It is said that the streets of Vienna are not paved in stone but with history. Indeed, a great part of the city’s charm lies in the way it transforms history into the “good old imperial days”. This is why this young and dynamic metropolis in the heart of
Afamous Viennese song begins: “Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume”, which means trees at the Prater are in blossom again. Resonating the world over, it expresses a uniquely Viennese joie de vivre. When white and pink blossoms of the chestnut trees start reaching skyward, the city begins to change. Spring has arrived, the most romantic time in Vienna. The twittering of the blackbirds in the Volksgarten, Stadtpark and Rathauspark unfurls an inexplicable yearning in the hearts of passers-by. The fragrances of jasmine and lilac go to your head just like a glass of champagne.
A ‘Fiaker’ Ride Past Old Imperial Grandeur
In the spring, coachmen crack their whips in an even livelier manner than usual. This is the best time of year to take a ride in a fiaker or traditional horsedrawn carriage. After being greeted with words of olde-world charm, it is off to admire the magnificent architecture of the imperial era. From the Albertina to the Vienna State Opera, you then continue beneath the delicate green leaf canopy of the trees lining the Ring Boulevard. You will pass by the Burggarten (Imperial Garden) with its splendidly restored palm house, and two massive cupola-crowned buildings – the Museums of Fine Arts and Natural History. Mightily enthroned between them is the absolutist foremother of Baroque, Empress Maria Theresia – a monument facing over to the Hofburg (Imperial Palace) and Heldenplatz square. Asthe horses’ hooves clatter, a gentle May breeze touches your cheek. Thoughts wander in three-quarter time, turning back the wheel of time and transporting you back to another century. In your mind’s eye, you see a group of students in heated debate in front of the Parliament building; young lieutenants in splendid uniforms high atop their horses riding towards City Hall; and at the Burgtheater a coach turns into a small side street. In it, you discern a beautiful veiled lady – maybe en route to a secret rendezvous? The fiaker passes the Abbey of the Scots and Freyung, and then continues via Am Hof towards St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Every stone is imbued with history. With a little imagination, you can see former rulers pulling political strings behind the walls of city mansions Harrach, Schönborn-Batthyány, Daun-Kinsky and Ferstel, or coaches conveying gentry hailing from all over the globe. And in the evenings, you can almost hear the rustling of ladies’ gowns at soirées and balls.
Intimate Ball Whispers
Ball events have a long tradition in Vienna and are celebrated in the city like nowhere else on earth. No other place combines long-established ceremony with joie de vivre in quite the same way. But dancing is not restricted to the carnival season – balls are hosted in the capital all year round and there are countless other opportunities for a romantic evening on the dance floor. In summer, the Volksgarten café is a favorite spot to tango, cha-cha-cha, boogie and waltz under the stars with great views of the illuminated dome of the Natural History Museum in the background. Alternatively, enjoy an evening of dance during a cruise along the Danube. Lots of Viennese dance schools open their doors to non-members on certain evenings.
Winding Streets, Arcaded Courtyards
The magnificent facade of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is mirrored in the window panels of Hans Hollein’s Haas-Haus that houses a fashion store and the Do & Codesign hotel. Past and present often go hand in hand in Vienna, a fact demonstrated by a stroll through the old city. A nice cup of tea at Haas & Haas at Stephansplatz 4 is like a journey down the ages—you sit in a Biedermeier-style courtyard garden, surrounded by the massive old walls of the Haus des Deutschen Ordens (House of the Teutonic Order), and then you get presented with a digitally printed bill. When you find yourself in the small streets of Singerstrasse, Blutgasse and Domgasse, you are in the heart of the romantic city. Narrow and dark, they are covered with cobblestones just as they were centuries ago. Somehow you would not be surprised to see Mozart turning a corner on his way home to the Mozarthaus which contains the only original Mozart apartment preserved in Vienna, whistling a tune from his Marriage of Figaro, which he composed there. There is no danger of getting lost in these winding streets. You always seem to find your way back to Stephansplatz, only to continue in another direction, for instance through the alleyway of the archiepiscopal palace to Wollzeile, and then through another one at Figlmüller (the inn with the largest Vienna schnitzels) to Bäckerstrasse. Do not miss the arcaded courtyard of the Schwanenfeld building at Bäckerstrasse No.7 or the small inner courtyard at No. 12 known as Wo die Kuh am Brett spielt (where the cow plays checkers) with its namesake wall fresco. Continuing past the Academy of Sciences and the austere but beautiful Jesuit Church, you arrive at Sonnenfelsgasse with the Old University and Schönlaterngasse. Time seems to have stood still in all these streets – and, indeed, you are following in the footsteps of notable personalities such as Haydn, Beethoven, and Clara and Robert Schumann.
Delightful Markets & Biedermeier Districts
They may also have enjoyed the serenity and peace at Heiligenkreuz Court, which can be reached from Schönlaterngasse. This 17th-century building complex, built around a spacious inner courtyard is of timeless beauty.The great Austrian satirist Helmut Qualtinger used to live here. It is only a stone’s throw from Heiligenkreuz Court to Fleischmarkt. Like many others in the historic city centre, this street took its name from the wares sold here in the Middle Ages. Turkish merchants in rich costume sold silk from the orient, spices, tobacco and coffee. Later came the Greeks, who had left their homeland after the Turkish occupation, and also traded their wares. They left a number of mementos in Vienna: the Griechenbeisl inn, the richly-gilded Greek Church, and the charming Griechengasse with its flying buttresses and medieval facades. If you still have not had enough of narrow streets, ancient walls and the aura of centuries past, then cross the Ring boulevard and visit the Spittelberg quarter. This area used to lie outside the city walls, and was anything but elegant. Streets were lined with disreputable dives, wine flowed like water, manners were rough and many of the ladies weren’t ladies at all, but were paid money for their services. This part of town was revitalized in an exemplary fashion during the late 1970s. And now that its morals have been re
stored, you can safely stroll among the Biedermeier buildings and visit one of the many restaurants and bars. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, fine aromas of punch and gingerbread waft through Spittelberg. This is when the popular Christmas Market takes place. Although smaller than the one in front of City Hall, it offers a wide selection of delightful handicrafts.
The City’s Green Outdoors
It is true that Vienna is at its most beautiful in the spring – but only if you gaze away from summer, autumn and winter. One thing is for sure: Vienna is a city for all seasons. This has something to do with the fact that nature reaches deep into many parts of the city. Take the Prater, for instance. Around the turn of the last century, at the time of Freud, a ride to the Prater was very much a social occasion. On Sundays, carriages drove out from the inner city along Praterstrasse, the former Jägerzeile, into the green Prater. These days, in the mornings, the Prater is a jogger territory. Later in the day, it is horseback riders you will see, followed by walkers, day-trippers and the Viennese with their picnic baskets. And then there are whose who want to enjoy the constantly changing faces of the Prater throughout the year: the morning mist and the enchanting green of the month of May, dense foliage and heavy thunderstorm drops during the summer, the blaze of colour during fall and finally, in the winter, the white frost and bare trees picturesquely zigzagging into the air.
Romance on the Water
A boat trip is a wonderful conclusion to a fascinating day’s sightseeing or the ideal remedy after a busy day of meetings. The Old Danube is particularly inviting. There is a marked contrast between the riverbank atmosphere surrounded by verdant greenery and the urban skyline. A series of moonlight and picnic excursions are offered on selected dates in the summer, or simply enjoy spare ribs and other barbecue treats from one of the bars lining the waterside. A trip aboard a pleasure cruiser along the Danube Canal or a section of the Danube proper reveals the city from a new perspective that is best enjoyed with a leisurely cup of coffee or glass of wine. Nature lovers can take a boat trip into the unspoiled wilderness of the DonauAuen National Park, while sports lovers can cool off aboard the Badeschiff and enjoy the old and new facades that make up the cityscape in the center of Vienna. Meanwhile, Strandbar Herrmann provides the perfect place to chill and flirt over a snack and a cocktail.
Wine Taverns: Nostalgia and Easy Charm
The classic and traditional way to conclude an excursion to the Vienna Woods is to visit a Heuriger.The word “heuriger” refers to both the wine of the last harvest and the taverns where it is served. Whether in Grinzing, Neustift, Nussdorf or Salmannsdorf, a charming time is guaranteed with special wine tavern music contributing to the romantic mood. And as the small hours beckon, it is common for people at the tavern to join in the singing of an old Viennese song or two, such as “Es wird a Wein sein, und mir wern nimmer sein ... ” (There’ll always be wine, but we won’t be here to enjoy it) – a little wistful melancholy that befits an emotional city like Vienna. And if it isn’t melancholy, it is nostalgia like at Salettl, a small café in the 19th district. A sun lounge, unpretentious tables and chairs, and the flair of the turn of the last century – all this is much appreciated by the young Viennese in particular. Villa Aurora, near Wilhelminenberg Palace in the 16th district, also exudes fin-de-siècle flair by candlelight. Who knows, you could order a Vienna schnitzel and salad, only to be served the dessert from the next table. So you exchange dishes, get to talking, sit closer, look into each other’s eyes and maybe fall in love. This can easily happen in Vienna.
Wedding of Your Dreams
The city also takes care of the consequences of falling in love. It is possible to get married at some of the most delightful locations in Vienna, for instance Schönbrunn Palace, the giant Ferris wheel, a vintage tramway or the Butterfly House. A knot tied in such romantic surroundings is destined to last. After all, the lovers on Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “The Kiss” have been embracing each other in unchanging passion for over 100 years.