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Viennesse delight

Imperial palaces and great music, Old Masters and modern art, legendary coffee houses and trendy restaurants, designer shopping and Christmas markets – Sue Dobson thinks Austria’s stylish capital is one of Europe’s finest cities


With its Baroque architecture, fabulous palaces, brilliant museums, sinuous Art Nouveau buildings and the great Ringstrasse – a broad boulevard encircling an Old Town so rich it’s a UNESCO world heritage site – Vienna has a foot in the past. But look across the River Danube at the concrete and glass UNO-city, or at the exciting MuseumsQuartier, and you soon see that Vienna embraces the 21st century too.

Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro here; today the city has great opera, concerts, theatre, jazz – and a club scene to rave over. Among narrow streets, elegant squares and ornate façades are shops selling designer fashion, gourmet foods and furnishing classics.

Restaurants range from the traditional homes of wiener schnitzel such as Figlmüller to the stylish modern among palms and tropical plants under glass at the Palmenhaus. There are certain Viennese traditions that are simply too good not to go along with. Like eating sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher, or at archrival Demel. Or spending an evening at a heuriger, a local wine tavern with its own vineyard. And Vienna’s atmospheric coffee houses are legendary.

Vienna is art lovers’ heaven. Immerse yourself in Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Rubens and Breughel in ornate settings at the Museum of Fine Arts (KHM), modern art in the MuseumsQuartier, Schieles and Klimts at the Leopold, and Klimt’s stunning Beethoven Frieze in Secession. Hear music among the memorabilia at Figaro House, Mozart’s old home on Domgasse, and don’t miss the imaginative, hands-on House of Music.

Holiday magic
Every day from November 17 to December 24 the city takes on a magical air with traditional Advent markets, when the aromas of roasting chestnuts and mulled wine waft among the little wooden cabins and market stalls glittering with lights, gifts and Christmas cheer.

The Vienna Christmas Market in front of the City Hall is the classic, with elaborately decorated theme trees in the enchanted park and activities to thrill kids of all ages, while the courtyard of the Hapsburg’s grandiose Schönbrunn Palace is the setting for stalls selling Austrian handicrafts and traditional foods, handmade gifts and decorations.

The Viennese know how to celebrate. On New Year’s Eve the old city transforms into a gigantic party zone with big screens and stages, live music and DJ’s, food stalls and buzzing cafés and bars. Meanwhile it’s all white tie and tails and sweeping ball gowns for the Imperial Ball at the glittering Hofburg Palace; waltzes, banquets and gala dinners at the City Hall and Palais Ferstel; and countless dinner-dances in smart hotels.

Start 2009 with a ‘hangover breakfast’ on City Hall Square while watching the Vienna Philharmonic’s famous New Year’s Day Concert transmitted live via a big screen. Many bars, inns and cafés open their doors at 7am for those revellers who haven’t yet made it home, and brunch is served in hotspot locations. And as this is the city of music, there’s an unimaginable choice of events from opera and classics to jazz, folk and rock. Austria’s capital city is special at any time of the year, but there’s a certain magic about the winter holiday season.

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