Day Trips from Vienna

VIENNA SIGHTS STEPHANSDOM The St Stephen's Cathedral, or Stephansdom, is the heart of Vienna both geographically and emotionally. It is a magnificent dark Gothic church, beloved and unmissable in Vienna. A church has stood on this site since the 12th century, but little remains of the original structure aside from the Riesentor (Giant's Gate) and the Heidentürme (Towers of the Heathens). Both features are Romanesque in style. The Riesentor (rumor has it that the gate was named because a mammoth's tibia, mistaken for a giant's shin, once hung here) is the main western entrance, topped by a tympanum of lattice patterns and statues. Stephansdom's Gothic makeover began in 1359 at the behest of Habsburg Duke Rudolf IV, who earned the epithet of 'The Founder' by laying the foundation stone. The church's dominating feature is the skeletal Südturm (south tower). Standing 450ft (136.7m) high, it was completed in 1433 after 75 years of hard labor. SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial family, is considered one of the most beautiful baroque palaces in Europe. The Habsburgs resided here the better part of the year in numerous rooms for the large imperial family in addition to representational rooms. Emperor Franz Joseph, who later married the enchanting Sisi and reigned from 1848 to 1916, was born here in 1830. The monarch spent his last years entirely in the palace, which became the property of the new Republic of Austria only two years after his death. Today, the palace is part of UNESCO's cultural heritage due to its historic importance, its unique grounds and its splendid furnishings. HOFBURG (THE IMPERIAL PALACE) The House of Habsburg was one of the most important royal dynasties in Europe and ruled Austria for six centuries. Through prudent marriages they managed to also gain Spain, Hungary, parts of France and many other lands. They built many fine churches and residences and rarely finished any of them. The Hofburg was the Imperial Palace until 1918, although strictly the Habsburg dynasty had died out and been succeeded by another by then. The palace remains the center of government for Austria but these days the occupier is a democratic republic rather than kings and queens. The palace is an amalgam of eras and styles, much of it rich 17th and 18th century Baroque. Don't miss the Renaissance wing Stallburg where the famous dancing horse, the Lipizzaners, are stabled. SPANISCHE HOFREITSCHULE The world famous Spanish Riding School, or Spanische Hofreitschule, is a Viennese institution truly reminiscent of the imperial Habsburg era. This unequaled equestrian show is performed by Lipizzaner stallions, a crossbreeding of Spanish, Arab and Berber horses. The horses were first imported from Spain (hence 'Spanish') by Maximilian II in 1562, and in 1580 a stud was established at Lipizza (hence 'Lipizzaner'), now in Slovenia. A Lipizzaner performance is pretty impressive. These graceful stallions perform an equine ballet to a program of classical music while chandeliers shimmer above. The mature stallions are all snow-white (though they are born dark and turn white at age four) and the riders wear traditional garb, from their leather boots up to their bicorn hats.