Vienna, Europe’s most musical of cities, owes its enduring reputation as a cultural powerhouse to its harmonious mix of contemporary offerings and grand traditions. Turned in to art, fashion, food and music, Tony Magnusson conducts his way through an enriching 24 hours in the Austrian capital.
Sitting pretty at No. 1 on Mercer’s Quality of Living Rankings for 2015, Vienna is green and clean, with about half of its 415 square kilometres given over to woods, grasslands, parks and gardens, not to mention 1200 kilometres of cycling paths.
As such, its horseshoe-shaped Innere Stadt (Old Town) and adjacent neighbourhoods are best explored on foot or two wheels, although the excellent public transport system is easy to navigate, too. Mixing tradition with innovation, it’s a city in which forward-looking creative types flourish against a historic backdrop of Baroque, Biedermeier and Jugendstil influences. No longer just for the waltz-and-torte brigade, this is a must-visit metropolis for all who recognise that culture is king. 07:30 Hire a Citybike (citybikewien.at) from its Kärntner Ring or Opernring docking stations. Both are close to the Vienna State Opera and you can pay the minimal fee by credit card. Follow the 5.3-kilometre-long Ringstrasse – the city’s tree-lined boulevard that circles the Innere Stadt. The street is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year with numerous events, including Viennale – the Vienna International Film Festival (October 22-November 5). Along the way you’ll take in some of Vienna’s most photogenic buildings: the Hofburg Palace, the huge, Greek-temple-inspired Austrian Parliament Building (it’s about the size of two football fields), the Gothic Revival beauty of the Rathaus (town hall) and architect Otto Wagner’s Austrian Postal Savings Bank, regarded as an important example of early modern architecture.
You’ll also pass a handful of Vienna’s 280 imperial gardens and parks, including the Volksgarten opposite the Austrian Parliament Building; the Burggarten with its statue of Mozart; and the city’s oldest public park, the Stadtpark, which has meadows and a pond. Arrive back where you started or, if you take a detour, return your bike to one of 120 docking stations around the city.
08:30 From the Vienna State Opera, walk a short distance to Brasserie & Bakery (Führichgasse 10) – a Sir Terence Conran-designed café-restaurant attached to boutique hotel The Guest House – for eggs Amélie (crisp toast with vegetables, poached egg, artichokes and hollandaise), specialty Naber coffee and a selection of bread and pastries baked in a wood-burning oven. After a healthier start to the day? There’s porridge or gluten-free muesli and a menu of vitamin-rich smoothies. As popular with locals as it is with hotel guests, it’s a smartly appointed affair offering brisk service and views across the triangular public space of Helmut Zilk-Platz to the Albertina museum.
10:00 Overwhelmed by the number (and size) of museums in Vienna? Try the Albertina – it’s diverse, large and when culture fatigue beckons, there’s an excellent on-site café, DO & CO. Once a residential palace of the all-powerful Habsburgs, who ruled their vast empire from Vienna for more than 600 years, the Albertina is home to an unrivalled collection of graphic works from the late Middle Ages to now. Currently on show is Edvard Munch: Love, Death and Loneliness (until January 2016), an exhibition devoted to the melancholic Norwegian artist’s experiments in printmaking, including lithographs of The Scream and Madonna. Also on display is Black & White (until January 2016) – an exhibition of photographs by Brassaï, Robert Frank and Lisette Model – and Monet to Picasso, a permanent exhibition of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon.
12:00 Head down Operngasse, cross the Ringstrasse and keep going until you spy the gold-domed Secession Building to your right, opened in 1898 as an exhibition pavilion for the eponymous artistic movement led by Gustav Klimt. The geometric, temple-like building with its golden laurel leaves and three gorgon masks makes for a fabulous photo op, especially when the dome is gleaming in the sunlight. If you feel like it, pay to step inside and view Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. A three-wall cycle based on Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, it is regarded as one of the painter’s most significant works.
12:30 Leaving the Secession Building, turn right and you’ll see the beginning of a food market. Occupying a long, narrow strip of land between Linke Wienzeile and Rechte Wienzeile, a major artery out of town, Naschmarkt consists of about 120 stalls and restaurants. From Turkish to Russian, Indian spices to Mediterranean antipasti, it’s a fragrant journey around the world, with many of the vendors handing out tidbits as an enticement. Sample away then find Schleifmühlgasse off Rechte Wienzeile and make for the café Vollpension at No. 16 (vollpense.at). Part intergenerational social enterprise, part damn fine eatery, Vollpension (full pension) is a pop-up that has now found a permanent home in the cool, indie Freihausviertel district. Here, amid self-consciously kitsch furniture and artwork hung in the French salon style, a battalion of Viennese grandmas cooks up pastries, cakes and hot meals for a crowd of mostly young diners while hipsters make the coffee and serve your food. Order the roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut then choose one of the nannas’ special cakes to accompany your mélange (Vienna’s answer to the cappuccino). The idea behind the venture is to encourage young and old to connect and with home-cooked food this good, it’s no hard task.
13:30 Time to explore the streets of Freihausviertel, an area sprinkled with independent boutiques, antique shops, design stores, art galleries, restaurants and bars. Turn right onto Margaretenstrasse and browse both sides, looking out for: Samstag for bold and eccentric womenswear and menswear by mostly European designers, including Vienna’s own House of the Very Island’s; Unikatessen (for new and vintage womenswear with covetable accessories; and Feinedinge for locally made, contemporary porcelain dinnerware and vases in delicate hues of apricot and violet. Back on Schleifmühlgasse at No. 6, Gabarage upcycles residual and waste materials into bags, furniture, lighting and accessories in a cool and thoughtful way.
14:30 Go back to Naschmarkt, find Getreidemarkt next to the Secession Building and head north-west to Museumsplatz. Turn left into the Museumsquartier, where you will find the Leopold Museum (think Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt et al.;) and Mumok (Vienna’s modern art museum). Cross diagonally and, next to the ark-like Mumok building, clad in grey basalt lava, there’s a stairway. Follow it up and out of the complex to Breite Gasse. Welcome to Neubau, a shopping precinct popular with fashion designers and other creatives. Streets worth exploring include Lindengasse and Siebensterngasse and those running between. After a serious fashion purchase? Go to Park, a multi-brand boutique carrying investment-price pieces by Acne Studios, Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann, Maison Margiela and Viennese fashion star Petar Petrov.
16:00 After all that, you deserve to sit down and indulge. Catch a tram for €2.30 ($3.50) – from the coins-only ticket machine on board – back to the Ringstrasse then walk across the Volksgarten park and through the Hofburg, cross Michaelerplatz and find Demel on Kohlmarkt 14. This court bakery and coffee salon dates back to 1786 and, in the 19th century, Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) was a sucker for its violet ice-cream. Watch master confectioners and bakers practising their precise craft in the glass-walled kitchen while you indulge in a wedge of Demel torte (walnut and chocolate cake glazed with milk chocolate and candied violets) or marmorgugelhupf (marble cake with chocolate). To drink? Make it an einspänner (double espresso with whipped cream).
17:00 Around this time – and depending on what day it is – you may want to locate Burg Kino at Opernring 19 and settle down for a screening of Carol Reed’s classic noir The Third Man (1949), shot and set in beleaguered postwar Vienna and starring a shifty-looking Orson Welles as black-market maestro Harry Lime. The cinema shows the film three to four times a week in the original English. There’s also a small museum devoted to the film at Pressgasse 25, open Saturdays from 2pm to 6pm, as well as The Third Man tours that traverse the Vienna sewer, where part of the film was shot, among other locations.
19:00 If noir isn’t your thing, then you’ve had a couple of hours to cool your heels and freshen up before seeing a concert in a city defined by music; Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler all lived here at some point. Head to the Wiener Musikverein or Wiener Konzerthaus, or take in a performance at the Vienna State Opera. This month at the Musikverein, Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly leads the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and German violinist Christian Tetzlaff in a program of Mozart and Strauss (October 5, 7 and 8 at 7.30pm) and period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 8 under the baton of Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (October 10 and 11 at 7.30pm). Over at the Wiener Konzerthaus, Australia’s own Simone Young conducts the Wiener Symphoniker in a program of Schwertsik and Liszt, with Canadian pianist Louis Lortie (October 24 at 3.30pm, and 25 at 7.30pm). Meanwhile, opera buffs can choose from eight Vienna State Opera productions this month, including Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko as Tatiana on October 25 and 28, and November 2 and 5. Book ahead to ensure a seat.
22:00 Conclude your Viennese sojourn with a late-night supper at Gigerl (Rauhensteingasse 3, entry at Blumenstockgasse 2; gigerl.at), a rustic wine tavern a little off the tourist path in the centre of town. The Styrian free-range roast chicken with potato salad is simple and superb. Mind you, given you’re in Vienna, it might have to be the Wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes and cranberries. And for a nightcap? Wander back to Stephansplatz, taking in the Stephansdom (St Stephan’s Cathedral), then find the Loos American Bar. Designed by proto-modernist Austrian architect Adolf Loos in 1908, it’s a small but perfectly formed space boasting green leather banquettes, a coffered mahogany ceiling, onyx wall tiles and a marble chequerboard floor. Orson Welles drank here. And so can you.