Vienna is a remarkable city, everything, from the people themselves to the famous Sachertorte, seems mature and cultivated. Nowhere else will you feel the romance, grace, and civilization of Old Europe than in Vienna.
Begin at St. Stephen's Cathedral, the focal point of the city. It has the highest steeple and is at the heartbeat of one of the busiest intersections in town near the Graben, the elegant pedestrian shopping street with its baroque Plague Column, built by Leopold I to commemorate the end of the plague in 1679.
Another great landmark in this enchanting city is the Hofburg Palace, called simply die Burg by the Viennese. And though it has more than 2,600 rooms, you'll only be able to visit about two dozen of them. Built between the 13th and 20th centuries in a variety of architectural styles, it's more like a small city than a palace, and you can easily spend days here. The Swiss Court named for the Swiss mercenaries who once guarded it, is its oldest part, and in the oldest building in the complex is the Gothic Royal Chapel where the Vienna Boys' Choir performs. The Schatzkammer, considered to be the greatest treasury in the world, has two sections. One displays the crown jewels and an assortment of imperial riches while the other contains ecclesiastical treasures, plus The Insignia and Regalia of The Holy Roman Empire and the Sabre of Charlemagne.
Tapestries hang on the walls of the Kaiserapartements where the emperors and their wives and children lived on the first floor. The dining table, set with magnificent silver, china, and crystal, reflects the pomp and splendor of a bygone era. The Neue Berg houses the world's second largest collection of armor and a unique assortment of ancient musical instruments, including pianos belonging to Beethoven, Schubert and Gustav Mahler.
But the one thing most people come to Vienna to see is a performance of the Lippizaner horses of the Spanish Riding School. Horses were an important part of Hapsburg life. Today, the white, crystal-chandeliered ballroom in an 18th-century building of the Hofburg hosts performances of these famous equines during the winter months.
There are over 40 museums in Vienna. Head first for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, across the street from The Hofburg. Here, you'll find roomfuls of works of Dutch and Flemish painters, as well as Italian and Spanish masters and Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque works, including the world's largest collection of tapestries. Another smaller one is the home of Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis.
From the tangle of streets of the old town from which Vienna grew in the Middle Ages, you should head next to the boulevards of The Ring. In 1857, seeing no further need for the old walls that had enclosed old-town Vienna for centuries, Emperor Frans Joseph ordered them torn down and replaced by grand buildings and a wide promenade, known as the Ringstrasse. This elegant, two-and-a-half-mile long horseshoe boulevard is one of the grand boulevards of Europe.
As you stroll along the Ringstrasse, you'll discover a variety of architectural styles ranging from Greek to Gothic. Along it you'll pass the Stadtpark, the State Opera, the Burggarten, the Hofburg Palace, the Volksgarten, the Parliament, the Rathaus, the Burgtheater, the University of Vienna, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Stop for a rest at an outdoor café in one of the parks along the way.
To visit Vienna and not to see the Schonbrunn Palace is like not visiting Vienna at all. Its formal baroque gardens have belonged to the Habsburgs since 1569. Emperor Leopold I began the present palace in 1695, but it was really Empress Maria Theresa who left the greatest imprint on it. While having 16 children, running the country, and fighting a war for her right to sit on the Austrian throne, she still found time to redesign Schonbrunn. Today, it remains much as she left it. To see the inside of this white and gilt rococo palace, you must take the guided tour. Afterwards, stroll around the grounds to see the statuary, the Neptune fountain, artificial Roman ruins, the largest hothouse in Europe, and views of the countryside from its highest point.