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Oh, Vienna! The former imperial capital of Austria's Habsburgs is one of the world's most beautiful cities, with its manicured parks, grand palaces, churches, museums, concert halls and majestic opera house.

Gloriously imposing boulevards, such as the famous Ringstrasse, surround the city centre and you can take a tram along it and watch the grandeur of the past glide by.

Filled with music, this enchanting city of dreams was once home to Sigmund Freud, as well as a string of composers including Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss.

It is easy to get around - on foot, or by the underground, trams or buses. You can walk in the tracks of its famous musicians, take in one of the many concerts on offer, visit Mozart's apartment in Domgasse Street, and the Sigmund Freud museum in Berggasse Street.

Just across from the home of Freud is a famous gay bookshop, the Loewenherz (Lionheart), which boasts a range of literature in several languages, and next to it an equally well-known cafe, the Berg.

On a beautiful evening, we joined a crowd of music-lovers outside the opera house where a big screen had been set up showing a Verdi opera. And you can continue to listen to the glories of opera inside the famous "opera toilet" underneath the building in the underground station, where you are surrounded by music.

Vienna is also a culinary joy. Its traditional bars and restaurants serve up fabulous fare from haute cuisine to homely schnitzels, goulash, sausages, dumplings and strudel, plus excellent local beers and wines.

Elegant coffee houses and sweet shops are crammed with dazzling arrays of beautifully crafted chocolates, pastries and tortes such as the legendary sachertorte. The "most famous chocolate cake in the world" is seductively layered with apricot jam and covered in a velvety smooth, dark chocolate icing.

It was created in 1832 by a 16-year-old apprentice chef, Franz Sacher, and you can try it in style at the grand cafe of the luxury Hotel Sacher situated opposite the State Opera, founded by Sacher's son in 1876.

If you're in the mood for a bit of romantic kitsch, you can travel through Vienna's historic streets in similarly grand style in a horse-drawn carriage.

You can also relive the days of imperial splendour with a tour of the magnificent Schoenbrunn Palace, once the Habsburgs' summer residence.

The scale of the buildings, the magnificent gardens where the young Marie Antoinette once played and the opulent interiors rival those of Versailles, which was to eventually provide an ill-fated residence for the future queen of France.

Like Versailles, Schoenbrunn is out of the city, though not as far, and is easily reached by the metro. It gets crowded with long queues, especially in the summer, but is worth the trip.

In the centre of the city, the royal winter residence, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, is also well worth a visit. Make sure you take in the Treasury and the imperial apartments housing a museum where you can get a glimpse of the life of the glamorous 19th century Empress Elizabeth.

Fondly known as "Sissi", she was the Princess Di of her day and became empress at the age of 16 with her arranged marriage to 23-year-old Franz Joseph I.

A renowned beauty, she became a fashion icon and object of fascination in the popular press. A frequent traveller, she also met a tragic end, assassinated by an anarchist in Geneva who stabbed her through the heart.

Next to the Imperial Palace is another of the city's great attractions, the Spanish Riding School, with its public performances of its famous dancing horses.

One of the legacies of Franz Joseph's reign is the giant ferris wheel in central Vienna's fun park, the Prater, made famous worldwide when it featured in the classic 1940s movie The Third Man.

The wheel was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emperor's reign and provides a breathtaking view of the city. It is especially spectacular at night, with carriages big enough to be hired out for private parties.

Vienna is particularly appealing in winter and one of my favourite memories of this city was the pleasure of walking through picturesque streets in falling snow to dinner in the warmth of a cheap and cheerful schnitzel restaurant.

We went on to watch graceful skaters float round a rink set up in the square in front of the city's imposing town hall, while we sipped on glasses of hot and aromatic mulled wine.

At Christmas time, the square comes alive day and night with markets selling hand-made decorations, home-made delicacies and gifts. Mulled wine comes in special Christmas mugs which, for a small sum, you can take home.

In summer, the square is used for free open-air concerts, with stalls selling local food and drink. It is all very civilised - you get glasses and cutlery and there are no rowdy drunks to spoil the atmosphere.

Naturally there's also a vast array of glorious churches to visit, but even if religious architecture doesn't appeal, at least drop in to the massively majestic cathedral of St Stephen's, the 12th-century heart of the city. It soars above you in spectacular style as you emerge from the Stephansplatz underground station in the centre of the city.

It is a treasure house of artistic splendours, including the red marble sepulchre of the emperor Frederick III, magnificent altarpiece and winged Gothic altar, and draws about three million visitors a year.

The Stephansplatz is also the heart of the shopping district and is surrounded by elegant designer stores, cafes and restaurants including the fashionably famous Sacher and Mozart cafes.

There is a darker side to Vienna, as illustrated in the infamous photographs of Jews being forced to scrub its streets while jeering nazis looked on after Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.

Memorial museums record the city's troubled Jewish past, including the Museum Judenplatz, half a kilometre from the Stephansplatz, which incorporates an excavation of a medieval synagogue as well as a memorial to those killed in the nazi terror.

Behind a huge fountain in the massive Schwarzenbergplatz square in the city centre is a monument built by the Red Army to the Russian troops who died fighting nazi forces around Vienna in World War II, which Austria is required to maintain.

It is a matter of national pride that Austria was the first country to be left voluntarily by Soviet troops, who occupied it with the Americans, French and British.

While the glory days of empire are gone, Vienna lives on more than its memories of grandeur. While it is soaked in history, it beats with a modern pulse, making it one of the great cities of the world to visit.