City Slicker: Vienna - From Habsburg forts to chocolate tortes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Austria's capital is at its best in the run-up to Christmas. Rhiannon Batten offers some top ideas for new and returning visitors



Why visit?


Vienna is a great place to live. Indeed, it was named the world's most habitable city in a survey conducted by global consultancy Mercer earlier this year.

And, the qualities that pushed it to the top of the poll – excellent public transport, great restaurants and cultural events, a density of Habsburg Empire architecture in its compact centre, and an abundance of green space – also make it one of Europe's most pleasant cities to visit.

For art lovers, the current Michelangelo show at the Albertina (albertina.at) is the first exhibition of his work on such a grand scale for more than 20 years. Then there's the Belvedere Museum's Klimt exhibition (belvedere .at) – affording a head start on the Klimt-mania set to descend in 2012: the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Vienna's most famous sons.

Vienna's Christmas markets open this weekend and continue until Christmas Eve, providing an atmospheric (and cake-fuelled) way to do your stocking-filler shopping.

Don't miss...

Schönbrunn Castle (schoenbrunn.at). This former royal palace in an old imperial hunting park began life in the 1600s but was completed, with a revamped design by court architect Nikolaus Pacassi in the 18th century. This is an imposing building to say the least. Its gardens and ground – housing a zoo which is the oldest of its kind in the world – are an attraction in their own right, and a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site.

A moment of peace in St Stephen's Cathedral (stephanskirche.at). This landmark in the heart of the city may be a religious marvel but it's also part of a wider local identity; if you're in Vienna over New Year it's the cathedral's Pummerin Bell that you'll hear.

A wander through the Hofburg Palace (hofburg-wien.at). This former imperial residence is an unmissable part of most visits to Vienna, partly because you're almost certain to walk through its extensive grounds as you pass through the city. It's worth pausing as you go, though. It houses the imperial silver collection, a museum dedicated to the Empress Sissi, and the imperial apartments, and it also now hosts the Austrian president's offices.

A tram ride around the Ringstrasse, the boulevard that loops the city in pomp and majesty; the national theatre, museum of art history, MuseumsQuartier, city hall, the parliament and opera are all here. Although there is a special tourist tram that covers the whole circuit (wienerlinien.at), it's cheaper and just as easy to create your own circuit on the No 1 and No 2 trams (free with a Vienna Card, which includes all travel on public transport, plus discounted entry to many of the top sights; wienkarte.at).

A ride on the Ferris wheel, or Riesenrad, in the Prater amusement park (praterservice.at). Set in former hunting grounds, the "Wurstelprater" first opened to the public in 1766 but its big wheel didn't arrive until 1896. Since then, it's offered visitors and residents alike great views over the city and has featured in films such as the 1949 Orson Welles thriller The Third Man and the 1995 Ethan Hawke romance Before Sunrise.

What's new

District 2

Vienna's Second District, or Leopoldstadt as it became known after the expulsion of the area's Jews by Leopold I in 1669-1670, was once neglected and rather deprived but has recently been gentrified, partly due to the extension of the U2 metro line. As well as the age-old Karmelitermarkt (food market) at its heart, attractions in this up-and-coming area include the fashionable Skopik & Lohn restaurant, which this year opened an extra room and refocused the menu on French and Austrian favourites. Nearby is Fluc, a creative space based in a former pedestrian tunnel that puts on contemporary art and music events.

Details: skopikundlohn.at; fluc.at

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

A Four Seasons and a Shangri-La are set to open in Vienna over the next few months, along with the revamped Schwarzenberg Hotel, but the Sofitel will pip them to the post as the newest luxury pad in town. Scheduled to open in mid-December this bold glass and steel tower has been designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and is aiming for five-star status. It'll be a whopper, with 182 rooms and suites, interior design and lifestyle shops plus Le Loft, a panoramic glass-fronted restaurant on its 18th floor.

Details: sofitel.com

Central Cemetery

Visiting a cemetery might seem a slightly ghoulish thing to do on a city break, but in this case it's perfectly in keeping with the Viennese penchant for morbidity. Not only does Vienna's biggest cemetery hold the graves of such luminaries as Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert, Brahms and Austrian pop sensation Falco, but visitors can also find their way around the peaceful site much more easily thanks to newly launched English language audiotours. Taking four hours in total, these cost €7 (£6) to hire and you'll need to leave some form of identity at the main entrance (gate 2). Getting there is an easy 20-minute tram ride (Nos 71 or 6) from the city centre.

Details: wien.info/en/sightseeing/sights /from-s-to-z/central-cemetery

Orlando di Castello

No trip to Vienna would be complete without coffee and cake; you can't walk more than about 50m without coming across a coffee house. But, though a slice of the classic Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher is a must on most tourists' itineraries, this spangling new café cum restaurant offers a more modern take on an age-old Viennese institution. Stepping inside the all-white interior feels a bit like climbing inside a giant, very stylish meringue and the cakes are exquisite; try a petal-topped macaroon with fresh raspberries, lychees and a rosewater and lime mousse.

Details: orlandodicastello.com

Motto am Fluss

Opened in July, and occupying two floors of the new boat terminal for the high-speed catamaran linking Vienna and Bratislava (twincityliner .com), this hip new hangout has an upstairs café and a smart restaurant and shop below decks. There are outdoor tables overlooking the water for sunny days and, indoors, a cosy collection of wooden tables (with individual toasters for customers to serve the café's delicious freshly baked bread just to their liking); Sunday roasts here are the big thing.

Part of a wider reinvention of the canalside, Motto am Fluss is opposite a man-made "beach" and just down the road from the Badeschiff (badeschiff .at), a floating swimming pool, disco and restaurant, where one of Austria's best chefs, Christian Petz, is now doing the cooking. Another reason to visit? As no one else can use the Sacher name, at Motto am Fluss they do their own version of Vienna's most famous cake; a more moist "Schlachertorte", named after the company's owner.

Details: motto.at/mottoamfluss/

Insider's secret

Where to find the best cakes in the city

Diane Naar-Elphee, guide and writer

"Most visitors head straight to Hotel Sacher for their Vienna cake experience. For me, though, the Demel cake shop and café serve the better sweetmeats. It still carries the title of purveyors to the royal family (Empress Sissi used to commission candied violets from them), although today it is in the hands of the internationally successful Do & Co caterers. It does an excellent version of Sachertorte, which has to carry the Demel name to avoid confusion with the original. The marzipan museum in the cellar is a well-kept secret, showcasing the bakery's history through a collection of extravagant (if now slightly dusty) marzipan confections that once graced its windows."

Compact Facts

How to get there

EasyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com), Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; aua.com) and BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) fly to Schwechat Airport. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flys to Bratislava, an hour from Vienna.

Where to stay

Hotel Altstadt (altstadt.at) has decadent Matteo Thun-designed bedrooms and a lounge with an open fire and free homemade cakes in the afternoon. Doubles start at £150 B&B.

Further information

Austrian National Tourist Office (0845 101 1818; austria-tourism.at/uk); Vienna Tourist Board (wien.info). The new 2011 Wallpaper guide to Vienna will be published in December (£4.95; phaidon.com).

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick