Eat, drink, dance and be very merry in Vienna, writes Kate Haywood.
Ranked by Mercer as the world's most liveable city for the past nine years, Vienna is also hard to beat as a travel destination. At the heart of Europe, Austria's capital has imperial palaces, historic cafes, modern architecture, vast green spaces, a storied art scene and a staggering 15,000 music events each year. Here are just some of the great experiences Vienna has to offer.
1 Eat a schnitzel the size of your head
Austrians do not eat their "schnitzel with noodles", despite what Julie Andrews may sing in My Favourite Things. At Figlmuller, the self-proclaimed "Home of the Schnitzel for more than 100 years", our waiter suggests we order the traditional sides of potato salad (€4.70, NZ$8) and green salad (€4.70) to accompany our schnitzels. The house speciality Figlmuller schnitzel (€14.90) is made of pork, but the traditional Wiener Schnitzel (€19.80), which, by law must be made with veal, is also available at the Backerstrasse location. Both are delicious so if there are two of you order one of each and see which one you prefer. For those who want some exercise after all that food, walk five minutes to St Stephen's Cathedral, where you can climb more than 300 steps to enjoy a magnificent view of Vienna from the South Tower.
2 Bust a move
Dancing the waltz has been the Viennese way of partying for more than 150 years. The Viennese even waltz into the New Year — when the clock strikes midnight, couples whirling in three-quarter time turn every street corner into a dance floor as the strains of the Blue Danube Waltz blare from a million different television sets and smartphones. If, like me, your knowledge of the Viennese Waltz is limited to watching national treasure Simon Barnett and his partner Vanessa perform the dance during the final of the sixth series of Dancing with the Stars, you may want to visit one of Vienna's many dance schools before taking to the streets. Tanz Schule Rueff offers "Hop on Waltz" hour-long lessons catered for visitors to Vienna at a cost of €50 per couple. These lessons run six days a week and no prior reservation is necessary for couples. Once you've made the effort to learn how to waltz properly, you're going to want to show off your new skills at one of the more than 400 balls that take place in Vienna during ball season (November to February). I like the sound of the Confectioner's Ball, which is held in the Imperial Palace and has a tombola of 3000 cakes up for grabs.
3 A night at the opera
Vienna is known as the classical music capital of the world and taking in a performance at the Vienna State Opera is a quintessential Viennese experience not to be missed. Long established at the centre of Vienna's classical music scene, the Vienna State Opera is particularly famed for the extent of its repertoire, with the forthcoming 2018/2019 season including 50 different operas, 16 ballets, and five children's programmes across more than 300 performances. If your taste in music is more Kimbra than Dame Kiri and you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can still get your culture fix with a standing-room ticket — these cost €3 or €4 and go on sale 80 minutes before each performance.
4 Ponder the universe in the grand tradition of Viennese coffee house culture
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the leading artists, thinkers, and politicians of the time all got their caffeine fix at Viennese coffee houses. The most famous coffee house is Cafe Central (cafecentral.wien), but I prefer the slightly less touristy Cafe Landtmann, the favourite of Sigmund Freud, or Cafe Gerstner, for its gorgeous — and highly Instagrammable — interiors and view of the Vienna State Opera House. Prices aren't cheap — you can expect to pay at least €15 for a coffee and a piece of cake — but you can sit for hours, reading the newspaper, debating grand philosophical ideas, composing masterpieces or simply people watching. The coffee is . . . not our New Zealand style, but the cakes and desserts are exquisite — my favourite is Cafe Landtmann's "strawberry cone", a delicious confection of strawberry mousse and fresh strawberries in a chocolate-dipped cone.
5 Walk (or run) in the footsteps of the Habsburgs
A Unesco World Heritage Site, the Palace and Gardens of Schonbrunn first came into the possession of the Habsburgs in 1569 and was the residence of Habsburg emperors from the 18th century until 1918. The palace has 1441 rooms, 45 of which can be visited by the public. As a child, Mozart composed music in the mirrored hall and Napoleon held conferences in the Vieux Lacque Room. The Tiergarten Schonbrunn is the world's oldest zoo still in existence and was constructed in 1752 to serve as an imperial menagerie as part of the palace. A great way to experience Schonbrunn is by going for a run through the breathtaking grounds. If you'd like some company, an expat running group meets at the Schonbrunn U-bahn station at 9.30am sharp every Saturday.
Emirates flies from Auckland to Vienna, via Dubai, with return Economy Class fares from $2034.