Picking the ten best places in Vienna, which Mercer has been ranking as the best place to live since 2010, is oddly difficult. How do you define ‘best’ in Vienna? In my home city, we have traditionally cultivated space to celebrate the Art of Enjoyment. Hedonistic souls like the Viennese manage to soften even the most complex historical heritage. So use this guide as your starting point on what to do in Vienna.

Explore These 10 Beautiful Places In And Around Vienna

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1. Schönbrunn Palace

The Habsburg Emperors’ baroque summer residence and gardens are stunning in their very own right. It’s the details, however, that add so much extra pleasure to this place: The Gloriette belvedere on the gardens’ hilltop is a prime location for coffee, cakes and Viennese sausage. Climb on its flat rooftop and the views of Vienna are even more breathtaking. Schönbrunn Zoo and Schönbrunn public swimming pool are set in beautiful parkland. You can even chill in an original Tyrol log cabin over lunch or drinks. The historic marionette theatre and occasional quadrille dancing lessons for children are two additional Schönbrunn Palace insider tips. In the spring, locals flock to the upper park grounds to pick wild garlic leaves. At the end of May, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra stages their annual free summer night concert on the palace grounds, among a happy crowd and glittering fireworks. Add Christmas and Easter markets, and you’ll oversee the fact that Schönbrunn is always busy.

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2. Coffeehouses

Vienna’s Kaffeehäuser have long been THE places for inspired enjoyment, whether you debated with others on politics, art and philosophy; read the papers, played cards or pool billard, or worked on your next book or theatre play. Traditional Viennese coffeehouse culture is recognised as an UNESCO Immaterial Cultural Heritage. Few visitors know that many cafés such as Café Central, Café Prückel and Café Diglas also serve excellent warm meals, and stage regular free live piano music. Best new style coffeehouses are Café Ansari in the second district (Leopoldstadt) and Café Corbaci at Museumsquartier. Once a month, Vienna Unwrapped and space and place host the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations at Café Ministerium, which connect travellers and local residents in 1:1 inspired talks.

3. Rathausplatz

The square in front of Vienna City Hall is Wien’s prime open air event stage. There is rarely a day of the year where you can’t enjoy yourself big time at Rathausplatz. The most popular event is the Film and Food Festival in July and August: During that time the square turns into a large international food counter. Two dozen stalls offer everything from Japanese and Latin American cuisine to Viennese Kaiserschmarren and champagne. At dusk, the large video screen in front of the City Hall shows popular operas, musicals and concerts. The most spectacular opening ceremony there is the annual Life Ball’s: a runway of the most extravagant ball dresses, with international celebrity support. Other festivals like the Vienna Festival in the spring and Wien Modern festival in the autumn use the square for their opening ceremonies as well. My personal favourite is Wiener Eistraum: between January and March you can ice skate on two large ice rinks that are linked through two ice paths meandering through city hall park.

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4. Museumsquartier

The former Imperial Stables have been converted into one of Europe’s ten largest museum complexes. This places brims with art, events and music. The most popular of the various museums on site is Leopold Museum, which houses 19th and 20th century art. Fans of Vienna 1900 art will find Wiener Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) paintings from Gustav Klimt and others, and Wiener Werkstätte furniture and accessories. The inner courtyard is dominated by Museumsquartier’s iconic Enzi lounge chairs. Each year, the museum complex invites the public to choose a different colour scheme for its Enzis. The most popular festivals are Summer at MQ and Winter at MQ, featuring fashion shows, contemporary music, light installations and great food and drink.

5. Mayer am Nussberg

The outdoor pop-up wine tavern at Kahlenberg hill sums up all of Vienna’s Heurigen bliss: For centuries the Viennese used to enjoy themselves over wine and snacks at local wine taverns in outskirts like Neustift, Grinzing, Ottakring, Stammersdorf and Jedlersdorf. The wine taverns are owned by local vintners. Their opening times are aligned with each vintner’s work schedule growing his vines and producing wine. Knowing the opening times of the best Heurigen places at any given time – especially during the warm months – is an essential social skill for many Viennese. Nowadays, expect wineries to offer a varied buffet of both cold and warm meals. Heurigen are a popular weekend destination at the end of a hiking tour through the Vienna Woods.

Mayer am Nussberg serves its guests from a converted barn on top of a hill in the middle of the vineyards between mid April and October. Visitors can relax in deck chairs right next to the vines or eat and drink on modern sofas and original wine barrels. Weekends at that winery promise roast piglet, grilled chicken, and Brezel to the tunes of live lounge music (traditional Heurigen folk music is left to mainstream tourists).

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6. Old Danube

The Alte Donau (Old Danube) was Vienna’s former main river bed, turned into a quiet lake. Nowhere else in Vienna is the traditional Vienna Danube community more vibrant than there. Along the Old Danube’s shores many Viennese use their tiny wooden weekend lodges to unwind from a busy week. The background forms a rich contrast, with the modern United Nations Headquarters building and the contemporary skyscrapers of Donauplatte. Thanks to water plants the water quality of Alte Donau is much better than that of the real Danube.

During the warm months weekenders and staycationers frequent Gänsehäufel, a small island in the middle of the lake that boasts a lakeside resort and forest rope park. The Old Danube is also ideal for rides by electro-boat, romantic moonlight picnics and stylish sofa boats. A recent local highlight are floating concerts: a classical music ensemble floats on a platform surrounded by up to eight sofa boats with guests dining to the music of Mozart, Strauss and co.

7. Ringstrasse

What the Champs Elysées is for Paris, Ringstrasse is for Vienna. Except the Viennese boulevard is a ring, circling the historic city center and replacing the former city walls. Once the largest building project in Europe, Ringstrasse lines up more than two dozen landmarks and attractions: from the Vienna State Opera, the Austrian Parliament, Vienna City Hall, three top museums and Vienna University to two major parks and the most elegant palace hotels.

The best thing to do on Ringstrasse is to either tour it by tramway or cycle round. The yellow Ringtram is an unobtrusive tourist vehicle that informs you about the sights passing by via audiophones and LCD screens. If you want to bike, borrow a Vienna city bike at one of the many city bike stations along the way. The best places to hop off are for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum), a guided tour through the Vienna State Opera, coffee and cake at Café Landtmann, strolling through Volksgarten and Stadtpark, and visiting the Wiener Werkstätte (Art Nouveau) collection at Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art.

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8. Vienna Woods

Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) surrounds Vienna from the North East to the South. The Vienna Woods mixes woodland with vineyards, quaint villages, historic towns and spas. The area is a popular weekend retreat for many Viennese and has attracted an increasing number of commuters.

The best place nearest to Vienna’s city center is probably at the Kahlenberg hill, next to the Danube. A traditional weekend spot, Viennese love to hike and bike it, and visit some of the many Heurigen (wine taverns). There are fantastic electric bike tours that take small groups around the vineyards, up to the panorama terrace and to a traditional wine tavern. Nature enthusiasts and thrill seekers will love Forest Rope Park Kahlenberg. Right next to it is Josefinenhütte, a traditional restaurant built in the typical Wienerwald style, a great place for Austrian log-cabin romantics. Villa Aurora on Wilhelminenberg is another typical eatery boasting beautiful interiors and great views over Vienna.

9. Hofburg’s Redoutensäle

Vienna’s Imperial Palace (Hofburg) spans a vast compound the size of 34 football fields. A top tourist hotspot of historical importance there are a few particular rooms where to experience the Viennese Art of Enjoyment. On several nights each winter, the elegant Redoute Halls host the most lavish balls. Thousands of tuxedos and colourful ballgowns rustle to the tunes of classical ballroom dance music through that part of Hofburg. The best balls taking place there are the Ball of the Coffeehouse Owners (Kaffeesiederball), the Ball of the Medics, the Ball of the Lawyers and the Rudolfina Redoute, a masked ball.

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10. Naschmarkt

Vienna’s most popular street market lends itself to many more joyful things to do than vegetable shopping. Stroll through the landmarked green cast iron stalls and buildings for a taste of Vienna’s historical Balkan affinity. Baklava, stuffed vine leaves and South Eastern European spices are sold as naturally as local artisan bread, vinegars, pickles, and chocolate. Sunny Saturday mornings reveal the Viennese’s hang for brunches and vintage shopping. Naschmarkt hosts a few excellent cafés and restaurants, such as Neni am Naschmarkt. The flea market in the top section is popular for glass and silverware, porcelain, fashion jewellery and vintage leather handbags (sophisticated grandmother style). Make sure you arrive in the morning to get the best pieces for a good bargain.

Naschmarkt is also a perfect place to admire three of Vienna’s signature Art Nouveau buildings. Linke Wienzeile street alongside Naschmarkt lines up Fin-de-Siècle architect Otto Wagner’s tiled Majolikahaus and two other finely decorated Jugendstil townhouses.

This article was written by Barbara Cação from Vienna Unwrapped.