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By: Connie Kwan-Wong

Travel with the Publisher to

Where the Past Lives in the Present

Photo Credits: CKW LUXE

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When we think of Vienna, the capital of Austria, the immediate associations that spring to mind might be the Viennese Waltz, characterized by its grand turns and quick rotations around the dance floor, and the original Viennese coffee houses, where preparing coffee became an art and the décor bordered on the opulent. No matter what image may appear when contemplating Vienna, it is usually one of exquisite beauty, taste, and culture. With good reason.


It was in Vienna that Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro and most of Don Giovanni and where many other notable composers lived and worked. It is the home of the Vienna Boys Choir, established in 1498; the State Opera, where Verdi and Wagner conducted; the Albertina Museum with its superb collection of engravings by Rembrandt and Dürer; and The Imperial Treasury displaying the ceremonial objects of the Holy Roman emperors and the House of Habsburg. Everywhere one goes in Vienna, one is met with the spirit of its musical, artistic, and religious past.


This past September, I traveled to Vienna with some friends to experience its cultural past and immerse myself in its vibrant present. It was the perfect month to enjoy the city as the temperatures were mild and the summer crowds had dissipated.

Where We Stayed

Hotel Imperial

This Luxury Collection Hotel was built as the Vienna residence of the Prince of Wuerttemberg in 1863 and was later transformed into the Hotel Imperial for the Vienna World’s Fair of 1873. The moment we entered through its legendary revolving door, we felt like royalty. Splendor, from the exquisite furnishings, marble accents, hand-carved statues, and sparkling chandeliers, to the stunning Royal Staircase that took us from the striking lobby to our welcoming rooms, greeted us everywhere we went.


Our home at the Imperial was one of the royal suites, which were actually once the prince’s private apartments. With its luxurious furnishings, shimmering chandeliers, high stucco ceilings, and elaborate inlaid floors, it was, as you can imagine, fit for a prince or a princess. Returning to it at the end of the day and waking up to it in the morning was always a pleasure.

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Dining in these sumptuous surroundings was an unforgettable experience. Café Imperial Wien is a true example of a traditional Viennese coffeehouse right in the hotel. The conversations of countless famous guests who have lingered, sipped coffee, and partaken of delicacies like the famous handmade Imperial Torte, seem to whisper from its walls.

Speaking of the Imperial Torte, it’s delicious, and I recommend trying it if you ever have the chance. We had the honor of sampling the newest of the Imperial’s take on the handmade Viennese cake. The limited-time Weiner Kaffee torte is a sublime combination of whipped chocolate buttercream and subtly bitter Arabica beans embedded in six crunchy layers of almond leaves, all coated with the finest marzipan. We had never tasted anything quite like it.


The centerpiece of the hotel, the Imperial Bar, offers vintage Champagnes, signature cocktails, and delicious appetizers from the hotel’s award-winning kitchen. All are to be enjoyed under a magnificent three-part crystal chandelier that casts a glittering glow over everything.

The hotel’s dining crown jewel is the Opus. Latin for creation—of any kind of masterpiece—the restaurant’s name says it all. Created by architect Josef Hoffman, in Viennese ‘30s style, elegantly restored furniture, gorgeous fabrics, and unique accents compliment its rich wood-paneled walls. It is the perfect venue for the exquisitely created cuisine on offer daily. One of Vienna’s top gourmet restaurants, the Opus has been awarded three Gault Millau toques, and 16 out of 20 Gault Millau points, making it synonymous with exceptional preparation and the ultimate in creativity.

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We loved the hotel’s central location overlooking the historic Ring Boulevard. Located on its 5.3 kilometers (just over three miles) of road are the Vienna State Opera House, Parliament, City Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Natural History Museum. All were built from the 1860s to the 1890s and are examples of various styles of architecture.

What We Visited

Stephansdom Cathedral

This beautiful Gothic cathedral, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, rises out of the Innere Stadt (inner district) of Vienna. Built in the early 12th century, little of the original remains except the Giant’s Gate and the Towers of the Heathens. The structure now on the site was built between 1359 and the early 20th century. Some of its most notable features are the tower room in the south tower, which we accessed by climbing 343 steps; the Pummerin bell in the north tower, which is the second largest free-swinging chimed church bell in Europe; the multi-colored tiled roof; and Emperor Friedrich III’s impressive marble sarcophagus. Below the cathedral are the catacombs, where many of Vienna’s cardinals and archbishops have been laid to rest.

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The Hofburg

The Hofburg, Vienna’s Imperial Palace, was once the seat of the Habsburgs who ruled Austria until the end of WWI. Today, it is the official residence of the federal president. The major buildings of the large complex exemplify over 700 years of architectural history. The oldest section, The Royal Chapel, dates from the 13th century and is home to the Vienna Boys Choir. We visited the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection. All three areas can be visited on a single ticket. The Imperial Apartments, where Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) lived with their children, consist of 24 opulent rooms built in the Rococo style.


The Sisi Museum displays many personal items of Empress Elisabeth along with the most famous portraits of her. The Imperial Silver Collection is a breathtaking display of silver, fine porcelain, and crystal used by the Imperial Family in their everyday and special occasion dining. Not to be missed, is a viewing of the Imperial Treasury displaying magnificent imperial crowns and sceptres, Empress Elizabeth’s jewellery, the 15th-century Burgundian treasure, and many other extraordinary exhibits.

The Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School is the only institution in the world that has preserved classic equestrian skills and practices them in their original form. Riders undergo a lengthy and rigorous training period to master the techniques. Watching them take their Lipizzan horses through their precise movements during a performance was awe inspiring.

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Hassan II Mosque

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The Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper)

If you’re an opera lover like me, a visit to the Vienna State Opera House is a must. Regarded as one of the world’s leading opera houses, it brings tradition to life with its varied performances and events. Every season, there are an amazing 350 performances of over 60 different operas and ballets. I was surprised to discover that the members of the live orchestra that accompanies them also make up the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

A guided tour is the perfect way to see this stately building. Unaffected by the bombing during WWII, the interior remains in its original form, including the magnificent lobby, the central staircase, and the Tea Salon.

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Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens

This impressive palace and gardens complex is an excellent example of the Baroque princely residential ensemble and of Gesamtkunstwerk, a skilled blending of many art forms. The two elements, palace and gardens, are an organic extension of each other. Originally a Habsburg family summer home, it became an Imperial summer residence in the late 17th century. When the gardens were created in the 18th century, they were meant to both glorify the House of Habsburg and pay homage to nature. There are many things to see and do at Schönbrunn. I recommend taking the grand palace tour; climbing the stairs of the Gloriette to the rooftop viewing terrace; and visiting the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the oldest working zoo in the world.

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Mozart House (Mozarthaus)

The Mozart House complex consists of Mozart House and the apartment inside it where Mozart and his family lived from 1784 until 1787. He stayed here longer than at any other residence he occupied in Vienna. It’s also the only apartment he lived in that has survived. It occupies the first floor and is made up of four large rooms, two small rooms, and a kitchen. Here, you’ll find displays describing the Vienna Mozart knew, displays about the broader musical world, and Mozart-related special exhibitions. Unfortunately, none of the original furniture has survived, but the rooms contain furnishings characteristic of the time. To be able to walk through the house where Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro and other major works was thrilling. We also had the privilege of attending a live concert at the Sala Terrena (hall of the ground floor) in Mozart House, where Mozart himself played.

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The Albertina Museum

Once the largest Habsburg residential palace, the Albertina Museum is now a world-renowned repository of artistic masterpieces dating from the fifteenth century. Its permanent display, the core of which is the Batliner Collection, features Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist, and Russian Avant-Garde artists. Recently, the museum has offered special shows dedicated to Albrecht Dürer, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh. Combining Imperial style with priceless works of art makes for a unique way in which to view them. As well as the art exhibits, 21 staterooms that have been fully restored with original furniture are open for viewing by the public.

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Café Central

When in Vienna, one must visit at least one traditional Viennese coffee house. A favorite of ours was Café Central, which first opened in 1876. Since that time, some of the world’s greatest poets, storytellers, and philosophers have visited to drink coffee, eat cake, perhaps smoke a cigar, and discuss the pressing topics of the day. As the name infers, it’s located in the center of Vienna. For the full Viennese coffee house experience, I suggest you try one of their coffee specialties; a traditional Viennese dish, like their golden wiener schnitzel; and a sweet treat from their in-house patisserie.

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The Graben

It’s hard to believe that this exclusive shopping street was once a trench that was eventually filled in making it one of the first modern roads in Vienna. Dating back to Roman times, the Graben is now a vibrant thoroughfare whose historical buildings, monuments, and traditional shops stand side-by-side with modern luxury destinations like Bally, Escada, and Hermès. Some of Vienna’s best coffee houses and restaurants are also located here, as well as along its side streets and alleyways. If you visit the Graben, be sure to include Julius Meinl, a gourmet supermarket and coffee house, on your list of things to do. Not only can you marvel at the exquisite Austrian and international groceries on display and enjoy fabulous coffee, you can also relax at the well-stocked wine bar in the wine cellar.

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Restaurant Amador


Located at the edge of the city’s historic center, in the brick vaults of Hajszan Winery, Restaurant Amador is one of Vienna’s culinary gems. The three-Michelin-star restaurant is known for the masterful multicultural cuisine of Chef Juan Amador. Using local ingredients in recipes inspired by Asia and the Mediterranean, Amador creates masterpieces that the MICHELIN Guide says are worth a special trip. We whole-heartedly agreed. Both the tasting menu and the service were excellent, and we loved the relaxed atmosphere with its modern furnishings and view of the barrel cellar.

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What We Ate


Vienna is known for a number of dishes, and it wouldn’t have felt like an authentic trip to the city if we hadn’t tried some of them. My favorites included wiener schnitzel, Austrian goulash, apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, and melange.


Simple, but delicious, wiener schnitzel is a thin breaded veal cutlet that has been pan-fried in butter or oil. Often garnished with lemon and parsley and served with steamed potatoes, it’s perfect with a glass of local white wine.


Originally a Hungarian dish, Austrian goulash has been adapted to local tastes and become its own distinctive dish. The beef and tomato stew is especially hearty when served with Semmelknödel (dumplings).

Just thinking about the delicate apfelstrudel (apple strudel) available in bakeries, cafés, and restaurants throughout Vienna makes my mouth water. Made with light layers of pastry dough that have been stretched thin, this sweet treat is filled with apples, sugar, raisins, lemon, rum, cinnamon, and cloves. It can also be sprinkled with a breadcrumb-nut mixture and dusted with powdered sugar.


Sachertorte is chocolate cake like you have never had it before. It consists of dense chocolate sponge cake and thin layers of apricot jam covered in a semi-firm chocolate icing. It is even more perfect when served with melange (Viennese coffee). Similar to cappuccino, but without the cocoa powder, melange is topped with half hot milk and half foamed milk.

What I Advise

If you can, visit Vienna in the fall. It’s the perfect time of year to go because it’s not as crowded as in the summer and the weather is beautiful. Although most people in Vienna can communicate in English, the official language is German. It’s a good idea to have a couple of German words like danke (thank you) and bitte (please or you’re welcome) at the ready just to be polite and show you are making an effort. Vienna is filled with fascinating things to do, and it's impossible to fit them all in. I suggest making an itinerary of the things you most want to do before you go so that you can give each your full attention and time. Save some things for a return visit.

Final Thoughts

I adored Vienna, and though I experienced everything on my list for this visit, I’d love to go back some day. Perhaps in the winter. Because it snows frequently, and the temperature rarely falls below 0 degrees, Vienna is a glittering wonderland at that time of year that can be enjoyed both inside and outside. From mid-November to at least December 23, the Christmas markets light up its most beautiful squares. A plethora of gifts, decorations, confections, and handicrafts are on offer and the air is filled with the scent of holiday baking, hot punch, and toasted almonds. I also dream

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about attending the Opera Ball in the Vienna State Opera House. An annual Austrian society event, it is held on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. A return trip to Vienna would be lovely, but I’m delighted to have been able to experience this cultural city, where so many brilliant composers, artists, and writers walked before us, with my friends.

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