Vienna's top five
Vienna looks good and tastes even better. Explore monumental palaces and energetic art spaces then relax in your favourite coffee house over a Wiener Melange and a slice of apple strudel.
1. Schloss Schonbrunn
The magnificent rococo former summer palace and gardens of the Habsburgs are a perfect place to experience the pomp, circumstance and gracious legacy of Austria's former monarchs.
A visit to 40 of the palace's lavishly appointed rooms reveals the lifestyle and the eccentricities of Europe's most powerful family, right down to Empress Elisabeth's obsession with her figure.
Beyond the palace, Schloss Schönbrunn Gardens invite a stroll past pseudo-Roman ruins, along bucolic paths winding through leafy woods and a stopover in Gloriette.
2. Kunsthistorisches Museum
As well as accumulating vassal lands, the Habsburgs assembled one of Europe's finest collections of art and artefacts.
The majestic highlight of this museum is the Picture Gallery, an encounter with a vast and emotionally powerful collection of works by grand masters, such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's evocative and 'industrial' Tower of Babel from the 16th century, or the bright plenitude of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's Summer.
3. Schloss Belvedere
Living up to its Italianesque name 'beautiful view', this palace and garden ensemble is deceptively close to Vienna's centre while still creating a feeling of being worlds apart. Symmetrical, finely sculpted and manicured gardens inspired by France's Versailles connect two exquisite palaces dedicated to Austrian art, complemented by design interiors so stately that these are worthy of a visit in their own right.
Altogether, Schloss Belvedere and gardens bring together an astonishing who's who of Austrian art with the finest of 18th-century palace architecture and landscaping. Not to be missed here is Gustav Klimt's painting The Kiss.
4. Ringstrasse Tram Tour
Jump on a tram and explore the Ringstrasse, one of Europe's most unusual streets.
This circular boulevard of magnificent state buildings, palaces and majestic hotels was carved out of the space once occupied by fortifications protecting Vienna from Ottoman Turk attack in the 16th century.
Today, monumental 19th-century architectural masterpieces boldly rise up along the flanks, encircling most of the central Innere Stadt and separating the centre from the gritty, character-laden Vorstädte (inner suburbs).
5. Prater & the Ferris Wheel
There are larger and more hair-raising Ferris wheels, but this icon in Vienna's Prater has the most character. Graham Greene sent his fictional character Harry Lime up here for a slow rotation in The Third Man, the film from 1949, and little about it has changed since then.
A ride takes you high above the beautiful green open spaces of the Prater, giving you a bird's-eye view of the city and the expanse of wooded parkland and meadows that you can explore on in-line skates, by bicycle or on a walk after hitting ground level.
This is an extract from Lonely Planet Vienna (7th Edition) by Anthony Haywood, et al. © Lonely Planet 2013. Published this month, RRP: $39.99.