said to have inspired The Magic Flute). The high point is the first-floor apartment where Mozart wrote some of his finest works. The house opens 9am-8pm daily.

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