Vienna's Ringstrasse is lined with opulent buildings, such as the Austrian Parliament. Picture: Steve McKenna

Before penning the latest James Bond story, Solo, the British writer William Boyd received critical acclaim for his novel Waiting for Sunrise.

Set in pre-World War I Vienna, this atmospheric plot-twisting yarn, bubbling with vivid period detail, is an absorbing accompaniment for a trip to the elegant Austrian capital.

Early on in the book, the main character, Lysander Rief, pops into a smoky Viennese cafe, where he becomes embroiled in mind- muddling conversation with Sigmund Freud, the most exalted psychoanalyst in a city that was, at the time, brimming with psychoanalysts.

Freud's former apartment and office - his base from 1891 until 1938, when he emigrated to Britain, following the nazi occupation of Austria - is now a museum dedicated to his work, and a popular inclusion on a Viennese travel itinerary.

It's just north of the Innere Stadt, Vienna's UNESCO World Heritage-listed core, a beguiling bundle of narrow streets that spring from the Stephansdom - a Gothic cathedral with an extraordinary mosaic-tiled roof.

Nearby is the Hofburg Palace, the former headquarters of the Habsburg Empire, which ruled much of central Europe for more than 500 years until its post-World War I demise. You can tour the palace's lavish apartments, and, if you're here in the morning, catch the training sessions of the dancing Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School, a Habsburg- era institution said to be the world's oldest riding academy. Encircling the Innere Stadt is the showy Ringstrasse boulevard. Commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef I in 1857, it's lined with imposing buildings such as the neo-Gothic Rathaus (city hall), the Greek Revival-style parliament and the Burgtheater, the national theatre known as "Die Burg" by Viennese.

The Ringstrasse is walkable but your feet might thank you for taking tram number 1, which navigates the loop. While Vienna has a timeless feel to it - you can still enjoy coffee and strudels in decorative coffeehouses, scoff mega-sized schnitzels in rustic taverns and enjoy performances from the revered Vienna Philharmonic - the city isn't trapped in the past. The Museumsquartier - just outside the Innere Stadt - is one of Europe's most impressive modern cultural hubs. Home to the Leopold Museum, which displays paintings from Austrian icons like Egon Schiele and his mentor Gustav Klimt, the MQ has an array of cutting-edge places in which to eat, drink and be merry.

West of here, the Neubau district has eclectic shops, cosmopolitan restaurants and wine bars whose menus include rieslings and sauvignon blancs cultivated in the vineyards hugging the city's pastoral limits.

While Vienna has a timeless feel to it . . . the city isn't trapped in the past.

The West Australian

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