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When you're pressed for time, a good way to see the highlights of Vienna is via a sightseeing bus tour, which gives you a once-over-lightly of the heart of the city and allows a closer look at Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces. You can cover almost the same territory on your own by taking either streetcar 1 or 2 around the Ring and then walking through the heart of the city. For tours, there are a couple of reputable firms: Vienna Sightseeing Tours and Cityrama Sightseeing. Both run daily "get-acquainted" tours lasting about three hours (EUR 35), including visits to the Schönbrunn and Belvedere palace grounds. The entrance fee and guided tour of Schönbrunn is included in the price, but not a guided tour of the Belvedere, just the grounds. Both firms offer a number of other tours as well (your hotel will have detailed programs) and provide hotel pickup for most tours. These tour operators also offer half-day trips outside the city. Check their offerings and compare packages and prices to be sure you get what you want.
You can tour at your own pace with Vienna Sightseeing's Hop On, Hop Off bus tour. There are 13 stops, and a day ticket purchased after 3 pm is valid for the whole next day, too. A running commentary describes the sights as you go along, and you can leave the tour at any of the stops and join again when you please. The short city tour costs EUR 13 and does a run around the major sites in about an hour. There is a two-hour tour for EUR 16, but the day ticket for EUR 20 allows far more freedom. All tickets can be purchased at hotels, directly at the stops, and on the bus. The first bus leaves the Opera stop at 10 am and every half hour after until 6 pm.
Fiaker (Horse Carriage) Tours
A Fiaker, or horse carriage, will trot you around to whatever destination you specify, but this is an expensive way to see the city. A short tour of the inner city takes about 20 minutes and costs EUR 45; a longer one including the inner city and part of the Ringstrasse lasts about 40 minutes and costs EUR 70, and an hour-long tour of the inner city and the whole Ringstrasse costs EUR 95. The carriages accommodate four (five if someone sits next to the coachman). Starting points are Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg, Stephansplatz beside the cathedral, and across from the Albertina, all in the 1st District. For longer trips, or any variation of the regular route, agree on the price first.
From early May to early October, a 1929 vintage streetcar leaves Saturday at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm and Sunday and holidays at 9:30, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm from the Otto Wagner Pavilion at Karlsplatz for a guided tour. For EUR 16 (EUR 14 if you have the Vienna-Card), you'll go around the Ring, out past the big Ferris wheel in the Prater, and past Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces in the course of the two-hour trip. The old-timer trips are popular, so make your reservations at the transport-information office underground at Karlsplatz, weekdays 7 am-6 pm, weekends and holidays 8:30-4. You must buy your ticket on the streetcar.
Guided walking tours (in English) are a great way to see the city highlights. The city tourist office offers around 40 tour topics, ranging from "Unknown Underground Vienna" to "Hollywood in Vienna," "For Lovers of Music and Opera," "Old World Vienna-Off the Beaten Track," "Jewish Families and Their Past in Vienna," and many more. Vienna Walks and Talks offers informative walks through the old Jewish Quarter and a Third Man tour from the classic film starring Orson Welles, among other subjects. Tours take about 1½ hours, are held in any weather provided at least three people turn up, and cost EUR 13, plus any entry fees. No reservations are needed for the city-sponsored tours. Get a full list of the guided-tour possibilities at the city information office. Ask for the monthly brochure "Walks in Vienna," which details the tours, days, times, and starting points. You can also arrange to have your own privately guided tour for EUR 125 for a half day.
If you can, try to get a copy of Henriette Mandl's "Vienna Downtown Walking Tours" from a bookshop. The six tours take you through the highlights of central Vienna, with excellent commentary and some entertaining anecdotes that most of your Viennese acquaintances won't know. The booklet "Vienna from A-Z" (in English, EUR 3.60; available at bookshops and city information offices) explains the numbered plaques attached to all major buildings.
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