Getting the Best Out of Vienna
Updated: Mar 10
The classical charm of Vienna is something that's instantly noticeable in photos and videos of the city. On top of its long standing musical traditions, it also boasts a number of imperial palaces, beautifully designed pieces of architecture, and of course has a flourishing modern scene. It's definitely a city that perfectly blends the old with the new. It's also in a great location to explore other cities from! If you have time, I'd recommend hopping over the border to Bratislava, which is only an hour by train and worth a day trip. A few years ago I stayed in Bratislava and did a day trip to Vienna, which you can read about here. So whether you're a lover of classical music, a foodie, a history enthusiast, or just love to immerse yourself in different cultures, Vienna has it all!
There are so many fantastic things to see in Vienna, and the great thing about the city is that many of them are very central and easy to get to. We found that the best (and cheapest) way to get around was by purchasing the Vienna City Card which allowed us to use all modes of public transportation (bus, tram, metro) within the city. I'd highly recommend getting this card so you don't have to worry about what tickets to purchase every day. For the city centre I'd recommend using the trams as they're very frequent and you can see more of the city that way. If you're exploring the outer districts then the metro is your best bet. Another great way to see the city, and get some interesting information along the way, is to use the hop on hop off bus with Vienna Sightseeing. There are four routes to choose from (go on them all if you want!) which take you to different parts of the city. I'd recommend the red and yellow lines.
If you're arriving to Vienna via train, Wien Hauptbahnhof is the main station. From here, you're only a short tram or metro ride away from the very centre of the city. I found that Google Maps was very accurate with all the public transportation times, so there's no need to download any extra apps. If you're arriving by plane, this is also the station you will get the train to. At the airport there are lots of signs pointing you towards the train station, and you can purchase your tickets either in the terminal or at the station itself. The train takes around 15 minutes to get to Wien Hauptbahnhof, which is quicker than a taxi (and a lot cheaper).
What To See & Do
Chances are if you've looked up photos of Vienna, Karlskirche has come up. It's a very unique piece of architecture, combining many different styles such as Greek, Roman, and Baroque. It was built in the 18th century as a result of a religious vow made by the Holy Roman Emperor at the time of the last great plague. Charles VI vowed that if the city was saved he would build a church dedicated to his namesake. You can take a panoramic elevator to the top of the ceiling to get a closer look at the frescoes too. Take a look at the church's schedule, because they often have musical performances that you can attend as well.
The plaza surrounding the church is known as Karlsplatz, which is also home to the Otto Wagner Pavilion. Yes it's a metro stop, but it's a pretty one! It's named after the designer of the city's rail lines which were built in the 1890's. There are two pavilions facing each other. One is a cafe, the other is a very small exhibition on the man himself.
Everywhere I go, there needs to be at least one important building with scaffolding or work being done to it (sigh). The Vienna State Opera is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. Towards the end of the second world war much of the building was destroyed by allied bombing intended for another target, so it was reconstructed in the years following. If you want tickets to a performance, you definitely need to book well in advance, or you'll end up paying a ridiculous amount for them.
Another theatre, another beautiful piece of architecture! The original Burgtheater was built more than 100 years before the opera house, and was where Mozart premiered some of his operas! In 1874 work began on a new theatre in its current location, sitting opposite the town hall (Rathaus, which is a very impressive building in itself).
You can't go to Vienna and miss the opportunity to ride on the world's oldest Ferris wheel! Wiener Riesenrad sits at the entrance of the Prater Amusement Park, and was built in 1897 to mark the 50th year anniversary of the emperor's accession to the throne. Its been a city landmark ever since and is loved by locals and tourists alike. We bought our tickets in advance through Tiqets which let us skip the queues and get on the wheel straight away. Click here to purchase yours (you can thank me later for time saved).
What is this colourful building you ask? It's called the Hundertwasserhaus and is actually apartments! It's one of Vienna's architectural highlights and is located in the third district. Obviously you can only look at them from the outside, but opposite them sits a little "village" where you can shop for some souvenirs in a uniquely designed building. A short walk from here is another very interesting building called Kunst House Wien which is a photography museum.
If you like to take a stroll around parks, head to the Augarten, which is located in the second district. It now houses the second oldest porcelain factory in Europe, and is the city's oldest Baroque park. There's also a palace just next to the factory, but we couldn't figure out how to actually get to it (?!), so if anyone knows please share your knowledge with me!
For some reason Belvedere Palace doesn't show up on a lot of blogs covering things to do in Vienna, or it's very far down the list. I find this really strange because it's my favourite palace in the city! It was built in the early 18th century as the summer home of Prince Eugene, and actually consists of not one but two Baroque palaces. Today it's home to the world's largest collection of Klimt paintings, and the grounds are free to walk around.
The Museum of Military History is located just a short walk from Belvedere Palace, and is worth a stop if you have time. We didn't have chance to go inside, but we had a quick walk around its impressive exterior. It covers the history of the Habsburgs as well as the years following the fall of the empire.
Vienna has quite a few markets to sink your teeth into, but its most famous one is the Naschmarkt. It stretches over 1km long and has 120 stalls, all of which offer different culinary experiences from a variety of countries worldwide. We came across some really interesting fruits that we had never heard of! The best way to see (and sample) the market is to go on a tour with GTours. The tour is just under 3 hours, and you get to sample different kinds of food from a number of stalls, all while getting a lot of interesting information about the market and Vienna itself.
The MuseumsQuartier is located right next to the Imperial Palace and is one of the largest areas for contemporary art in the world. There are also a few cafes and restaurants in the complex as well as outdoor seating.
Located between the MuseumsQuartier and the Imperial Palace, Maria Theresien Platz is very impressive to walk around. It's home to a huge memorial of Maria Theresa, the Museum of Natural History, and the Art History Museum.
A short walk across the road brings you to The Hofburg, or the Imperial Palace as it's also known. It was once the main palace of the Habsburg rulers, and today stands as the residence and workplace of the Austrian president. It's recorded as being the seat of power since 1279, and has been expanded on over the years by various rulers.
The Hofburg is also home to the world famous Spanish Riding School, which I can't recommend enough. You can purchase tickets for their morning training session, which we bought ahead of time through Tiqets so we were ensured a ticket. Click here to purchase yours. It's an extremely popular activity as the institution is 450 years old and you get to see the beautiful Lipizzan horses in action. It's a magical way to start your day!
After exiting the Spanish Riding School you'll come out at the other side of the Hofburg, which is a lovely spot to grab a photo or two.
Is it a trip to Vienna without taking a horse drawn carriage ride? Absolutely not. There are lots of companies to choose from and you will see them lined up in various places in the city centre. But why not take the only carriage ride in the city that also offers food and drinks? Riding Dinner is a completely unique experience and one you won't forget. You get to experience the best of Vienna while relaxing with Viennese delicacies. Did I mention you get your own personal butler too?
There are a couple of different options on their website, but we did the Sparkling Sightseeing tour. We were given a variety of open-faced sandwiches to try, which are very popular in Vienna. We were also given a plate of small desserts to sample, as well as some sparkling wine. We really did feel like royalty passing under the arches and parking outside of the Imperial Palace for a quick photo shoot. If you're worried about spilling your drink, don't be. They have a special table that holds the wine glass in place!
The street leading up to the Hofburg is known as Kohlmarkt and is the most prestigious shopping street in Vienna. It was formerly the location of many court-appointed jewelers, and today is home to luxury retail brands. It's a beautiful street to walk along and window shop!
Like I mentioned earlier, a great option for seeing Vienna is using the hop on hop off bus. There are quite a few companies operating in the city, but Vienna Sightseeing is the only one that has a face on the front!
The State Hall is the heart of the Austrian National Library, and is one of the most beautiful library halls in the world, and the largest in Europe. You can get a ticket on the day easily enough, and it isn't too expensive!
If you have time, you can take a look at the Anker Clock which was built in the early 20th century, and isn't too far from the main shopping streets.
Stephansplatz is the heart of Vienna's city centre, and home to one of the tallest churches in the world, Stephansdom. Surprisingly, the church is free to go in. Just next to the cathedral is the Manner shop, who produce original Neapolitan wafers - a must eat in Vienna!
St. Francis of Assisi Church doesn't top the list of things to see in Vienna, and it's a little bit of a trek from the city centre, but if you have some spare time it's a lovely church to visit and has some interesting history behind it.
And last but certainly not least, Schonbrunn Palace. It was once the main summer residence of the Habsburgs and is one of the most important historic buildings in the country. The grounds are free to walk around, and you can purchase tickets on site for the palace's interior. We used the hop on hop off bus to get here on the yellow line as it's nowhere near any of the other main attractions.
What To Eat
I always say this, but in my opinion the best way to get a real taste of a city is by taking a food tour. We went on a 3.5 hour tour with Vienna Food Tours, which took us around the 7th district. We stopped at 2 restaurants, one cafe, and a sausage stand. So make sure you arrive at the meeting point on a very empty stomach! All of the food was delicious, and we were able to try dishes that we had never heard of which was a bonus.
Fancy a coffee? What about one in a cone? At Fenster Cafe you can order a cappuccino in a chocolate lined ice cream cone. We found it by chance when we noticed a huge queue. It's not your typical cafe though. It's quite literally a window in a wall, so you can just grab your drink and go!
Cafe Central is a Viennese institution, and you'll be very lucky if you don't have to wait in the queue outside. It's most famous for being the meeting place of Vienna's intellectual scene. Some names you may recognize include: Trotsky, Hitler, Tito, Stalin, Lenin, Franz Ferdinand, Freud, and Herzl. Safe to say this elegant cafe boasts a lot of history.
Whatever you do, please don't leave Vienna without trying out one of their many sausage stands! There are so many varieties to choose from that you really can't go wrong. We went back to the sausage stand that we were shown during our food tour, which is located next to the Anker Clock.
Another thing you 100% must try in Vienna is schnitzel. Traditionally it was made from veal, but today there are many other options. Figlmuller is the place to go for schnitzel. I'm sure there are a number of other restaurants that do it almost identically, but the enormous queue down the street definitely suggests that this is the best spot. The restaurant itself is in a traditional setting, and while you could probably get schnitzel cheaper elsewhere, you're also paying for the experience.
Restaurant Herzig. Take. A. Bow. Seriously. This restaurant is unlike any I have been to before, and I can say with certainty that you'll see it with a Michelin star very soon. It's a relatively new fine dining restaurant situated a short metro ride from the city centre, and is 100000% worth booking a table at. The mixture of food and flavours in each dish is spectacular, as is the presentation. They even have their own unique juice flavours which are presented in eloquently shaped glasses. So if you love food, and love new flavours, make sure you book here!
If you love Asian street food, you'll want to give Bao Bar a go. They have two locations in Vienna, but we went to their 1020 location on the university's campus as it's a 5 minute walk from Prater Park. Their bao buns and sauces are handmade, and all of their meat is locally sourced! So when you go to check out the giant Ferris wheel, make sure you stop by!
Wherever I go, I always sniff out a good pizza. Ribelli is located in the 25hours Hotel, and serves a good selection of pizzas and pastas. It also showed up as one of the best places to eat in the city when I was doing my research.
Another must-try in Vienna is the Sacher Torte. You can find it all over the city, but it originally comes from Cafe Sacher. Again, because of its fame, be prepared to queue a little bit, but if you want to experience this cake in its original setting it's worth the wait. You should also give the apple strudel a try (not specifically here, again you can find it everywhere).
I gave Manner wafers a mention before, but here they are again! They come in a number of different flavours, but my favourite ones are the original and the lemon. They're also very cheap to buy individually which is great for your budget, and a nice treat to bring home!
Where To Stay
The age old question: Where is good to stay? We stayed in Vienna for a week and tried out a number of different, unique hotels, each having different things to offer. So here are my recommendations:
If you're looking for that traditional Viennese hotel, equipped with modern amenities, then you'll definitely want to book in at Hotel Bellevue. It's located only a short tram ride from all the main attractions, and is situated in a gorgeous building. The tram stop is quite literally on your doorstep so it's very conveniently located. Our room was very spacious, and even had its own balcony overlooking the streets! They have a great selection of bar snacks and cocktails available during the bar's opening hours, and offer their own Sacher Torte too if you're having a craving for that. Breakfast is served in a buffet style and there are lots of options to choose from. The staff were all incredibly lovely to us and made us feel right at home, which nowadays is something hard to find.
Price range: €95 +
Hotel Schani Wien is a boutique hotel located right across the road from the central train station, with access to the trams and buses right on their doorstep too. This is a great hotel to stay at if you're wanting to be close to the station, and it's right around the corner from Belvedere Palace. It's a very modern hotel with self check-in services, individual room selection, and very unique furnishings. Breakfast is served in a buffet style here as well, and you can even make your own fresh juice in the morning. The decor of the entire hotel is truly amazing and there are lots of little details that add to its modern charm.
Price range: €68 +
So, Hotel Schani have two locations in Vienna. Hotel Schani Salon is located right in the heart of the city, a stones through away from the MuseumsQuartier and the Hofburg. This hotel is Jugendstil themed (an artistic movement from 1895-1910), and brings modernity and classical charm together. Although smaller than its sister hotel, it makes up for it with its design and attention to detail. The room is beautifully decorated and very comfortable, and the breakfast is served in the same buffet style as its other hotel. But the added bonus here is that there is constantly fresh coffee available, a sweets bar for all your sugar cravings, and board games to use. We also tried their signature gin & tonic which I would recommend trying if you enjoy a drink!
Price range: €85 +
We are all mad here! This line reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, which is my favourite Disney film. So imagine how excited I was to hear that it was also the slogan for 25hours Hotel Vienna at MuseumsQuartier! As you probably guessed by the name, it's located in the MuseumsQuartier of the city. This was by far the most random hotel that I have stayed at, but that's what made it so fun! The rooms are circus themed, with lots of little sayings spread out on various things across the room, some of which you can take home with you. In the lobby they have a souvenir shop where you can buy things you've seen around the hotel as well as last minute gifts to bring back from your trip to Vienna. There's also a photo booth, a rooftop bar, a mermaid's cave (you'll have to see for yourself), sauna, workout studio, camera wall, and bike rentals. I'm sure I'm missing loads of things but there's just so much going on I don't know where to begin. As I mentioned earlier, Ribelli is located in the hotel which has great pizza. The breakfast buffet is enormous and very well presented, so you definitely won't be leaving hungry!
Price Range: €122 +
Want to share your experience of Vienna with me? Feel free to drop me a message or email!