The best things to do in Vienna, Austria

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The best things to do in Vienna, Austria

The best things to do in Vienna, Austria showcase the city’s elegance, where stately buildings rise out of the historic centre, cobblestone streets wind past luxury stores and charming cafes spill onto laneways. Landmarks include a palace with hundreds of rooms, a cathedral that was once the continent’s highest building, and let’s not forget about that world famous opera house. Basically, Vienna (also called Wien) is everything that people come to Europe for in one easy-to-navigate, safe city.

So how does one see the top Vienna attractions, without getting caught up in the usual ABCs? (That’s Another Bloody Church, for those blissfully unaware). Well, here are some insider tips gleaned from a friend who lived there, combined with tried-and-tested recommendations that highlight our top picks for what to do in Vienna, Austria.

The best things to do in Vienna, Austria

Buildings along Graben

What to see in Vienna: The palaces

Sure they’re touristy, but stopping at the gorgeous palaces are a must on every Vienna itinerary. First up is Hofburg Palace, located in the heart of the historic centre. Once home to the Habsburgs who reigned over Austria, it was expanded over the centuries to what it is today: a so-called city within a city, boasting 18 wings, 19 courtyards and more than two thousand rooms.

The best things to do in Vienna, Austria

Vienna, AustriaToday it houses the office of the President and secretaries of state, a museum, and the Spanish Riding School where you can watch the famous Lipizzaner horses train. Visitors can also check out the Imperial Apartments, for a glimpse into what life was like for Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Elisabeth.

Vienna, Austria
Vienna, AustriaThat powerful family also had an ornate summer residence about six kilometres away in what used to be the outskirts of Vienna. Built in the 1740s, sprawling Schönbrunn Palace is a baroque masterpiece with 1,441 rooms, a chapel and meticulously kept gardens that rival those found in Versailles. There’s even a zoo!

Schönbrunn Palace is now Austria’s most popular landmark, one of the top things to do in Vienna, and has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Click to book

Schönbrunn Palace is one of the best things to do in Vienna Austria

Schönbrunn Palace

Insider tip: Schönbrunn Palace has one of the best Christmas Markets in the city, so be sure to check it out if you find yourself in Vienna during the holiday season.

Shopping in Vienna

Speaking of Christmas markets, the city has some of the most gorgeous markets in all of Europe, and visiting them is one of the best things to do in Vienna at night during the festive season. While there are dozens scattered around town during the holidays, don’t miss the one in front of City Hall (Rathausplatz). Music is in the air, strings of lights are suspended over brightly-lit stalls selling handicrafts, sweets and snow globes, and the cinnamon scent of gluhwein will coax you to grab a steaming mug of it to warm yourself from the inside out.

RELATED: A fashionista’s guide to what to pack for winter in Europe

Visiting the Christmas market is one of the best things to do in Vienna, Austria

The Christmas market

Visiting the Christmas market is one of the best things to do in Vienna, Austria

From Rathausplatz it’s not too far of a walk to Graben, one of the prettiest and most expensive streets in the city. Mostly a pedestrian-only area, the cobblestone lanes wind past coffee houses, the beautiful plague column statue, and luxury retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes. Graben also borders important city landmarks, including Hofburg Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, so it’s inevitable you’ll end up here at some point.

Vienna, Austria

The plague column

The best things to do in Vienna, Austria

Graben

For a shopping experience that’s easier on the wallet, head to Mariahilfer Straße which is Vienna’s longest retail street. Popular with locals, this is where you’ll find major department stores as well as boutiques.

Vienna’s best architecture

Just a couple blocks away from Graben is one of the top places to visit inVienna: magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom). Designed with renaissance and neo-Gothic influences, it boasts a grand tower and ornate tiled roof.

The cathedral stood for more than 800 years before being levelled during World War II, but was built back up again by the Austrians when the war ended, and it’s as striking as ever. Visitors are welcome to explore the inside, which makes this one of the best free things to do in Vienna. You can also opt to pay a few euros to head up the tower for a birds-eye view of the city.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Another spot that’s popular with both locals and tourists is Ringstrasse, where the old city walls stood until 1857 when the emperor ordered that they be torn down. The road surrounds the city centre, passing by landmarks including the famed Vienna State Opera House, parliament, city park and the Museum of Fine Arts. Circling over five kilometres, explore it on foot or take the tram, which does a loop every half hour.

Finally, one spot that won’t be highlighted on most maps is the Hundertwassserhaus. The apartment complex was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (hence the name) and is essentially a colourful collage reminiscent of the architecture found in Barcelona. Sure it’s a bit out of the way, but worth it for those who like to see the quirky parts of a city or need a standout subject for their Instagram feed.

RELATED: Wonderfully weird things to do in Vienna, Austria

Hundertwassserhaus is one of the best things to do in Vienna

Hundertwassserhaus

Best things to eat in Vienna

Alright, now for the important stuff…food! Austrian food is similar to German cuisine in that it centres around hearty, traditional meals, such as schnitzels and bratwurst. Locals enjoy:

  • Figlmüller– Famous for their traditional wiener schnitzel, which is possibly bigger than your head. Located near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, dinner reservations recommended.
  • Naschmarkt– Super cute market near the city centre, which has been operating for centuries. There are both food stalls and restaurants, as well as a a flea market every Saturday.
  • Julius Meinl– Located on fancy Graben, this luxury grocery store (yes, there is such a thing) brings in gourmet goods from around the world. Be sure to look on the price tag for a flag showing where each item was imported from. It’s not just the store that gets people excited though, as Julius Meinl is actually known for its excellent cafe. There is also a wine cellar and dining room on site.

Vienna, Austria
When you visit Vienna, be sure to stop into a cafe—the city is famous for its Viennese coffee! Some of the elegant cafes around the city have string quartets, whose classical notes float up as customers dig into desserts such as rich chocolate sachertorte or strudels. Recommended cafes include:

  • Demel– Cute, salon-style cafe which dates back to the 1800s, including a store and bakery on the main floor.
  • Cafe Central– Open since 1876, the cafe boasts delicious desserts in a gorgeous, traditional setting. Located in the city’s first district, it was once a popular hang-out for the likes of Sigmund Freud and Leo Trotzki. Make sure you try the apple strudel!
  • Cafe Mozart– Similar to Cafe Central, located near the opera house.
  • Cafe Neko– For a totally quirky experience, head to this “cat cafe” near St. Stephen’s Cathedral…but only if you’re not allergic to, well, cats.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna’s top museums

If you’re interesting in adding some museums to your Vienna itinerary, here’s where you’ll want to go:

  • Belvedere– The Belvedere is comprised of two stunning baroque palaces built in the 18th century, which now house a museum with Austria’s finest artwork. The most famous piece is Gustav Klimt’s “Kiss” and there are also works from the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet.
  • MuseumsQuartier– A large area in the city’s 7th district which is home to a number of exhibitions, a theatre, event venue, performance centre and even a children’s museum.
The Belvedere is one of the top things to see in Vienna

The Belvedere

Relaxing in Vienna

While one could easily spend a few days exploring Vienna’s top sites, there are some great ways to relax while still soaking in the atmosphere of the city.

By far, one of the most popular and unique experiences in the city is attending the world famous opera. The Vienna State Opera is one of the best in the world, yet incredibly tickets are sold for as little as 7 euros! As you can imagine they’re snapped up fast, so it’s recommended that you try and snag some online as soon as you know which days you’ll be in Vienna. Even if you’re not lucky enough to get tickets, you can still tour the opera house during the day.

The Vienna State Opera House

The Vienna State Opera house

Vienna’s other claim to fame is that it’s home to one of the world’s oldest ferris wheels. Wiener Riesenrad was built in 1897 and actually had to be rebuilt after World War II. It still works just fine (other than being a bit slow), and offers a great view of the surrounding 2nd district. Click to book

Finally, if you’re looking to get in touch with nature there’s no better place than one of Vienna’s parks. Stadtpark near the city centre has been compared to New York City’s Central Park (but WAY smaller), and has beautiful walking paths.

Alternatively, head out to the Vienna Woods where you’ll find local favourite Kahlenberg. Not only does it have good trails, it also has a fantastic vantage point overlooking the city. Grab a bottle of wine, sit back, relax and enjoy the view!

Book one of these Vienna tours:

 

Where to stay in Vienna

  • Boutique Hotel am Stephansplatz: This gorgeous hotel features sleek, modern rooms and fun decor, with an exceptional location across from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Unwind at the spa after a long day of sightseeing, or enjoy a glass of wine in their cafe. Click to book
  • Hotel Beethoven Vienna: This funky boutique hotel has individually decorated rooms, and its lower price point makes this a good mid-range option. Guests love its central location, attentive staff and quiet rooms.  Click to book
  • Palais Hansen Kempinski: This historic property is one of the most opulent in Vienna, and dates back to 1873. Part of the luxury Kempinski group, the rooms and suites are spread over three floors, there’s a spa and Michelen-starred restaurant. Click to book

This article was originally published in January 2016 and updated in July 2020

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18 Responses

  1. We loved Vienna. But went last winter. I definitely want to go back during the spring or summer. Just the differences between your photos of Schonbrunn Palace in winter vs spring/summer are striking.

    We were able to get Vienna Opera tickets for 3 euros. 🙂

  2. Brittany says:

    Great post! Vienna has been on my list of places to go for a long time. I’m hoping to get to visit soon.

  3. K says:

    You missed so much: the Karlskirche trolley stop and the Vienna Secession building (both in Art Nouveau architecture); Cafe Schwarzenberg or the Hotel Sacher cafe; the Soviet War Memorial – and the Jazz/blues clubs nearby; the Vienna Volksoper (lighter operas and operettas); both the Staatsoper and the Volksoper offer cheap standing places two hours before the show; the flea market on Saturdays next to the he Naschmarkt; the Theater in der Josefstrasse or the Burgtheater; the Schatzkammer (treasure chamber in the Hofburg)….. The list goes on and on …
    It seems like you spent a weekend in the city without speaking the language or truly understanding the culture.

    • Hi “K”, thanks for the comment. As I’m sure you can appreciate, most tourists don’t have weeks to spend in a city, so this article serves as an overview of the highlights of Vienna. Surely those who have a week or two to spend in the city might be interested in your suggestions, but I’m not sure they all belong on a ‘must see’ list (especially as you’ll note none of them were included as top picks by the person in my article who actually lived there for a good period of time).

    • Lizmarie says:

      Looks like you are too busy trying to criticize the article instead of reading it. Hofburg was the first thing on the list so Schatzkammer is covered and she already mentioned the Saturday flea markets next to Naschmarket! Her response was way too generous. Be nice!

  4. Marissa says:

    Great article Tamara. I think you were spot on on what places to visit and where to eat. I’ve been to Vienna twice once in the spring and another in the summer and now spending Christmas there. I would go through all those places you recommended again as they never get old. The experience makes you feel wonderful each time.

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