Travel Trip Soccer and Sightseeing
Anja Niedringhaus  /  AP
A giant soccer ball is illuminated next to the fountain at Lac Leman in Geneva, Switzerland. The June 7-29 European soccer championships, co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, provide a perfect opportunity for travelers to explore the two alpine nations.
updated 5/16/2008 12:02:04 PM ET 2008-05-16T16:02:04

Overheard recently from a tourist in one of Vienna's grand cafes: "Waiter, I'll try a slice of your soccer tort."

OK, so it's actually Sacher Torte, the famed Viennese chocolate cake filled with apricot jam. But no one's going to quarrel with a slight mispronunciation — not with the European Championships in soccer about to unfold in Austria and Switzerland.

If you're thinking of combining sports and sightseeing with a trip here, you'd best move quicker than Ronaldinho. Hotel rooms in the eight venue cities scattered across the neighboring Alpine co-hosts are being snapped up fast.

The Euro 2008 tournament opens in Basel and Geneva June 7, and wraps up with the June 29 final in Vienna. Posters capturing the soccer fever sweeping the Austrian capital show a little old lady corkscrewing through the air as she bends it like Beckham.

You won't see the Los Angeles Galaxy star play here this summer: England failed to qualify. But there's plenty to do, see and taste in between matches. Here are some leading attractions:

  • Vienna: With Vienna's lavish architecture and elegant tree-lined boulevards, sometimes it seems like the Austro-Hungarian Empire never ended.

Cruise the Danube on a tour boat, or trot around the city in a horse-drawn carriage. Boutiques abound. Get a culture "fix" at the MuseumsQuartier, where the world-renowned Leopold Museum, Kunsthalle Wien and MUMOK Museum of Modern Art all beckon from beneath one roof.

A five-minute stroll gets you to the stately Vienna State Opera, which will be staging works by Verdi, Wagner and Strauss, or to the Museum for Ethnology, where Egyptian treasures from "Tutankhamen and the World of the Pharaohs" are on display.

Catch Anna Netrebko, Placido Domingo and the Vienna Philharmonic at an outdoor concert on the sculpted grounds of Schoenbrunn Palace on June 27, two nights before the championship final.

For those who can't get enough soccer, the Technical Museum has a new interactive show devoted to "The Beautiful Game." Among the highlights: England striker Wayne Rooney's shoes and the jersey Franz Beckenbauer wore when he led Germany to a World Cup victory in 1974.

Climb the 343 steps of St. Stephen's Cathedral's south tower and take in the panoramic views. Have a coffee "mit Schlag" (whipped cream) beneath the storied arches of Cafe Central. Or venture out to Vienna's winemaking Grinzing neighborhood for alfresco dining amid the vines.

  • Geneva: One way to enjoy the city is to view it from a paddlewheel steamer on Lake Geneva. Day passes for Swiss trains are accepted on the boats, which can be ridden to ports on both the French and Swiss sides of the lake.

The dramatic Jet d'Eau is one of the world's largest fountains, with the stream of water towering 500 feet above the lake at the Geneva end and visible for miles. Nearby is the Old Town on the hill overlooking the lake. It's dominated by St. Peter's Cathedral, where Christian reformer Jean Calvin preached in the 16th century, making Geneva the Protestant Rome.

Stroll along the lake or along the Rhone River leaving it, or pause in sidewalk and park cafes. Don't miss the 16 1/2-foot-diameter floral clock made of more than 6,500 plants.

The annual Fete de la Musique, June 20-22, features free concerts. There are city beaches for a dip in the lake on balmy summer days. The Red Cross museum and U.N. buildings point up the city's connection with humanitarian organizations and peace talks.

  • Salzburg: No visit to Austria is complete without a stop in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

An impressive amount of memorabilia and history are packed into the musty rooms of Getreidegasse 9, where the composer was born on Jan. 27, 1756.

Sample a Mozart dinner concert in the cellar of St. Peter's Church, where opera singers in period costume perform his works.

Search for hidden treasures at the Arkadenmarkt, a flea market held every Saturday on the Hof des Buergerspitals square. Or board a bus for one of several "Sound of Music" tours that bring you to the places where the classic 1965 Julie Andrews movie about the Von Trapp family was made.

Take a hike — or the funicular train — to the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077 and remarkably well preserved. The view is breathtaking: On a clear day, you'll swear you can see Switzerland. (You can't.)

  • Bern: The Swiss capital centers on an old town nestled in a loop of the Aare River. It features picturesque streets, flowers and fountains. Some 3 3/4 miles of arcades dating to the 15th century line streets in the heart of the city.

Providing shelter from the rain and access to many small shops, the arcades make Bern one of Europe's biggest covered shopping areas. The Cathedral, or Muenster, has an adjacent terrace with a view over the river and access to steps and an elevator going down to the riverside, where there are cafes and restaurants.

A stroll across the river leads to the bear pit, featuring the city's mascots and the source of its name in German. City bus and tram service takes visitors to the new Paul Klee museum on the outskirts of town, home to about 40 percent of the Swiss-born artist's 10,000 paintings, watercolors and drawings.

  • Basel: Switzerland's main port on the Rhine offers views and walks along the river. Many people swim or float downstream in the cool, clean water during the summer. An ingenious ferry carries passengers across the river for a nominal charge. The boat, tethered to an overhead cable anchored to each bank, is powered solely by the current.

The imposing Muenster cathedral and colorful Rathaus (town hall) are major attractions in the old town. The Kunstmuseum, an art museum, is one of Europe's best. It dates to the 1661 purchase by the city of an art collection featuring many works of the Holbein family, who lived in the city.

It became the world's first public municipal museum, and still holds the bulk of the Holbein paintings, along with a large Impressionist collection.

  • Zurich: The Swiss financial capital is the country's largest and liveliest city, with many attractions along its lake and river sides.

The large old town runs from the main train station along the Limmat River to Lake Zurich, with hidden points of interest. There's the cafe where the Dada art movement was born, and a house where Vladimir Lenin lived before returning to Russia to lead the 1917 revolution.

The Bahnhofstrasse and Paradeplatz feature luxury shops and major bank buildings, including a leading chocolate specialist. The city features art museums and the Swiss National Museum, with exhibits on the country's cultural heritage going back to prehistory.

On the outskirts of town is the zoo with the Masoala Rainforest, a dome-shaped enclosure recreating a Madagascar environment — complete with live lizards and lemurs in the trees overhead as you wander the paths below.

For the literary-minded, a short walk from the zoo is a cemetery with the graves of James Joyce and Nobel literature laureate Elias Canetti, both of whom lived and died in Zurich.

  • Innsbruck: Little wonder this Alpine city hosted the Winter Olympics twice: in 1964 and 1976.

The capital of Austria's Tyrol province, with a hulking Olympic ski jump towering over the town, is all about mountains and snow sports.

But it also boasts a charming Old Town, with its signature medieval Golden Roof house, and some of the country's most stunning castles, such as Ambras Palace, built in the 16th century by Archduke Ferdinand II.

You can even go skiing or snowboarding in June, at the Stubai Glacier, where the slopes are open year-round. But that's not a giant snowball at the summit — it's a 19 1/2-feet-high soccer ball. The Spanish soccer team is training here.

  • Klagenfurt: This delightful town is perched on the shores of Lake Woerthersee, one of Europe's largest and warmest Alpine lakes.

What Innsbruck is to winter sports, Klagenfurt is to water sports: fishing, boating, sailboarding and swimming. On shore you'll find lively beach volleyball competitions and an international half-marathon race.

Master builders from Italy designed many of Klagenfurt's buildings, which have beautifully preserved Renaissance facades. View them from a hot-air balloon and explore the countryside of Carinthia, one of Austria's most scenic provinces.

Stay on after Euro 2008 and enjoy the Woerthersee Festival, opening July 3 with concerts and musicals performed on a floating stage.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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