A city steeped in history and culture, with delicious dishes to try at every turn, and plenty of attractions to visit that it can be difficult narrowing down a list of the best things to do in Vienna, Austria especially if you are only visiting for a couple of days. Although we packed a lot in our three days in Vienna, I would recommend an extra couple of days to fully soak in the city.
Here, you’ll find a guide of things to see and do in the city, including the top 10 things to do in Vienna, the most beautiful palaces in Vienna, how to get around Vienna via public transport, as well as where to stay and where to eat in Vienna – advice to help you get the most out of your Austria trip.
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Top 10 Things to Do in Vienna
There are plenty of things to do in Vienna, but if you have a short trip, or you’re researching the must-see highlights of Austria’s capital, then some of the suggestions below will get you started with some of the top things to do in Vienna.
One of the most famous and fun markets in Vienna is Karmelitermarkt, which is a great mix of food stalls perfect for a lunchtime visit, as well as fresh foods to buy to cook at home. Browse the stalls and graze as you go, though mind the midday rush when locals have their lunch break.
Karmelitermarkt is open Monday to Friday from 6 am to 9 pm and on Saturday from 6 am to 5 pm, though many food stands are open Monday to Saturday from 6 am to 11 pm. One of the best days to visit the market is Saturday when all the locals come out to shop and socialize with friends.
Make sure to stop in at Cafemima for your coffee fix. It is a cute little cafe with a hippie vibe that has some of the best coffee.
The Praterstrasse is a district that stretches from the city center to Praterstern, focused on the main boulevard, which is populated with boutiques, cafes and trendy bars and restaurants.
Start at the gateway on the Danube and the iconic glass palace designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel. Eat at the panoramic restaurant on the 19th floor of the building, which houses the SO/ Vienna Hotel.
Then, meander down the tree-lined street, window-shopping for some favorite labels in some of the cool concept stores and pausing to appreciate the city’s art and culture at pop-up galleries.
3. Danube Canal
Known in Austrian German as Donaukanal, the Danube Canal was once connected to the famous Danube River but has been a regulated water channel since 1598.
Today, it’s most well-known for trendy places to eat and drink, especially in the summer when outside “beach bars” pop up along the water’s edge. Wind down at the end of a day of sightseeing here, or wander down Vienna’s largest legal graffiti zone to admire the street art. It is a great place to stop for lunch. Makes sure to stop at Motto Am Fluss for the delicious mushroom goulash.
4. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a Viennese icon; a historic gothic cathedral that dates back to the 12th century and one of the most important things to see in Vienna.
Noted for its colorful roof tiles, 13 bells (one of which, the Pummerin, is the second-largest free-standing chimed church bell on the continent), as well as impressive Baroque interiors and treasures collection.
Take a guided tour to truly appreciate the grandeur of the building and its story, and head down into the catacombs for a spooky tour of famous names throughout history, including members of the royal family, cardinals, and archbishops. If you are limited on time you can enter the cathedral at no cost and admire the beauty on your own.
5. Leopold Museum in MuseumsQuartier (MQ)
MuseumsQuartier, which opened in 2001, is a huge complex celebrating modern art and culture. MQ is comprised of nine permanent exhibition spaces and museums, including the Leopold Museum.
The Leopold Museum holds the most extensive and significant collections of Austrian art in the country, named for Professor Rudolf Leopold who started the collection in the 1950s. The museum is noted for its works by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, and Wiener Werkstatte, among other famous names.
Leopold Museum is open 10 am to 6 pm, and to 9 pm on Thursdays, and closed on Tuesdays.
6. Vienna State Opera
Wiener Staatsoper, or the Vienna State Opera, is a stunning opera house that first opened its doors in 1869. It’s one of the best opera houses in the world and with a different program every day, you can catch performances of one of 58 operas, 21 ballets, as well as other performances.
40-minute guided tours of the building are available for a behind-the-scenes look at this classic Viennese landmark (available in German, English, and Spanish, as well as Italian, French, Russian and Japanese upon request). They run on the hour, up to six times a day, but check the website for up-to-date timings. Don’t be alarmed by the number of people waiting for one of the guided tours. It looks like chaos but the tours are very well organized and run smoothly.
7. Hundertwasser House
An architectural wonder designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Hundertwasser House is a rainbow-painted façade, topped with a green oasis – right in the heart of the city.
Anyone who lives in the house has the right to decorate around the windows however they like, with the result being a patchwork quilt representing the people who live there. The bright colors, plus the overflow of foliage from the roof and windows, make this a cool and unusual place to visit in Vienna. This was one place we missed on our trip to Vienna but it definitely looks like a fun place to visit.
Palaces in Vienna
No trip to Vienna is complete without a wander around the grounds and opulent rooms of a grand palace. The city and its surrounds offer a wide selection, so here are three very different palaces to add to your itinerary.
8. Schönbrunn Palace (and Maze)
Located in Hietzing, a municipal district of Vienna, the grand Schönbrunn Palace was once the summer residence of the House of Habsburg, the imperial family and rulers of the Austrian Empire. Boasting over 300 years of history, a visit to the palace and its gardens offers insight into past and present Austria.
As a visit to Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most popular things to do in Vienna, it’s best to buy Schönbrunn Palace & Gardens: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour tickets in advance to avoid the long queues when you arrive. You can also sign up for a Strudel Show with Tasting at Schönbrunn Palace.
If you buy a Classic Pass Plus, this gives you access to Schönbrunn Palace, the Zoo, plus the attractions in the gardens, such as the Maze, Privy Garden, Orangery Garden, and the Gloriette. This will save you having to buy individual admission tickets later on. I would recommend taking the challenge and walk through the maze. It took us a couple of tries of running around in circles, but we finally made it through.
The opening hours of Schönbrunn Palace vary depending on the season:
- April to June – 8 am to 5.30 pm
- July to August – 8 am to 6.30 pm
- September to October – 8 am to 5.30 pm
- November to March – 8 am to 5 pm
Palace Park, Garden Attractions and the Schönbrunn Palace Maze
Once you’ve explored the rooms of the palace and soaked up a bit of Austrian heritage, head outside to the expansive gardens. One of the most entertaining things to do at Schönbrunn Palace is to navigate (or get lost) in the maze, which was originally laid out in 1720.
Today, the labyrinth has been restored to its former glory and extends over 2,700 square meters. There are also features within the maze; mathematical riddles that tell you how many steps to take, bouncing boards and a giant kaleidoscope.
The Palace Park is open from 6:30 am and free to wander around, though the garden attractions require a ticket purchase. Opening hours are:
- March – 6:30 am to 7 pm
- April – 6:30 am to 8 pm
- May to July – 6:30 am to 9 pm
- August – 6:30 am to 8 pm
- September to October – 6:30 am to 7 pm
- November to February – 6:30 am to 5:30 pm
The maze is open from 9 am and usually closes an hour to 90 minutes before the park closes.
9. Belvedere Palace
The Belvedere is a museum complex encased in heritage, consisting of two Baroque palaces (Upper Belvedere and Lower Belvedere), plus a post-war Modernist structure (Belvedere 21). The entire complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can purchase your Belveder entrance tickets in advance.
The Upper Belvedere dates back to the 18th century and Prince Eugene. When the prince died without leaving a will or naming an heir in 1736, his niece, Victoria, inherited the palace but had no interest in the place.
The building was bought and sold, then later transformed into an imperial art gallery in 1781, making it one of the first public museums in the world.
Today, the palace is the most-visited art museum in the country and noted for its collection of artworks by famous European artists: Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Helene Funke, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh.
The palace is open from 9 am to 6 pm, and to 9 pm on Fridays. Check the website for any time changes.
The Lower Belvedere is older than its neighbor, having started construction in 1697, and was once the residential palace of Prince Eugene. Today, it houses artifacts and treasures from history, some of which date back to the Middle Ages.
The palace is open from 10 am to 6 pm, and to 9 pm on Fridays.
This contemporary building houses contemporary Austrian and international art, including exhibits on film and music.
The museum is open from 11am to 6 pm, and to 9 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
10. Hofburg Palace
Also known as the Imperial Palace, Hofburg Palace was once the principal palace of the Habsburg dynasty, but today is used as the official residence of the President of Austria. The palace building dates back to the 13th century, though the structure has been added to over the centuries.
Hofburg Palace is one of the largest palace complexes on the planet. As well as being the seat of the Austrian President, the palace and its grounds house several notable museums, the Spanish Riding School, a congress center and the iconic Heldenplatz.
The palace is open from 9 am to 6 pm in July and August, and from 9 am to 5:30 pm for the remainder of the year.
One of the best attractions in the palace is the Sisi Museum. This museum celebrates the colorful life of Empress Elisabeth, who married into the imperial Habsburg family at the age of 16, then rebelled against court life and escaped into an obsession with beauty, sport, travel, and poetry.
The Sisi Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm in July and August, and from 9 am to 4:30 pm for the remainder of the year.
How to Get Around Vienna
The main methods of public transport in Vienna are the U-Bhan (subway), S-Bhan (local train), Strassenbhan (tram) and Autobus (bus). All of these are owned by the same company, Wiener Linien, so no matter which method of transport you use, it falls under the same ticket.
Note that there are no ticket barriers or formal checks for tickets, but you are still expected to buy one – if you don’t, you run the risk of meeting an undercover member of the transport authority and paying a fine.
Vienna City Card
One of the top tips for exploring Vienna is to use the Vienna City Card. The card is available from €17 and provides free travel on public transport (including to and from the airport), hop-on/hop-off access on Big Bus Vienna tours, as well as discounts at some of the city’s main attractions. Traveling by public transportation in Vienna was extremely easy and efficient.
You can buy the card online, print your voucher at home or download your voucher onto the app. Then, once you arrive in Vienna you can pick up your card and activate it by using it. Choose from:
- Vienna City Card (including public transport) – €17
- Vienna City Card Tour (including public transport, 24-hour hop-on, hop-off Big Bus) – €43
- Vienna City Card Transfer (including public transport and airport transfer) – €34
- Vienna City Card Transfer + Tour (including public transport, 24-hour hop-on, hop-off Big Bus and airport transfer) – €60
These are available for validity periods of 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours (the above prices are based on 24 hours).
Where to Stay in Vienna
Of course, Vienna has a multitude of accommodations available for all budgets all across the city. However, if you’re looking for something uniquely Viennese that echoes the city’s relationship with art and urban living, then check out these two quirky hotels.
Photo c/o Hotel Daniel
Landstraßer Gürtel 5
Hotel Daniel prides itself on “smart luxury” – cutting out everything but the essentials while keeping all amenities top-quality. Perfect for the modern traveler focused on sightseeing rather than lazing in the hotel all day, rooms start from €98 per night. Check for the best rates here.
Don’t miss the quirky Ermin Wurm boat, a 1945 Bruck an der Mur that bends over the 7th floor, as well as the Daniel Bakery – perfect for breakfast on the go, or a snack break between Vienna’s attractions.
Located near the Schloss Belvedere and the University of Vienna’s lush botanical gardens, the city center is just a 15-minute walk from Hotel Daniel. Plus, you can also hire Vespas and bikes in the warmer months of the year, to explore the city on two wheels.
Three locations: 1020 at Karmelitermarket, 1040 near the Belvedere and 1120 by Meidlinger Market.
Repurposed from old office and business premises, the suites at Grätzlhotel immerse you in local neighborhoods, with interiors that echo the space’s former life. For example, the former khopfmacher (button maker) suite features beaded lamps, while the lamplighters have a star-spangled ceiling. If you are looking for a different experience then one of these suites may be for you. I personally enjoyed the jungle suite.
High concept, newfound cool and uniquely Viennese, your check-in is simply a code that provides access to your key. If you need anything (such as free bike rental, a €25 picnic basket, or a massage), then owner Fanny Holzer-Luschnig can be found at the Zur Rezeption café.
The rooms start at €119. Check for the best rates here.
Where to eat in Vienna
Of course, one of the best reasons to visit is for the delicious food in Vienna! Here are just a few restaurant and café suggestions to get you started.
Restaurant Motto am Fluss
Located right on the Danube Canal, the eclectic Motto am Fluss building resembles a boat and you’ll find the restaurant on the first floor. Décor is 1950s style, while the cuisine is regional and makes use of organic ingredients. Stop by at lunchtime for a set menu, or enjoy a drink by the canal at the restaurant’s bar.
Restaurant Heuer am Karlsplatz
This trendy meeting place is known for its pretty terrace and garden – ideal for outdoor dining. Don’t miss the collection of pickle jars that layer the wall at the rear of the restaurant, pickled and preserved by chef Peter Fallnbügl. Enjoy one of the famous cocktails, as well as chicken and flatbreads prepared in a tandoor clay oven.
Gumpendorfer Strasse 11
One of the finest coffee houses in the city, Café Sperl has been serving up the capital’s most beloved beverage since 1880. Sip your Viennese coffee and nibble at your sperl torte (an almond and chocolate cake), then people-watch from one of the booths. There’s live piano music on Sundays. We were told that Cafe Sperl is the place to enjoy some Viennese sausage as well as their apple strudel.
For quintessential and authentic Viennese dishes, including schweinsbraten (roast pork), wiener rindsgulasch (beef goulash) and the famous wiener schnitzel), choose Gasthaus Ubl. Then, follow your meal with one of the restaurant’s plum schnapps. This restaurant is off the beaten path and will give you a true authentic Viennese dining experience. The menu is in German, lucky we had a translator. We dined on beef broth, pork with dumplings, and schnitzel.
Meissl & Schadn
Famous for its wiener schnitzel, this is the place you need to go to try the city’s most renowned dish. According to the restaurant, real wiener schnitzel is made of veal and cooked in clarified butter, lard or vegetable oil. We had the Viennese garnish of capers, parsley, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs. For those who don’t eat meat, try another of the restaurant’s specialties: the vegetarian tafelspitz, apple strudel or Salzburg dumplings. Make sure to bring your appetite as the schnitzel is big enough to feed two people. It comes with a side of potato salad.
Sacher Confiserie Parndorf
Kärntner Str. 38, 1010 Wien, Austria
Would your trip to Vienna even be complete without trying the famous sacher torte? The Original Sacher-Torte is still hand-made using Franz Sacher’s original recipe to this day. Make sure to arrive early as line ups can be around the block for this delicious chocolate cake.
Here are some more fun things to do in Vienna:
Things to Do in Vienna Conclusion
Vienna is a beautiful city with so many great things to do and see. This is just a taste of some of the many things to do in Vienna. You can visit for a week and still not see everything. As you explore this magnificent city make sure to stop at the cafes and try some Viennese coffee and specialty desserts.
Have you visited Vienna? I would love to hear some of your recommendations of what to do in Vienna.
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