Things to Do in Vienna - page 3
Madame Tussauds is a worldwide favorite with children for its realistic waxwork models of famous rock stars, royalty, movie stars, athletes and historical figures. The Vienna outpost opened in 2011 and is found close to the rides, sideshows and landmark Ferris wheel of Prater, the world’s oldest amusement park.
Although displays change frequently as the world of stardom waxes and wanes, Madame Tussauds Vienna is currently divided into eight themed sections packed with family fun. Film fanatics can shoot a movie with producer Quentin Tarantino or join Audrey Hepburn for tea, while history buffs learn about European history from Empress Maria Theresa or the German World War II hero Oskar Schindler. President Obama and the Dali Lama feature in the Politicians and Visionaries exhibition while a smattering of world-famous stars—Angelina and Brad, Robbie Williams—all attend Vienna’s most exclusive A-list party.
Sisi, or Empress Elizabeth, was the wife of Franz Josef 1 of Austria who she married when she was only 16. She was very beautiful and strictly maintained her 20 inch (50 cm) waistline! The headstrong girl from Munich gained a reputation for rejecting court etiquette and being a bit of free-spirit. But after the death of her daughter Sophie, Sisi became ill herself and began often going south for the warmth, separate from her husband, to write poetry and meet with a string of lovers. When her beloved son Crown-Prince Rudolf died tragically in a murder-suicide pact with his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, Sisi was inconsolable. In 1898, aged 60, in Geneva, she herself died, assassinated by a young anarchist, Luigi Lucheni.
Her life was like a soap opera and these days she is a cult figure. The Sisi Museum houses hundreds of her personal belongings as well as a history of her fascinating life.
The Academy of Fine Arts, or Akademie der Bildende Kunst, may not be one of Vienna's best known galleries, but the collection of paintings is nonetheless impressive and worth a visit. It concentrates on Flemish, Dutch and German painters including the disturbing Hieronymus Bosch, Rembrandt, van Dyck and Rubens. The highlight is Bosch's altarpiece Triptych of the Last Judgment from 1504 to 1508.
The Academy of Fine Arts still functions as an art school, so don't be surprised if you smell fresh paint. It has the distinction of being the school that rejected Adolf Hitler twice.
Donaupark, or Danube Park, is huge - 2,600,000 square feet (800,000 square metres). Located on the north bank of the impressive Danube River, it even has beaches for the summer months. There is a stage with live entertainment, a mini train to ride, a giant chess board, tennis courts, a skater park, bike paths and a small zoo!
Until 1945 it was a military firing range, then it was used for landfill. Finally it became a park, originally for the Vienna International Flower Show of 1964. At this time, Vienna's tallest structure, the Danube Tower, was also built in the park. It's 826 ft (252 m) high and has a revolving restaurant and viewing platforms. In 1983, Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass at the base of the tower. And of course, people bungee jump from the tower.
As the sole female ruler of the Habsburg Empire and one of the most revered of Austria’s royals, it seems only fitting that Empress Maria Theresa should have a public square named in her honor. Located along the famous Ringstrasse, at the heart of historic Vienna, Maria Theresa Square (Maria Theresien Platz) is surrounded by many of the capital’s most prominent landmarks, with the Museum Quarter to the south and the magnificent Hofburg Palace to the north.
Laid out in the 19th century, the square centers around an enormous statue of Maria Theresa by Kaspar Zumbusch, encircled by a series of formal gardens, dotted with monumental fountains and sculptures. Maria Theresa Square is also home to two of the city’s most notable museums – the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Naturhistorisches Museum, whose grand neo-Renaissance facades were created as part of the grand imperial Kaiserforum, the masterwork of German architect Gottfried Semper.
Housed in the oldest part of the Imperial Palace in Vienna, the Imperial Treasury is one of the most significant treasuries in the world. The collection shows of the decadence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through its 1,000 years of treasures, as well as a variety of religiously significant relics. The highlight of the Secular Treasury is the behemoth imperial crown, a gemstone-embellished piece dating back to 962. Other items of note include a 2,680-carat Colombian emerald, one of the world’s largest sapphires, a golden rose, a narwhal’s tusk once mistaken for a unicorn horn and an ornate bowl which some believe to be the holy grail.
The Ecclesiastical Treasury, which often elicits a bit of skepticism in visitors, claims among its relics fragments of Jesus’s cross, a thorn from his crown and a swatch of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper.
The Austrian Parliament Building, a Greek-revival style building completed in 1883, is where the two Houses of the Parliament of Austria conduct their sittings. It is located in Vienna’s city center, close to the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Palace of Justice. Despite sustaining heavy damages during WWII, most of the building’s interior has been restored to its original impressive appearance.
The parliament building is one of the largest structures on the Ringstraße. It was originally built to house the two chambers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Reichsrat (Austrian legislature). Today, it is the seat of both the Nationalrat (National Council) and the Bundesrat (Federal Council). The building contains over 100 rooms, including the chambers of the national and federal councils, the former imperial House of Representatives, committee rooms, libraries, lobbies, dining-rooms, bars, and gymnasiums.
Sitting on the Danube River in Lower Austria, Dürnstein is one of the most-visited villages in the Wachau Valley wine-growing region and is accessible from both Vienna and Salzburg. It’s a charming mix of medieval and Baroque architecture, with labyrinthine cobbled lanes and pastel-hued houses with red-tiled roofs. Full of traditional Austrian restaurants and stores selling local vintages, it’s the perfect lunchtime stopover on driving, cycling or walking tours through the valley. Often packed out by day – especially in summer – by night most visitors have left and the village reverts to its tranquil, romantic best.
Dürnstein Abbey perches right on the edge of the Danube, its stately blue Baroque tower is a local landmark. Although first mentioned as a nunnery in 1289, by the 16th century it had become an Augustine monastery and 200 years after that it was given its present Baroque facelift.
The Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK) is one of the largest museums of modern and post-modern art in Central Europe. Founded in 1962, the museum features 10,000 pieces by 1,600 different artists, including some of the biggest names in 20th- and 21st-century art, like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Gergard Richter and Yoko Ono. Classical modernism, nouveau realism, Vienna Actionism, photorealism and pop art are all represented.
The museum’s Wednesday evening film program screens thematic film series and films related to the works of art on display. Visitors inspired by the art on display have the chance to participate in hands-on workshops to experiment with various artistic techniques. Once per month, Art on Thursdays invites guests to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine before taking a gallery tour.
More Things to Do in Vienna
Founded in 1741 by Empress Maria Theresia, the resplendent Burgtheater is not only the Austrian National Theatre, but one of the largest and most important theaters in Europe. The ‘Burg’ started out in a banqueting hall of Hofburg palace, but moved to its current location in 1888, becoming one of the final monumental buildings to adorn Vienna’s Ringstrasse, sited opposite the grand City Hall. Designed by German architect Gottfried Semper, the ornamental façade takes on an Italian high-Renaissance style, flanked by Corinthian pillars and adorned with sculptures and elaborate friezes.
The opulent interiors, the handiwork of local architect Karl von Hasenauer, are similarly breathtaking, with highlights including the 60-foot ‘Worshippers of Bacchus’ relief by Rudolf Wyer and the dazzling foyer, featuring hand-painted staircases and ceiling frescoes by Ernst and Gustav Klimt.
Part of the complex of Kunsthistorischen museums at the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Imperial Carriage Museum opened four years after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was conceived as a home for part of the redundant fleet of 600 vehicles no longer required by the Imperial Family and opened in 1922 in the former Imperial Riding School, presenting the very finest carriages used by the Viennese court, from sedan chairs to ceremonial state coaches. Among the 170 vehicles displayed, highlights include the elaborate black-and-gold embossed coronation landau from 1825 and an ornate, late 19th-century hearse, subtly decorated with painted and carved black flowers. However, the stars of the show, indicative by their sheer opulence of the wealth and power of the Habsburg dynasty, are the two gold carriages: the golden carousel made in 1742 for Empress Maria Theresia, and the Imperial Carriage, built for Emperor Joseph II in 1764.
The Klosterneuburg Monastery, or Stift Klosterneuburg in Austrian, is an Augustinian abbey founded in 1114. The baroque structure, notable for housing men’s and women’s religious orders until 1568, has undergone several facelifts over the years, most recently in 1892. The historic abbey dominates the skyline of Klosterneuburg, and the treasures housed within are just as impressive as the structure that contains them. Among the most valuable and impressive pieces is the enameled altar of Nikolaus of Verdun, one of the most exquisite examples of medieval enamel work. The altar, made in 1181, depicts a variety of biblical scenes on its 51 panels.
Throughout its history, the monastery has been involved in winemaking. Today visitors can tour Austria’s oldest wine-growing estate, visiting the baroque cellar complex and witnessing the production using traditional and modern methods.
Vienna’s oldest church was made from stone taken from the ancient Roman settlement of Vindabona and was originally Romanesque in design, with its origins reaching as far back as 740 AD. It has a dumpy and largely unprepossessing exterior that dates from the 12th century, although it has been destroyed by fire and repeatedly enlarged down the centuries. It is dedicated to St Rupert, who is (confusingly) the patron saint of Salzburg and also connected with salt mining, which was big business around Salzburg in the Middle Ages. The simple interior is whitewashed with a simple stone altar, quite unadorned with the exceptions of the vast brass Baroque crucifix and the exquisite stained-glass windows dating from the 1990s, when the church was restored. However, one window has survived from the 13th century and it is found in the vaulted apse, depicting Christ on the cross with the Madonna and Child standing below.
An outpost of Vienna’s fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum, Neue Burg forms a semi-circular wing of the Hofburg Palace complex, which was commissioned for the Habsburg Imperial Family in 1881. True to the Habsburg motto that bigger is better, the palace is of spectacular Baroque design inside and out; it originally contained the personal memorabilia of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 sparked off World War. Today the Neue Burg holds three important Imperial collections, including the Imperial Collection of Arms and Armor (Hofjägd und Rüstkammer), which moved into its palatial new home in 1935 and whisks through centuries of battle armor worn by both man and beast, displayed to stunning effect in long, marble-floored corridors. The Habsburg musical instruments (Sammlung Alter Musik Instrumente) arrived at Neue Burg post-war in 1945; highlights include archaic wind instruments, mandolines and priceless violins.
Starting life in the Middle Ages as a civic garbage tip, Freyung Square has morphed down the centuries into one of Vienna’s prettiest public piazzas. It’s a triangular cobbled space dominated by the Austriabrunnen (Austria Fountain), which was gifted to Vienna in the 1840s by sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler. The cobbles are bordered by the medieval monastery of Schottenkirche and – thanks to its location not far from the Hofburg Imperial Palace – a smattering of elegant Baroque palaces built by royal courtiers, including the ornately decorated yellow-and-white stucco façade of Palace Daun-Kinsky, which dates from 1717. The Ferstel Palace was built in 1860 and is home to Vienna’s famous Café Central as well as the upmarket, arcaded Freyung Passage shopping mall; nearby the Bank Austria Kuntsforum holds frequent cutting-edge contemporary-art exhibitions.
In Vienna’s Alsergrund district, the two imposing towers of the Votivkirche welcome travelers to the city. The Votive Church is one of the most important neo-Gothic buildings in the world and is the second highest building in the city, right after the St. Stephen’s Church. As pretty as the church looks, the reason for its construction was actually a failed assassination attempt on the Habsburg Emperor. On the 18th of February 1853, tailor Janos Libenyi attacked young Franz Joseph I with a dagger, but the assassination attempt failed and the emperor survived. In gratitude for the salvation of His Majesty, his brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, called for a fundraiser to build a new church in Vienna. Soon after, construction began on the votive offering, a monumental white cathedral with rose windows, gabled portals and delicate spires and buttresses.
One of the largest squares in Vienna, Karlsplatz is dominated by the huge, baroque Karlskirche church, which was built between 1716 and 1737 with designs influenced by the architect's visit to Rome. The square is also well known for a pair of pavilions that were created in 1898 and 1899 by Otto Wagner and contain marble slabs and green-painted, wrought-iron frames that are decorated with gold-colored sunflowers and gilded trim.
The western side of the square contains the Secession Building, which is an art museum, and the Naschmarkt, which is Vienna's most popular market. The eastern side of the park is bordered by a park called Resselpark where you can find several statues of famous Austrians. Also near the square are several cultural institutions including the Musikverein, a concert hall that is home to the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Kunstlerhaus, an art gallery and exposition hall. The History Museum of Vienna is located on the eastern side of the square as well.
Running for more than 300 kilometers, the Danube Bike Path is a scenic path that follows the Danube River from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria. The road is both smoothly paved and wide, making it popular with cyclists of all ages and skill levels. In fact, it has been called the most popular place for leisure cycling in Europe. In total the bike path passes through nine countries.
With the Danube River flowing on one side and the scenery changing around you on the other, the landscape varies throughout the journey. Mountains, forests, castles, vineyards, and small European villages are common sights. This route passes through the historic Wachau Valley as well as the Austrian town of Linz. Most of the land is sparsely populated and the roads are calm and traffic-free, making this a relaxing way to enjoy the beautiful nature of this region.
Vienna’s Augarten is a public park in Leopoldstadt, home to a former Imperial palace of the same name and several other buildings of note. The grounds themselves cover 52.2 hectares and are Baroque in design, remodeled from previous gardens in the early 18th century for the ever-acquisitive Habsburg Emperor Joseph II. The court architect Isidore Canevale was responsible for planting hundreds of trees that now provide the shady pathways as well as the layout out the formal flowerbeds. Facilities for visiting families in the gardens today include paddling pools, sports fields and a couple of restaurants, including Décor, rather fabulously sited in a former Nazi anti-aircraft bunker.
Other attractions in Augarten include the spectacular Baroque palace, now the winter home of the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir; a contemporary art gallery that is an outpost of the Belvedere; a film archive; and a Jewish study center.
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