It may fly a little lower under the radar in some respects than the higher-profile likes of London, Paris, and even Berlin. But not only is Austria’s capital a bastion of grandeur left over from more than 2,000 years of history, including centuries as the seat of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but Vienna’s also been shedding some of its staidness lately and becoming something of a capital of cool as well.
One good example of the mix of traditional and trendy is District 2, aka Leopoldstadt. This area encircled by the Danube River and the Danube Canal offers a leafy, sophisticated streetscape of sober, elegant façades. For generations it was a working-class and heavily Jewish neighbourhood, and despite the ravages of the Holocaust, the Jewish population has made a comeback, supporting ten synagogues and a number of kosher shops.
Over the past decade in particular they’ve been increasingly joined by hipsters and young professionals, with new establishments like the Schöne Perle restaurant on Leopoldgasse, which since 2002 has been pulling Viennese in with its bold reinterpretations of traditional Austrian cuisine. A central point of Leopoldstadt is the open-air Karmelitermarkt on and around that same street, and in the vicinity you’ll find various restaurants, pastry shops, and gourmet emporia such as Marktachterl, Tewa and Kaas am Markt. The neighbourhood has also sprouted in recent years a number of alternative art galleries and vintage clothing shops, and you can also catch a sleeker, cutting-edge architectural vibe in the new mixed-use Viertel Zwei complex, mixing office and residential buildings. But one of the top architectural standouts has to be the Hundertwasserhaus (below) a whimsical building of flats designed in the 1980s by the iconic avant-garde artist Friedensreich Hundertswasser – a delightfully creative, even playful mélange of bright colours, sinuous forms, plants and trees popping out across the façade.
Another huge Leopoldstadt claim to fame not to miss is the Prater, one of the world’s first amusement parks and still a symbol of Vienna – especially the Riesenrad (top), its iconic 65-metre (212-foot) Ferris wheel dating from 1897 – great view from up here, of course even if not quite as sweeping as that from the revolving restaurant 252 metres (827 feet) up in Leopoldstadt’s Danube Tower. There are some 250 rides and attractions in the park, from the classics (merry-go-rounds, roller coaster, bumper cars) to some exciting new water rides, a skydiving simulator, and more. And then of course also here is the Ernst Happel football stadium and the exceedingly odd little Republic of Kugelmugel, a sphere-shaped structure in the 1980s built by artist Edwin Lipburger, whom the Austrian parliament saved from jail after disputes with the authorities arising from his declaration of its independence.
- Viena has 1.715.000 inhabitants, of whom 97,000 live in Leopoldstadt.
- Winters are quite chilly, with frequent snowfalls, and summers mild and on the humid side.
- The currency is the euro.
- Iberia Flights from Spain, from the USA.