As you wander through the streets of Vienna, surrounded on all sides by Austro-Hungarian colonial architecture, you can feel the grandeur of the city’s history envelop you as it makes itself known at every turn. From the lavish hallways in your average apartment building, to the grand mansions and palaces scattered across the entire city, Vienna will not let you forget what it once was.
The former summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, The Belvedere palaces and their considerable gardens sit in Viennaís stunning third district. The two palaces sit facing each other across the peaceful expanse of their beautiful gardens, beset with statues and reflection pools across their length and breadth. Inside, the inevitable opulence of an empire’s nobility is evident in every square centimetre of every surface, as ornate wooden floors give way to intricately painted walls, as they in turn give way to golden ceilings with glistening chandeliers.
Deeper into the city, the central first district offers up the empire’s greatest jewels. Great clearings are flanked on every side by astounding architecture, from museums to schools, hotels to government houses, the buildings of old have been seamlessly incorporated into use in the present day. Yet perhaps Vienna’s greatest offering can be found at its very heart, detached from memories of empire by a holier heritage.
The cathedral of St. Stephan sits in the very centre of Vienna, rising high above the surrounding rooftops and visible for miles around.
When lost in Vienna, head for Stephansdom. Completed in 1160, the vast edifice of gothic architecture looms far larger than one’s field of vision, its vast, multicoloured and fantastically intricate mosaic roof drawing the eye from every angle. And on the final evening of the year, the square of St. Stephan bursts into life.
New Years Eve in Vienna is quite the experience, to say the least. With grand Christmas light chandeliers, at least two metres tall, still swaying gently above the main streets, the former market huts repurpose themselves to sell gluhwein (mulled wine) and a host of other tipples to keep the revellers warm as the New Year draws in.
Stages are set up across the central districts, carving a path through the city Silvesterpfad, the New Year’s Eve Trail of Vienna. During the day, the stages host the occasional performance, deliver regular lessons in the Viennese Waltz for the uninitiated and in general begin to whip up excitement for the eveningís festivities. Come dusk, the city erupts.
Every stage has a full set list, each with its own theme.
One boasts old favourites from before the millennium, another as much Austrian pop as you could ever hope to hear.
One such stage sits in the shadow of the Stephansdom, hugging close to the cathedral; deafening music ricocheting off its ancient walls. The square around the church fills as the night progresses, until at midnight it seems all of the Vienna has found its way there.
Though the throngs may be exhilarating for some, one of the most wondrous events of New Year’s Eve in Vienna can only be seen where there is space to dance.
At the stroke of midnight, every speaker on every stage and hut in the city begins to play, in perfect unison, the music of Vienna itself – Johann Strauss II’s ‘The Blue Danube’. As beautiful æ time fills every corner of the city centre, and the sky lights up with fireworks, the people begin to dance.
On every street, without care for where or who, thousands of people waltz their way into the New Year with grace and style, gliding over the cobbled streets of Vienna as the city transforms itself, for just a few moments, into the grandest of all ballrooms.
It is truly the most wondrous of sights, and the most lasting of experiences.