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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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;

A ride on the Ferris wheel, or Riesenrad, in the Prater amusement park ( 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.


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.


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: /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.


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.


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;, Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; and BA (0844 493 0787; fly to Schwechat Airport. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; flys to Bratislava, an hour from Vienna.

Where to stay

Hotel Altstadt ( 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;; Vienna Tourist Board ( The new 2011 Wallpaper guide to Vienna will be published in December (£4.95;

Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game