Everyone has lists of what to do and see in Vienna, but when my friends ask for my insider opinion, having lived nearby in Hungary, this is what I share. Now, instead of sending miles long messages with links and photos, I can just send this guide! So here it is, my favorites of beautiful Vienna – from “must sees” to “if you have time,” ideas for solo travelers or families alike! Add a few flags to your google map. But first, all about Vienna…
VIENNA is located on the northeastern-most tip of Austria, closely bordered by Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary. When we lived in Pápa, Hungary, we were only 2 hours away from Vienna and we visited often! For being such a big international city of nearly 2 million people, it is actually very relaxed and accessible. Some cities can feel overwhelming – but not Vienna!
I describe this city as pristine and sparkling like champagne. (And if Vienna is champagne, Budapest is craft beer!) My mother says it is like lace – beautiful, intricate, heirloomy, unique and crisp white! Either way, it is a city that takes pride in its history and takes great care to ensure every building, fountain, and landmark is restored and tidy.
Vienna is known as the city of music. Mozart and Strauss rose to fame here, and the infamous opera house Staatsoper and philharmonic are located here. Other notable Viennese historical figures are psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, architect Otto Wagner, actor Christopher Waltz, and artist Gustav Klimt. Vienna is also known as the Imperial city, housing the seat of the Habsburg empire for over 600 years. Over 400 balls are hosted here every year!
Weiner Schitzel became famous in Vienna, named after the city’s German name, Wien. It’s basically pounded, breaded and fried veal, pork or chicken. Be sure to try it! Viennese coffees are world famous, but as I’m not a coffee connoisseur, I can’t vouch for them (I’ve heard mixed reviews from coffee lovers). Also try the Manner Schnitten – vanilla wafers with nutella creme, goulash, and Knoedel dumplings that come in many varieties. The most famous places to stop for a coffee or pastry are Cafe Central and Cafe Demel. I also recommend Cafe Landtmann for the beautiful ambiance (and Eggs Benedict!) and Vittorio Swiss Chocolate shop (I know, I know, it’s not Vienna chocolate, but the 56% dark is the best – just go!).
Austria uses the Euro, and prices are comparable to big cities in the United States. Restaurants are open all day (unlike neighboring Italy) and it’s fairly easy to stop in and snag a table for a small party without reservations. There are often al-fresco dining options along the major shopping streets, too. Most people in Vienna (at shops and restaurants) also speak English, so even if you don’t speak German you should be ok. It’s always nice to learn the pleasantries in a country’s host language!
A few dining ideas to mark on your map: Naschmarkt, a huge outdoor market with lots of restaurants and shops. For pizza, try L`asino Che Ride. A simple, yummy breakfast menu can be found at Stadtcafe. And don’t forget Café Landtmann! My favorite time to eat in Vienna is during a festival – scroll down to learn more!
LODGING & TRANSPORT
LODGING: We have stayed in various places around the city but usually came back to the Hilton Danube Waterfront, especially with family as it is in a quieter location, has a seasonal outdoor pool, parking, is pet friendly, has nice breakfast options, a family room that can fit all five of us comfortably, and is just a quick walk to the metro. There are plenty of boutique hotels, luxury options, and Air BnB stays around the city that vary in price and amenities but lodging shouldn’t be a problem.
TRANSPORT: The Vienna metro is just like the city – clean, easy, and reliable. I recommend public transit, but there is also Uber in the city, bike and scooter rentals (it’s very wheel-friendly), and obviously, walking! If you’re coming for the day by car, you can park in Erdberg and take public transit for a day trip. Also, if you’re comfortable driving through the city (it’s not too bad), then park right in the city center! I recommend BOE Garage City Hall Park, Garage Freyung, or Parking – Karlsplatz. All of these fit my Honda Odyssey van.
Must See Sites
This is the main City Hall building in Vienna. It is the location of the most famous Christmas Market in Vienna, ice skating in the winter, and several festivals including my favorite, the food and film festival in July and August! The photos below show it lit up in red for the Dance Festival in April!
St Stephen’s Cathedral
In classic Romanesque and Gothic form, with its iconic colorful tiled roof, St Stephen’s Cathedral is the most historic Church in Vienna and consequently, Austrian history. With 23 bells and a main spire nearly 450 feet high (136m), it looms large in Stephensplatz. The remains of over 11,000 people are in the catacombs of the church and can be toured today. Many notable figures in Austro-Hungarian history were married or had funerals here. It is a majestic sight indeed! You can enter and wander the church for free, a donation is suggested. It is being constantly restored, especially on the rear side.
This Baroque church boasts two unique and glorious columns flanking the grand dome and pillared entrance. Inside, the entire interior is covered in colorful frescoes and gold. It is possible to ascend a lift to look out over Vienna through the grand dome. The famous Hollywood actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr was married here before fleeing her Austrofascist husband and escaping to America. There is an entrance fee to visit this beautiful church, but it is small.
Overlooking Sigmund Freud Park, the grand spires of this gorgeous gothic giant draw eyes upward. Completed in 1879, Votivkirche was dedicated to Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress “Sisi” Elisabeth. The intricate details of this impressive cathedral have been in refurbishment for several years and it’s finally nearing completion!
This imposing building was built in the 13th century and was once the palace of the Habsburg empire during their nearly 650 year reign. It served as their “winter residence” and Schonbrunn Palace was their summer residence. Today it is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria, and serves as a government building as well. Don’t forget – amazing balls take place here annually! There was an open invitation to military officers stationed in Pápa, Hungary to attend the “Officer’s Ball” here every January! We were planning to go our last January in Hungary, but the pandemic cancelled all of these fun, crowded plans.
Take note of the Roman Ruins in Michaelerplatz on the Spanish Riding School side of the Hofburg. It was allegedly a brothel for soldiers during Roman times, still exposed deep in a pit in the square. St. Peter’s Catholic Church is noteworthy too, and can be viewed from the Spanish Riding School down Habsburgergasse. Take a peek into the stables here (see photo below) and see the famous performing white horses in their stalls!
Fountains & Statues
There are countless statues and fountains, so wherever you go, keep your eyes peeled! Almost every building has some kind of ornate face or sculpture. My favorites are below, all visible on the walking tour at the end of this blog! Schonbrunn Palace has pretty amazing sculptures and fountains as well – check them out!
WHERE TO GO & WHAT TO DO
Museum of Natural History
This impressive museum is a must see for natural history lovers. Established over 270 years ago, this massive, domed building houses over 30 million objects (100,000 visible in exhibitions) including dinosaurs, and nearly all discovered animal species – and some that are extinct! Tip: 18 and under are admitted here for free! When spending a few hours wandering through all the exhibits, be sure to look UP! The architecture is breathtaking and is an exhibit in and of itself. More info here!
For perspective, it cost about 22 euro to go into the Museum of Natural History (for adults) for nearly 3 hours, and it costs about 28 euro to see the butterfly exhibit for about 20 minutes. It was fun, but the museum was definitely more bang for our buck! If you have never been into a butterfly house, it’s a neat experience. Like most of them, the climate is tropical year-round to keep the butterflies happy – and sometimes a butterfly will land right on you! The Vienna Butterfly House is behind the Hofburg adjacent to Burggarten. More info here.
Schonbrunn is an historic place. It is part of the Habsburg estate and is where the famous Empress Sisi spent many of her days. The grounds are enormous, with incredible gardens, statues, fountains, and buildings throughout. It is possible to wander the grounds without a ticket, but if you want to tour the palace, you must buy a ticket for 75 euro for a family of 5, or 36 euro per adult. A delux ticket includes tours of Schönbrunn Palace (with audio guide), the Sisi Museum in the Vienna Hofburg, the Vienna Furniture Museum and Schloss Hof Estate. There is also a children’s program that includes a tour of the children’s museum (what was it like for kids during the Habsburg reign?), a labyrinth and playground! More info and online tickets here.
This beautiful Baroque set of palaces also houses an Orangerie, gardens, and stables. The fountains here are especially notable! Today it is a museum, and can be visited for 16/13.50 euro for adults and children. More info and online tickets here.
Haus des Meeres Aquarium
The House of the Sea is a special aquarium in Vienna. There are fun feeding programs (including sharks, pirañas and reptiles!) you can watch, as well as get up close and personal with ring tailed lemurs. There is a great view from the rooftop 360º bar, and fun tours and experiences you can book with animals. It’s worth checking out if aquariums are your thing! For more info, click here. New! For 100€ plus entrance fees, up to 8 people can take a private guided tour of the aquarium. Exclusive!
Zoom is a fun, hands-on children’s museum in Vienna. There are four different areas for various age groups of kids. Themes include science, ocean, animation and interactive exhibits. Because of the hands-on nature of this museum, it was closed throughout the pandemic. Be sure to check opening times and rules when planning your visit! See more info here.
As mentioned before, Naschmarkt is a great place to hit up for food if you’re in the area. There are tons of restaurant options – something for everyone – and shopping, too!
Parks & Gardens
Looking to just hang out or wander through a pretty park? Check out Burggarten near the Hofburg, Augarten on the Danube side of the city, Volksgarten between Rathaus and the Hofburg (often loaded with blooming roses in the summer), and the lovely Stadtpark on the Karlskirche side of the city. Stadtpark has a skate park, eateries, and a playground. There are also three Japanese gardens for arboretum lovers!
A very popular pastime in Vienna is the horse and carriage ride. For around 50 euro (depending on how many in your party and how long you request), you can get a little tour of some of the more famous spots in Vienna and ride there in style! Like the gondolas in Venice, this certainly is an experience to try once!
Do you love the fair? Are you a big fan of thrill rides? Vienna has an entire section of the city devoted to it at Prater Park! The Grand Autodrom & Magic Dreamland amusement park are just a few of the areas, with lots of rides, playgrounds, parks, and loads of food options. It’s a unique location near the Danube, so when you ride the taller rides you get a good view over the city! Warning: you’ll drop a buck at this place, but it’s hours of fun!
CONCERTS & Sports
Thanks to Covid, these types of events have been postponed until further notice. But outdoor festivals and street music festivals should be back on by the summer time 2021. We were lucky to attend a Dave Matthews Band concert but never made it to a soccer game. There are tons of arenas, concert halls and stadiums to search for your favorite events – plan ahead and make the dream happen! The Ernst Happen Stadium is one of the major stadiums – it is currently closed – but the future schedule can be seen here.
Attend the Opera or Ball
The famous Staatsopera (State Opera House) is a magnificent building to take in an opera, orchestra, play or ballet. They hold the Vienna Opera Ball here, and there are also balls at the Hofburg and Rathaus, as well as Musikverein and Kongresshaus. Yes, it is possible to attend one of the many balls in the city, just plan ahead and do your research – and save up, it’s pricey! More info can be found here and here.
Vienna is famous for its Christmas Markets in December (see pics below at Rathaus – the other big one is at Schonbrunn). Sip a hot cup of gluhwein and wander the glittery stalls to find unique trinkets and Christmas gifts, souvenirs and of course, great food! My favorite festival is the Film & Food festival at the Rathaus in July/Aug. But there are countless events and festivals in Vienna, many about music of course, and you can view the list here.
There are many memorials and tributes in Vienna, but four of the most notable are below. A is the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial. B is the Memorial to Victims of Nazi Military Injustice. C is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. D is the Monumento a los Héroes del Ejército Rojo (Soviet War Memorial). There are other smaller memorials sprinkled throughout the city. Keep an eye out for several stumbling stones (small plaques on the ground at the sites where Jews were taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps) that memorialize the tragic story of individuals in the Holocaust.
Got wiggly kids and want to just let them loose? Instead of listing all of the playgrounds here, check out this link to Vienna’s own collection of playgrounds in the city! Remember all of the parks mentioned above are great for wandering and exploring, too!
ONE DAY WALKING TOUR
The piece de resistance! Here is the overview of my walking tour! Tip: You can get Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app for free and download four great audio guides with all kinds of unique Rick Steves info. For this walking tour, you can start at any point, but the description below begins at Stephensplatz (the metro stop there is perfect):
My GoogleMaps Vienna Walking Tour: Link Here
- Begin at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
- Walk down Graben Street (view Leopoldsbrunnen and Trinity Column) and turn left onto Kohlmarkt Street. Be sure to look behind you at the lovely St. Peter’s Catholic Church!
- On Kohlmarkt street, stop at Demel for a treat!
- Head towards Michaelerplatz to the entrance of the Hofburg (pick up horse carriage tour here if you’d like, and take note of the Roman Ruins in the plaza).
- Walk through the path under the main green dome of the Spanish Riding School into the courtyard of with a statue of Emperor Franz I.
- Continue into the grand plaza and Heldenplatz, with the Hofburg on your left and Erzherzog Karl Statue to the right.
- Curl behind the Hofburg and walk through Burggarten towards Schmetterlinghaus (Butterfly house)
- From there head towards the Staatsoper (Operahouse), passing Albrechtsbrunnen along the way.
- Cross Friedrichstrauss (big main street) walking towards Karlskirche through Resselpark, going inside to see the ornate decor inside and view the big picture window from above.
- From Karlskirche, walk northwest back towards the Museums District. (Feel free to extend your tour by side tracking to Naschmarkt for a bite to eat!) The buildings themselves in the Museums District are impressive! If you have time, I recommend the Museum of Natural History (but you will need several hours!)
- Continue north through Heldenplatz, Volksgarten and Rathauspark towards the massive, unmistakable Rathaus. The flowers in Volksgarten are amazing in the summer! If it’s July or August, you might be lucky enough to snag some yummy street food at the annual Film and Food festival at the Rathaus.
- From there walk along Universitätsring street towards Votivkirche. (Stop at Cafe Landtmann along the way for refreshments!) You will walk through Sigmund Freud Park to get there!
- You can make a nice loop back up Schottengasse towards Cafe Central (wait in line if you want to get in!) and then past Vittorio Swiss Chocolates for a gelato in the summer or my favorite 56% dark chocolate to go! (Or just grab the Metro at Herrengasse if you’re tired!)
- Now you’re back at Michaelerplatz so if you missed the carriage ride you can snag one now, or head all the way back to Stephensplatz via Reitschulgasse which takes you past the Spanish Riding School stables (peek in to see if the famous white horses!)
- Any of the streets back to Stephensplatz are so charming!
I hope this helps you plan a most satisfying and memorable trip to Vienna! Have questions? Drop me a line on here or on instagram @homebasebelgium – thanks!