Walking Tour of Vienna, Austria
Vienna is one of the most elegant and magnificent cities in the world. Its architecture rivals that of Paris, Prague, or London. It is also a convenient gateway to Eastern Europe, a growing presence on the tourist scene. It is only 60 or so miles from Bratislava and less than 150 miles from Budapest. My walking tour is fairly ambitious, but can easily be done over several days.
Begin at the intersection of the Inner Ring with Karntnerstrasse, a pedestrian-only street which northward into the heart of the City Center. Before heading down Karntnerstrasse, check out the State Opera House, on the ring road at the corner. The interior is incredibly opulent.
Now, walk down the pedestrian avenue, past the many shops and cafes (this is one of Vienna’s major shopping streets). Take a left onto Donnergasse. At the square is the Church of the Capucine Friars, which houses the Imperial Crypt, burial place for many of the Hapsburg rulers and their families. Admire the many elaborate vaults, especially that of Maria Theresia and Francis I.
Walk back to Karntnerstrasse and turn left into Stock-im-Eisen Platz and slightly beyond, into Stephansplatz. The distinctive, colorful, tiled roof ahead is that of Stephansdom, Vienna’s most important church (mid-15th century), which dominates the square. This area is one of the city’s major gathering places.
The exterior of the church is remarkable for its mosaic roof, as well as the 450-foot South Spire (which has a viewing platform with excellent panoramas for the hardy), and the Giant’s Doorway, at the main entrance. Inside, don’t miss the carved, wooden altarpiece and the stone-carved pulpit.
When you leave the Cathedral, retrace back to Stock-im-Eisen Platz and walk through the square and northwest on the Graben. The Pest Column ahead was erected in 1693.
Take a left on Kohlmarkt which leads to St Michael’s Square, St Michael’s Church, which is a favorite spot for those who appreciate ghoulish sites, and Michael’s Gate, the dramatic entryway into the Hofburg Palace complex.
There are many tempting museums in the complex, but skip them for now to continue the walk. The first large courtyard is known as In der Burg and is associated with the Old Palace (Alte Burg), which surrounds it. Leave the courtyard at the southern end to enter Helden Platz, a large square which is lined on the left with the Neue Burg (New Palace) with its grand semicircular facade.
Also in the complex, which you can explore now or later, are the Spanish Riding School, home of the white Lipizzaner Stallions, the Church of the Augustinians, the Albertina, which houses on the greatest collections of graphics in the world, the Kaiserappartements, living quarters of the rulers of the monarchy, the Schatzkammer, Austria’s Imperial Treasury, and the Burg-Garten.
Exit Heldenplatz by walking through the Volksgarten, directly opposite the Neue Burg (be sure to check out the Heroes Monument Gate before departing the area). You will come out of the garden onto Dr Karl Leuger Ring. On your left is Parliament, an impressive neo-Classical structure. On your right up ahead, is the Burg Theater. The impressive facade is topped by a statue of Apollo and below it, a frieze featuring Bacchus and Ariadne. Directly across the square is the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) which is done in a glorious neo-Gothic design. It is spectacularly lit at Christmas time.
Turn left as you face the Town Hall and proceed down Reichstratstrasse, then turn right at its end, then left on Auerspergstrasse which becomes Museumplatz. Here you will find the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Art History, which houses art collected by the Hapsburgs over many years. It is certainly a world-class museum, one of the best in all of Europe.
Leave the museum quarter by turning left on Babenburgstrasse, then right on the ring road. Ahead on your right is Karlsplatz, dominated by Karlskirche. The marvelous Baroque church contains several treasures, its frescoes beneath the dome, its pulpit, and its inspiring High Altar. The outside features a beautiful dome, flanked by two columns, reminiscent of Trajan’s Column in Rome.
Leave the church and cross the square to Lothringerstrasse. Before heading right (east) on this road, cross the road to check out the Musikverein (Golden Hall), on Symphonikerstrasse, home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and of the best acoustical music venues in the world. (Try to book a Mozart concert here while in Vienna)
Return to Lothringerstrasse and turn left to Schwarzenbergplatz, then turn right onto Rennweg which heads to one of the grandest palaces in the city, Belvedere Palace, which now houses the Ostrerreichishes Galerie. Enter at the the Lower Belvedere and stroll the lovely gardens on the way uphill to Upper Belvedere. The entire complex is huge but worth an hour or two.
From here you have two options.
1. For a worthwhile detour, return to Schwarzenbergplatz and turn right onto Am Heumarkt. Bear right at the Train Station on Invalidenstrasse, then right on Marxergasse and left on Untere Viadukt, then right on Hetzgasse and right again on Lowengasse to its intersection with Kegelgasse. On the corner you can’t miss the Hundertwasserhaus, an eco-apartment complex with one of the most unusual and colorful designs in the world.
To return to the Inner City, back track on Lowengasse all the way to a left on Radetskystrasse, then left on Stubenring. Ahead, on the left, is Stadtpark, a wonderful maze of trails and flowers and statues. Be sure to find the Strauss Memorial, a golden statue of the Waltz King under an archway, for a great photo-op.
Leave the park by continuing westward on the ring road (now Parkring) which changes names several times but eventually returns you to the starting point.
2. To skip the above detour, take Rennweg to Schwarzenbergplatz, cross the square traveling northward to the Ring Road and turn left. This will bring you back to the beginning of Karntnerstrasse, where the walk started.