Three years ago I found myself roaming around the streets of Vienna with my mum and a real estate agent as we hunted for a place to call home in our fourth country. Although my time in Vienna was relatively brief – especially compared to my eight years in Kenya – and I was not there for the solid year and a half due to living between our apartment in Vienna and my boarding school in England, I had the pleasure of travelling far and wide throughout Austria and got to explore some wonderfully historical places.
If, like myself, you magically happen to find yourself in Austria one day, I honestly recommend adding the following locations to your Austrian bucket list. Each location with its own unique history ranging from imperial holiday homes to the site of unjust treatment, travelling to these places will make your trip go from an every-day-average experience to a historical gold mine adventure!
Situated in the heart of Vienna’s city centre, the Spanish Riding School continues to showcase more than four centuries worth of classical equitation. Spectators watch in awe at the unparalleled harmony between rider and horse as a magical show of faultless routines unfold in front of them. Truly a once in a lifetime experience, and worth every Euro.
NOTE: to ensure no distractions occur for the horses or riders, videoing and photographing during the performance is strongly prohibited.
Whilst admiring the beauty of St Stephen’s Cathedral, both the interior design and the outer architecture, is a must do in itself, why not delve into a bit of the historical side by exploring what lies beneath? This thirty-minute tour allows you to traverse under the cathedral and explore the catacombs. An eerie atmosphere with dully-lit tunnels go hand in hand with the setting as you wander through the tombs; a wall made purely of human bones may just lay around the corner waiting for you.
NOTE: although you are permitted to take photos within the Cathedral, you are not allowed to take any photos or videos during the Catacombs tour.
A short train ride away from Vienna’s city centre and you will find yourself at the picturesque world heritage site of Schönbrunn, a former imperial summer residence. There is an endless list of things to do whether you’re a budget tourist, travelling with little ones or a lover of historical tours. For those on a tight budget you can opt for the free activities such as exploring the abundant gardens or hiking up the hill to admire the Gloriette and aerial views of the Palace and gardens below. Perhaps you’ve got little munchkins with you so why not entertain them in the maze, at the Schönbrunn Zoo or catch a ride on the panorama train through the gardens. If you do however find yourself intrigued by what the inside of the palace looks like, buy yourself a ticket for one of the many tours on offer. Don’t hesitate to grab a traditional apfelstrudel (apple strudel) from one of the many cafes situated around Schönbrunn if you find yourself a little peckish during your explorations.
Extra tip: if you happen to be here during the winter, a Christmas market is held in the palace entrance with stalls ranging from food and wine, to market trinkets.
Mauthausen Memorial (Concentration Camp)
Approximately twenty kms from Linz the eerie yet eye-opening Mauthausen Memorial lies. 81,000 innocents unjustly lost their lives whilst incarcerated at this concentration camp, and what remains will send shivers down your spine. Although not all bunkers and buildings still stand, the ones that do give all the insight you need to gather a taste of the unpleasant situation that so many turned a blind eye to for so long. Make a small contribution for entrance and borrow a tour recorder that guides you through the grounds, buildings and bunkers explaining what specific locations are and key facts and information. With the opportunity to see the original gas chambers and ovens used, as well as listen and read testimonies by survivors this location is a top on the to visit list. However, prepare to be shocked by what you see and experience here as it is a truly sad place to visit; but one I think everyone needs to go to to fully comprehend what the human race is capable of and to assist in preventing anything like this from reoccurring in the future.
Another location outside of Vienna, but very much worth exploring is Melk Abbey; even if all you visit is the Abbey Church. A fortress of gold, you will be gobsmacked by the entire interior design of the Church. It is said to be a depiction of Heaven on Earth, and is truly one aesthetically pleasing location.