There are many reasons to visit Vienna: whether you are an opera buff, an art connoisseur or simply a dessert lover, let yourself be enchanted by this elegant city.
Vienna is situated on the easternmost point of Austria. The small Mitteleuropean nation shares its borders with eight other states: Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, Switzerland and Lichtenstein to the west, Germany and Czechia to the north.
The capital of Austria, Vienna was once an important centre for fine arts and music. Its rulers, the Habsburg dynasty made it the fulcrum of their vast empire for over 600 years.
Arriving in Vienna – transportation
From Vienna International Airport there are several ways to get to the city centre:
- the CAT (City Airport Train) is by far the quickest link (16 minutes) to Vienna’s central station, Wien Mitte, but it’s also the most expensive: a single ticket is €12; a return ticket costs €21 and it’s valid six months from the date of the purchase
- the ÖBB Railjet is a great alternative: it runs every 30 minutes to either Wien Mitte (15 minutes) from where you can take the metro line U1, or to Wien Meidling (30 minutes) station, served by line U6. The full price of the ÖBB (€4.20) is inclusive of a single metro journey (€1.80 for the ticket from the airport to the Vienna city limits + €2.40 for the ticket within the Vienna urban area)
Visit Vienna – the itinerary
We spent less than two days in the Austrian capital and managed to make the most out of the little time we had.
Here’s our itinerary ideas, if you have two full days of exploration at your disposal. Have fun!
Start the first day in the Innere Stadt, or city centre, from the most important palace: the Hofburg.
Practical info for the Hofburg
Address: Michaelerkuppel, 1010 Wien, Austria
Prices: (from April 2020) Adults €15 (with audio guide); €18 (guided tour of the Sisi museum and Imperial apartments, daily at 2:00pm).
Opening times: Sep to Jun 9:00 am – 5:30 pm; July and August 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
For Sisi’s fans
Sisi ticket (from March 2020) €36 for access to the Schönbrunn palace, the Hofburg and the Imperial Furniture Collection. the ticket is valid for one year and visits are possible on different days.
You would probably spend around two hours marvelling at the many sumptuously decorated rooms of the Imperial Apartments and discovering facts about Princess Elisabeth’s life, from her childhood up until her assassination in Geneva, in 1898. Sisi, as she was affectionately known, married her first cousin, the Emperor Franz Joseph, on 24 April 1854. Her myth lives on to this day.
Keep the imperial theme going: leave the beautiful sight of the Hofburg behind and enter historic Café Demel, on your left.
Founded in 1786 by confectioner Ludwig Dehne, and originally located across the Burgtheater, it became known as “Demel” in 1857 when the business was handed over to Christoph Demel. Thirty years later it was transferred to its current location, at 14 Kohlmarkt. Read more about its history here.
All the cakes are prepared in-house – you can observe the bakers at work in the open bakery on the ground floor. They have a great sweet selection to choose from but certainly do not miss their famous Anna Demel cake and apple strudel (Apfelstrudel). The Demel’s Sacher is equally famous. Ask it to be served with a squeeze of phenomenal whipped cream. Cakes and pastries are better enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.
Read where we’ve found the best Sachertorte here.
Allow us to quickly mention the renowned coffee culture that constitutes part of Vienna’s charm. It dates back to the 17th century when the Turks, after a failed siege of the city, were forced to flee and left behind some coffee beans. If you’re now intrigued, read more about it here.
Once recharged, take a picture of Saint Peter’s church nearby. The Baroque building was erected on the site of a previous medieval church in the early 18th century and inspired by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Walk along the pedestrian Graben. Stop and take yet another picture: this time of a monument, the Column of Pest, or Column of The Trinity (Wiener Pestsäule, or (Dreifältigkeitssäule), built in the late 17th century to commemorate the victims of the plague.
At this point you’re just a few steps away from the splendid Saint Stephen’s Cathedral. The Romanesque and Gothic church is the most important religious building in Vienna. Its history starts in the Middle Ages when the first Romanesque church was built. You’ll find more information about the history of the church here.
The Cathedral has two towers – South and North tower. Both can be visited but, whilst the unfinished North Tower, or Eagle Tower (68 m/223 ft), has a lift that takes you to a height of about 50 metres for €6.50 (full price), the South Tower, or Steffl, with its 136 metres (446 ft), can only be visited on foot for €6.00. There are 343 narrow spiral steps to climb so, be ready to sweat.
For more info about your visit to the church and catacombs, click here.
Next is the Anker Clock, a beautiful early-20th-century Art Nouveau creation by painter and sculptor Franz Matsch. Situated on a bridge that links two buildings both owned by Anker Insurance Company, every day, at noon, it display the parade of 12 historical figures across the bridge. Read more about it on Visiting Vienna.
Carry on walking along Judengasse until you reach St. Rupert’s Church (Ruprechtskirche), considered to be the oldest church in Vienna, completed in the 8th century and dedicated to Saint Rupert of Salzburg, patron saint of the salt merchants of Vienna.
Now, if the weather is clement and you feel like walking, you can reach the Danube canal close by. Alternatively you can take the metro from Schwedenplatz to Praternstern (U1).
Cross the canal and walk along its northern bank where graffiti-covered cement walls and children’s playgrounds will accompany you until you’ll have to bend left on Franzensbrückenstrasse. If you visit in summer, you’ll find the canal lined with beach bars, deckchairs and boat restaurants.
Once on Franzensbrückenstrasse, you’ll just be ten minutes away from the Prater, a large public park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt). It hosts the so-called “Wurstelprater”, the oldest amusement park in the world. Apart from a vast array of attractions , eateries and other colourful devilries, the centrepiece has to be the Wiener Riesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel built in 1897. From 1920 until 1985 it stood as the tallest extant Ferris wheel in the world.
The Prater is free to enter and roam around. Every attraction sets its own prices. Here you will find more information about fees and opening hours of the main attractions.
There are various eating options within the Prater but we would highly recommend you to head back to the centre and try some traditional Viennese dishes at Lugeck. To get here you can opt for a 30-minute walk or use the public transport. The closest metro stations to the trendy restaurant are Stephensplatz or Schwedenplatz, both located on line U1.
Lugeck is part of the historical Figlmüller group. Once here you have to try the famous and tender Wiener Schnitzel, a breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet, or the Tafelspitz, Viennese-style boiled beef served in a pot with chive sauce, apple horseradish, browned potatoes or roll horseradish. They also serve vegetarian and vegan options, as well as a vast choice of local and international craft beers.
Leave some space for dessert. Two minutes away from Lugeck, on Köllnerhofgasse, is Heindls Schmarren & Palatschinkenkuchl. As the name suggests, here you’ll find the Schmarren, Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite dessert. A fluffy, caramelized, shredded pancake sprinkled with powdered sugar, the Schmarren is served hot with stewed plums or apricots or various fruit compotes, as well as – if desired – with dried fruits and nuts.
Kick off your second day with a must-visit, the majestic Schönbrunn Palace. Initially built as a hunting lodge for Emperor Leopold I’s son, the future Joseph I, in the 17th century, the palace has become a prestigious summer residence for the Habsburg family during the reign of Maria Theresa as well as the seat of foreign policy meetings with many statesmen of Europe.
With the Grand Tour ticket you can visit 40 rooms for a price of € 20,00 (adults). The visit lasts about 50 to 60 minutes. Don’t forget to walk up the hill to the Gloriette from which you can admire the palace as well as the Ottakring neighbourhood around.
Practical info for Schönbrunn Palace
Address: Schönbrunner Schloßstraße 47, 1130 Wien, Austria
Prices: check website as there are many different tour options and passes that can be very convenient
Opening times (2020): 1 April to 30 June 8 am – 5.30 pm; 1 July to 31 August 8 am – 6.30 pm; 1 September to 31 October 8 am – 5.30 pm; 1 November to 31 March 8 am – 5.00 pm
* The nearest metro station is “Schönbrunn”, served by line U4.
*Tip: Pre-book an online ticket to avoid queues at the ticket office.
It’s time to head back to the Innere Stadt. If you get off at Kettenbrückengasse (on line U4 and jus seven minutes away from the palace), you may want to stop for a bite to eat at Naschmarkt. A long street market dating back to the 18th century, here you’ll find a bit of everything from the traditional Viennese specialties to Middle Eastern cuisine, candies, soft krapfens and Mohnzelten, round baked pastries filled with grated poppy seeds.
History and art
Just a few minutes away from the market is a vast area dedicated to museums and art centres.
It’s dominated by the Museums Quartier: the large complex groups other institutions, amongst which you’ll find the Leopold Museum – home to the largest collection of works by the Austrian painter Egon Schiele in the world, – Kunsthalle Wien – with a focus on experimental contemporary art – and mumok – the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in central Europe, – to name a few.
Within walking distance and both facing towards Maria-Theresien-Platz are other important museums such as the Art History Museum, or Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, or Naturhistorisches Museum.
You can easily spend the whole afternoon here so we would recommend to just pick one museum, especially because you soon need to head over to the Belvedere palace.
Apart from being a beautiful building in its own right, the Upper Belvedere hosts one of the most famous paintings in the world, “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. Divided into three buildings (Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere and Belvedere 21) and spanning 900 years of history, the museum houses over 18.000 works.
Savoury or sweet?
Now you may be hungry for a hearty meal or just fancy a coffee and a sweet treat to inject some energy into your system.
You have two options – and they don’t necessarily have to exclude one another. For a savoury offer you can stop at Salm Brau, just off the Belvedere palace, on Rennweg 8, where you can choose amongst many Viennese dishes. We’ve opted for a tasty beef gulasch and the Jäger – Pfandl, a game stew with red wine sauce, mushrooms and herb spaetzle (small flour dumplings), served in a huge pan.
For a sweet slice of heaven, you simply cannot miss Café Sacher. The original birthplace of the beloved Viennese chocolate cake, this elegant café, located just behind the Vienna State Opera House, has to be a stop on your itinerary. They also serve savoury dishes. Booking is highly recommended, especially if you’re visiting in the afternoon. Follow this link.
End your day at the Vienna State Opera House, or Wiener Staatsoper, enjoying an opera night or an enthralling ballet performance. The tickets can be extremely expensive but, if you head over to the box office on Operngasse, you may purchase standing room tickets for as little as €2.00.
Dinner is served
If you’re still hungry and feel adventurous when it comes to trying peculiar craft beers, walk 20 minutes south-west bound. On Siebensterngasse, at number 19, you’ll find 7Stern Bräu. Open daily from 11:00 am to midnight, this renowned brewery has a long central horseshoe-shaped counter surrounded by seating areas and backed by two copper tanks containing the precious libation.
It serves seven, hence the name, signature craft beers – including one with chilli and one with hemp – and monthly rotates a special blend.
When we visited (February 2020) there was a dark smoked beer on offer.
Visit Vienna – Exploring alternatives
- Café Central: if you can fit it in your busy itinerary, please consider stopping at this café where they seldom provide live entertainment and an elegant setting.
- Vollpension: a great concept, Vollpension gives work to retired grandmas who still want to contribute and are happy to bake delicious cakes and brew hearty teas.
- Musikverein Wien: less expensive than the State Opera House, Musikverein offers classical concerts. The cheapest tickets grants you a standing place at the very back of the venue.
- Burgtheater: just across from the Rathaus, the Burgtheater is yet another venue where to catch a theatrical play.
- Albertina: an Habsburg palace housing a vast collection of modern and contemporary art.
- Wiener Stadtpark: a large municipal park whose final layout was completed in 1872.
Visit Vienna – travelling with kids
If you’re travelling with kids, check this website for ideas on how to keep your offspring entertained while exploring the Austrian capital.