So before going to Vienna, Austria I knew that it was going to be pretty. I wasn’t however prepared for Vienna to leap frog every other European city that I have visited and jump straight into lead position of my favourite cities. Vienna is just so charming, with each street being prettier than the next. Without a doubt it is one of the most elegant cities I’ve been to, with architecture dating back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire that will just take your breath away. There is so much to see and do in this gorgeous city and quite frankly it is hard to fit it all in. I’m narrowing it down for you with my list of the best things to do in Vienna
No matter how much time you have in Vienna there is plenty to keep you entertained. Whether it is 3 days or 2 weeks I guarantee you will not be bored in this beautiful city. I had 3 days in Vienna and literally ran all over the city, packing as much in as possible to road-test the best things to do in Vienna, so that you can get the most out of your time there. It might not seem plausible but in one day we walked just under 60,000 steps! Ok it might have involved a slight detour to a golf shop for Mister Lavin but I literally wanted to see it all so that I could tell you guys the best things to do there. I really want this to be a comprehensive guide to Vienna, so that you can best plan your time in this wonderful city.
Why visit Vienna?
Apart from the most wonderful art and architecture, Vienna offers many unique experiences. From traditional coffeehouse culture, magical Christmas markets to vineyard hopping in the city itself! Where else can you find such a diverse range of things to do within a city?
How to get there:
Vienna’s central European location means that getting to Vienna couldn’t be easier. Vienna airport is approximately 9 miles outside of the city and many airlines fly directly there. To keep costs low we flew through good old Ryanair with Laudamotion but airlines such as KLM, AerLingus, AirFrance and Lufthansa all have direct flights there. I recommend using Skyscanner or Hopper to find your cheapest flights and be sure to check out my blog on the must have apps for travellers so that you can find cheap airline tickets.
Getting to the city itself from the airport is easy. We took the City-Airport-Train (CAT) and found ourselves right in the city centre within 15 minutes.
The train is a comfortable way to travel to Vienna from most European cities. The tickets issued by Sparschiene Österreich and Sparschiene Europa are a particularly affordable way to travel. As these tickets are released in blocks, they should be booked as early as possible (up to six months before departure).
Night train ÖBB Nightjet
Traveling overnight makes sure you don’t waste valuable holiday time. You can choose a standard seat, couchette or sleeper carriage and arrive in Vienna rested and ready to explore. Individual seats or entire compartments can be booked (e.g. a private compartment in the couchette car for a special price, particularly suitable for families).
Discounted Sparschiene tickets can also be booked on all night trains
The Westbahn only offers connections for passenger trains between Vienna and Salzburg. People under 26 years of age can ride the train as often as they like with the Sommerhit ticket during the summer holidays.
If you choose to drive to Vienna or take the bus you can be assured a safe journey on Vienna’s network of motorways.
As tolls are compulsory on all motorways and expressways in Austria, you will also need a vignette to use Vienna’s city motorways. You can find detailed information on the toll charges here. The route planner will help you find the best way to Vienna.
Where to stay:
I am about to recommend one of the most fun hotels I have ever stayed in! With a bright neon sign on the way in announcing “We’re all mad here” and bicycles lined up outside encouraging you to “ride it like you stole it”, I just knew this was my kind of place.
Every room at the 25 hours hotel in Vienna is designed in a quirky circus theme that will heighten all of your senses. Everyone is welcome here and the daft and the curious are most definitely celebrated. You can choose your room size from M to XL. I stayed in a M and it was more than enough size wise. Some rooms even come with a bath on your balcony!
The 25hours Hotel at MuseumsQuartier lies directly between the Volkstheater and Town Hall on 1–3 Lerchenfelder Strasse and is only four minutes’ walk from the Volkstheater U-Bahn station. This means you can easily get to all of Vienna’s main sights.
25 Hours (the extra hour is for party!) is a hotel that boasts both a Mermaid’s cave and the best rooftop bar. This hotel is most definitely an experience and one that I highly recommend.
The best things to do in Vienna.
Vienna is more than just Schnitzel and Sachertorte, although let’s admit it both of those things alone are reason enough to visit Vienna. Vienna’s top attractions are easy to get to because the city is relatively small. We mostly used the city’s public transport to get around and with the Vienna City Card you will also get discounts to some of Vienna’s museums and attractions. So without further ado here are the best things to do in Vienna.
1. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
Our first stop was Saint Stephen’s Cathedral. Partly because it was the first spot listed on my Google map and partly because I just had to see those colourful tiles.
This beautiful Gothic Cathedral was completed in 1160 but was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in the 14th century. It is one of the most impressive Cathedral’s in Europe. If it is good enough for Mozart to get married in and Haydn to sing as a choir boy in then it is good enough for me!
One of my favourite features is the beautiful mosaic tiled roof. To enjoy the view you can go to the top of either the North or South tower. The climb to the South Tower is 343 steps and remains the highest viewpoint in Vienna. The North Tower has a lift which is refreshing to see for traveller’s with some disability. Often we have to miss out on the view because we cannot make the climb. This view does not disappoint.
Don’t miss out on the beauty inside the Church. While I was visiting there was a beautiful exhibition by Peter Baldinger who transformed the central nave of the church into a sky of stones. The choice of stones was deliberate, referring to St. Stephen, the patron saint of the Cathedral, being stoned to death for his faith.
A fun thing to find in St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the “Freedom handle”. When facing the front of the cathedral from the street, on the left hand side there is a small metal handle known as the freedom handle. Police can’t arrest anyone inside the Church because it is a sanctuary, so criminals would come for protection. Because of the criminals the priest decided to close the Church and rumour has it that the handle was inserted after it closed. If a criminal holds the handle , they are still considered to be in the Church so can’t be arrested. I’m not sure how true this is but it makes for a fun story.
2. Schönbrunn Palace & Gardens
From the 18th century to 1918, Schönbrunn was the residence of the Habsburg emperors including the very beautiful Sisi. You really can’t go very far in Vienna without hearing about Sisi and I urge you to learn more about her fascinating life while you are there.
This magnificent palace is a little outside of the city center but it is easy to get a tram directly there. It was designed by the architects Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Nicolaus Pacassi and is full of outstanding examples of decorative art. Together with its gardens, the site of the world’s first zoo in 1752, it is a wonderful example of Baroque architecture. Inside you will find over 1,400 majestic rooms.
We only had a short time to explore and I knew that if I went in to see those beautiful rooms I would never leave. Interior design is my thing! Despite the incessant rain we decided to explore the gardens and Palmenhaus instead. Probably not the best idea considering how wet we got and that we were meeting friends for lunch. The rain did make it difficult to appreciate these gardens and I can only imagine how beautiful they are in full bloom in the Summertime.
3. Austrian National Library
I am a big book nerd so the Austrian National Library, one of the largest Baroque libraries in Europe, was one of my favourite places that we visited during our trip. It is so beautiful inside but gets pretty crowded so it is worth trying to make it here just as it opens at 10am. We came here straight after St. Stephen’s Cathedral as it is close by.
The former Court Library was created in the first half of the 18th century as a private wing of the Hofburg Imperial residence. Standing here under the beautiful fresco ceiling I was in my element. It costs €8 to enter the library which, in all essence is only this room. To me it was worth every penny to be here and imagine what it was like in times gone by.
Among the exhibits are two exquisite Venetian baroque globes: one for the earth and one for the sky, each with a diameter of more than one meter.
4. Hofburg Palace
Standing outside Hofburg Palace was when I really felt like I was in Vienna. This is the image of Vienna we all see when we think about this beautiful city. It is right next to the Austrian National Library and the Spanish Riding school so it makes sense to visit these all on the same day.
Visiting Hofburg Palace is one of the best things to do in Vienna. Another residence of the Habsburg Empire, you can really get a sense of what it must have been like to live here by visiting The Imperial Apartments. Other highlights include The Sisi Museum, The Spanish Riding School and The Hofburg Treasury.
5. Hundertwasser House
The colourfully decorated exterior façade of Hundertwasser House in Vienna draws attention to itself almost magically. Designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, residents of this private apartment block are allowed to decorate the façade around the windows however they like. It is a beautiful backdrop for your Instagram photos but be sure to bring your wide angle lens as it is difficult to capture with a standard one.
Across from Hundertwasser House is Hundertwasser Village. An eco-friendly “shopping center” converted out of an old tyre workshop. Here you will find a bar, cafe and some souvenier shops. If you need a bathroom break it is worth the 80 cent entrance fee to hear the running commentary in both German and English of what Hundertwasser himself thought of organic waste and what his design process involved.
Here you will get the best view of the magnificent Vienna Opera House. This busy square is located directly below, and in front of, the Albertina Museum which sits in an elevated position above the surrounding buildings. It is accessed by quite a wide and long staircase but there is also an escalator for those of you with energy limitations. I still struggle with stairs after my Lyme disease.
There are some really cute shops in this area such as Wilhelm Jungmann & Neffe. At the bottom of the steps of The Albertina Museum is a sausage stand that sells the most sought after sausage in town. The queue for Bitzinger Würstelstand can be up to one hour long but trust me, it is entirely worth it.
7. Lamee Rooftop Bar
After all that sightseeing it is time for a well deserved break. With the best views of the city, Lamee Rooftop Bar at Lichensteg 2, 1010 Wien, is the perfect place to take a minute to soak it all in.
8. Kleines Cafe
Okay so before going to Vienna I totally pictured myself and Mister Lavin having our very own Jesse and Celine moment in Kleines Cafe. A romantic notion, I know, because the reality of this moment turned out completely differently.
I had told Mister Lavin that I wanted to get here Before Sunset (whoops wrong movie!). He insisted that he have one more pint to watch the end of the six nations rugby game that was on. As a result we had to walk super fast to get here only to find it closed. I got so angry we almost ended up in a full blown argument when a man in a full on Santa suit walked by, saving the day as we both burst out laughing.
So no Jesse and Celine moment for me but that doesn’t stop you from having yours at this iconic little cafe.
9. Belvedere Palace
Another beautiful Baroque style building by architect Johan Lucas Von Hildebrandt, the Belvedere was used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Belvedere Palace is one of Europe’s most stunning Baroque landmarks. This complex, which is comprised of the Upper and Lower Belvedere and an extensive garden, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, complemented by the work of international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. Highlights from the holdings Vienna 1880–1914 are the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings including the world renowned The Kiss.
10. Find Vienna’s Cute Traffic Lights.
A fun thing to do in the city is to find all of Vienna’s cute traffic lights. You will find them all throughout Vienna. There are three individual symbols to find both in red and green. All couples representing a male couple, a female couple and a male/female couple and they are so frickin cute. They even have names “Let’s go together “, “Feeling” and “The voice of love”. They were designed at the time Vienna hosted the Eurovision to highlight the city’s views of inclusivity.
So, those are my best things to do in Vienna. This list is by no means exhaustive and you could come back to Vienna with another list of things to do but these were my favourite. Vienna really surprised me by how much I fell in love with this city and I know that I will most definitely be back. I can only imagine how beautiful the Christmas Markets in Vienna are.
Hopefully next time I will have more time so that I can take it at a slightly slower pace. I still get raised eyebrows when I mention my 60,000 steps but two different step counters don’t lie.
*Disclaimer: I worked with Vienna Tourist Board during my stay in Vienna and had complimentary accommodation in 25Hours Hotels. I am however not obliged to say that I loved it, I genuinely did, and all thoughts and opinions are my own
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Until next time you crazy kids!
Want to visit all the places I did? You can follow my own customised Google Map.