Things to Do in Austria - page 2
Marking the boundary of the First District, where the old city walls once stood, the series of boulevards that make up the Ringstrasse trace a 5km scenic loop around the historic center of Vienna. Created in the late 19th century to replace the fortification walls demolished under Emperor Franz Joseph, the Ringstrasse was designed to accommodate some of the city’s most spectacular works of architecture.
For visitors to Vienna, following the route of the Ringstrasse is a popular way to take in the sights, starting with the dramatic neo-Gothic Rathaus, or City Hall, set in the landscaped Rathauspark and the neighboring Parliament buildings. The magnificent Burgtheater and Volksgarten park stand opposite, and heading south, the ring road passes Maria Theresa Square and Franz Joseph’s elaborate Kaiserforum, now home to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History).
A colossal piazza right at the heart of Imperial Vienna, Heldenplatz stretches out in front of the sweeping arcs of the Hofburg Palace, which was commissioned for the Habsburg Imperial Family in 1881. Constructed under the orders of Emperor Franz Joseph II as part of the city’s elegant Ringstrasse thoroughfare in the late 19th century, the square is dominated by two vast equestrian statues of Archduke Charles of Austria and Prince Eugene of Savoy, and completely surrounded by the Baroque beauty of Vienna’s most important landmarks.
The Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lived on this spot in various palaces from the 13th century until its demise in 1918; now the palace is home to several sublime Imperial collections in the Neue Burg, Sisi and art museums; the Imperial Apartments; the office of the Austrian President; the National Library; the Hofburgs’ private chapel; and the Augustinian Church, parish church of Vienna’s aristocracy.
With a history dating back to 1889 and a permanent collection made up of over 20 million objects, the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum) is one of the largest and most renowned natural history museums in the world. The counterpart to the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum), both museums are located on Maria Theresien Platz in central Vienna and rank among the city’s top attractions.
Based on the collected works of Emperor Franz Stefan, husband of Empress Maria Theresia, Rudolph II and Prince Eugène of Savoy, exhibits include a vast assemblage of minerals, rocks, fossils, meteors and flora specimens; a zoological display featuring a series of rare stuffed animals and extinct species; and a Dinosaur Hall, which houses the skeleton of a Diplodocus.
For sheer grandness, the Neo-Gothic Rathaus, or Vienna City Hall, steals the Ringstrasse show. Completed in 1883 by Friedrich von Schmidt, it was modeled on Flemish city halls. Its main spire soars to 335 ft (102m) if you include the pennant held by the knight at the top. You're free to wander through the seven inner courtyards but must join a guided tour to see the interior, with its red carpets, gigantic mirrors, and frescoes.
Between the Rathaus and the Ringstrasse is the Rathauspark, with fountains, benches and several statues. It is split in two by Rathausplatz, which is lined with statues of notable people from Vienna's past. Rathausplatz is the sight of some of the city's most frequented events, including the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market), Musikfilm Festival and the Wiener Eistraum.
Standing in stark contrast to the baroque palaces and grand plazas of historic Vienna, the colorful facade of the Hundertwasserhaus is one of the city’s most unique works of architecture. Unconventional and somewhat eccentric, the apartment complex is the masterpiece of 20th century Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, one of the country’s most imaginative and controversial contemporary artists. Mimicking elements of Gaudí’s Art Nouveau style, Hundertwasser’s designs marry whimsical shapes and curved lines with a bold color palette, resulting in some of Austria’s most recognizable and most visited landmarks.
The Hundertwasserhaus was finished in 1986 and features a playful mix of painted mosaics and different sized windows, spread over the 52 apartment buildings. The organic theme even goes one step further, with a grass-covered rooftop sprouting with trees that appear to be grown from within.
Founded in 1768 by its namesake, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen, son-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa, Vienna’s Albertina museum is renowned for housing the world’s most prominent collection of graphic art. Displayed in a former residential palace on the tip of the vast Hofburg Imperial Palace complex, the grand Albertina is among the city’s most notable attractions, home to an incredible 1.5 million prints and over 50,000 drawings.
The Albertina’s gigantic permanent collection is broken into 4 principal departments, most notably the aforementioned Graphic Art Collection, of which highlights include the world’s largest collection of Dürer drawings (totaling around 145) and a large number of works by Raphael, Rembrandt and Schiele.
Innsbruck’s iconic Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is found on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the main square in Innsbruck’s charming Gothic and Baroque Altstadt (Old Town). The three-story, gold-topped balcony is tacked on the Neuhof (New Court), which was built by Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century as a residence fit for kings. The Golden Roof was constructed in 1500 at the behest of Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I in celebration of his second dynastic marriage, this time to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan. The roof glitters with 2,657 sparkling gilded copper tiles, apparently placed there to confound rumors that the Imperial Family was running out of money.
Intricate carved wooden reliefs and frescoes painted on to the balcony show the emperor’s many coats of arms, and his likeness alongside that of both his wives. The structure also provided Maximilian I with an appropriately regal spot from which to observe tournaments and festivals in the square beneath.
Two museums in Salzburg celebrate the life of genius composer and child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born in the city on January 27, 1756, he grew up in two different houses before turning his back on the city in preference for the bright lights of Vienna and beyond. Both are now museums.
The Mozart Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace) is located on Getreidegasse, the smartest street in Salzburg’s enticing Aldstadt. The massive townhouse itself dates from the 12th century, but by the 1750s it was divided into apartment and the Mozart family were crammed onto one floor. Mozart’s family lived in this surprisingly humble abode for 26 years before their precocious son hit the big time and started earning good money. This museum has recently has something of an overhaul and is much improved; the exhibition highlighting Mozart’s early life stretches over three floors and incorporates period furniture as well as the clavichord on which he composed The Magic Flute.
The Church of St Charles Borromeo, or Karlskirche, is the finest baroque church in Vienna and was built between 1716 and 1739, after a vow by Karl VI at the end of the 1713 plague. It was designed and commenced by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and completed by his son Joseph. Although predominantly baroque, it combines several architectural styles.
The twin columns are modeled on Trajan's Column in Rome and show scenes from the life of St Charles Borromeo (who helped plague victims in Italy), to whom the church is dedicated. The huge oval dome reaches 236 ft (72m); in combination with the church's large windows, the dome's height creates a bright, open nave. There is a small museum with a handful of religious art and clothing purportedly from the saint, but the highlight is the lift to the dome for a close-up view of the detailed frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr. The altar panel is by Sebastiano Ricci and shows the Assumption of the Virgin.
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.
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A Jewish community existed in Vienna from medieval times, centered around Judenplatz where the city’s first synagogue was built. That was burnt down during an uprising in 1420, by which time the Jews controlled much of the city’s wealth. A second Jewish enclave grew up in Leopoldstadt in the 15th century and flourished until the 1930s; there were synagogues all over the city and the Jews were part of wealthy Viennese society. All that came to an abrupt end in 1938 with the Nazis marching in to the city, and many thousands of Jews fled Austria following the burning of their businesses and houses on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.
Altogether 65,000 Viennese Jews died during World War II and the city’s Holocaust Memorial stands in Judenplatz, a controversial and austere white marble box that contrasts sharply with the ornate Baroque architecture that surrounds it. Designed in 2000 by British artist Rachel Whiteread, it is made of concrete and steel.
Lose yourself in medieval-era Salzburg on a stroll through Getreidegasse. The atmospheric laneway is lined with upmarket boutiques and shops.
Getreidegasse is as historic as it is pretty. Harking back to Roman days, the thoroughfare has always been the city’s high street, connecting Salzburg to Bavaria. The street is lined with beautiful medieval and Baroque buildings, built by rich merchants over the centuries. It was in one of these buildings that Mozart was born in 1756.
With a capacity of 2,854 between two concert halls, the Musikverein is home to the renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It was constructed on the Vienna Ringstrasse, in elegant Neo-Classical style, by Danish architect Theophil Hansen, and as well as having some of the best acoustics in the world, it is considered one of the loveliest concert halls in Europe. Inaugurated in 1870 by the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, the Musikverein is famous for its elaborate Golden Hall, the ornate, gilt-clad auditorium with a frescoed ceiling, dripping chandeliers and luxurious balconied stalls. The Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year concert has been broadcast all around the world from here since 1959. A chamber-music hall is used for smaller events.
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.
Designed in 1818, the Burggarten park served as a private royal garden for the Habsburg family until the end of the empire in 1918. It has an English layout and is a popular place to relax. Many locals come here for a break during or after their workday. There are many statues and monuments in the park, including the Mozart Memorial in the southwest section of the garden. The memorial uses plants that form a musical clef in front of the statue of Mozart. Monuments honoring Goethe and Emperor Franz Joseph I can also be found in the park.
There is also a fountain with a statue depicting Hercules fighting with a lion. In the northeast section of Burggarten is the Palm House. It is an elegant glass building that contains a tropical environment with waterfalls and exotic plants, and it is home to hundreds of free-flying tropical butterflies. There is also a cafe inside the Palm House.
Mozart lived in the Tanzmeisterhaus with his family from 1773 to 1780. The eight-room apartment was a big step up for the family from the crowded lodgings on medieval Getreidegasse.
The house was built in 1617, and has been totally rebuilt and renovated to return its appearance to that of Mozart’s era. Mozart composed many of his masterpieces in this house, and a visit to his home provides a glimpse into the life of the musical genius. Entertaining and informative displays trace Mozart’s many journeys and his links to Salzburg.
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.
In the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town, St. Peter’s Abbey (or Stift Sankt Peter) is known for its cemetery and ancient lineage, dating back to the 800s. The Benedictine monastery’s abbey church has a Romanesque structure and lavish rococo interior.
The abbey library is a treasure trove of musical manuscripts, and the abbey also houses a prized collection of artworks, musical instruments and treasures. In the abbey cemetery lie the tombs of Mozart’s beloved sister and the brother of Haydn. While you’re here, visit the Stiftskeller St. Peter restaurant, in the abbey cellars. Mentioned in a document from the year 803, it is thought to be one of the oldest hostelries in Europe and is an atmospheric choice for a night out in Salzburg.
The Vienna Woods lie alongside the River Danube in the north of Vienna, a region of gentle forested uplands that roll northwards towards the foothills of the Austrian Alps. Originally hunting grounds for Viennese royalty, the region was forested in the 16th century, and thanks to the onslaught of urbanization, some 1,350 km2 were given protected status by UNESCO in 2005 in order to stop the decimation of the eco-system. Now the woods form a haven for rare birds and green lizards as well as mammals including deer and wild boar.
At weekends walkers and hikers flock out from the city to follow way-marked routes through the forests; one of the most popular trails leads in four hours up the slopes of the 484-meter-high peak of Kahlenberg for superb views back across the city. The Vienna Woods are covered with vine-clad hills, making Vienna one of the few cities in the world to have its own vineyards.
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.
Innsbruck’s regal Gothic Hofkirche (Court Church) forms part of a complex with the Hofburg Imperial Palace in the Altstadt (Old Town). It was constructed by the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I in 1563 in memory of his grandfather, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, whose elaborate marble tomb dominates the church’s central aisle and is a masterpiece of intricate German Renaissance sculpture. His (empty) sarcophagus depicts Maximilian kneeling in prayer and is flanked by 28 life-size bronze figures of his forefathers, family, and literary figures, including a statue of King Arthur by Albrecht Dürer.
Also buried in the Hofkirche, just left of the entrance, is Tyrolean Resistance hero Andreas Hofer, who fought against Napoleon and was eventually executed in 1810 in Mantua, Italy. Other highlights of the church include the ornately carved wooden pews and pulpit; Jörg Ebert’s gilded organ, and the Silver Chapel, so-named for the silver statue of the Virgin Mary.
Things to do near Austria
- Things to do in Vienna
- Things to do in Salzburg
- Things to do in Innsbruck
- Things to do in Schwechat
- Things to do in Linz
- Things to do in Graz
- Things to do in Hallstatt
- Things to do in Klagenfurt
- Things to do in Slovenia
- Things to do in Czech Republic
- Things to do in Austrian Alps
- Things to do in Upper Austria
- Things to do in Lower Austria
- Things to do in Passau
- Things to do in Friuli-Venezia Giulia