Walking tour of Innerstadt
Walk north up the pedestrian-only Karntner Strasse, a walkway of plush shops, trees, cafes tables and street entertainers. Detour left down the short Donnergasse to look at the Donnerbrunnen (1739) in Neuer Markt. The four naked figures on this fountain represent the four main tributaries of the Danube. Across the square is Kapuzinerkirche (Church of the Capucin Friars) and the Kaisergreft (burial vault). Back on Karntner Strasse, detour left again down Karntner Durchgang. Here you’ll find the American Bar, designed in 1908 by Adolf Loos (Art Nouveau).
From Karntner Strasse the street opens out into Stock im Eisen Platz. On the left-side corner of Karntner Strasse, flush against the building, is a nail-studded stump (nails courtesy of blacksmiths in the 16th century banging in a nail for luck when they left the city). On the right across the square is Stephensplatz and Vienna’s prime landmark, Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral). Be sure to spend some time here. Facing it is the unashamedly modern Haas Haus, built by Hans Hollein and opened in 1990 (Viennese were unhappy when it was built).
Leading northwest from Stock im Eisen Platz is the broad thoroughfare of Graben, another push shopping street. Graben is dominated by the knobbly outline of the Pest Sanle (Plague Column), completed in 1693 to commemorate the 75,000 victims of the Black Death who perished in Vienna some 20 years earlier.
Turn left inot Kohlmarkt, so named because charcoal was once sold here. At #14 is one of the most famous of the Konditorei-style cafes (Demel). Just beyond is Michaelerplatz with the some of St Michael’s, the gateway to the Hofburg (the Imperial Palace), towering above.
The so-called Loos Haus (Golman & Salatsch Bldg) on Michaelerplatz is a typical example of the clean lines of Loos’ work. However, Franz Josef hated it and described the windows as “windows without eyebrows”. The excavations in the middle of the square are of Roman origin. Michaelerkirche, on the square, portrays five centuries of architecture styles, from 1327 (Romanesque chancel) to 1792 (Baroque doorway angels).
Pass through St Michael’s Gate and the courtyard to find yourself in Heldenplatz, with the vast curve of the Neue Hofburg, built between 1881-1908, on your left. Walk past the line of fiacres, noting the Gothic spire of the Rathaus (1873-1883) rising above the trees to your right. Ahead, on the far side of the Ring, stand the rival identical twins, the Naturshistorischers Museum (1872-1881) and the Kunsthistorischers Museum (Fine Arts) (1872-1881). Don’t miss visiting the latter. Between the museums is a large statue of Maria Theresa, surrounded by key figures of her reign.
Emperor Franz Josef was largely responsible for the architecture round the Ringstrasse. Tour the Ringstrasse, especially the section from the university to the Staatsoper (State Opera). Break up your walk by relaxing enroute in the Volksgarten (with its many roses) or in Rathauspark, featuring statues and fountains. The Burggarten contains statues of Mozart (1896) and Franz Josef, as well as the Schmetterlinghaus (Butterfly House). From the Hofburg, walk counter-clockwise round the Ring, passing a vast statue of Goethe, until you reach the Staatsoper, built between 1861 and 1869. The opulent interior is best explored during the interval of a performance, or you can take a guided tour.
At the northwestern corner of the Staatsoper is Albertinaplatz which adjoins the southeastern extremity of the Hofburg. This wing contains the famous Albertina collection of graphic arts. On the square is a troubling work by sculptor and graphic artist, Alfred Hrdlicka, created in 1988. This series of pale block-like sculptures commemorates Jews and other victims of war and fascism.
Turn into Philharmonikerstrasse, passing between the Opera and the Hotel Sacher, purveyor of a famous cake, the Sacher torte. Another few steps will bring you back to Karntner Strasse.