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World’s Coolest Cities: Vienna

The capital and largest city in Austria, Vienna is one of those places where you can effortlessly create the feeling of having stepped backwards in time into a more elegant and graceful era. Visitors can enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, or get dressed up in their best evening gown to savour a night at the opera or waltz in splendour at a formal ball. The grand palaces, stately museums, and perfectly designed public squares create an absolutely exquisite historical atmosphere that will make you hold your head high with the glamour of times gone by.

However, Vienna is at the same time a modern and fresh city, filled with young travellers and students enjoying the dynamic urban experience. Backpackers will love the beautiful parks, free music festivals, happening bars and pubs, and fun-loving attractions such as the Wiener Prater amusement park.

Monocle Magazine voted Vienna among its “Top 25 Livable Cities” in 2010 and the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked it number one against 127 cities around the world for Quality of Life in 2005. Now, in addition to these accolades, Vienna has been chosen as one of our World’s Coolest Cities!

Climate: Oceanic – Warm Summers (22-26 degrees) and Cold Winters with lows around -2 degrees and snow from December until March.

Population: 1, 712, 903

Currency: Euro

Language: German

A Ballroom Scene
A Ballroom Scene

Take Me Out to the Ball
Have you ever fantasized about waltzing the night away with your Prince Charming at an elegant, formal ball? This time honoured tradition is still alive and well in Vienna, where the official Viennese Ball Season calendar has 300 balls per year. Gliding across the floor, surrounded by elegant dancers in their finest evening gowns and tuxedos, can really make life feel like a fairy tale. If you are not sure about the proper waltzing technique (and who is these days?) you can take lessons from many different schools in Vienna to prepare yourself for the ball.
If you are a young traveller, you have certainly had your share of nights out in sweaty nightclubs or too-loud pubs in cities all over the world. Of course nightclubs are fun and entertaining, however it is not everywhere in the world where you can experience the glamour of a 19th century ball, where you sip glasses of champagne instead of plastic bottles of blue WKD and listen to the uplifting sounds of Strauss and Mozart instead of Lady Gaga or the Black Eyed Peas for a change. Perhaps while enjoying this glamorous trip back in time you might get swept off your feet by a charming Austrian who waltzes like a dream!

The Interior of the Vienna State Opera House
The Interior of the Vienna State Opera House

Art and Culture of Vienna
Vienna holds much to discover for the art enthusiast, including work from both foreign and Austrian artists. The Albertina Gallery has wonders from the 14th century onwards, including works from all the big names such as Durer, Rubens, Cezanne, Klimt and Picasso. The Modern Art Gallery, and Austrian Gallery also deliver many treasures for those interesting in historical masterpieces, and those who seek contemporary art will enjoy Schliefmuhlgasse.
If theatre is more your taste, you will find a wealth of luxurious venues and some of the most sophisticated theatre in Europe. The Theater an der Wien was founded in 1801 and still holds it historical charm. It presents a rich programme of operas and classical plays throughout the year. Many people love Opera and some hate it, but if you have never seen an opera it is something that it worth experiencing in your lifetime, and what better place to give opera a try than in the gorgeous classical theatres of Vienna?

Ice Skating in Vienna
Ice Skating in Vienna

Vienna Ice Dream
In the winter months of January through to March, the square in front of City Hall is transformed into a giant, 6,000 square meter outdoor ice skating rink, creating a beautiful icy paradise for skating enthusiasts of all ages. Skaters of varying skill levels glide gracefully (or stumble awkwardly) along to pumping disco tunes from the 80s and 90s. Even if you don’t know how to skate, go anyway! You will have fun trying, or you can enjoy the waffles and hot tea in the heated lounge area. Afterwards, take a walk down the path to the illuminations at City Hall Park, and observe the decorative light displays that brighten up the winter night.

A Typical Cafe in Vienna
A Typical Cafe in Vienna

One of the things that Vienna is famous for is the cafe culture. Vienna is one of those cities, like Paris, where a cup of coffee is not just a cup of coffee, it is a sophisticated tradition, an art form, and not something rushed but rather a chance to sit back and watch the world go by. The coffee houses here in Vienna are some of the oldest in the Western world and their ornate Art Nouveau interiors are a treat for the senses. The atmosphere here is relaxed, and you will find local Viennese talking, relaxing and reading the newspaper. The Viennese claim to have invented the concept of filtering coffee, and they take their coffee preparation very seriously, presenting you with a very fine, flavourful drink!

Yum yum yum!
Yum yum yum!

If you fancy a sweet treat along with your coffee, you are in the right city. Vienna has a long tradition of producing fine and delicate cakes and desserts. Try a Apfelstrudel (hot apple strudel) or a Sachetorte (a dry chocolate cake with apricot jam).

A Ferris Wheel at The Wiener Prater
A Ferris Wheel at The Wiener Prater

A Day of Amusement: The Wiener Prater
The Wiener Prater or Vienna Prater is the famous amusement park in Vienna. You might recognize the iconic Giant Ferris Wheel from the movie “The Third Man”. Its attractions include everything from a nostalgic vintage merry-go-round to an ultra-modern thrilling roller coaster, ghost trains, flight simulators and more, and you are guaranteed to have a fun-filled time! Right next door is the Green Prater, which is a forest and meadow area that was once an imperial hunting ground for Emperor Joseph II. It is now opened to the public as a paradise for walkers , runners, bicyclists and horseback riders.

The Relaxing Banks of the Danube River
The Relaxing Banks of the Danube River

Relaxing on the Danube
After all of this excitement, you might want to relax by the banks of the Danube River, the waterway that weaves its path through the city of Vienna. The Viennese frequent the beaches and banks of this beautiful river for play and sport, and many great restaurants and bars can be found along the river. You can rent a row boat or paddle boat, and make your way down the Danube for a different perspective on the city.
The Danube Island is one of the largest recreation areas in Europe, with 180 hectares of forest and 42 kilometres of beaches. It is home to the Danube Island Festival, a three-day event that draws roughly three million visitors every year. This huge party has free admission and features more than 300 bands on 20 stages, playing everything from jazz to rock to techno. Go ahead and join the party!

Recommended Books for Vienna
Here are some of the most helpful travel guides that we would suggest for your trip to Vienna:

Eyewitness Guide to Vienna
Lonely Planet Vienna
Frommers Vienna

Have fun and enjoy Vienna!

About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.


  1. Vienna looks like such a sophisticated city based on this post. The funny thing is that Paris and Milan get a lot of exposure in the U.S. as sophisticated cities, and Vienna as not a place I would think about as often. But based on this blog post, I think it’s time to expand my thinking. I had no idea that Vienna was voted best quality of life in 2005. In addition to this, I’m also considering the shopping opportunities in Vienna. It looks like you can get some great, classy, Old World items. I’m definitely putting Vienna on my travel list now.

  2. I’m glad you had such a fun time in Vienna. It was actually probably my biggest disappointment in all of my travels in Europe, but reading this post makes me wonder if I may have judged it too harshly. I had such a romanticized idea of Vienna and when I got there it just seemed so dirty and crowded and cluttered. The Wiener Prater was overrated for me… but I do have really beautiful and fond memories of the Danube 🙂

  3. I absolutely loved reading about Vienna – Swan’s right, you just don’t hear as much about Vienna as you do about other cities in Europe like Rome, Venice, London, etc. I’ve always wanted to go there, and this post makes it sound like a must-see.

  4. Vienna seem like a very interesting place. I think I actually might visit it when I travel to Austria next time (yes, I know its strange that I’ve been to Austria but not to Vienna, but life is strange :D). Thanks a lot for the inspiration!

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