Oh Vienna, Vienna!
I cannot think about this city without getting all nostalgic.
I am sure you have heard about its magnificence palaces, artistic goodness and intellectual legacy.
After all, it was the capital of the Habsburg Empire for hundreds of years. In addition, it can claim Mozart, Beethoven and Freud as residents.
The heritage left by many still lives. In this decade, the city has been named the most prosperous, intelligent, innovative and livable in the world (on different years, sometimes on consecutive years).
All those facts, make the city a big magnet for visitors. The awesome thing is that the variety of sights and attractions is mind blowing. In other words, all the hype is more than true!
If you are visiting Vienna, here are tons of ideas on what to see and do in the city. I am providing a sample itinerary too. Get prepared because you are in for a great ride!
It is an outstanding idea to start a visit to Vienna by contemplating all its imperial splendor.
The main attractions in the city are concentrated around the Innere Stadt or Old Town. The focal point on this area is Hofburg, the former imperial palace and power seat of the Habsburg dynasty rulers. The palace includes various residences, gardens, a chapel, a library, a treasury, a theater, a riding school, mews and stables.
This part of the city is surrounded by the Ringstrasse. This circular road follows the outline of the former fortification walls.
In my opinion, a visit to Hofburg’s main residence is a must. The audio tour, included with the entrance ticket, is excellent. Even my museum averse husband loved it. It explains in a lively way a lot of Habsburg related history. In addition, it includes stories and random facts that help you absorb historical facts (and then repeat them a thousand times to all your friends).
We saw an exhibition about the Imperial Kitchen (more interesting than how it sounds) and entered the living quarters of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi (Elizabeth).
The Spanish Riding School is located across the main residence entrance. A lot of people choose to see the famous Lipizzan horses performing their daily exercises. This activity has an additional cost.
After the palace, it is time to hit the pedestrian part of Old Town. This is where you are going to experience the storybook Vienna. There are rows and rows of elegant buildings (and way cleaner than your own house).
While walking around, you are going to bump into Kirch St. Peter and St. Stephen’s Basilica, one of the city’s icon. It is possible to ascend to the top of the basilica and contemplate astounding views of the city and the Danube.
These streets are full of high end shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries. Indulge a little bit and have some ice cream, chocolate or cake. This was my favorite area to sit down and people watch.
I recommend having something to eat before moving on to other attractions. Hey, you need strength to keep walking!
Keep in mind the well-known Café Central is located in this part of town. Pay it a visit if you want to enjoy traditional dishes and jewel-like cakes.
Do not leave the area without stopping by the Viennese Opera, one of the busiest opera houses in the world producing 50 to 60 operas per year and ten ballet productions in approximately 300 performances. It is possible to take a guided tour of the building.
RELATED: Walking Vienna’s Old Town
Karlskirche and The Belvedere
A little bit outside the Old Town, you would find Karlskirche, one of the most famous and beautiful churches in Vienna. Well, at least, it was my favorite one!
Since you are in the area, it would be a good idea to stop by The Belvedere, a complex consisting of two Baroque palaces. The palaces are magnificent works of art but the people come here to see one of Austria’s most valuable art collections, the works of Gustav Klimt (including “The Kiss”). Works by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka are house in the palaces too.
I have covered a lot of attractions in the previous paragraphs. If you still have time and energy, museums are a great option.
Now, let me give you the lowdown, Vienna has more than 50 museums. You will need to pick and choose depending on what you like.
According to my research, the most popular museum in the city is the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum). This institution located at the Maria Theresien Plaza oversees a number of important sights and collections. Its twin, the Natural History Museum is a hit with families.
The Albertina is museum housing 65,000 drawings and approximately 1 million old master prints. Good luck seeing all that.
If that is not enough for you (really?), the Museum Quarter has an area of 60,000 square meters and it holds about eight different institutions. In addition, this is an ideal place to visit in the evening since musical and theatrical productions are offered for free (at least during summer)
More of Old Town
Try not to miss the Parliament, Rathaus (City Hall), Volksgarten and Burgtheater. The plaza in front of the City Hall hosts all sort of festivals and activities. We had the opportunity to visit during the film festival. The festival was backed up with a large array of local and international food offerings. This is a good option to spend the evening.
RELATED: Cheap Eats in Vienna
Your second day in Vienna can be used to explore a bit more of the options discussed on the “Day 1” section of this post. I believe there is a lot crammed in there.
But because I like variety and exuberance, here are even more ideas for your stay in Vienna.
If you are a market lover, I have good news for you. The Naschmark, is Vienna’s largest outdoor market and one of the best I have encountered in my travels.
My senses were bombarded on all fronts for about two hours. After all, the market is about one mile long (1.5 km, yes, you read that right).
This market is full of fresh fruits, vegetables, exotic herbs, cheese, baked goods, meats, and seafood. Artisan products such as vinegar, oil, sausage and pastries can be found too.
Plus, the market affords the opportunity to try or buy Austrian bread, cheese and wine. World famous Austrian cakes and pastries are there too for your enjoyment.
Rejoice since international fare such as doner kebabs, sushi and kimchi are available in the market. I noticed this is a perfect place to sample some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern specialties. They have the plumpest, most colorful olives, figs, baklava, hummus, baba ganoush and fruits and vegetables stuffed with feta or other regional cheeses.
You cannot go hungry in a place like this.
We already talked about Hofburg. Well, with all its splendor and opulence, that was only the Habsburg’s winter palace
Schonbrunn was their summer residence.
This is no ordinary palace. It has 1,441 rooms and it is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in Austria.
However, the magic of this place is not centered only in the main structure. An area known as the Great Parterre is full of flowers orange trees and sculptures. This French garden covering large part of the grounds, and dating back to 1695, is free to explore nowadays.
That is not all. In addition, the palace gardens house the following:
- An Orangerie
- A Privy Garden
- A Maze
- A Palm House
- A Desert House
- A Tiergarden (here is where the zoo is located)
- Many fountains and statues
In short, Schonbrunn has enough attractions to keep you busy an entire day. By now, I am sure you are aware of the cultural powerhouse Vienna is.
Important Note: Schonbrunn is spectacular. If you have one day in Vienna, try as much as possible to include this palace in your plans.
RELATED: Schonbrunn Palace
If you are into the quirky side of things the Hundertwasserhaus is for you. This house was built between 1983 and 1985 according to the ideas of Friedensreich Hundertwasser (hence the name) with architect Joseph Krawina as a co-author.
A visit to the house is short since only the exterior can be admired. I am mentioning this since this place is a bit out there (I even had problems to find it). If you are pressed for time, you may have to skip this.
The Kunst Haus Wien, a museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Hundertwasser, is located only a few blocks away from the Hundertwasserhaus.
The Prater is the most famous amusement park in Vienna. There you can find lots of different attractions like roller coasters, ghost trains and carousels. Additionally, there different possibilities for an adrenaline rush. There is also a highlight for nostalgia enthusiasts, the worldwide known Giant Ferris Wheel.
This is the city’s longest and most lively shopping street. It will be worth your while to explore the side streets in the 6th and 7th districts. This is where many out-of-the-ordinary shops and outlets have sprung up recently.
This is an excellent option for a lively evening.
I encourage you to use this day to visit the Wachau Valley. These 24 miles (40 km) stretch of the Danube between the towns of Krems and Melk is as pretty as river valleys come. The place is a dream come true. I am not exaggerating. I felt like most of the people around were dancing on their tiptoes to the tune of imaginary music.
The problem is that a lot of people does not seem to know about this place and end up missing it. I do not want that to be you. If you are in Vienna, this must be your top day trip option.
The Wachau Valley has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is one of the most prominent destinations in Lower Austria. The town of Krems is located 48 miles (76.6 km) from Vienna (that can be your start point).
You can book an excursion or go independently. After a sour tour, I have to recommend the “do it yourself” option. You can take the train to Krems, explore a bit, move to another town, take a boat on the most scenic part of the valley (Spitz to Melk), disembark in Melk and take the train back to Vienna. This is a trip that will go deep into the memory lane.
You can use your fourth day on the city to do a tour based on your tastes. You can sign up for a food, walking, Jewish history, street art or biking tour.
Or, you can opt for another day trip. This time you can visit Bratislava, the capital and largest city of Slovakia.
Bratislava is one of the four European capitals cut by the legendary Danube River. The city has been affiliated to the Kingdom of Hungary, the Austrian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia and other entities. Slovakia became an independent country in 1993.
Since the city was under Habsburg rule for centuries, the architecture is similar to other cities you will find in Central and Eastern Europe. However, there is a certain quirkiness and uniqueness that distinguishes Bratislava. I found the city regal and fun at the same time. I cannot recommend the city enough.
RELATED: 14 Things to See in Bratislava
There are tours that visit Salzburg, Prague and Budapest from Vienna. To me, this is pushing the envelope too much but if you do not have time to dedicate to these cities, these tours may be an option. Having said that, while in the city, I would concentrate on the Wachau Valley, Bratislava and castles / attraction relatively close to the city.
Hope you find this guide hopeful. Now, I can only wish you the best on your visit to Vienna.
- Planning a trip to Vienna soon? I like that. Start checking flights on Expedia right now
- Find budget friendly accommodation at Priceline or Travelocity
- If you are visiting other cities in the area, make sure to read my travel guides to Prague and Budapest. Reach these exciting cities by train. Rail Europe would help you to find routes and timetables
Have you been to Vienna? What other attractions would you recommend?
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This post is part of Our World Tuesday, Wanderful Wednesday at Lauren on Location, Wordless Wednesday at Image-in-ing, Faraway Files at Oregon Girl Around the World, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and a Southerner. Pay a visit to these wonderful blogs!