St. Stephen's Cathedral is considered one of the world's most enchanting Gothic cathedrals. A 12th-century construction, it was renovated in the Gothic style between 1304 and 1433. It's Northern Tower, standing at a height of 70 meters (229.6 feet), was redesigned according to Renaissance aesthetics in 1579 and the interior was given a baroque slant following the Counter-Reformation. St. Stephen's Cathedral's famed bell, the "Pummerin," weighing no less than 21 tons, suffered considerable fire damage in World War II. It has since been repaired and is now used to mark special occasions, such as to ring in the new year. For those who wish to explore a different side of the cathedral, guided tours of the underground crypts are available.
Designed and built at the end of the 19th Century by Gottfried Semper and Karl Hasenauer, the Kunsthistorisches Museum houses the Habsburg family's art collection, widely regarded to be one of the finest in Europe. The Picture Gallery is literally a Who's Who of the old masters, containing works by the likes of Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dürer, Raphael, Titian and Velazquez, as well as a comprehensive collection of paintings by Breugel. One visit is hardly enough to take everything in - lots of people return for a second or third time. The Ephesus Museum - a collection of arms and armour - and the collection of ancient musical instruments in the Imperial Palace also belong to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and are worthy of a visit in their own right.
Schönbrunn Palace in its present form is one of Vienna's most popular tourist attractions, hosting thousands of visitors a week. This Rococo Palace was finished in 1700 under Leopold I and is a smaller version of an imperial project first planned by Johann Fischer von Erlach. The palace was renovated and extended under Maria Theresia, and at that time had 2,000 rooms, a chapel and its own theater. Like all the imperial buildings associated with Maria Theresia, the Schönbrunn complex is today painted in yellow. Napoleon lived here from 1805 to 1809, and Emperor Francis Joseph I, who was born here in 1830, spent the last years of his life in the palace.
In 1752, Francis Stephen Lothringen, the husband of Empress Maria Theresia, founded Vienna's zoo in Schönbrunn. In former times the menagerie served as an entertainment and educational location for the court. Today, one of the main reasons behind the Tiergarten Schönbrunn's popularity is that it is one of the few zoos in the world that houses giant pandas. Some of the baroque style buildings are still used and some new enclosures have also been added. The Imperial Breakfast Pavilion in the historical center of the layout is the starting point for zoo walks. A visit to the zoo is the perfect family entertainment, especially on the weekends.
The magnificent Opernhaus am Ring, famous first and foremost for its annual high society ball, hosts productions of the very highest quality by the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Ballet Company and a host of world famous opera singers and directors. However, the opera house started its days on a less auspicious note, with architect Eduard van der Nüll committing suicide in 1868 because of intense public criticism of his design. The Opera House opened with Mozart's Don Giovanni in 1869, and has been going strong ever since.
The Albertina resides on a plateau at the far end of Augustinerstraße, beyond the Augustinerkirche. It is named after Albert, Duke of Saxony-Teschen, who bought the palace in the early 19th century. On the basis of his own enthusiasm as a collector, he turned it into a place to display his collection. Today, the Albertina boasts one of the largest collections of graphic arts in the world, with approximately 50000 drawings, etchings and watercolors as well as over a million and a half printed works by all the important artists from Gothic to modern art.
The capital of Austria, Vienna flaunts a taste for the finer things in life. The grand architectural legacy of Vienna's imperial past is owed to the Habsburg monarchy, with Hofburg Palace as the crown jewel of a reign that extended over 600 years. Here, the Burgkapelle hosts the Vienna Boys' Choir each Sunday, while the Kaiserappartements showcase the world-renown Imperial collection of fine art. The baroque Schloss Belvedere and neo-Gothic Rathaus are other exceptional excerpts from Vienna's long-standing penchant for outstanding architecture and art. Its museums too are riveting attractions. The contemporary MUMOK is a fitting companion to the classical art on display at the Leopold Museum, while the Naturhistorisches Museum delves into the region's natural history. The city is best known for its musical soul, with grand dames like the Musikverein, Konzerthaus and Staatsoper the cornerstones of an age-old tradition helmed by the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Josef Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Strauss. Culinary delights are aplenty as well, led by Vienna's world-renown coffeehouse culture, while its pubs serve Austrian comfort food at its best. Wine bars are hidden away in vaulted cellars, acclaimed restaurants serving soul-stirring cuisine and Naschmarkt's international flavors mark Vienna as a showstopper of the gourmet world. All this and more make Vienna an uncontested beauty.
Tucked beneath the famed St. Stephen's Cathedral, possibly the most recognizable landmark in all of Vienna lies the Stephansdom Catacombs. An attraction unto themselves, these eerie caverns hold the remains of over 11,000 people, including bishops of the church. Tours take place ever half hour for those brave enough to see what lies beneath this historic city.
The Austrian capital is famous for its 'Schmäh' - the unique, often malicious and macabre humour of the inhabitants that one can best experience over a 'Schoppen Heurigen', the typical freshly pressed wine. The city's symbol is the Stephansdom, whose roof with the gaudily colourful glass tiles dominates the cityscape. Remnants of the imperial and royal monarchy can still be found in the old town as well as in Schloss Schönbrunn. A charming feature of Vienna is also its renowned coffee-house culture.