Some cities seduce you with their urgency and energy, where you swear the streets have current running through them. Vienna does not. The ancient Austrian capital implores us to slow down and look up.
But the seat of the Hapsburg Empire for centuries is no laggard. In fact, it’s obsessed about the proper allocation of time and resources to create a fair, just city. The inspiration spans a millennium, documented in the city’s hallowed institutions whereby it ranks at #17 in our Culture subcategory (an improvement of four spots over last year), and #23 for Museums.
You’ll certainly never find a better view of the city than that from the 1897-vintage Reisenrad ferris wheel at the Prater, the oldest amusement park in the world; you’ll also never feel so exquisitely the meaning of Imperial as at Schonbrunn palace. And without Christkindlmärkte, the sparkling holiday markets, would there even be a Christmas?
But fresh ideas are blowing through the city where modernism was born—the 4th district seems to be just one hub of change on its own. Better tasting coffee is coming to the UNESCO-ranked coffeehouses, like the Landtmann and the Central—places where radical philosophical and aesthetic movements were hatched over mediocre joe.
And along with the Klimts at the Schloss Belvedere, and the ever-unsettling Egon Schiele at the Leopold, there’s a dynamic contemporary art scene made up of places like TBA21 and the Museum of Applied Arts, which combines applied art, design, architecture and contemporary art in historic splendor. There’s viennacontemporary, an art fair for explorers that deftly bridges Western and Eastern European works. The annual Vienna Design Week is an anticipated takeover of the entire city. Not for nothing does Vienna rank #32 overall for its Programming, an improvement of two spots over last year.
While you’re enjoying the very particular appreciation of time that is Vienna, explore some of the Grätzl. The old Viennese word for neighborhood evokes intimate local knowledge of places like Praterstrasse, Rossau, or Karmelitermarkt where you can slow down and smell the coffee at last.
But Vienna isn’t just a snowglobe with LEED certification. The city’s relentless pursuit of quality of life for residents new and old is the stuff of legends in Europe. The internationally lauded Vienna University is free, or almost free for non-EU residents. Today’s student population exceeds 100,000, up more than 75% from earlier this decade. Rent-to-own affordable housing, reliable and extensive public transit and half the urban area dedicated green space criss-crossed by the Danube River add to the almost surreal generosity of one of Europe’s most incredible urban centers.