If your vision of romantic Europe includes layers of rich history, magnificent buildings and architecture, and a vibrant, cosmopolitan scene, consider Vienna, where you'll find all this and more.
From the moment we arrived at Vienna International Airport, we just knew it was going to be a fantastic holiday. The sky was clear blue, the air crisp but not cold, and our sense of anticipation for our few days in one of Europe's most beautiful and romantic cities was edging on excitement. With such a perfect welcome put on by Mother Nature, the plan was to make the most of the incredible weather and hit the streets of Vienna as soon as possible, but not before dropping our luggage off at our home for the next few nights, the recently opened Sans Souci Wien.
Boasting one of the best locations in the city and designed by the creative team at Yoo (we are talking serious design gurus here, including Philippe Starck and Jade Jagger), Sans Souci Wien is situated in the cultural heart of Vienna with most major sites within walking distance. In fact, the building itself has a significant past and was first erected in 1872, run as a hotel until 1953 before being taken over by the US army and used as a hospital. Following its very modern rebirth, today Sans Souci Wien proudly takes pride of place as one of Vienna's best luxury hotels.
For us, a European holiday has to include a generous dose of history, architecture and culture so we mapped out a plan to ensure our three days in Vienna would include most of the city's significant cultural sites, of which there are many. Anybody who has read anything about Vienna will know about The Hapsburgs, who have left their mark throughout the city – in fact, today's Vienna owes much of its abundant cultural sights and regal standing to the many buildings commissioned during the Hapsburgs dynasty.
One of the most important is Schönbrunn Palace, commissioned by the Hapsburgs and built to rival the French Versailles with an astonishing 1441 rooms – a grand introduction to this breathtaking city! Eventually used as a summer residence, the sprawling palace and the surrounding park are a sight to behold (make sure you take your wide-angled lens). A definite tip is to book a tour of inside the palace – we didn't have time but it would have been wonderful to get an insight into just how grand it was to be a Hapsburg back then!
Just around the corner from the Schönbrunn Palace is the Palais Kinsky, built in 1716 and a fine example of Vienna's baroque architecture. Housing some of Vienna's most exclusive art galleries and restaurants, this was the perfect place for us to stop awhile, enjoy the regal ambience and grab a bite to eat. Coming directly from the palace, the huge statues, elaborate three-storey stairway and impressive ceiling fresco seemed completely appropriate and the bright courtyard of Feyung 4 – an all-in-one restaurant, bar and terrace – tempted us with promises of a true Wiener schnitzel and genuine Austrian potato salad.
Wandering the streets from here we stumbled upon the gothic revivalist St Stephens Cathedral, one of the most important religious buildings in Vienna. St Stephens suffered many times throughout various conflicts, but never so much as during the last days of World War 2, when fire from street fighting engulfed the rooftop and severely damaged parts of this stunning stone church. After reconstruction the cathedral was reopened and today is a symbol of stability in Vienna.
We left the best part of a day to explore the Ringtrasse, Vienna's ring road that was first built in the late 1850s and transformed in the 1880s when a series of monumental buildings, in a variety of styles, were erected. This is truly one of the world's most amazing boulevards, and strolling the five kilometres over a few hours is an easy but immensely interesting walk.
Built with the intention of showcasing the grandeur of Vienna and the Hapsburg Empire, the horseshoe-shaped Ringtrasse is a smorgasbord of sites – from the State Opera to Museum of Fine Art and the Natural History Museum to Parliament building and City Hall, these grand, bold, regal buildings interspersed with beautiful green areas and squares are truly a highlight of Vienna and every couple visiting should savour the Ringtrasse together.
An utterly romantic option is to book a horse and carriage ride through the Ringrasse, the perfect pace to take everything in. Cuddled up in the carriage, with a blanket on your laps and a local guide to explain the sites, would be the ultimate way to enjoy one of the world's most beautiful boulevards.
Vienna is a city to be savoured, and while our stay was not as long as this stunning city deserves, we left knowing that we will return for longer next time.
Sleep.Sans Souci Wien is a fabulous option for luxury-loving couples on honeymoon or simply wanting to stay somewhere special. Situated in Vienna's renowned cultural heart, the Museum Quarter, Sans Souci Hotel places the best of Vienna at your fingertips. And, the hotel is a destination in itself with its edgy, unique and chic design and original artwork from Allen Jones, Picasso and Rizzi (more than half is from the owner's personal collection).
Vienna's well-heeled are regulars at Le Verandah, the gourmet restaurant, while Le Bar offers a quaint atmosphere and one of the best champagne menus in town! Boasting its own pool (rare for Vienna) and a stunning spa, nothing here has been overlooked. There are 63 rooms, but for the ultimate romantic getaway, book one of the hotel's double rooms and enjoy a generous 30 sqm, your own cosy balcony and a gorgeous four-poster bed. And, as if all of this isn't romantic enough, you can even arrange for the hotel to scatter rose petals on the bed.
Eat & Drink. There is no shortage of world-class culinary experiences to be had in Vienna – from high-end restaurants such as Le Verandah to the legendary Korso (a favourite with opera stars). And what about the uniquely romantic idea of dinner on the Giant Ferris Wheel! Then there are the famous Viennese coffee houses. Demel Coffee House is one of the city's most famous and has been serving their divine chocolate, pastries and coffees since 1786 – including being the purveyor of choice for the Imperial and Royal court of Austria-Hungary. We stopped at the quaint Cafe Sperl, a true traditional coffee house experience and featured in movies including A Dangerous Method. What some may not realise is Vienna's rich wine culture – grapes have been cultivated here since 1132 AD. Viennese locals love heading to the outskirts of the city (the vineyards are in such easy reach!) to enjoy concerts in the vineyards.
See.Freud Museum. A fascinating insight into the father of psychoanalysis. This is the apartment Sigmund Freud lived in and worked out of from 1891 until the Nazis forced his departure in 1938. His daughter returned much of the original furniture and many of Freud's personal possessions, allowing visitors today a glimpse into the man.
Don't Miss. No trip to Vienna is complete without an evening at the famous Vienna State Opera. With a different show every night, no two shows are ever run back-to-back, so you can book two consecutive nights!
Or, do something you will never forget and get tickets to one of the incredible Viennese balls. Imagine donning your very best ball dress and waltzing until the wee hours with your lover and Vienna's socialites! Read here for more information on forthcoming balls.
Couples Will Love. Vienna is one of Europe's most regal cities. Framed by green hills, and with the famous Danube river flowing through it, the city was always destined to be beautiful. And then time paved the streets of Vienna with a glorious history, largely documented via the imperial buildings and parks. Today it is a modern, clean city but still with a strong sense of culture. Couples will love the cosmopolitan restaurant/bar scene and the shopping – the perfect complement to the culture and history.