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August 17, 2017

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Vienna

Austria’s capital city has its own sound of music

In addition to being a modern, progressive city that scores high on sustainability, Vienna lives up to its nostalgic, Hapsburg-palace-encrusted, cream-cake-laden image. Citadel to a score of musicians including Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Mahler and Schönberg, and the birthplace of the waltz and the operetta, Vienna is also the ultimate City of Music. So why not let music guide you through the city’s walkable wealth of architectural sites and museums?

But first heed this warning: avoid the Mozart men! They’re the ones you see in old-time garb in front of music venues who want to sell you grossly overpriced tickets for tourist-only shows. Go instead to Musikverein (Musikvereinsplatz 1; musikverein.at) or Konzerthaus (Lothringerstraße 20; konzerthaus.at) near the Stadtpark, where you can hear orchestral performances of Mozart and others.

If you want to catch first class music last minute, try the standing rooms (the Musikverein has one, but it’s crummy). Most opera houses have them and tickets sell for as little as €2. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a scarf to mark your place once inside and show up to wait in line a couple of hours before the doors open, longer if the show’s got a big name. The Wiener Staatsoper (Opernring 2; wiener-staatsoper.at, or State Opera, has a standing room and the Volksoper (Währinger Straße 78; volksoper.at), or People’s Opera, with fewer tourists, has one too, but you may be able to get night-of seated tickets there. You’ll find a consistent level of quality at this venue and reasonably priced seats from €21.

Most of Vienna’s renowned super-sites are easily accessible on foot from the old city centre. While exploring these, stop at Mozarthaus Vienna (Domgasse 5; mozarthausvienna.at; €10), a museum behind the towering Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s) Cathedral, which includes the apartment where the composer penned The Marriage of Figaro. A few minutes stroll away at Pasqualatihaus (Molker Bastei 8; wienmuseum.at/en/locations/location-detail//standorte/beethoven-pasqualatihaus-1.html; €4), you can walk up 110 stone steps to what was Beethoven’s top-floor apartment and gaze at a few of his belongings.

In the other direction, Haus der Musik (Seilerstätte 30; hdm.at; €12 or €17 if you combine a visit to the Mozarthaus and Haus der Musik) is an eccentric museum with dozens of “experience zones” that let you see, feel and conduct your own music. But the best way to have an immersive music experience in Vienna is to take a waltz lesson at the Waltz in Vienna dance school (Kalvarienberggasse 28A; waltzvienna.com; €33 per person), which gives beginner classes that include important dance etiquette.

Afternoon delight

With the exception of the Schönbrunn Palace (or “Schloss”) and giant Ferris wheel of The Third Man fame in the Prater, most of Vienna’s top sites are a comfortable walking distance from the conference centres.

The massive, 800-year-old, tiled-roof Stephansdom in the centre of old town is the obvious place to start an impulse-led walking tour. After you’ve checked out the cathedral, wander the town’s medieval layout and you’ll pass the Baroque Academy of Sciences, the Deutschordenskirche and several other rococo-encrusted architectural gems.

Be sure to stop at the famous Cafe Demel (Kolmarkt 14; demel.at) for an exquisite pastry (there’s a mini Demel at the airport if you don’t make it to the one in town!) or the Haas & Haas colonial teahouse (Stephensplatz 4; haas-haas.at) for a traditional array of tea and treats. The oddly-named Gulasch Museum (Schulerstrass 20; gulasch.at) is, in fact, a restaurant with dozens of different goulash offerings and other traditional Viennese favorites. It’s a reliably tasty, reasonably-priced option; consider making a reservation.

After lunch, you can walk 10 minutes southwest down Spiegelgasse to the Albertina Museum (Albertinaplatz 1; albertina.at; €11.90), which houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world with nearly one million old masters prints. If you’d rather refresh in nature, the adjacent Burggarten, a park created by the Hapsburgs on land around the Hofburg Palace Complex is dotted with statues of Mozart, Goethe and others; it’s also home to the Schmetterlinghaus (schmetterlinghaus.at) or Butterfly House, where 150 species of live butterflies inhabit a rainforest-like environment.

From there, it’s a short walk across the park to the fantastic MuseumsQuartier (mqw.at), a delightful convergence of 20 different museums, including the Mumok (mumok.at), a modern art museum, and Zoom (www.kindermuseum.at), a children’s museum. The complex courtyard is a favorite hangout spot for locals.

Down the Danube

The Danube winds through castles and wine country in some of the most magnificent river scenery in all Europe. If you’re short on time, you can at least enjoy a few hours of summer magic by taking the subway to Donauinsel, or Danube Island, popularly known as the Copa Cagrana. ("Cagrana" is taken from the name of the nearby local area known as "Kagran.") Locals go there for swimming, biking and jogging, and there are dozens of restaurants to choose from. Donauinselfest (donauinselfest.at), June 21 to 23, is an open-air free music fest billed as Europe’s largest outdoor party.

The Danube's beauty spot is a stretch of the river called the Wachau, located between the towns of Krems and Melk. For a packed-but-relaxed day trip, take the train (use the Einfach-Raus-Ticket; €32; oebb.at for details) from Vienna to Melk (plan to arrive at 10:30am). Walk to the staggeringly lovely Melk Abbey (stiftmelk.at) for a 11am English-speaking tour, snack at the Garden Pavilion and then rent bikes from a Nextbike station (nextbike.at), a public bike-sharing system. (The bike comes with a lock, but bring a helmet). Bike on the (downhill!) Melk side of the river through gorgeous towns and vineyards to Spitz, where you can catch a ferry over to Krems and return your bike at the train station. Then use the same train to ride back to Vienna.

For more on travel to the region: wien.info.

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