Few concert halls can hold a candle to the neo-Renaissance Staatsoper, Vienna's foremost opera and ballet venue. Even if you can't snag tickets to see a tenor hitting the high notes, you can get a taste of the architectural brilliance and musical genius that have shaped this cultural bastion by taking a 40-minute guided tour. Tours (in English and German) generally depart on the hour between 10am and 4pm.
Built between 1861 and 1869 by August Siccardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, the Staatsoper initially appalled the Viennese public and Habsburg royalty and quickly earned the nickname ‘stone turtle'. Despite the frosty reception, it went on to house some of the most iconic directors in history, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Herbert van Karajan.
The contents of its former Staatsopernmuseum, which closed in 2014, are now displayed in the TheaterMuseum near the Hofburg.
Guided tours take in highlights such as the foyer, graced with busts of Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn and frescoes of celebrated operas, and the main staircase, watched over by marble allegorical statues embodying the liberal arts. The Tea Salon dazzles in 22-carat gold leaf, the Schwind Foyer captivates with 16 opera-themed oil paintings by Austrian artist Moritz von Schwind, while the Gustav Mahler Hall is hung with tapestries inspired by Mozart’s 'The Magic Flute'. You'll also get a behind-the-scenes look at the stage, which raises the curtain on around 300 performances each year.