Vienna Schoenbrunn“Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume” Vienna, City of My Dreams

That first-time glimpse of a great city is guaranteed to race both pulse and imagination. Even travelers with the romantic soul of a mortgage banker will flatten their noses against an airplane window for a first-time look at the Eiffel Tower or the New York skyline.

Such behavior on the 20th visit to a city, however, means either the traveler is an emotional adolescent or the city is indeed one of the world’s greatest. In our case, it’s both.

Romantic souls entering Vienna by car may immediately want to shove a Die Fledermaus disk into their rental car’s CD slot. Not that the neighborhoods outside the Ring are spectacular – they aren’t. Vienna, you see, doesn’t have the scrubbed look of Munich or the Disneyland charm of Salzburg. It isn’t until the Ring, with its magnificent, massive buildings, is reached that the city really begins to strut its stuff. But once that “inner circle” has been attained, even the most jaded, “show me” travelers have to put Vienna near the top of any “great cities” list.

The town is more than splendid buildings and heroic statues. Musically, it without peer. Its orchestras and opera companies, as well as their several venues, are the world’s finest. Graves in the city’s Zentral Friedhof bear testimony to the city’s musical preeminence. Buried there—among others—are Brahms, Beethoven, Gluck, Schubert, Johann Strauss (father and son) and Franz von Suppe; all of whom produced many of their greatest works here. And, of course, this is the city of Mozart.

In the German-speaking world, Vienna stands behind only Berlin as a theatrical center.

Architecturally, of course, the city is heavily involved with its past, and that is as it should be. The increasing presence of ultra-modern steel and glass structures like Haas Haus across from the Stephansdom, however, offer a refreshing counterpoint.

Someone else can calculate which city has the most Holbeins, Rembrandts, Raphaels, Bruegels, Reubens, Klimts and Dürers, but there would seem to be more than enough for the pickiest art patron at the likes of the Albertina, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Upper Belvedere and the MuseumsQuartier.

Then there are the lesser—but no less lively—arts such as the coffee houses, the suburban Heurigen, the Prater, Viennese cooking, and the highest-brow street music anywhere.

If you haven’t been to Vienna, you must go. Of course, if you have, you know you must go again. First-time travelers there tend to get caught whistling and humming “The Third Man” theme. Others are into Mozart, Lehar and Strauss. Eventually.