Two Tales of a City: History and Horticulture in Austria’s Capital

In recent months travel has come to a juddering halt as a result of the coronavirus, with lockdowns keeping citizens home and planes grounded. We can’t say with any certainty what travel will look like in the future, but it’s worth looking back at trips to some of the world’s sights, taken before the pandemic hit. Vienna, it’s clear to anyone who visits, certainly qualifies as a city worth visiting, with a rich history and an array of sights, sounds and tastes that offers something for everyone.

Emma Taggart: Tranquility, and an Escape from the Concrete Jungle

One of the reasons Vienna is so well-known is that it has been home to a long list of famous faces, with Beethoven, Mozart and Freud counted as past residents of the city. Indeed, this cultural and historical legacy is one of the main reasons it continues to attract so many visitors year after year.

I’d never been to Austria or a German-speaking country before, so I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived. However, given that the sun was beaming down on me, I was instantly put in a good mood and the efficiency of Austrian public transport only seemed to help.

The atmosphere of Dublin is one of hustle and bustle most days of the week, where pedestrians scurry across roads dodging an angry cyclist or the odd Dublin bus. In Vienna, it was positively tranquil. Even on the metro at 8.30am on a Wednesday, I was astounded to find plenty of empty seats. It was a far cry from the packed Luas trams, where commuters are squeezed in like sardines.

If you are a history or politics buff, the Hofburg Palace is the place to go. What was once the imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty is now home to the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen. In fact, Van der Bellen is lucky enough that the palace is also his official workplace. It takes the idea of working from home to a whole new level, with its expansive grounds you can easily get lost among the government buildings.

Hidden at the other end of the Hofburg Palace, I came across the Schmetterlinghaus, best translated as a “Butterfly House”. Having initially not intended to go there, I sheepishly wandered in, bought my ticket and was instantly transported to a tropical paradise that was home to butterflies of all shapes, sizes, and colours imaginable. I spent my time meandering along the marked out path that took me past a variety of tropical plants while butterflies darted overhead.

While the French are commonly thought to have the best pastries in Europe, it seems Austrians are in for a shout too. I didn’t have to walk far to find the smell of bread wafting out the doors of a local bakery. If you’re a foodie, you certainly won’t be disappointed here, with the city’s most well-known market, Naschmarkt, offering an array of both Viennese and international goods. Market vendors were all too happy to let me sample their products, reeling me in with their charm before offering me some of the most delicious cheeses and croissants I’d ever tried.

Being a bit of a culchie, I will unashamedly admit that when I’m visiting a city I will look for the largest green area I can find and head there to escape the concrete jungle that makes up so many cities nowadays.