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Interesting Facts about Vienna, Austria

Updated on April 24, 2014
Vienna
Vienna | Source

Vienna, the federal capital and one of the nine provinces of Austria, is located in the northeast corner of Austria, about 40 miles (65 km) from both Slovakia and Hungary, which lie to the east. Its 160 square miles (415 sq km) are completely surrounded by the province of Lower Austria.

Vienna is linked by rail with virtually every major city in Europe. High-speed roads connect the capital to the nation's borders and beyond. The international airport in Schwechat is 12 miles (19 km) to the east of the city center, just beyond the city limits.

Of Vienna's 23 districts, 21 are located on the right bank of the Danube River. These extend westward to the hills of the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald). The first district forms the heart of the Old or Inner City (Innere Stadt). What used to be the main channel of the Danube skirts the first district on the northeast. Confined between earthworks, it is now called the Danube Canal (Donaukanal). The Danube itself flows in a broad and straight bed to the northeast of the canal on its course from the northwest to the southeast of the city. A still more northeasterly branch is separated from the main channel and has become a lake fed by springs and groundwater. This "Old Danube" ("Alte Donau") lies in a park that is popular for swimming and sailing.

Downtown Vienna
Downtown Vienna | Source

In the west of the city the Vienna River divides the hills of the Vienna Woods to the north from those of the Lainzer Tiergarten to the south before joining the Danube Canal near the city center. The Kahlenberg, which rises to 1,585 feet (483 meters) in the Vienna Woods, is the last mild outcropping of the Austrian Alps, which reach their greatest heights far to the southwest. The Vienna Woods offer paths for strolling and restaurants for relaxation. The Lainzer Tiergarten includes an enclosed park for exotic breeds of cattle, sheep, and deer.

Vienna U-bahn

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The Ring Boulevard (Ringstrasse) has been a prominent feature of the city since 1857, when Emperor Francis Joseph ordered the old fortifications to be replaced by boulevards and buildings befitting the growing imperial city. In the shape of a horseshoe enclosing the Inner City and ending at the Danube Canal, it consists of several lanes of roadway, walkways, and four rows of trees, many of them flowering white chestnuts. Beyond the Ringstrasse lies another ring road, the Gürtel, constructed along another line of fortifications in 1873.

The subway, or U-bahn, has expanded along old City Express lines that originally connected the main railroad terminals. A newer High Speed Metropolitan Railway (Schnellbahn) speeds passengers from the south of the city and from across the Danube on the north.

The Viennese love to walk, whether in the crowded streets, the semiwildness of the Vienna Woods, or in the parks that dot the city. The Prater -the meadow and woodlands along the Danube once reserved for nobles- contains an amusement park with a famous giant Ferris wheel (the Riesenrad), a narrow-gauge railway leading to the Trade Fair Grounds, a planetarium, and major sports facilities.

St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral | Source

In the center of the Inner City stands the huge St. Stephen's Cathedral. The lofty south tower, completed in 1433, is one of the most beautiful of all Gothic spires.

The queen of shopping streets, the Kärntner Strasse, runs south from Stephansplatz in front of the cathedral to join the Ring at the Baroque State Opera House; en route, it passes the Hotel Sacher, famous for its Sachertorte, a typically Viennese confection of chocolate cake, marmalade, and chocolate icing.

Proceeding along the Ring in a clockwise manner, a pedestrian soon arrives at the Hofburg Gate and the magnificent Heldenplatz, built in the 1820s and now the site of Austria's monument to the unknown soldier.

Heldenplatz
Heldenplatz | Source
Hofburg
Hofburg | Source
National Library
National Library | Source

Behind the Heldenplatz and enclosing it on two sides is the Hofburg. This imperial palace experienced continuous expansion from the 13th century to the close of the 19th. The complex of buildings that make up the Hofburg include magnificent state apartments where the Austrian president holds official receptions; the federal chancellery; the hall of the Spanish Riding School, where the world-famous white Lipizzaner stallions perform; the National Library, designed by Joseph Fischer von Erlach and constructed by his son Johann in the early 1700s; the Albertina, with a renowned collection of graphic arts; and the castle chapel where the Vienna Choirboys sing. The New Palace (Neue Hofburg), constructed in 1881–1913, houses the Ephesus Museum, with antiquities from Asia Minor, the Ethnological Museum, a huge museum of armor, and a museum for musical instruments.

Directly across the Ring from the Heldenplatz are two museums: one for natural history and one for fine arts. The latter, the Art History Museum, has important Egyptian-Oriental holdings and many works by Dürer, Titian, Bruegel, and Rubens.

Rathaus
Rathaus | Source

The impressive mixture of parks, statues, and great buildings that line the Ring continues to the north with the Palace of Justice (seat of the Supreme Court) and the Parliament, both completed in the 1880s in Greek Revival style. The Rathaus (City Hall), built in the same years, is an example of Neo-Gothic style. The mayor, who is also the governor of the province of Vienna, presides there. Across from the Rathaus is the Burgtheater (Imperial Theater), whose acting companies have held a leading place in German-language drama for two centuries. Farther to the north is the university, which was founded in 1364 and is the oldest university in German-speaking Europe.

Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace | Source
Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace | Source
Karlskirche
Karlskirche | Source

South of the State Opera House, where the tour of the Ring began, is Vienna's most striking example of Baroque architecture -the Karlskirche, or Church of St. Charles Borromeo, which was built by the Fischer von Erlachs in the early 18th century. Its dome, like the spire of St. Stephen's, is a prominent feature of the skyline. Farther to the south is the Belvedere Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). Its secular Baroque culminates in the red marble halls of the Upper Belvedere.

The culmination of Rococo style is found in the splendors of Schönbrunn Palace. Designed by the younger Fischer von Erlach and virtually completed by 1713, this summer residence of the imperial family is situated among the hills and what were then woods and meadows to the southwest of the city. About 45 of the 1,441 rooms are open to the public. Although the private rooms of Francis Joseph are spartan, others are lavish, such as the Room of Millions, a great Rococo display filled with Oriental miniatures. A splendid panorama of the city and the river can be enjoyed from the terraces and gardens of Schönbrunn and of the Belvedere.

Impressive as are the grand palaces and the museums, which range from museums of street cars to the home of Sigmund Freud, visitors are often most captivated by the calm pleasantness, or gemütlichkeit, of Viennese life. This may be experienced in the coffeehouses, where one may visit or read newspapers for hours over a single cup of coffee. Or it may be found at a Heurigen -a private vintner's tavern where the grower features "this year's wine." While tourists flock to the outlying district of Grinzing to sample the local wine, the Viennese are more likely to congregate for the same purpose in Sievering or Nussdorf.

Twice a year the Viennese indulge in special celebrations. Fasching, the carnival season between New Year's Eve and Lent, is a time of balls and parties, sponsored by numerous organizations and professions. And from late May through June the annual Vienna Festival provides a variety of theatrical and musical entertainment

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