Commentary

Vienna

Updated: May 15, 2008, 7:11 PM ET
By Nick Bidwell | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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It's safe to assume every football fan traveling to the 2008 European Championships will be hoping to see their team play a game in Vienna's impressive Ernst Happel Stadium.

Even though the top Viennese club sides Rapid and Austria may only sporadically punch their weight in European competition, one field where the Austrian capital remains very much first division is the city's football cathedral, the stage for six Euro 2008 games (three first-round ties, a quarter, a semi and the final).

The stadium is commonly known as the Prater because of its location in the city's famous park. The 51,000-capacity Happel – named after the late, great Austrian player and coach – is rightly listed among UEFA's finest, five-star venues.

Not only does it boast a beautiful setting by the Danube, it looks great inside and out, has outstanding sight-lines and its facilities are top notch. Millions were spent to bring it up to speed for these championships, increasing the number of seats and installing a pair of ultra-modern video walls and an electronic access system.

With the U2 underground railway line recently extended to the stadium, the journey from downtown should only take eight minutes. Vienna's main airport is a 25-minute ride by bus or train from the center of town, with buses running every 30 minutes. The Schnellbahn train connects the Wien Nord station and the airport.

While central Vienna is easily within walking distance from the Ernst Happel Stadium, there is an excellent public transport network to fall back on. Tickets valid for one hour on the underground railway (U Bahn), bus or tram can be purchased at U Bahn stations and tobacconists. For those in Vienna for more than a day, go for a weekly or three-day card. A good deal is the Vienna Card, which holds good for 72 hours, offering free transport and discounts at museums, galleries and restaurants.

Vienna has a reputation as a button-downed, overly formal metropolis built on high culture (opera, waltzes, grand architecture and choirboys in sailor suits), yet authorities are looking to change that image. The hope of the Euro 2008 organizers is to portray their city in a more fun-loving light, and to this end they have unashamedly copied the Fan Zone concept so popular at the last World Cup in Germany.

The Viennese festivities will be concentrated in a vast area stretching from the Rathausplatz (City Hall square) and along the Ring Boulevard (which will be closed to traffic for the duration of the tournament) to Heldenplatz.

No match ticket? No problem. Up to 100,000 fans will be able to follow the action on nine big screens, while an entertainment program will be featured daily from 9 a.m. to midnight.

"Food and drink is the glue that holds body and soul together" goes an ancient local proverb, and it's still true today. Vienna boasts no fewer than 6,500 restaurants, 800 coffeehouses and more than 100 wine taverns (Heurige), which are dotted among the vineyards on the city's fringes.

Its cuisine is very much a reflection of the multinational makeup of the old Habsburg Empire. Serbische Bohnensuppe (Serbian Bean Soup) and Ungarische Gulasschsuppe (Hungarian spicy beef stew) from eastern Europe; Knodel (bread dumplings) from the former Czechoslovakia, Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets) from Milan and Apfelstrudel (Apple strudel) from Turkey are all well worth a try.

Try to visit a Beisl, the always-atmospheric, traditional Viennese eating houses. Two of the best are Reinthaler (1 Gluckgasse, train stops U1, U2, U4 Karlsplatz) and Gasthaus Quell (15 Reindorfgasse, train stop U6 Gumpendorfer Strasse). Other eateries definitely worth a visit include Figlmuller (1 Wolzeile, train stops U1, U3 Stephansplatz) and Plachutta, where you'll enjoy the boiled beef tenderloin speciality, which is served with roast potatoes and horseradish dish known as Tafelspitz.

No trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to one of its coffeehouses, sedate temples to caffeine in all its forms that double as dessert wonderlands. Service can be prickly and not for the impatient, but the heavenly wares on offer are worth it. Check out Demel at Kohlmarkt (train stop U3 Herrrengasse) or Cafe Weinwurm on Stephansplatz.

Nighttime revelers should head for the Bermuda Dreieck (Triangle), a collection of some 30 bars in an area northwest of Stephansplattz that is bordered by Rotenturmstrasse and Wipplingerstrasse. The banks of the Danube Canal is another favored chill-out area, especially the Strandbar Hermman (Hermannpark, train stop U1 U4 Schwedenplatz).

The city's main food market, the Naschmarkt (train stop U1, U2, U4 Karlsplatz) has a wonderful selection of goodies, while the main shopping street is Mariahilferstrasse (train stop U3 Neubaugasse).

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