Many of Vienna’s attractions are dotted within the Innere Stadt, the innermost and first district of the city. The Gothic masterpiece Stefansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) is near-impossible to miss, its spires and towers dominating anyone’s upward gaze. The towers of the Cathedral can be climbed for an unparalleled view of the city skyline, and you can join guided tours of the Cathedral to view otherwise inaccessible artwork. Ravenous tourists linger near the cavernous nave, cacophonous, while robed nuns scuttle hurriedly towards the Baroque altar.
Spiralling outwards from the very centre of the Innere Stadt are Michaelerplatz, where unearthed Roman ruins and the Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s Church) lie against the ivory backdrop of Michaelertor, the gate leading into the square and the very centre of the city. Flanking the square is the Spanish Riding School, named after regal white Lipizzan horses, whose stables and carers are on stark display to the public. One of the oldest schools for classical dressage, the school is open to the public for performances and training sessions. The immaculately groomed and braided horses seemed not to mind the adoring public, continuing to yank strands of hay from carefully positioned piles in front of their stable doors.
The Innere Stadt is dominated by Hofburg Palace, an immense palace complex just about contained by the Ringstrasse. Today, the original chapel is all that remains from the medieval castle that once stood on the palace grounds; various wings and libraries were extended throughout the Habsburgs’ reign as their influence over Central Europe grew. Today, aside from housing the presidential office and a convention centre, Hofburg Palace exhibits the various treasures, collections, and residences of the Habsburgs.
(Relatively) cheap thrills in the otherwise pricey Innere Stadt can be found in the Jewish Quarter. Come nightfall, the neighbourhood comes to life as the most popular bars in Vienna sprawl onto the tarmac. The area is jokingly referred to as the “Bermuda Triangle” – people re-emerge from this area in the morning with no memory of the previous night. This quarter is home to one of the few remaining old synagogues in central Vienna (Stadttempel), many others being destroyed during the Second World War on the infamous Kristallnacht. From the outside, the synagogue is near imperceptible; the elaborated interior is insulated from the street in accordance with the 18th century Patent of Toleration, whereby non-Catholic citizens of Vienna were protected so long as their places of worship were fitted into blocks of houses. This decree may have inadvertently saved the synagogue from destruction during Nazi occupation, as the Stadttempel could not be burnt down without also destroying the neighbouring buildings. Nearby, the dilapidated Ruprechtskirche, purportedly the oldest church in Vienna, sits on the shores of the diverted Donau. The façade of the church is overrun with vines and ivy, nature’s vasculature sprawling against the grey concrete.