Most people visit VIENNA (Wien) with a vivid image in their minds: a romantic place, full of imperial nostalgia, opera houses and exquisite cakes. Even so, the city can overwhelm with its eclectic feast of architectural styles, from High Baroque through the monumental imperial projects of the late nineteenth century, to the decorative Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) style of the early twentieth, used to great effect on several of the city’s splendid U-Bahn stations.
Vienna became an important centre in the tenth century, then in 1278 the city fell to Rudolf of Habsburg, but didn’t become the imperial residence until 1683. The great aristocratic families flooded in to build palaces in a frenzy of construction that gave Vienna its Baroque character. By the end of the Habsburg era the city had become a breeding ground for the ideological passions of the age, and the ghosts of Freud, Klimt and Schiele are now some of the city’s biggest tourist draws.
Central Vienna is surprisingly compact: with the historical centre, or Innere Stadt, just 1km wide. The most important sights are concentrated here and along the Ringstrasse – the series of traffic- and tram-clogged boulevards that form a ring road around the centre. Efficient public transport allows you to cross the city in less than thirty minutes, making even peripheral sights, such as the monumental imperial palace at Schönbrunn, easily accessible. However, for all the grand palaces and museums, a trip to Vienna that’s only frantic sightseeing would miss out on European café culture at its very finest: spending a leisurely afternoon nursing a creamy coffee and a piece of cake in one of the grand, shabby-glamorous coffeehouses that the city is famous for.