Krista the Explorer
7 Must-Have Experiences in Vienna
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
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Did you know that Vienna frequently ranks as #1 on the list of the world's most liveable cities? After spending one week in Vienna I completely understood why. The Austrian capital is rich in culture, and boasts a magical blend of old and new architecture, cozy coffee shops, imperial buildings, and classical elegance that you can really only find in Vienna. And of course there are an abundance of unique experiences in Vienna that are on offer to both tourists and locals. You'll often hear Vienna referred to as The City of Music because more famous composers have lived there than in any other city in the world, or as The City of Dreams which is a nod to Sigmund Freud who spent much of his life in Vienna. It's safe to say that there are a lot more things to do in Vienna than people realize, and it very quickly became one of my favourite cities in Europe.
Learning about the history of Vienna before visiting the city is something I would highly recommend doing, so you're able to better understand the city's culture and put the historic buildings into context. Vienna was an imperial city from the 16th century up until the end of the first world war, and although it underwent serious damage during the second world war, its traditional buildings and the overall layout of the city have remained the same for centuries. There are many experiences in Vienna to choose from which will make you fall in love with the city, but I've put together seven of my top experiences in the Austrian capital that will allow you to see exactly what makes Vienna such a unique destination in Europe.
1. Exploring the palaces
The grandeur and elegance of Vienna is apparent wherever you walk in the city centre. One thing that I personally loved about Vienna was how many historic buildings it had, and how easy most of them were to get to on foot. There are plenty of museums in Vienna to visit that are inside beautiful buildings, but aside from that, there are a few palaces that you absolutely need to add to your itinerary. Belvedere Palace was built in the 18th century as a summer home, and actually consists of not one but two Baroque palaces. Belvedere is also where you'll find the world's largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings. Right in the very centre of Vienna is The Hofburg, also known as the Imperial Palace, which has been a seat of power since the 13th century and was the main residence of the Habsburgs. Then you have one of the most popular attractions in Vienna - Schonbrunn Palace. It was used as the summer residence of the Habsburgs and is considered to be one of the most historically important buildings in all of Austria. This is also where you'll find the world's oldest Baroque zoo. Visiting at least one of these palaces is an experience in Vienna you really shouldn't miss out on!
2. Horse drawn carriage rides
One of the best experiences in Vienna that you can have is a horse drawn carriage ride. There are a lot of companies that offer carriage rides in Vienna, and some of the horses look better cared for than others, so do your research beforehand. If you want a truly unique experience in Vienna, I couldn't recommend booking with Riding Dinner enough. They're the only company in the whole of Vienna who offer food and drinks during their carriage rides. What better way is there to see Vienna than by sitting in a luxurious carriage, sipping wine and nibbling on some Viennese delicacies, as you pass by the city's most important buildings? And their horses are very well cared for as well which you can see through their website and social media updates. It really is a must-do activity in Vienna!
3. Vienna's coffee scene
I'm not a coffee drinker myself, but I did find myself at a number of Viennese coffee houses during our trip. That's because Vienna is world famous for its coffee houses, which date back to 1683. Over the centuries these coffee houses have evolved, and so too has their production of world-class coffee. Many coffee houses in Vienna were known to be meeting points of some of the top artists, writers, and thinkers in Europe. Café Central, for example, is one of the most popular coffee houses in Vienna, so be prepared to queue for quite a while to get in, and it has hosted historic figures such as Sigmund Freud, Stalin, Hitler, and Franz Ferdinand. There are also quite a few unique places to get coffee in Vienna popping up, such as Fenster Cafe which is basically just a window in a wall - but they do serve cappuccinos in a waffle cone! So even if you aren't a coffee drinker, you should at least experience the coffee houses because they are a vital part of Vienna's culture.
4. Take a ride on the world's oldest still-operating Ferris Wheel
Normally I tend to avoid amusement parks while I travel, but the Prater Amusement Park has a lot of historical significance so it was one of the first attractions in Vienna we went to. Sitting near the entrance to the park is the famous Wiener Riesenrad - a cherished symbol of the city. This Ferris Wheel was built in 1897 and is the oldest one in the world! The vintage train-cars are still very much the same as when the wheel was built, and you can even book an entire train-car out for yourself and enjoy a meal in it as you take in the views of Vienna. This experience in Vienna is popular with both locals and tourists, and is very budget friendly too at only €12.
5. Experience Vienna's food markets
Food prices in Vienna can get a bit steep if you're working within a specific budget. A great way to avoid eating out at expensive restaurants all of the time is to visit one of the many food markets in Vienna. There are plenty to choose from, but the main food market is Naschmarkt, which we took an extensive tour of with GTours. The market has around 120 stalls in it showcasing different food from around the world and stretches for over 1 km. This is the perfect spot to learn more about the different cultures that have influenced Vienna throughout its history, and get a really unique culinary experience. As well as food stalls, there is also a great selection of cafes and restaurants inside the market which are very popular.
6. Go on a food tour
Vienna surprised me with just how many fantastic restaurants it had, and how many unique dining experiences it offered. As I mentioned earlier, food prices in Vienna can take a big chunk out of your budget, but as well as visiting food markets, another great way to save money in Vienna is to go on a food tour. Food tours are a great way to sample different dishes within the space of a couple of hours, and they also show you some hidden gems in Vienna along the way. Our tour with Vienna Food Tours took us to a number of different stops, and we learned a lot about the traditional dishes of Vienna as well as how its food scene is continuously developing. Walking tours are always great, but going on a food tour is an experience in Vienna that you won't want to miss out on.
7. The Spanish Riding School
The Hofburg Palace sits right in the centre of Vienna, and apart from it being a very important historical building, it's also home to the world famous Spanish Riding School. This 450 year old institution is a must-visit for anyone visiting Vienna, as their morning training sessions are purely magical to watch. You'll be able to see the beautiful Lipizzan horses going through a series of routines with classical music playing in the background, and you can stay for as long as you want too, though typically people stay for around an hour. Tickets to the Spanish Riding School can be bought online, and should be booked in advance if possible due to its popularity. Photography is prohibited though, so you'll have to get creative about how to snap a quick photo! It really is one of the most spectacular experiences in Vienna you can have.
Vienna is a beautiful city to explore, and one that is unlike any other in Europe. From its historic buildings to its reinvented coffee houses to its horse drawn carriage rides, experiences in Vienna come in an abundance. If you're thinking of visiting Vienna in the near future, you may want to take a day trip to Bratislava as well, which is only an hour by train and definitely worth it! Or, if you're already staying in Bratislava, you could always take a day trip to Vienna too, and try out one of the many experiences in Vienna that makes this capital city so unique.
Have you visited Vienna before? I'm sure there are a lot of unique experiences in Vienna that we didn't have time to try out, so I would love to hear about what activities you did in Vienna in the comment section below! Or if you have any other recommendations about what places to visit in Austria, I would love to hear those as well. And don't forget to follow my travels on Instagram!
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