The compact area bounded roughly by the back side of the Hofburg palace complex and Staatsoper, the Kohlmarkt, the Graben, and Kärntnerstrasse belongs to the oldest core of the city. Remains of the Roman city are just below the present-day surface. This was and still is the city's commercial heart, dense with shops and markets for various commodities. Today, the Kohlmarkt and Graben in particular offer the choicest luxury shops.

The area is marvelous for its visual treats, from the decorated squares to the varied art-drenched architecture to shop windows. The evening view down Kohlmarkt from the Graben is an inspiring classic, and the gilded dome of Michael's Gate, illuminated at night, shines its light into the palace complex, creating a glittering backdrop. Sights in this area range from the sacred—the Baroque Peterskirche—to the more profane pleasures of Demel, Vienna's beloved pastry shop, and the modernist masterwork of the Looshaus.

Dorotheergasse is home to two Baroque masterpieces. Palais Eskeles draws visitors to the newly restored Jewish Museum, and the former palace of Duke Albert of Saxony-Teschen is now the Albertina Museum and harbors one of the world’s largest collections of drawings and prints.