Visitors come to Vienna with high expectations of lavish palaces, ornamental parks, cakes piled high with whipped cream and the strain of Strauss waltzes. They're rarely disappointed; this is a city that trades on its glorious past, reveling in its heyday, when Gustav Mahler was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, Sigmund Freud was inventing psychoanalysis and the coffee houses were abuzz with the banter of middle-class intellectuals.
Yet as much as it lives in the past, Vienna has hauled itself into the present with elegance and style. Visitors will discover a compact but diverse, multicultural city, with a thriving art and design scene, some truly fabulous shopping, superb contemporary art collections, and acres of gorgeous parks and gardens. Here, you'll find a happy devotion to the good life, whether it's sipping a cocktail at one of the hip bars on the Danube Canal or the gemutlichkeit (the Austrian term for "coziness") of tasting wines grown on the hills around the city in a traditional pub garden in the village of Grinzing.
Because most of the big attractions are around or inside the Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that encloses the first district, or city center, Vienna is easy to explore. In fact, you could spend days in the first district alone, shopping on the elegant Karntnerstrasse, exploring St. Stephen's Cathedral and countless other Baroque churches, devoting time to galleries and museums, and immersing yourself in the famous coffee culture.
--written by Sue Bryant