Vienna is the Audrey Hepburn of capital cities: elegant, sophisticated, beautiful and glamorous.
Commonly associated with opera and imperial history, few places compare with its grand museums, art nouveau architecture, open courtyards, cobbled streets and alabaster buildings glimmering with gold.
Vienna is incredibly easy on the eye, almost like the whole city was built by one architect overnight (bar the whimsical Hunderwasserhaus building). It has a preserved-like quality, in a way that makes you feel like you’re walking inside an open air museum. Perhaps that’s true when catching sight of the lavish and organic ornamentation found on building after building in the name of Art Nouveau.
The movement blossomed in Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century, with influential Austrian architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos making significant architectural contributions that helped shape the city’s current skyline.
The hallmark of Art Nouveau’s beauty reaches its pinnacle at the Secession Building. Sadly, I didn’t have time to go inside to see work from the Secession artists led most notably by Gustav Klimt. For a true feast of Klimt you could admire his frescoes in the Burgtheatre or catch The Kiss in the Upper Belvedere palace.
Instead, I opted for Mumok, Vienna’s leading contemporary art museum. It showcases many of the Secession artists alongside current artists like Gerhard Richter and Maria Lassnig. As is such with modern art museums, the building itself is a break away from classical architecture. With a black, stone-cladded exterior, Mumok is unquestionably elegant in its own unique way, it reminded me somewhat of the Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen.
Once you’ve had your fill at the Secession or Mumok, it’s time for some free sight-seeing. For the best of Vienna’s elegance, make it an Otto Wagner themed walk. Admire the apartment facades at Number 38 and 40 Linke Wienzeile. If you’ve strolled down Alberta Street in Riga, it’ll give you an idea of what to expect – facades dripping with beautiful motifs and shiny, decorative tiles.
Book lovers will not be disappointed with a visit to the National Library, with the State Hall stealing all worthy attention. Easily one of the world’s most beautiful libraries and officially the biggest Baroque library in Europe, it certainly leaves a lasting impression. The impressive ceremonial room of the library is almost 80 m long and 20 m high and is crowned by a dome decorated with frescoes by Daniel Gran. If money were no object, I’d want a room – possibly on a slightly smaller scale – like this in my house. Keep dreaming, Shing, keep dreaming!
Whilst I find the savoury food overall a bit stodgy, the desserts are another story…
Whether it’s the rich, chocolatey taste of Sachertorte, or seeing the elegant precision of the eight separate layers of sponge and cream that makes up a Dobostorte – one thing is for sure – the Viennese have turned their desserts into an art form.
Oh, the palaces!
Finally, saving the summit of Vienna’s elegance until last is a visit to Schonbrunn Palace. With its exquisite neoclassical exterior, lavish interior and beautifully preserved gardens with Baroque sculptures and fountains, it deserves a whole day of exploration. Music fans might like to know that Mozart once gave a private performance for the empress – Maria Theresa – inside the Mirror Room.
Though as spectacular as the building is from the inside, it’s no comparison to the feeling of sprawling out inside the Palace’s Botanical garden on a sunny day to catch some vitamin D!
If you have more time, there’s also the Belvedere, a Baroque palace home to a wide range of Austrian artwork, including Klimt and the achingly beautiful, Egon Schiele.