You only need to take a relaxing stroll along the Ringstrasse to realise that the Viennese know what they’re doing when it comes to art and architecture. The city is littered with resplendent palaces, 19th-century cafés, world-famous art galleries and elaborate venues in which to enjoy everything from opera to cinema.
Many of these buildings, and the works of art within them, were created and influenced by four men: painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, architect Otto Wagner, and graphic artist and designer Koloman Moser – all of whom died in 1918. 100 years on, Vienna is hosting a series of exhibitions and events throughout 2018 to commemorate the work of these great men.
Here is a range of cultural attractions where you can admire their legacies and learn of other great influencers throughout the history of Austria and its capital.
Vienna is home to many art galleries that allow you to discover pieces from the 16th century all the way up to the present day. Whilst the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien showcases works from one end of the scale, alongside ancient artefacts, it is at the Gerald Hartinger Fine Arts gallery where you can admire contemporary creations from the American pop art scene – including those by John Lennon.
Meanwhile, the two most iconic Viennese art galleries have to be the Leopold and Belvedere Museums. Both have links to the men mentioned at the top of this article, with Klimt’s The Kiss hanging in the halls of the Belvedere and the Leopold being home to many masterpieces by Klimt, Schiele and Moser. Exhibitions focusing on each of these artists in more detail are being held throughout the year.
As well as the stunning Belvedere Palace, which holds the Belvedere Museum mentioned above, there are two more historic palaces with impressive exteriors and shimmering interiors. The Imperial Palace (also known as Hofburg) is the former seat of the Habsburg monarchs and the current seat of the Austrian President. It houses various collections of art and artefacts that highlight the extravagant taste of this royal family, including Roman relics and the lavish Imperial Silver Collection. You can view these displays as well as touring the Imperial Apartments – the private quarters that belonged to Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.
Schönbrunn Palace is another popular attraction, with as much to see outside as there is to admire within its walls. This is where the Habsburgs spent their summers and so the palace offers another chance to visit rooms used by Emperor Franz Joseph, along with those lived in by Empress Maria Theresa – a name you will see a lot during your Vienna city break. If you think there are a lot of rooms on the tour, it’s worth considering that you’re only seeing 45 of the 1,441 that there are in total.
The stunning Baroque gardens attached have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can walk amongst the delightful fountains, statues and flowers for free or pay a small charge to visit the Palm House, attempt the maze or access the balcony overlooking the Gloriette monument. The Schönbrunn Palace gardens are also where you will find the oldest zoo in the world.
The resplendent Vienna State Opera is a must-visit for anyone who is a fan of the performing arts. Whether you choose to spend an evening at the opera or simply opt for one of the public guided tours, this French-Renaissance-style building and its famous interior staircase will definitely be a highlight of your trip. Performances are in German but are all translated into the language of your choice via a small screen in front of your seat. Specific operas range from regular classics such as Beethoven’s Fidelio and Giacomo Puccini's Turandot to premieres like Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns.
If the theatre is more your thing, the chance to visit the Burgtheater should not be passed up. Completed in 1888, it continues a long history of national theatres in Vienna, the first of which was attached to the Imperial Palace. Now found along the Ringstrasse, the building features a number of ceiling frescoes painted by Gustav Klimt and his brother, as well as a collection of Klimt’s sketches found in the attic during a renovation. Although performed in German, select plays – including Beckett’s Endgame – are now accompanied by English subtitles. Guided tours of the building are also offered every day at 3pm.
Churches and Cathedrals
Religious buildings are amongst the most impressive architectural structures in any city and Vienna certainly has a wealth of these. The most recognisable has to be St. Stephen's Cathedral, an image which adorns souvenirs sold all over the city. The structure was built during the 12th-century but didn’t resemble the Gothic church you see today until a reconstruction 200 years later. Inside, additions and alterations have been made throughout the centuries, meaning there are clear influences from a range of architectural periods. Highlights include the Cathedral Treasury, housing ancient relics and important texts; the south tower viewing platform, accessed via 343 steps; and Pummerin, Europe’s second-largest free-swinging chimed bell, which hangs proudly in the north tower.
Amongst the other churches of note are St. Charles Church, famous for its splendid frescoes that can be viewed up close thanks to a lift, and the Church of St. Leopold. The latter was designed by Otto Wagner and features stained glass windows created by Koloman Moser.
As you wander the lively streets of Vienna, you will find it hard to concentrate on where you are going whilst continually looking up at magnificent buildings. As well as those already mentioned, there are plenty of other architectural wonders dotted around the city. City Hall is a prime example of this, with its towering iron figure (known as the Rathausmann) demanding attention from atop his 98-metre-high perch. Inside, you’ll find the City Senate Chamber, decorated with ornamental gold leaf; the grand former carriage entrance; and the Mayor's reception room – all of which can be seen during public guided tours.
Add to this the Greek temple-inspired Parliament building and the colourful buildings of the Hundertwasserhaus and the Kunst Haus Wien and you begin to get an idea just how much your neck might hurt at the end of the day. The Kunst Haus (art gallery and café) and Hundertwasserhaus (public housing) were both created by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to inspire creativity and to reinvigorate a formerly inconspicuous area of the city.
Food is a big part of Austrian life and a café culture has existed in Vienna for many years now. People may come for the Sacher torte but they stay for the chance to catch up with friends and family and people-watch with a coffee in hand. Many of these historic coffee houses can count some of Vienna’s most famous names amongst their patrons over the years. You can follow in the footsteps of Freud and Trotsky at Café Central; dine at Gustav Mahler’s old haunt, Café Imperial; or sit down for a bite to eat in Café Museum, a regular spot for men of the moment Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Otto Wagner.
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