DAILYMAIL.CO.UK REPORTS – They didn’t skimp on magnificence when they created Vienna, although it’s still possible to enjoy one of Europe’s showpiece cities on a budget.
We visit the Austrian capital, host of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, and finds glorious palaces and gardens, galleries dripping with art, famous white horses, superlative coffee and cake, and so much music.
RING OF GRANDEUR
The Ringstrasse Boulevard, known as the Ring, is three miles long, up to 170ft wide in places and lined with luxury. It opened in 1865 as an unparalleled masterpiece of urban planning. Spaced along it like old masters in a gallery are buildings of the utmost grandeur – the Imperial Palace, private mansions, public buildings of high pomp, the Vienna State Opera and many museums. And all on a single street. It may be too long to walk, so take one of the trams that run its length. A Vienna Card for €21.90 (about £16) covers your public transport for 72 hours. Inside the Ring, St Stephen’s cathedral soars over the Golden Quarter, where shopping is sensibly priced.
There are many ways to experience music in this most tuneful of cities – for example, the season of grand balls set to Strauss, the free, open-air Summer Night Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic in the Schönbrunn Palace gardens, or the Lipizzaner stallions’ morning exercise at the Spanish Riding School. Catch the the Lipizzaner stallions’ morning exercise at the Spanish Riding School
VIEW TO A THRILL
There is a choice of supreme views in Vienna. The Schönbrunn Palace, seen from the hill above it, is my preference. There is much to see in the palace, including the Hall of Mirrors, where Mozart performed for Empress Maria Theresa, but you can walk around the extensive gardens for nothing. My second choice is the Upper Belvedere palace, on the other side of the city. The grounds here, too, are free to explore. But it is worth paying to see the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by Vienna’s leading revolutionary artist, Gustave Klimt. They include the gorgeously gilded The Kiss.
Vienna basks in a caffeine culture that is largely unchanged since the 17th Century. The proud, independent Viennese cafe is on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Even in the grandest place it’s enough just to order the sacred drink, if you can decide which of the 20 or 30 different ways you want it. But most cafes also serve their own home-made and irresistible cakes and pastries, including the dieter’s ‘all hope gone’ tower of bread pudding and meringue – 6in high and served with hot vanilla custard – which we sampled at Cafe Diglas on Wollzeile.
No city plays such a strong supporting role in the movies as Vienna does in The Third Man – recently voted the greatest British film. We found plenty of moody locations in spot-lit doorways to serve for a re-enactment of the memorable reveal scene featuring Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. You can catch the movie every weekend in the Burg Kino, an English-language cinema.
HOTEL TO BANK ON
As war raged across Europe 100 years ago, life, and building, went grandly on in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1915 they opened a bank full of fine wood, ornate mouldings and the most intricate Art Deco detail. A century on, this sumptuous temple of high finance in the Golden Quarter has a new incarnation, as the Park Hyatt Hotel. The interior designers preserved lavish original details – the marble columns, wrought-iron banisters, precision inlays, ceilings and panelling. There are gold tiles in the pool, which was once the bank’s vault. The Pearl Bar, with a spiral staircase based on the one in Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment, and the Bank restaurant in the massive cashiers’ hall, are open to non-residents.