Last year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on a master degree exchange in Vienna, and explore this beautiful city for four months. I love moving to new cities for a limited amount of time because it allows you to experience the real feeling and atmosphere of the city for much longer than a trip, and you can really get to know the best places.
So read on to read about what I think the best things to see and do in Vienna are after my four-month experience!
Top things to see
The best way, in my opinion, to explore the city centre is by wandering around. Especially in Vienna, the first district, which is the main city centre, is very comfortable to explore by foot in one or two days, and it allows you to take in all the beautiful architecture and culture the city has to offer.
The best way to start exploring the city is by walking along the Ringstrasse. Here you will find many of the most impressive buildings in the city, including the following:
- Rathaus: the city hall is located on the eastern outer side of the first district. It is in an area with many more buildings that are worth a visit. It was constructed in the 19th century and – whilst this is difficult to say because all of the architecture in Vienna is amazing in my opinion – it is really a masterpiece for a city hall. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Rathauspark, where in winter is where the ice rink is set up, as well as one of the best Christmas markets in town.
- Parliament: quite close to the Rathaus, walking south along the ring, is the Parliament. Another imposing building with magnificent architecture inspired by the Greek.
- Wiener Staatsoper: this is really one of my favourite buildings in Vienna, both on the outside and on the inside. It is also one of the key landmarks Vienna is known for. You can book to get a guided tour or watch some of the most beautiful opera performances in Europe. It is also the home of the Vienna State Ballet, and it hosts the annual Vienna Opera Ball during the carnival season. Tip: Cheap seats sell out fast but standing tickets are available for under 10 euros.
- Hundertwasserhaus: this apartment building in Vienna is an extremely curious sight. It was built after the idea and concept of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and exhibits architecture that is different from anything else you will see in Vienna. It has a colourfully decorated exterior façade, which residents of the building are allowed to decorate to their taste, and it is surrounded by trees. Worth the visit to see something very exceptional.
- The Museumsquartier: this is where many of the most important museums are located. home to renowned museums and galleries such as the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Leopold Museum.
- Some of the most impressive museums just outside of the Museumsquartier are the Museum of Natural History and Kunsthistorisches Museum (Historic Arts Museum). This might take you some more time to see if you want to visit the museums inside.
- The Albertina Museum: the museum houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world including more modern graphic works, photographs and architectural drawings. The museum has also acquired two significant collections of Impressionist and early 20th-century art, some of which will be on permanent display. The museum also houses temporary exhibitions and the Habsburg State Rooms.
- The Hofburg Palace: if you walk away from the ring, westwards, through the Heldenplatz, you will arrive at the Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria and was formerly the principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. It is also one of the largest palace complexes in the world and the location where the famous Spanish Riding School is located.
- Belvedere Palace: this beautiful palace complex, with two palaces, an art gallery and beautiful gardens that are really worth a visit.
- Schönbrunn Palace: this was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers and is by far one of the most impressive palaces in Vienna. It is located quite outside the city centre but it is easy to get to with the U-Bahn (metro). I would recommend going here on a sunny morning and strolling through the beautiful gardens.
Churches & Cathedrals:
- St Stephen’s Cathedral: also called the Stephansdom is Vienna’s main cathedral, is located on Stephansplatz; a square at the geographical centre of Vienna. It is one of the tallest churches in the world and another icon of Vienna’s beautiful landmarks. It is free to go inside, so do take a look!
- Karlskirche: a beautiful church located on the south side of the Karlsplatz. I really recommend paying the small price to go inside, as the murals on the ceiling are absolutely beautiful to see. You can go up with an elevator that has been built inside the church to see them from up close. There are also great views from above of the city centre.
- Prater Park: the Prater Park is the biggest park of Vienna, best known for its Fairground, home to the Wiener Riesenrad. Go here for a fun evening and make sure to get on the Ferris wheel for some amazing views of the city! You can find more info here.
- Burggarten: this park is right next to the Schmetterlinghaus (Butterfly House) full of tropical plants and butterflies. It is also known for The Palmenhaus, which is a glass house where you can go for casual lunches and dinners.
- Vienna has lots of green space, so some of the other parks that are also noteworthy are: the Sigmund Freud Park which is full of interesting statues, the Kurpark Oberlaa Park, known for its beautiful landscaping, the gorgeous gardens of the Hofburg Palace, the StadtPark & Volksgarten, and of course the Prater Park.
Top things to do
- Experience the coffee culture: Vienna is really well known for its coffee culture. It is just a part of social life. You go to a café and have a coffee, sit there for hours reading a book, eat some cake or talk with friends. One of the most popular, oldest and most impressive ones is Café Central and another of my favourites is Café Museum. Two of the most popular drinks are the verlängerter (espresso with hot water, like an americano) and melange, which is like a Viennese-style cappuccino.
- Wurstelstand: if you’re not vegetarian like me this might be one of the greatest things about Vienna, the many sausages stands around the city. Get a Käsekrainer (a cheese-filled sausage), Scharfe (spicy sausage) or Waldviertler (smoked sausage) here and you can be sure to experience one of the typical Viennese delicacies. One of the most popular is the Würstelstand am Hohen Markt located right in the city centre.
- Go to the Naschmarkt: this is Vienna’s biggest market for everything from food to souvenirs. It has existed here since the 16h century and will be sure to entertain you for a while with its 1.5km long stretch. It is great to fo to for sweet treats or if you want to sit down for a meal, then I would recommend going to Neni am Naschmarkt, a casual Middle Eastern restaurant. I absolutely love this place and it is also widely recommended by Viennese locals.
- Go to the 7th District: this district is known as the young, vibrant and creative heart of the city. The rents are still reasonable here in the 7th district, which means it’s home to lots of one-of-a-kind boutiques, bars and restaurants. You will find some of the cutest small shops, some of the hippest restaurants, brunch and drinks places and a torrent of smaller galleries and street art.
- Shop at Mariahilferstraße: whilst shopping in the 1st district is also great, this is one of the best shopping streets I have been recommended by my Viennese friends. It is a little known with the tourists but has many large international flagship stores, as well as other less-known local ones. What most people do miss when they go shopping here is to wander off into the side streets to the left and right. There are some really lovely boutiques hidden there. Among my favourites are Neubaugasse, Zollergasse, Kirchengasse, and Otto-Bauer-Gasse.
- Vienna food tour: if you don’t feel like sussing out all the typical Viennese food yourself, then this is the perfect tour. This 4-hour tour will take you to some of the most traditional places in the city; you will go to a typical coffee house, a bakery, taste some typical things at the Naschmarkt and finish off with some wine. You can get tickets here.
- Get a Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel: Vienna is well known for its amazing cakes, and it is probably even better known for its delicious Sachertorte, a chocolate-layered cake with apricot preserves. The best place to have it at is, of course, the Sacher Hotel where they serve the original cake as made by Franz Sacher, with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.
- Walk along the Danube Canal: the canal side is a great place to go to on a sunny evening for a drink. The water’s edge is full of “beach bars” where the locals go to, to enjoy a casual drink or two.
- Wine hike: Vienna is surrounded by some beautiful nature where you can go on great hiking routes to explore the area. One of the most famous are the wine hikes through the 700 hectares of vineyards surrounding the city. There is even a Vienna Wine Hiking Day, which is held every year in the autumn on which you can find all the Viennese trying the wine brewed that year. One of my personal favourite drinks is Sturm wine, which is a young wine made by fermenting freshly pressed grape juice. Here you can find the most popular trails.
- Go for a swim: Vienna can get very cold during the winter season, however, in summer it almost feels like Southern Europe. If you visit the city in summer it is lovely to go for a swim. Go to the Alte Donau on a sunny day, a side stream of the Danube river or go to the Amalienbad in winter, one of the oldest indoor swimming pools in Vienna with a unique historical ambience.
- You can explore most of the city on foot and, in my experience, it’s not really necessary to take public transport that much. If you do end up taking it a few times during one or two days I would recommend getting a day pass for public transport, as the individual tickets add up quite quickly.
- If you want to go inside a lot of the sights mentioned above, it might be worth getting the Vienna PASS, a pass you get free access to 60+ attractions with. It includes things like a tour of the Schönbrunn Palace, the Ferris wheel in Prater Park, the Albertina museum, and Hofburg Palace.
- Almost all shops in Vienna close on Sundays, apart from restaurants and cafés, so beware! It happened quite a few times to me whilst living in Vienna that I hadn’t done any food shopping and had to find one of the handful of supermarkets that open on a Sunday. So make sure that you get everything you need on Saturday.
I hope you enjoyed the post and have fun travelling! xx