Vienna, Austria: A History of Europe

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While walking the streets of Vienna you almost expect to bow for a passing carriage. The prestige atmosphere is overwhelming. Ruled by the Habsburg family for over 600 years, Vienna’s rich history revolves around this family dynasty and their social, economical and cultural associations. As a result, 600 years worth of prosperity, wealth, and building have made a Vienna a beautiful metropolis. With endless amounts of architecture perfection and gardens to wander for days Vienna, Austria is a must see European city.

Where to Begin in Vienna, Austria

To get the best accumulative understanding of Vienna it would be best if you began your touring at Schonbrunn Castle. Built in the seventeenth century as a “hunting lodge” for the crown Prince. This palatial building would continue to be developed for the next century until it was worthy of housing the royal family. Consequently, Days upon days could easily be spent touring Schonbrunn. There are numerous tour options and the tours are packed full of information about this influential family. The tours have a heavy focus on the 18th century. Highlighting Maria Theresa, who ruled the Habsburg family for forty years. In modern terms we would call her a “mom boss.” She meant business.

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Maria Theresa was the Archduchess of Austria until her father’s death when she became Empress. Her extensive strategizing began long before she actually held any power. The Empress knew, as a woman her greatest claim to fame would be the rulers she created in her own children. She would go on to mother 16 children.

Spreading Her Descendants Across the World

Consequently, in most large family dynasties, only the oldest child would get to rule. Maria Theresa simply wasn’t satisfied with that outcome. She plotted and planned every aspect of her children’s lives to accurately marry them off to other country’s crowned elite. Her husband was not a fan of Maria Theresa’s strategizing and stayed out of her way in regards of the marriages of their children. Maria Theresa went as far as marrying off their mentally handicapped daughter, who subsequently died of smallpox right before that marriage. Maria Theresa simply offered the next daughter in line. The Empress was relentless and as such was called the “mother-in-law of Europe.”

Due to the wide spread of Maria Theresa’s children she was able to leave a royal seal on almost every European royal family bloodline. Therefore, she would have descendants ruling Naples-Sicily, Spain, France, Parma, the Wettin Dynasty, Bourbon Dynasty, a nun and an ArchBishop of Cologne. Mom goals. Just kidding, but truly Maria Theresa knew her stuff. Because the Habsburg family infiltrated so much of Europe, Vienna’s history is not just Austrian/Bavaria it is a magnificent dedication to one of Europe’s most influential families.

The Royal Catacombs

If you are a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, you will greatly enjoy this next suggestion. Given the size and duration of rule, the Habsburg family experienced a lot of funerals. That is to say, death was incredibly common pre modern sanitization practices and unfortunately for the royals it did not exclude them. Macabre tombs and expensive funerary art was a huge part of the imperial dynasty.

The Habsburg Imperial Crypt is a must see in regards to culture, art, money and funerary practices of the time. Containing the tombs of twelve Emperors, eighteen empresses and 113 other royal family members. The Imperial Crypt is a great way to spend the day. You get to quietly wander through the underground crypt museum (air conditioned). Taking in the wonder that you didn’t know existed in regards to death. A large portion of the Maria Theresa era family members are interned here.

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With the exception of one, all of the tombs collected here are made from metal and carved with the highest level of skill available at the time. Therefore, if you enjoy history or specifically art history this is a MUST SEE stop in Vienna, Austria.

A Continuation of Cultural Appreciation

The Macabre art and cultural norm doesn’t end with the Imperial Crypt. Just down the street you can find a whole new level of “internment.” The royal family, upon death, would have their body parts placed in three different locations. Their bodily remains would be interned in a Bronze tomb in the Imperial Crypt. The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special silver urns in the Herzgruft, or “Heart Room.” Located a few blocks away in St. George’s Chapel of the Augustinerkirche. The embalmed entrails of princes, queens and emperors are kept in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

The entire history of Vienna revolves around its royal family history. Therefore, the history of the Austrian royal family isn’t just the history of Austria, but the history of Europe as well. Vienna, Austria is a modern, happening city, but its tourism is heavily embedded in its royal family history and architecture. As a result, if history is not your thing be sure to stop at the many cafes and street food vendors. Wander through the art galleries and shops. Sit on the benches and absorb the architectural details. Vienna has so much to offer its visitors. Get out there.

Hallstatt, Austria UNESCO World Heritage Site

There is a special place deep in the Austrian Dachstein Mountains, that has been frozen in time. A cultural and architectural time capsule. Hallstatt, Austria was publicly recognized for its beauty and historical importance in 1997 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Throughout history, Hallstatt was known for its salt production. It is home to the world’s oldest and longest operating salt mine. The Bronze Age salt mine is still in use today and tours are given daily. Hallstatt is the perfect place to go to delve deeply into Bavarian history and heritage. With over 800,000 visitors every year Hallstatt is making tourism part of their 21st century economy.

Getting to Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt is incredibly easy to get to by rental car. If renting a car is not your forte then you can also access Hallstatt by train/ferry and/or bus.

By car, you will find Hallstatt approximately 90 minutes East of Salzburg along the highway to Graz. To reach Hallstatt by train you will connect at Bad Ischl. You will take the train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt Station where you will get on a ferry and cross the lake. This is a beautiful way to see many of the pristine lakes of the Salzkammergut. If you prefer roadways a public bus is also an option. The bus station sits directly outside of Hallstattt Train Station to return back to Bad Ischl.

There are daily tours available from Salzburg, but I promise, a day is not enough. Book your hotels or airbnbs as far in advance as possible. Because Hallstatt is fairly isolated, you will pay heavily to stay there in the village. Other accommodations are available in surrounding town, but only reachable if you rented a car.

Now days, you can prebook everything from hotels to bus tickets online. This is a circumstance that I would highly recommend doing all of those things in advance.

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A Slow Stroll Through Hallstatt

There is no wrong way to spend a day here, but one thing that everyone seems to do, a stroll through the streets. The architecture is astounding. Every turn and alley gives light to something unseen before. A new photo-op. A quiet breathtaking view. A waterfall brimming with glacial water. The magnificent shops and restaurants are worth stopping at. Apple strudel in the square. Creme stuffed pastries by the lake. Let’s not forget about the picturesque swans paddling along the lake’s edge with the Dachstein Mountains as a backdrop. It really doesn’t get any better than Hallstatt, Austria.

If leisure strolls are not your thing (though you should make time for it here); there are numerous other things to do. You can do a food and/or wine tour. Renting paddle boats and kayaks is also a wonderful option to get out on the water. This will also give you a much closer view of the castle Schloss Grub. The castle itself is privately owned and visitors are not allowed on the inside. Although, you can access the grounds via the East side of the lake’s hiking trail.
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As mentioned previously, the active salt mines are a wonderful way to spend a day. You can take an amazing tour deep into the mines. There are even internal slides to get from one level to another! There is also a wonderful local museum with 7,000 year old artifacts. You need at least two days to tour Hallstatt to its fullest potential.

Hallstatt and Food

Just go ahead and start saving up your money and fasting now. The FOOD is to die for. The amount of restaurants with views is amazing and there are no bad views. One of my favorite places did not have a water or mountain view at all, but a market or square view. Marktbiesel Zur Ruth is definitely the place to go for that afternoon coffee . . . and Strudel. You will not pick a bad restaurant, it isn’t possible. Follow your nose and stop frequently. If you are traveling with your family, I highly recommend stopping every hour or so and ordering one thing. This way everyone can try it. Most of your group will remain in the “I could eat” phase and you get to try so many more dishes!

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Best Time to Visit

There really is no “bad time” to visit the beautiful Hallstatt, Austria. We visited in late August and it was the perfect weather and temperature. I have also heard that if you are a winter sports type person that the winter months can give way to some pretty neat snow covered hikes. There are definitely more tourists during the summer months, but accommodations are fewer during the winter. Plan in advance and be flexible. Hallstatt is one of those places that you just have to see. Put it on your bucket list, bump it to the top and make it happen. Sometimes the greatest adventures and locations are not the easiest to get too. Hallstatt, Austria is one of those places. It will take some strategic planning on your part, but the result is so worth it. Hopefully, I’ve laid some of the foundational work for you. Get out there.