Vienna, Austria

Vienna, the capital of Austria, is bursting with art, history, and a rich culture. I choose to stay near the Ringstrasse, the beautiful circular boulevard that runs by many of Vienna's top attractions. Hotel Royal, a 4-star mid-priced offering, is my favorite. It is in the city center bordering on the famed St. Stephen's church, acting as a great base station for most of your activities. I recommend planning at least two days to see the sights near the Ringstrasse and another day for the further sights.

Why not start off your day with the most prominent Austrian symbol - St. Stephen's Cathedral in Stephanplatz? The colorful tile roof is one-of-a-kind and the 500' tower provides amazing views of the city. The oldest parts of the church date back to the 1200s, so there's a lot of rich history here. In fact, Mozart was married here. The cathedral also holds many treasures and catacombs. I just love the activity going on in Stephanplatz, so take time to stroll around, snack, and shop. If you're into visiting beautiful churches, the nearby St. Peter's Church has a beautiful interior. Even better is St. Charles Church (Karlskirche) with its highly decorated altar. However, this church lies to the south outside the Ringstrasse.

Surely you've heard of the Habsburgs (or Hapsburgs in American English), the long-time ruling dynasty. Hofburg Palace is a great place to get acquainted with them. This vast complex houses the Imperial Apartments, a massive Silver Collection, and the Sisi Museum dedicated to Elisabeth's life. My favorite is the Imperial Apartments, which are beautifully decorated and give you just enough of a glimpse into the daily lives of the family before they moved to Schonbrunn Palace. The Spanish Riding School is also here. If you like pageantry, royalty, or just horses in general, I recommend seeing the famed Lipizzaner Stallions show. If you're still in the mood for impressive buildings, head into the nearby Austrian National Library. This baroque library is a front-runner for having the most beautiful halls in the world.

Art Museum lovers have two close choices. Inside the Ringstrasse, the Albertina Museum houses many masterpieces, including some from DaVinci, Michelangelo, Monet, and Picasso. The Kunsthistorisches Art Museum showcases antiquities from Ancient Egypt up to the modern era. It is located just outside of the Ringstrasse. For a different museum experience, consider the House of Music. I will admit this museum wasn't on my original agenda, but I'm glad I stopped in to learn more about great composers and create some tunes myself. While you're at it, you can visit Mozart's 1700s apartment just 10-minutes northeast, or check out the famed Vienna State Opera just steps away toward the Ringstrasse. The State Opera tour gives you a fantastic look at the beautiful interior, lets you sit in a seat, and shows you a behind-the-scenes look at the stage.

Some of my personal favorite sites to visit are Rathausplatz and Naschmarkt. Rathausplatz is home to the Vienna City Hall and its stunning Gothic architecture. The square holds many popular events throughout the year from circuses to Christmas markets. One time I stumbled upon a film festival with vendors serving 2' diameter pretzels and beer! Speaking of food, my other favorite site is the Naschmarkt. This food market is a few blocks out from Ringstrasse but totally worth the walk. Immerse yourself in colorful displays of produce, cheese, fresh meats, and wine. It's a perfect place for lunch or early dinner.

That's all for the close attractions. Hop aboard some public transportation for three other sites. Closest is Belvedere Palace, which features two Baroque palaces which now showcase art from the Middle Ages to present day. The park in which the palaces are set is why I think this is worth the visit, even if you are done with art by now. However, if your schedule is tight, skip this and head to the much further away Schonnbrun Palace. This summer residence of the Habsburgs boasts 1,441 rooms. The Grand Tour gets you into 40 of these rooms. The Imperial Tour gets you into a dozen less, which is probably fine since you will be unable to contain any more information on the Habsburgs by now. The gardens are a must-see and a quality photo opportunity.

The last adventure I recommend takes you across the Danube to the Prater amusement park. This place has big rides. You should double-check your belt before you go flying upside-down because the safety standards here appear to be more lax than I'm used to in the U.S. The Prater is home to some of the most thrilling rides I've ever been on. If you're not a fan of thrills, there's something for everyone here, including the giant but slow-moving ferris wheel that gives spectacular views. Be sure to eat at the Schweizerhaus rustic beer hall - some of the better amusement park food you'll find anywhere.

Happy Travels!