Austria’s historic and beautiful capital is a mainstay destination on the many cruises which explore the Danube River and is one of Europe’s most celebrated capital cities. Vienna can trace its history back to pre-Roman times and its first Celtic settlers. The Roman’s subsequently fortified it as a frontier settlement but it first came to the world’s attention when it became the seat of the Babenburg Empire in the 1100s. Following that, it enjoyed greater prominence when it became the famous Habsburg Dynasty’s city of residence in 1440, after which its reputation as a centre for science, culture and the arts continued to grow. It more than earned its political stripes when it became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1804 and continues to be a key city on today’s political stage, hosting such international organisations as the United Nations and OPEC. For river cruises though, its stunning architecture and history are what truly puts it on the map.
The city’s biggest concentration of architectural and cultural attractions can be found in the Ringstrasse. This circular road had its beginnings in the demolition of the old city walls on the orders of Franz Joseph, who ordered a new construction to honour the Habsburg Empire’s power and influence. Work started in 1857 and the result is one of the main reasons why so many river cruisers explore the city.
Vienna’s State Opera House is also one of the world’s most prestigious musical venues and the first building to be reconstructed from the city’s expansion fund. It’s a Neo-Renaissance wonder and features a beautiful interior, with its stunning marble staircases being a particular high point. The Austrian Parliament Building is another key structure and the place where the country’s parliament still sits today. One of the largest and most distinctive structures on the Ringstrasse, it’s built in the Greek Revival style and has over 100 rooms including the celebrated Hall of Pillars. The Rathaus or Town Hall is an imposing Gothic structure which is home to the city council but also open to visitors, offering them a fascinating look at its history. The Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum are also notable attractions, though identical in structure and design, their contents are very different. Whichever you choose to explore depends on your interests but either way, you’re in for an architectural treat.
Away from the Ringstrasse, St Stephen’s Cathedral is the city’s most celebrated landmark. This huge Romanesque structure is an incredible sight to behold and is immediately recognisable thanks to its multi-coloured tiled roof and twin towers. The north tower is home to one of the world’s largest bells and also boasts some incredible city views. Another key architectural and historical treasure is Schonbrunn Palace, which lies outside the city and is a popular river cruise excursion. This is the Habsburgs' former home and contains a wealth of treasures and artefacts relating to the famous family. The gardens are pretty special too, boasting ornamental structures and even a zoo to explore.
A trip to one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses is a must if you’re a fan of the drink and indeed, there are dozens of different blends to choose from. Melange is a popular local brew and similar to a cappuccino. As far as an accompanying snack goes, a slice of Sachertorte is a must.