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Vienna: City Layout

From its origins as a Roman village on the Danubian plain, Vienna has evolved into one of the largest metropolises of central Europe, with a surface area covering 414 sq. km (161 sq. miles). That area has been divided into 23 districts (bezirke), which are rather cumbersomely identified with a Roman numeral. Each district carries its own character or reputation; for example, the 9th District is known as Vienna's academic quarter, whereas the 10th, 11th, and 12th districts are home to blue-collar workers and are the most densely populated.

The 1st District, known as the Innere Stadt (Inner City), is where most foreign visitors first flock. This compact area is the most historic and boasts the city's astounding array of monuments, churches, palaces, and museums, in addition to the finest hotels and restaurants. Its size and shape roughly correspond to the original borders (then walls) of the medieval city; however, other than St. Stephan's Cathedral, very few buildings from that era remain.

The Inner City is surrounded by Ringstrasse, a circular boulevard about 4km (2 1/2 miles) long. Constructed between 1859 and 1888, it's one of the most ambitious examples of urban planning and restoration in central European history. Built over the foundations of Vienna's medieval fortifications, the Ring opened new urban vistas for the dozens of monumental 19th-century buildings that line its edges today. The name of this boulevard changes as it moves around the Inner City, which can get confusing. Names that correspond with the boulevard end in ring: Schottenring, Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring, Burgring, Opernring, KȨrntner Ring, Stubenring, Parkring, and Schubertring.

Ironically, the river for which Vienna is so famous, the Danube, doesn't really pass through the center of the city at all. Between 1868 and 1877, the river was channeled into its present muddy banks east of town and was replaced with a small-scale substitute, the Donaukanal (Danube Canal), which was dug for shipping food and other supplies to the Viennese. The canal is set against Ringstrasse's eastern edge and is traversed by five bridges in the 1st District alone.

Surrounding Ringstrasse and the Inner City, in a more or less clockwise direction, are the inner suburban districts (2-9), which contain many hotels and restaurants popular for their proximity to the city center. The villas and palaces of Vienna's 18th-century aristocrats can be found here, as well as modern apartment complexes and the homes of 19th-century middle-class entrepreneurs. These districts are profiled later in this chapter under "The Neighborhoods in Brief."

The outer districts (10-23) form another concentric ring of suburbs, comprising a variety of neighborhoods from industrial parks to rural villages. SchɆnbrunn, the Habsburg's vast summer palace, is located in these outlying areas in the 13th District, Hietzing. Also noteworthy is the 19th District, DɆbling, with its famous heurigen villages, like Grinzing and Sievering, and the 22nd District, Donau-stadt, home to the verdant Donau Park and the adjoining UNO-City, an impressive modern complex of United Nations agencies.

Finding an Address

Street addresses are followed by a four-digit postal code, or sometimes a Roman numeral, that identifies the district in which the address is located. Often the code is preceded by the letter A. The district number is coded in the two middle digits, so if an address is in the 1st District (01), the postal code would read A-1010; in the 7th District, A-1070; and in the 13th District, A-1130.

A rule of thumb used by hotel concierges and taxi drivers involves the following broad-based guidelines: Odd street numbers are on one side of the street, and even numbers are on the other. The lowest numbers are usually closest to the city's geographic and spiritual center, St. Stephansplatz, and get higher as the street extends outward. Naturally, this system won't work on streets running parallel to the cathedral, so you'll have to simply test your luck.

What about the broad expanses of Vienna's Ring? Traffic always moves clockwise on the Ring, and any backtracking against the direction of the traffic must be done via side streets that radiate from the general traffic flow. Numeration on the Ring always goes from high numbers to lower numbers, as determined by the direction of the prevailing traffic: Odd street numbers appear on a driver's left, and even numbers appear on the right.

Street Maps

You'll need a very good and detailed map to explore Vienna, as it has some 2,400km (1,488 miles) of streets (many of them narrow). Since so many places, including restaurants and hotels, lie in these alleyways, routine overview maps that are given away at hotels or the tourist office won't do. You'll need the best city map in Vienna, which is published by Falk and sold at all major newsstands, at bookstores, and in many upscale hotels.

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