For all the rolling Prater meadows and vineyards in the Vienna Woods, green space in the city center is in short supply – were it not for the Stadtpark (city park), popular as ever with humans and pigeons as it was in the 19th century.
Completed in 1862 during the Ringstrasse project, which saw the city walls razed in favor of a wide, opulent boulevard, it was one of the first purpose-built parks in the city. It was perfectly placed, right where the Vienna river reemerges after disappearing underground at Naschmarkt – the point of entry to the Vienna “sewers” (more accurately, run off from the city water system) used by Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in Carol Reed’s noir classic, The Third Man.
A Jugendstil promenade flanks both sides of the river, dividing the Stadtpark in two: the smaller side toward Heumarkt has a children’s playground and basketball cages, as well as a turn-of-the-century pavilion that houses the storied Steirereck – with two coveted Michelin stars, it’s widely regarded as the country’s finest restaurant. The Ringstrasse side is landscaped in English Garden style, with ponds and monuments to Vienna’s famous (mostly musical) sons – Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, Robert Stolz and, most prominently, Johann Strauss the younger, whose gilded statue remains one of the city’s most famous photo ops.
Arts and Culture
Exit the historic U4 Stadtpark station to Johannesgasse and you’ll be right in the action: To your left, you’ll see the Gartenamt on the next street corner, a small, charming two-story cottage hung with trellises, which is the headquarters of the municipal gardeners. To your right on the corner with Parkring is the storied Kursalon, a café, restaurant and ballroom built in the 1860s and made famous by Strauss himself, who frequently performed there. Fittingly, the Kursalon’s large parkside terrace is within sight of the glided monument, the maestro forever playing his fiddle. Popular with high society during the 19th century, it’s still an event venue, often for dinner concerts catering to tourists.
If you look straight ahead though, you’ll see the prestigious Konzerthaus, home of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Built in 1913 in a hybrid of historicism and Jugendstil styles, it opened to a prelude by the early modernist Richard Strauss, and remains one of the city’s premiere musical venues, boasting three soundproofed auditoriums. Next to it is the Akademietheater, built by the same architects. The second stage of the fabled Burgtheater, it has recently begun sur-titling select plays in English.
Flanking the Konzerthaus on the other side is the Eislaufverein, one of the oldest ice skating associations in the world. Operating here since 1901, it became an artificial rink in 1912, and is scheduled to upgrade again as part of the controversial “Heumarkt Projekt,” a real estate development that is endangering central Vienna’s UNESCO world heritage status (see “Vienna Red Listed,” MET Sep 2017). Starting next season, the Eislaufverein will move to nearby Schwarzenbergplatz for two winters awaiting their new premises, which will convert to a public square with an underground rink in the off-season.
Coins, Cinemas and Taverns
On the outskirts of the park, several other points of interest await. On Parkring, there’s the Gartenbaukino, an iconic movie theater opened in 1960 that specializes in original language films, projected onto a vast 15.45m by 6.5m screen. It’s one of the few cinemas still able to show 70mm prints.
On the third district side is the Münze Österreich (Austrian Mint), on Heumarkt since 1834, although it’s much older – legend dates their first coins pressed out of the silver bullion paid as ransom by England for Richard the Lionheart in 1194. Austrian Euro coins are still milled on site. Just down the road is another prime office: the Bieramt (beer department), a restaurant and watering hole popular for its rustic atmosphere and large selection of suds. Closer to the Konzerthaus is the Gmoakeller, a staunchly traditional Wirtshaus (tavern) and among the oldest in the city. In business since 1858, it was allegedly a site for the assignations of crown prince Rudolf with his lover Mary Vetsera; today, it’s quality fare and time-worn charm make it a neighborhood favorite and post-performance haunt.
While not nearly as large as London’s Hyde Park, the Stadtpark provides a perfect botanical backdrop to Vienna’s urbanites, with numerous notable institutions all in walking distance. Whether you’re a lovestruck couple strolling down the promenade, feeding ducks at the pond or taking a selfie with the golden waltz king, the Stadtpark remains Vienna’s inner city oasis.