48 hours in Vienna

This great city on the Danube boasts a dazzling artistic heritage, world-beating museums and to-diet-for cakes

WHY GO NOW ?The oppressive summer heat is cooling, although fine, warm days should continue through September. The tourist hordes are thinning out, too, meaning a general reduction in hotel prices and leaving elbow room in the galleries and exhibitions. Plus, a new exhibition of Gustav Klimt's portraits of women opens on 20 September in the Belvedere Palace.

WHY GO NOW ?The oppressive summer heat is cooling, although fine, warm days should continue through September. The tourist hordes are thinning out, too, meaning a general reduction in hotel prices and leaving elbow room in the galleries and exhibitions. Plus, a new exhibition of Gustav Klimt's portraits of women opens on 20 September in the Belvedere Palace.

BEAM DOWNAustrian Airlines (0845 601 0948, www.aua.com) and BA (0845 77 333 77, www.britishairways.com) each offer up to four flights a day from London Heathrow. There's also a daily BA service from Birmingham. Lauda Air (0845 601 0934) has a daily flight from Manchester, and Tyrolean Airways (0845 601 0948) flies three times a week from Edinburgh. Fares tend to be upwards of £200, but the no-frills airline Buzz (0870 240 7070, www.buzzaway.com) offers return tickets from Stansted for £95 return (£2 less on the web). From the airport, S-bahn line S7 goes to the centre.

GET YOUR BEARINGSHead for the city centre and test your physical fitness with a climb to the top of St Stephen's Cathedral (1), a Gothic masterpiece with a dazzling roof of zig-zagged tiles. The winding staircase (admission £1.30; 9am-5pm) rewards you with a fine view of the Ringstrasse, the inner circle of imposing buildings laid out in the 19th century by Emperor Franz Joseph. Most attractions can be explored on foot but, if you are planning a lot of museum visits, then you should invest £11 in a Vienna Card (sold at hotels and tourist info centres), for discounts at most sites and free travel. For more information, contact Vienna's Tourist Board (00 43 121 11 40; www.info.wien.at). Its main office is at Am Albertinaplatz (2), behind the Opera House.

CHECK INCity centre hotels are plentiful, though pricey. The elegant four-star Konig von Ungarn (3) at Schulerstrasse, 10 (00 43 151 58 40) has double rooms for around £110, which are arranged along galleries overlooking a glass-roofed courtyard. Pensions are more affordable: the Pension Domizil (4) at Schulerstrasse, 14 (00 431 513 3199) is stylish and costs £70 per double. If your budget runs towards £200 a night, look no further than the palatial Hotel Bristol (5), at Kärntner Ring 1 (00 43 151 516 536; www.westin.com/bristol), opposite the Opera.

ICING ON THE CAKECafé Sacher (27) (Philharmonikastrasse, 4, 00 43 151 45 60) has a "Sacher-Torte" chocolate cake to swoon for. Other sweeteries are the Café Museum (28) (Friedrichstrasse, 6, 00 43 158 652 902), hang-out of Klimt and Schiele; the mirrored Savoy (29) (Linke Wienzeile 36, 00 43 158 673 48); and Café Landtmann (30) (Dr Karl-Lueger-Ring, 4, 00 43 153 206 21), meeting place of Freud and friends.

A WALK IN THE PARKThe Prater (25) is Vienna's largest park and its 200ft-high Ferris Wheel has become the city's best-known landmark. There are miles of paths and cycleways to explore here, and bikes and skates can be hired from near the park's north entrance. For a more leisurely afternoon, you can try the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace (26), the Habsburgs' summer residence.

BRACING BRUNCHTake on sustenance for the day ahead and have your design preconceptions challenged, at Im KunstHaus, (24) (Weissgerberlande, 14, 00 43 171 204 97), which was built by visionary local architect Freidensreich Hundertwasse (there's a permanent exhibition of his work nearby). The restaurant's food reflects the artist's tastes: colourful, creative and filled with fantasy.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCHThe world-famous Vienna Boys Choir perform at Sunday morning mass (9.15am) at the Hofburgkapelle (21). Admission costs about £1 and tickets are available from the chapel office (00 43 153 399 27). Glorious chamber music, mainly by Haydn and Mozart, is played at the Augustiner Church (22) every Sunday at 11am. For non-musical worship, St Peter's (23) has a deceptively plain exterior but contains ornate carvings of wood, plaster and gold inside.

CULTURAL AFTERNOONThe Museum of Fine Arts (10) at Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1 (00 43 152 524, open 10am-4pm) houses Bruegels galore; while MAK (11), at Stubenring, 5 (00 43 171 136, 10am-6pm) blends Arts Nouveau and Deco. The Belvedere Palace (12), Prinz-Eugen-Strasse, 3 (00 43 179 557 134, 10am-5pm) is the place for Klimt. Or else there's the House of Music museum (13) at Seilerstatte, 30 (00 43 151 648).

DEMURE DINNERZwolf Apostelkeller (18) at Sonnenfelsgasse, 3 (00 43 151 267 77) is a well-priced Old City eaterie with a warren of rooms dating back 900 years. Ofenloch (19) at Kurrentgasse, 8 (00 43 153 388 44) is the oldest bierkeller in the city with a veal-and-dumpling-style menu. Or, mingle with the in-crowd at Livingstones (20) (Zelinkagasse, 4, 00 43 153 333 93).

TAKE A RIDEAn hour from the city centre, by underground (U4) to Heiligenstadt and then bus (38A), is Kahlenburg (6), the hill-top monastery where the Turks were beaten off in 1683. Here you can walk through forested hills, with spectacular views over the city and Danube basin. Quench your thirst with wine from the local vineyard.

LUNCH ON THE RUNMeat is the staple of most Viennese dishes: now's your chance to sample an authentic Wiener Schnitzel. Pizza Bizi (7) at Wollzeile, 5 is a fine self-service pizzeria with as much salad as you can eat. If there's no time to linger, try Trzesniewski (8) at Dorotheergasse, 1, for sumptuous sandwiches or Naschmarkt (9) for fresh fruit, cheeses and salads.

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