The capital of Austria exudes glamour and elegance. From the white and gold baroque palaces to the wide lanes, Vienna is the best kind of kitsch. After living in Vienna for three months, I know how incredible this city is, and I encourage anyone to visit it, you will not be disappointed! This old European capital is brimming with culture and history, and you can easily spend days or even weeks exploring it all.
It is one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in Europe. It’s elegant, artistic, hip, young and vibrant. Vienna is lovely any time of year: when the trees bloom in spring, when the temperatures rise in summer, and especially around Christmas time.
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Some gems are a bit more hidden or less popular, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of a visit. From famous tourist attractions to off the beaten path activities, let me share my favorite things to do in Vienna:
Tour the Hofburg Palace
The crowning glory of Vienna is undoubtedly the Hofburg Palace. This former seat of the Hapsburg empire is a baroque stunner and exudes all that old glamour. A visit to the palace is an absolute must as it plays such a central role in Vienna history.
The best parts are the Imperial Appartments and the Sisi museum, where the history truly comes to life. You can also see the silver collection, but unless you are a big fan of antique cutlery, I wouldn’t bother.
These days part of the palace is still in use as the offices of the President.
Visit St. Stephens Cathedral
One of the most popular sights in Vienna is St. Stephens Cathedral. This Gothic giant rises up between the shops at Stadtplatz. The tallest of the towers stands at 136 meters, which offers a view over the city for those willing to pay (and climb the 343 steps). While the outside is Gothic, the interior is baroque and contains impressive art and treasures.
Vienna is home to several other beautiful churches, like the Votivkirche and the Karlskirche.
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Take a trip to Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace lies just outside of the city but is easily reached by tram or metro. It is a stunning baroque masterpiece and the perfect example of the wealth of the Hapsburg empire.
The palace is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and entry tickets are pretty pricey. But it is possible to take a virtual tour of the palace as well.
The gardens behind the Palace are equally impressive and free to visit during opening hours. You can spend your whole afternoon strolling through the vast royal gardens at Schönbrunn, but it is not a park where you can sit down in the grass for a picnic.
Schönbrunn is also home to a zoo which houses several endangered as well as domestic species.
Go Museum hopping
The whole city of Vienna feels like a work of art, but there are also a lot of museums. You can find most of them in the Museumquartier, which houses several great museums:
- Art History Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Museum of Modern Art
- Architectural Museum
- Leopold Museum
Fans of impressionism and Klimt are especially served in Vienna by the collections of the Leopold, Albertina and Belvedere. Belvedere is both a museum and a palace, with a beautiful garden.
Vienna also has several museums dedicated to famous citizens. Lovers of classic music will enjoy the Mozarthaus and Beethoven Museum. History and psychology buffs should visit the Freud Museum.
If you are planning to visit several museums, getting a Vienna Card can save you a lot of money on entrance fees. Some museums are also accessible free of charge on the first Sunday of every month.
A night at the Opera
The Viennese Opera is world-famous for its beautiful Baroque building and the excellent performances. It has been the honor of many great opera singers to perform here. There are performances every day, but tickets to the opera are not cheap, especially if they are not booked in advance.
However, you can queue up 80 minutes before the show for standing tickets that cost about 3-4 euro’s. It means having to stand for 3-4 hours, but it will be a unique cultural experience. Look here for specific instruction on how to get standing tickets.
Marvel at the Vienna National Library
I love visiting old libraries. The rows and rows of antique books make me feel like I’m in Beauty and the Beast or Harry Potter. You’re probably not surprised to hear that I was a total nerd as a child.
The State Hall in the National Library in Vienna is the biggest Baroque library in Europe, and she’s a beauty. It used to be the Emperor private library (lucky bastard), but now it’s open to the public. Every inch of the library is covered in art, with frescoes on the ceiling, the ornamental bookcases, old globes and beautifully decorated antique books and miniatures.
Most tourists don’t know about this place or skip it in favour of more famous landmarks, but it’s one of my favourite places in Vienna.
Catch a show at the Spanish Riding School
Even if you’re not a fan of horses, the Spanish Riding School is worth a visit. It’s been part of the Hofburg Palace and Viennese culture since 1565. In the riding school, the beautiful white Lipizzaner horses are trained in the specific dressage movements only they can perform. Shows are put on, but a popular (and cheaper) activity is to visit the morning excercise.
With the elegant Baroque riding school as a backdrop, you can attend the morning training from Tuesday to Friday. from 09:00-12:00 Entrance is 15 euro and tickets are sold at the entrance at Josephplatz.
Relax at a coffee house
An integral of Viennese culture are the coffee houses. A traditional Kaffeehaus is the perfect place to sit down for a Wiener melange (coffee with chocolate) and a piece of cake. Local delicacies to try are the Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce.
The oldest and most luxurious coffee houses are found in the inner city. Enjoy the treats and take in the history, knowing those seats were once inhabited by the créme de la créme of the Viennese art scene, such as Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner.
Ride along the Ringstrasse
It is far from a coincidence that all of Vienna’s most prestigious buildings lie along the Ringstrasse. The road was built on the order of Emperor Franz Joseph and took more than 50 years to construct. To build the 5.3 km road, the old city walls, as well as full neighborhoods, had to be torn down.
There is a tourist tram, but unless you want the addition of a guide, you can also hop on tram lines 1 or 2 that run the same route.
With a Vienna Card, public transport is included so you can hop on and off to visit the buildings along the Ringstrasse: the University, Volkstheater, City Hall, Parliament, Court, Opera, Imperial Palace, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum.
Vienna may be most famous for the Baroque architecture, but that doesn’t mean that modern art enthusiasts don’t have anything nice to look at. Vienna’s most unique building is undoubtedly the Hundertwasserhaus. The colorful, expressionist apartment building was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist. It’s strange shapes and colors are reminiscent of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona.
The Hundertwasserhaus is still in use and therefore not open to visitors, but you can visit the Hundertwasser Village across the road and the Hundertwasser Museum to learn more about the artist.
Have some fun at the Prater
To offset all the old European glamour, Vienna has its very own inner city theme park. The original part of the Prater is actually the oldest amusement park in the world!
It is open all day every day, free of charge. Instead of paying an entrance fee, you pay for each individual ride. It is a great place to hang out for a day if the weather allows and take a few spins on the roller coasters and try some Austrian fair food.
Go shopping at Naschmarkt
There is more to Vienna than art and architecture. There is also a lively food scene and there is no better place to explore this than the Naschmarkt. The Naschmarkt is a favorite among locals and tourists to do their shopping.
The open-air market has produce and vegetable vendors as well as some small shops, cafe’s and restaurants, selling all kinds of local and international delicacies.
The market is especially fun on Saturdays when it is extended with a flee market. The perfect place to do some souvenir shopping, sit down for some delicious foods or grab yourself some ingredients for a pick nick in one of Vienna’s beautiful parks.
Party all night long
There is so much sightseeing to do in Vienna that is easy to forget that people actually live here. In fact, it’s been consistently named as one of the most livable cities in Europe. Due to the large student population, it is also one of the most fun cities in Europe.
Behind all that old architecture lies a hip, crazy and vibrant nightlife. Let’s just say that I showed up to my internship hungover more than once.
On the more casual side there are plenty of pubs and bars, as well as the typical Austrian heurige. The traditional wine taverns sell only local wines with a few snacks. You can recognize them by a bunch of pine branches and the word “Ausg’steckt”.
On the wilder side, there are tons of nightclubs and party bars throughout the city concentrated in different areas. Visit the clubs underneath the s bahn tracks in the Gürtelring, get lost in the “Bermuda Triangle” near Schwedenplatz, drink and dance along the Danube. No taste of the Vienese nightlife is complete without a trip to the notorious backpacker bar Travelshack.
With so many options, your best bet is to do a bit of research online, ask locals or check which parties are held where. One thing is sure: you won’t be bored!
The best party of the year is the Donau Insel Fest, an enormous 2-day open-air music festival. It is held every year at end of June and entree is free of charge!
Vienna is a vibrant city, bursting with art, history and culture. There’s really no way to be bored here. This should help you along nicely to make the most of your trip to Vienna. Every item on this list is worth doing or visiting, so you might want to carve out some extra time to hit all the best things to do in Vienna.
What are you adding to your itineray? Did I miss your favourite thing to do in Vienna? Let me know in the comments.
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