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Tuesday 26 September 2017

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Soak up a little Viennese culture for the soul

Stunning Viennese architectural detail can be seen on almost every street corner

A wander around the Austrian capital of Vienna just somehow feels exactly the way you always thought it should…

The buildings are, generally, stately architectural works of art, the streets wide and majestic, the indigenous folk friendly and helpful and the transport system, especially the trams, completely facilitative in your explorational endeavours.

With a population of some 1.73 million (more than a fifth of the country’s total) it ranks number 9 in this regard in the European Union, as well as being Austria’s largest city and its cultural, economic and political centre.

Designated a UNESCO heritage site in 2001, Vienna is regarded as the City of Music, due, of course, to its remarkable legacy, in particular from the great age of Viennese Classicalism. Less well known is its reputation for being the City of Dreams, largely due to it being the home of the world’s first – and arguably most famous – psycho-analyst, Sigmund Freud.

With its roots in early Roman and Celtic settlements, the thriving metropolis of today has Medieval and Baroque influences, with the aforementioned architecture including stunning castles and gardens, with its piece-de-resistance being the late 19th century Ringstrasse, lined with its superbly grand buildings, parks and monuments.

If you’re into your museums, then Vienna most certainly won’t disappoint, with a number being located conveniently in the Museumsquartier, where any art or music lover will be able to while away several happy hours.

Culinary delights are also abundant, from the classic Wiener Schnitzel, which is available in almost every restaurant that serves Viennese cuisine, and can be eaten hot or cold. Other local treats include Tafelspitz (very lean boiled beef), which is traditionally served with Geröstete Erdäpfel (boiled potatoes mashed with a fork and subsequently fried) and horseradish sauce, Apfelkren (a mixture of horseradish, cream and apple) and Schnittlauchsauce (a chive sauce made with mayonnaise and old bread).

The city does, of course, have a very long tradition of producing artisan cakes and desserts, including the internationally recognisable Apfelstrudel (hot apple strudel), as well as lesser know delicacies such as Millirahmstrudel (milk-cream strudel), Palatschinken (sweet pancakes), and Knödel (dumplings), the latter often found filled with fruit such as apricots (Marillenknödel). Another world famous Viennese speciality is Sachertorte, a delicately moist chocolate cake with apricot jam (created by the Sacher Hotel).

Along with Paris, Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and London, Vienna is one of the few remaining capital cities in the world with its own vineyards. The wine is served in small Viennese pubs known as Heuriger, especially numerous in the wine growing areas, and is often served with sparkling water, creating either a red or white wine spritzer. Beer is also very popular, with the city boasting a single large brewery, Ottakringer, and more than ten microbreweries. A Beisl is a typical small Austrian pub, of which Vienna has many.

Another tradition of the city dating back centuries is its coffee house, or café culture. They have a style all their own, and though many European cities have tried to copy and emulate, none seem to have quite managed to capture the atmosphere and finesse found here. For a true taste of Austria’s primary city, these are an absolute must; to languish an hour or so away in one of the many, scattered throughout the streets and boulevards, is to experience a certain kind of bliss.

All in all, Vienna is a city well worth spending time in. There’s still a real flavour of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and it’s one of those capitals that just makes you feel a little more cultured for having visited it. With English freely spoken at most establishments and by the vast majority of locals, this sprawling but beautiful centre makes for an easy yet stimulating stay.

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