Vienna is a city that relishes its past, and it has the attractions to prove it. Whether you're interested in the long-reigning Habsburg family, classical music composed by Vienna's own Mozart, or antiques; this city has enough to keep you entertained for days. Most sites are located within the Innere Stadt, such as the Haus der Musik (House of Music) and the MuseumsQuartier Wien. However, even those which are not centrally located, such as Schönbrunn Palace, are easy to reach.
1 - St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom)
Towering above the streets of the Innere Stadt, this massive cathedral is the true centerpiece of Vienna. St. Stephen's has stood in this very spot since the early 12th century, but little remains of the original aside from the Riesentor (Giant's Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens). The Gothic structure standing today was built in the early 1300s and has survived the Turkish siege of 1683. It was here that mourners came to pay their respects to Amadeus Mozart in 1791. In 1805, Napoleon used St. Stephen's doors to post his farewell edict. And it weathered attacks from both German and Russian armies during World War II. Today, this stunning cathedral remains an active house of worship, a national icon and a top tourist attraction.
2 - Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
The works at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts, range from ancient Egyptian and Greek objects to masterpieces by numerous European masters, including Titian, Velasquez, Van Dyke and Rubens. In fact, the collection here is so extensive that many people say the walls of the Hofburg Palace look bare in comparison. The building itself, which opened to the public in 1891, impresses travelers as well; its facade features ornate sculptures.
3 - Schönbrunn Palace
Originally constructed in 1696 as a hunting lodge, Schönbrunn Palace later became the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Habsburg ruler), Schönbrunn evolved into an expansive paradise with ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens comparable to King Louis XIV of France's palace at Versailles. A tour will lead you through apartments belonging to Maria Theresa as well as Emperor Franz Joseph, his wife Elisabeth, and Archduke Franz Karl. Other highlights include the Blue Staircase, the Mirror Room and the Hall of Ceremonies. Also plan to spend at least an hour in the gardens, which are connected by shaded promenades that extend diagonally from the Gloriette, a stunning Roman-style arch overlooking a vast pool. Located within the grounds is Tiergarten, the oldest zoo in the world.
4 - House of Music (Haus der Musik)
Vienna has long been a musical epicenter. It was here that renowned composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Mahler and Strauss lived, composed and performed. So it's hard not to be tempted to stop in a site known as the House of Music (Haus der Musik) during your time in the city. This small but fascinating museum showcases the works of Vienna's elite musicians with displays featuring manuscripts and sound bytes. Exhibits also explain the evolution of sound and the mechanics behind our ability to hear. Plus, there's an entire floor dedicated to the Vienna Philharmonic where you can even use a virtual wand to conduct the musicians. (Be careful, though, if you mess up they may ridicule you.) Travelers say if you're a classical music fan (or even a fan of the science of sound), a visit to the House of Music should be a priority.
5 - Tiergarten
It began in 1752 as an exotic menagerie amassed by Franz Stephan, the husband of Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler) and the country's Holy Roman Emperor. Today, Tiergarten is the oldest zoo in the world, home to about 750 animal species (around 8,500 animals total) ranging from tigers to lemurs. The zoo hosts daily animal talks and feedings that visitors can watch, with animals like orangutans, elephants, penguins and otters. Since its founding, Tiergarten has undergone many a renovation to bring it up to par with modern facilities. Travelers say that while the cost of admission is on the pricey side, it's worth it to see the variety of animals and impressive facilities at this zoo.
6 - MuseumsQuartier Wien
Straddling the southwest section of the Ringstrasse, the MuseumsQuartier Wien is an enormous cultural institution comprising numerous top-notch museums. If you're interested in art, head to the Leopold Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Austrian masterpieces dating from the 19th century to the present. Next door, the Museum of Modern Art is home to the national collection of 20th-century works by famed artists like Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Adjacent to the MUMOK, the Kunsthalle Wien showcases an ever-rotating collection of avant-garde exhibits.
7 - Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper)
Since 1869, the Vienna State Opera has been the city's premier venue for the performing arts and a major focal point of Viennese life. Its directorship is one of the most prestigious positions in Austria. The Staatsoper still hosts performances, but you can also tour this magnificent building on a guided tour. You'll find 40-minute tours run every day (times vary depending on the performance schedule) and allow you a behind-the-scenes look at this beloved landmark. Tours come highly recommended by previous visitors. If you're interested in learning more about the Staatsoper, head over to the Staatsopermuseum, which displays photographs and articles spanning the house's history.
8 - Belvedere Palace (Schloss Belvedere)
If you're can't get your art fix at either the MuseumsQuartier or the Kunsthistorisches Museum, you're sure to find satisfaction at Belvedere. There are actually two palaces here – separated by an ornate 17th-century French-style garden – which some say are the best examples of Baroque architecture in the world. Formerly home to such notable Austrian figures as Prince Eugene of Savoy and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the buildings now house an impressive array of Austrian art from such renowned artists as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. Travelers love the gardens, ornate buildings and array of paintings on display at this attraction.
9 - Hofburg Palace
Unlike Vienna's other royal residences, Hofburg is like a city within a city. Sitting on the southwestern edge of the Innere Stadt, the 13th-century palace shelters several individual attractions, and if you want the full royal experience, you'll need to spend at least half a day here.
Experienced travelers say it's best to start in the middle of this massive complex and work your way out. The oldest parts surround the Swiss Court, named for the Swiss guards who used to patrol the area. And from there you'll find the Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments), more than 2,000 rooms where the royal family lived. Only a dozen or so are open to the public. Take some time to explore the Kaiserappartements' Sisi Museum, which offers insight into the life and death of Vienna's beloved Empress Elizabeth. Then swing by the Imperial Silver Collection or the butterfly house.
10 - Museum Judenplatz
Judenplatz earned its name back in the 13th century when it was first designated as the Jewish Ghetto. For centuries, this neighborhood remained the epicenter of Jewish life in Vienna, an identity that still lives among the exhibits found at the Museum Judenplatz. This small yet effective branch of the Vienna Jewish Museum (located a little south of Judenplatz) details the role Viennese Jews played in the development of city life, leading up to when they became the targets of violence during World War II.