Explore gems in the most famous boulevard of Vienna

Resplendence of the Ringstrasse in Vienna…

Sunlight dazzles on the calm waters of the Danube flowing through the city’s suburbs. You can almost hear the strains of the most famous waltz ever written, ‘The Blue Danube’ by Strauss. Well, hardly a waltz, more like Austria’s second national anthem. The aura of Europe’s cultural hub unveils itself gradually through broad boulevards, aristocratic architecture, glorious greenery and luxury hotels housed in old palaces. Missing your gown and tux?

Ringstrasse: Ring of resplendence

Start with the grandiose Ringstrasse, Vienna’s most epic public construction project generously commissioned by Franz Josef in the mid 19th-century. The 5-kilometer long, tree-lined horseshoe-boulevard circling the inner city, sports an ensemble of showpiece buildings for aristocrats, including Parliament and State Opera House, splendid parks, an array of museums. Chauffeured-driven diplomats in sleek black cars and awestruck foreigners in smart tour buses traverse the elegant roadway. But you’re imagining Vienna from another century…horse-drawn carriages, noblemen in top hats, the protection of a beloved emperor and the pride of citizenship of a powerful nation. There’s endless drama in the eclectic mix of diverse styles, revived motifs (inherently neo-classicist) in every building but, if time is a challenge, focus on these five spots on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. Take this loop.

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1. Karlsplatz: Just a trailer

The modest-size of the Karlsplatz (Charles Square) its compensated by the glory of an ornate super-sized, green copper dome. The overt splendour of the Karlkrische (St Charles Church) proclaims its significance. This was Charles V’s grateful homage to the heavens when the Great Plague subsided. Moorish elements, inspired by sacred architecture in Spain combine with a Greek-temple like portico to create an unexpected jumble of influences, yet there is an inexplicable balance. Two ‘Pillars of Hercules’ in marble with spiral friezes (so like the Roman Trajan’s Column) accentuate its Byzantine-like dome. To the right of the church, a simple plaque commemorates the great Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi, who died in Vienna and was buried here. More than anything else, Karlkrische has a strong, commanding presence. And this is just a trailer of the majesty that lies in store. 

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2. MuseumsQuartier: Art attack

The baroque facade of the former imperial stables is a complete contrast to the unusual cubic structures inside the complex that house modern art museums. Choose the MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) for over 9000 contemporary art pieces…paintings, photography and sculpture from classical modernity, cubism, futurism and surrealism to pop art, fluxus and nouveau réalisme. Play Rorschach-like experiments trying to interpret the polka-dotted question-mark face with a single eye and large teardrop. Or marvel at the photo-like quality of Hanns Kralik’s “From my window of 1930”. The vintage 1908 poster of Kaiser Jubilee by Ferdinand Ludwig Graf is endearing…was it even an art piece when he drew it? Outside, in the Haupthof courtyard, melt into the energetic and inspiring vibe on a comfy beanbag under the late morning sun. A quick doze, then?

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The seeds of culture addiction have been planted…and when you reach the Museum of Fine Arts and its counterpart, the Natural History Museum, you’re want both…but settle at one. The stone sculpture of a baby elephant with cute button-eyes wins your favour…and by the time you exit, your brains are overflowing with information on neolithic tools and dinosaurs. Nice!

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3. Heldenplatz: Stage for history

You’re at the Palace Complex, so pause at the Burgtor, one of the original gates surrounding the fortifications of Vienna from 1660 to read the inscription LAURUM MILITIBUS LAURO DIGNIS MDCCCCXVI (Laurels to soldiers worthy of laurels 1916). The middle archway, once a privileged entryway for the emperor’s carriage in imperial times, is public thoroughfare now, so march freely through. Here, in the monumental Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), the whiff of the ancient Austro-Hungary regime still hangs in the air, even after 100 years of the Empire being dissolved.

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Size up the high balustrade of the Neue Burg, now the National Library. One day in 1938, the Nazi flag had converted the balcony into a stage for Adolf Hitler to address more than 200,000 Austrians and declare his former homeland as part of the Third Reich. Freeze in the layers of history, get caught in a whirlpool of evolving identities and be lost in the waves of time.

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Tour the exemplary European baroque architecture inside…3-meter high magnificent frescoed dome, marble sculptures, mighty columns and natural light flooding in through the ceiling. The Grand Hall, laden by wooden bookshelves dressed with gold-plated wood carvings, rises to heights of almost 20 metres. Stuffed with over 7.4 million items including ancient texts written on papyrus, maps, paintings, manuscripts, rare books and photographs. Having an urge to read?

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4. Michaelerplatz: Of exalted guests 

Take a regal lunch break. Indulge at Cafe Hofburg in an Inner Courtyard outside the Imperial Apartments. How about grilled ham sandwiches and Kaiserschmarren ‘Hof köchinnen Art’, (sweet omelette pancake, served with stewed plums and apple puree)? Paper napkins with a dignified crest emblem, elegant silverware that clinks heavily, and poised waiters in black suits? Yes, please!

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Steps away, at Michaelerplatz, face the neo-Baroque entrance gate to the Habsburg imperial palace, and its oldest part (Alte Burg). The white curved building is graced by a green copper dome, elaborately gilt-embellished like a royal crown. Under your feet, you can see excavations of 18th-century housing, medieval cellars and Roman buildings…from the times the city was called Vindobona. Layers of history, one on top of the other reaching as far down as 9-meters below the ground level. The Habsburg Palace, the winter palace of the Habsburg family since the 13th-century has 18 groups of buildings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms spread over a massive 60 acres. Spare a few hours. (Read my post on Habsburg Palace)

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5. Kohlmarkt: Coal to couture

From Michaelerplatz, stroll down Kohlmarkt, Vienna’s most luxurious shopping street, which had humble beginnings as a charcoal market. International jewellery brands like Cartier, Chopard, Tiffany and Wellendorff showcase glittering gems where court-appointed jewellers were once housed. Take in the drama of Romanesque columns, baroque stuccos of cherubs, graceful sculptures on entrance portals, elaborate stone fountains and engraved reliefs. Distinguished composers Haydn and Chopin had once lived in houses around here. Study the H&M store where a former court menswear store used to be. Transitions!

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Peek into the 200-year old Imperial and Royal Court Confectionary Bakery, Demel, where Empress Elisabeth used to order her sweets. The famed Sachertore stands out like a diamond from the decadent display. Only two places claim to make the true Sachertorte: Hotel Sacher and Demel. Authenticity guaranteed. Can you miss a slice?

Head for the highlight of the area. The 12th-century Gothic cathedral, Stephansdom with pointy spires, tall windows and a diamond-patterned tile roof in blue-white-yellow. The story goes that composer Ludwig van Beethoven finally confirmed his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower when they tolled, but did not hear the bells. Catch the reflection of the medieval cathedral in a modern glass-and-steel building opposite. Traces of the past always remain in the present…and that is the undisputed law of the universe!

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Ringstrasse, Vienna's 5-kilometer long, tree-lined horseshoe-boulevard circling the inner city, sports an ensemble of showpiece buildings for aristocrats, including Parliament and State Opera House, splendid parks, an array of museums. Here's a guide.  #vienna #ringstrasse #historic centre #Habsburg palace

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38 thoughts on “Explore gems in the most famous boulevard of Vienna

  1. loved all the details in your post. I am Austrian and still learned something in your beautiful article. It seems you really enjoyed Vienna 🙂 I enjoy it everytime again…I live on the western side of Austria.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderful itinerary! I would love to visit Vienna, especially the Habsburg Palace. We made it to Prague and Budapest last summer but plan on saving Austria for another trip. Can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that is a walking tour! Thanks for sharing the map. We will have to follow it one day.

    We agree that the best way to experience a city and its architecture is by foot. It gives you such a tangible, tactile connection to the stone, steel and wood we construct our civilisation with.

    Thanks for sharing the museum and art gallery recommendations too. There is no better way to immerse yourself in history and culture.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those bean bags look like a great spot to rest but not sure how easy it would be for me to get going again… thank god for coffee right? I LOVE that you mapped out a walking route for me, it saves me so much time. Such great information!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vienna has been on my list for so long and your guide makes me want to see it more! I LOVE modern art and would love to see MUMOK – I like the juxtaposition of old buildings containing modern art. I want to see a picture of this famous Sachertorte – I must google it 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ringtrass looks so enthralling. It’s unbelievable that some imagined and executed it so meticulously in 19th century. You have very well captured its essence with those five spots. Heldenplatz (Heroes Square) is so full of history, heritage and super architecture. The grand Hall with 7.4 million books is now in my Bucket list.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never been to Vienna, but these are all things I’d love to see while I’m there! Heldenplatz looks so beautiful, I would love to see it. It’s also really interesting to read about its historical tie to Hitler. I had really strange moments on my travels through Germany thinking of that history. It’s crazy to think how relatively recent that is to our current time. Thanks for sharing so much amazing information on Vienna.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to what you mentioned about your Hitler-related thoughts while in Germany. I had many such moments myself, especially during a fascinating Hitler walking tour in Berlin. I have a post on it too on my blog.

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  8. I totallyyyy remember those bean bags by the museums from years ago … when I visited Vienna I was hella broke AND couldn’t get money out of the ATM, so I couldn’t go inside a single museum, but I hung out and people-watched in those bean bags for quite awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Every building in Vienna is just so beautiful! Did you go up the tower of the Stephansdom? The tiled roof is really special – and of course the food in Vienna is delicious – i ate all the Sachertorte and schnitzel I could find! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great walking tour! We love Vienna and have been to most of the spots you highlighted. Walking like you along the streets, passing through those glorious parks! LOVE the parks and green spaces, along with the magnificent architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Vienna has been on my list to visit for a long time, I love the old architecture and character. I really need to plan a trip that includes Vienna soon :-). Thank you for the detailed itinerary and your favorite spots, I’m saving this post for when I finally plan my trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Vienna has been my favorite town ever since I was a teenager, reading a series of books with the plot situated on Habsburg court. Last time I visited, we went to the Museumsquartier as well- it was December, so instead of beanie bags hey had Christmas stalls selling drinks in the courtyard. 🙂 Also, Iove Kaiserschmarrn, my grandma used to make them when I was a kid, and each time I come to Vienna I have to have a portion!

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  13. What a gorgeous day you had in Vienna, I love this city and your post brought me back to all these wonderful attractions…I just love all the amazing museums and palaces there!

    Like

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