From confections and konditorei (cafes), to the Danube River and the Vienna waltz, to contemporary art and Christmas markets, modern Vienna is the cultural and political heart of Austria and a world-class city with a soft spot for the finer things. In addition, the Central European city’s rich past and forward-thinking present has helped cement its role as a gateway to Mittel-Europa.

What is it known for?
For the last decade, Vienna has consistently been at the top of many most liveable cities lists, with the various rankings taking into account infrastructure, public transport, safety, education, recreation and general quality of life. The Mercer Quality of Living Survey, for example, placed Vienna in the number one spot in 2011 and 2012. “The city is a cultural hotspot where history and modernity meet,” said Sigrid Semlitsch, a Vienna resident for the last three years. “The social housing costs are low compared to other capitals in Europe. Another great benefit is the access to nature – 50% of the city is open space and parks, such as the Donauinsel, an island in the middle of the Danube, popular for outdoor activities and picnics.”

The city’s inner (and oldest) district, the Innere Stadt, sits inside the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s circular boulevard, surrounded by many of the city’s grandest buildings, including the Staatoper, the Vienna State Opera, and the Hofburg Palace, once the imperial seat of the Hapsburg rulers, now the office of President of Austria. The city centre, with the stunning Romanesque St Stephen’s Cathedral at its heart, is home to world-class museums, fine examples of Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture and decadent cafes where the Viennese come to enjoy their Sachertorte (a type of chocolate cake) and kaffee mit schlag (coffee with whipped cream). It was in this district that the eternal music of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert, Mahler and Schönburg was inspired, composed and performed. The MuseumsQuartier, just across Museumplatz from the Museum of Art History, contains contemporary, modern and Austrian art museums, performance venues and a children’s museum.

Vienna is one of the four United Nations cities and is also home to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Many multinational corporations such as Siemens and Microsoft have their regional headquarters here.

Where do you want to live?
Vienna has 23 districts, with the most popular being the 1st district, the city centre inside the Ringstrasse. “It is filled with smart, attractive apartments, and surrounded by historic buildings, designer shops and cultural hotspots,” said Alex Koch de Gooreynd, international residential agent at Knight Frank estate agents. “The locations directly outside the 1st district are [also] seeing interest, particularly the slightly bohemian 7th district.” Neubau, the 7th district,  west of the city centre, is across from the MuseumsQuartier, and includes the historic Spittelberg area, with its charming cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes, art galleries and eclectic boutiques. The neighbouring 6th district of Mariahilf is centred along Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna’s main shopping street, and the streets around the well-known Naschmarkt, with its stalls and restaurants serving everything from Vietnamese to Indian food, are very trendy. “Whatever the season, the smells and the food and choice of bars attract almost everybody,” Semlitsch said. The neighbourhood around Yppenplatz square and Brunnenmarkt, considered Vienna’s second market, in Ottakring (the 16th district, northwest of the city centre), is also becoming a popular locale.

Further out from the centre, the Viennese suburbs appeal to those with children. “For the family-oriented buyer, the 13th [Heitzig] and 19th [Döbling] districts are recognised as being the most exclusive areas,” said Koch de Gooreynd. Heitzig is in the southwest of the city near the colossal, butterscotch-coloured Schönbrunn Palace, the Hapsburg’s summer palace, and Döbling is in the north and borders the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods).

Side trips
Many Viennese head to the Weinerwald for hiking and picnicking day trips in spots like Kahlenberg, a 480m-high mountain with spectacular views of the city. There are many wineries within the city limits and stopping by to taste the local vintages at a heuriger (tavern) is a traditional way to spend a summer’s evening. In the summer, biking or boating down the wide Danube through the Wachau, a bucolic valley and Unesco World Heritage Site just 65km west of Vienna, is a popular day trip. The Slovakian capital of Bratislava makes for a quick city break, just 80km to the east, and in winter many head to Semmering to ski, about 100km to the south.

The Vienna International Airport is the hub for Austrian Airlines and has many direct flights to Eastern European and Balkan destinations. London is a two-and-a-half hour flight and New York an eight-and-a-half hour flight.

Practical info
The housing market in Vienna, which attracts foreign buyers from around the world, has seen minor price increases in the most popular districts and drops of around 5% in less desirable areas far from the city centre, Koch de Gooreynd said. “Eastern Europeans have been the most active in recent years, but there is interest the world over from buyers focused on a very safe and culturally explosive location,” he added.

The available housing stock in the 1st district is mainly apartments, which cost between 1.5 and 5 million euro. Condos in the centre cost double what they do in a neighbourhood like the 7th district of Neubau, just outside the Ringstrasse. Family homes in the prime locations of the 13th and 19th districts can reach prices as high as 3 to 7 million euro. There has been an uptick in investment properties recently, resulting in a slight oversupply of rental apartments. An 80sqm apartment in a centrally located district averages between 600 and 1,200 euro per month.

Further information
The Vienna Review: monthly English-language publication covering news, culture, travel and entertainment

Sushi and Strudel: a food blog about Vienna’s restaurant and dining scene

Vienna Times: English-language daily news, politics and business