Vienna. The beautiful capital of Austria is said to be the “city of dreams”, for being the birthplace of Sigmund Freud. To us, Vienna was the start of our epic train trip through Europe, and it couldn’t have been a better place to kick things off.
Without surprise, Vienna has often been voted the most livable city in the world, due to its high quality of life ratings, as well as culture, infrastructure, and many markets. The city is often cited as a leading example of urban planning and we can totally see why. It was such a lovely city to walk around!
Although we managed to see everything in 2 days, we would suggest a full 4-day trip to Vienna. Here are our recommendations for what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.
When to go
Well, anytime is a great time to visit the city, but it really depends on what you’re looking for. The summer is probably the nicest weather, and it’s when the locals leave, but the tourists come in.
During the winter, you are in a Christmas fairytale, with all the markets, lights and snow that make the city look dreamy. Just make sure you’re there starting in mid-November, if not they’ll be setting everything up and you won’t see a thing. This is exactly what happened to us!
The fall and spring are fine, there won’t be much going on, and the weather is a little-hit-or-miss. The main advantage is that there are far fewer tourists.
What to do
There are a 1,000 things to do in Vienna, from the very chic to options for budget travelers, from museums to parks, palaces and so much more. Don’t be shy to explore all your options.
Visit the Schönbrunn Palace
This was probably our favourite site in Vienna. If you like walking through nature and gardens, viewing spectacular statues and monuments, you will love the Schönbrunn Palace. The Palace started as a mansion for the Roman Emperor Maximilian II, who used the grounds to hunt, back in the 17th century. Today, it’s our dream home and garden!
Although you need to pay to enter the summer palace, walking the grounds is free, and they are immense. We would suggest taking a good hour and a half here to really enjoy nature. If you want to go in the palace, you will need more time. It’s a good idea to bring a snack and some water, if you plan on staying as long.
This is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist destinations, so be prepared to see large crowds, depending on when you go. It isn’t so bad in the gardens though, as they are huge.
The Gloriette is a structure located on a 60-metre hill overlooking the Schönbrunn Palace. It offers the best view of the palace, and of the entire city of Vienna.
Not to many people head up this way, so you’ll have tons of photo opportunities here. It’s also a great place to lie back on the grass, and maybe have a picnic on a nice day.
Welcome to the home of Austrian president, Alexander Van der Bellen. This palace was built in the 13th century, and has been expanded many times since. Today, you can walk the grounds freely and visit one of the many expositions at its museums.
You can also walk the gardens, known as the Volksgarten, or the Heldenplatz, another beautiful public space in front of the Hofburg Palace.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this 17th century palace. Did we mention that you need 4 days to take in all the sites in Vienna! But if you have the time, it is a must. It resembles the Schönbrunn Palace in the sense that it is set on vast lands with huge gardens and fountains.
This architectural gem is located in the Landstraße district of Vienna. Unlike any other house in Vienna, it is a colourful masterpiece brought to life by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and architect Joseph Krawina.
There is also the museum called the KunstHausWien which is the only permanent exhibition of Hundertwasser’s works. It’s a few steps away from the apartment complex, but boasts an equally cool design.
Located in Vienna’s 2nd district, the Prater is a officially known as the Wurstelprater amusement park but is best known as being home to the world’s oldest ferris wheel, that was built in 1897.
We didn’t go on the ferris wheel, because to be honest, it looks old as hell! Anthony Bourdain went on it when he visited Vienna for his “No Reservations” show, and he was slightly freaked out… and nothing freaks Anthony out, so that was a good warning for us!
The park was closed when we got there as it usually takes a break during winter months, so if the plan is to ride the coasters here, make sure it’s open. However, as you can see, they do set up Christmas markets there in the winter, so try and catch them when they’re open.
Check out a museum or two
We rarely visit museums, especially on this trip considering how little time we had in each city. But if you have the time and like museums, these are the places to go.
This whole area is home to Vienna’s most prominent museums showcasing everything from modern and contemporary art and architecture, to hosted events in technology and fashion.
The Albertina is one of the biggest exhibitions showcasing drawings and old master prints, with permanent and temporary exhibits. From Monet, to Picasso and Warhol, you will get your fix of the fine arts here.
Visit some of the fabulous churches
There are a ton of churches in Vienna. Seriously, there’s probably one on every city block! These are the ones that stood out to us
St Stephen’s Cathedral
This Roman Catholic cathedral, also known by its German name Stephansdom, is home to the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn. Located in the Stephansplatz, or the central plaza, it is the most important religious building in Vienna and one of its most recognizable sites in town.
Construction of this church was completed in 1160, but it was reconstructed and expanded until 1511. Today, it is getting a slight facelift, but you can still get a great view of it, and visit inside as well. If you want an amazing view of the city, and of the church’s intricate roof, you can climb up the stairs on the South tower or take the lift up to the North Tower, for 8 euros.
St Peter’s Church
Also know as Peterskirche, this is a baroque styled Roman Catholic church. Dating back to the year 1733, it boasts one of the most spectacular turreted dome ceilings we have ever seen.
Not only is it gorgeous to look at from outside, it’s also quite beautiful inside as well. Make sure you take a moment to go in and check it out for yourself, everything from the ornate details to the beautiful architecture.
The Vortishkirche is a Neo-Gothic church that was built in 1879. It was built to thank God for saving the Emperor, Franz Joseph, after an assassination attempt on his life in 1853.
Like the St Stephen’s Cathedral, it is also undergoing restoration but you can still go inside, as you should. What caught our eye about this church was its guided altar, which was constructed with inspiration from Italian gothic churches.
Built in 1737, it was constructed after the great plague and dedicated by the Roman Emperor Charles IV to Saint Charles Borromeo, known as a healer for plague sufferers.
Unlike the 3 previous churches, you must pay to enter the Karlskirche, which we decided not to do. We are kind of kicking ourselves about it though, because we were able to get a glimpse inside, and it did look quite spectacular!
The Austrian Parliament Building has been the seat of the Austrian government since 1883, and underwent a massive reconstruction after World War II after being heavily damaged. The building’s architectural design is clearly Greek, with white marble columns adorning the front of the entrance.
Tours inside the parliament are possible, you can even sit in on a National Council sitting.
Vienna’s City Hall, the home of the Viennese local government, was also constructed in 1883. The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, lives in this Neo-gothic building. We would have loved to join him for some coffee and cake, but he was slightly busy.
Like the Parliament building, you can get a guided tour of the City Hall on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at 1pm. While we were there, they were setting up the Christmas markets, so we did not have a chance to see it in all its glory.
The Wiener Staatsoper
The State Opera House, or Wiener Staatsoper, has shows almost every day of the year. You can see anything from classical music, to the Opera or a ballet. When in Vienna, seeing a show here is a must!
Apart from that, the building itself is just stunning, from the inside and out. It really looks like a place that only the aristocracy used to grace, but now-a-days, we can all visit!
Inside this tropical oasis, you will find over 400 butterflies floating through the exotic setting, full of plants and waterfalls. It was created to be as close to their natural environment as possible. Constructed in the beginning of the 20th century, it was a recluse for Emperor Franz Josef and his wife, the Empress Sisi.
But now-a-days we can all wander through this encapsulated wonder and watch the loveliest of insects. We would have gone in, but one of us is scared of anything that flies… can you guess who?!
Austrian national library
The largest library in Austria, boasting over 12 million items, the Austrian national library is a beautiful site to see. You can visit it and check out its various museums. Just make sure you get your tickets online so you skip the line and jump into exploring right away!
Favourite Vienna Eats
Derek’s top pick was a dish of roasted pork with sauerkraut at Schachtelwirt. This little hole in the wall restaurant has a limited menu of freshly made delicious meals. Make sure you get there early enough, because when they’re out of something, they’re out! Also good to know is that they have one vegetarian meal available, which was also delicious.
This restaurant was recommended by our hotel, and they were right. If you want typical Austrian meals prepared right, this is the place. Carine’s favourite meal here was the dumpling trio (beet, spinach and mushrooms). Each one was delicious in its own way. Derek also loved the schnitzel here, served with a sweet jam. His new favourite combo!
You just cannot come to Vienna and not try some of the local pastries. When it comes to the best of the best, you must try the the famous sachertorte at Café Sacher. As the name indicates it, this is the home to the original sachertorte. We had it and it was just so rich and chocolaty. We also tried the apple strudel and it may have been even more delicious than the torte, but it depends who you ask!
Side note, apparently having gelato in Vienna is a must as well. We didn’t try any, because it was cold, but we believe the hype! So if the weather permits, and the mood is right, treat yo’self to some yummy gelato.
Where to stay
Our favourite place to stay in Vienna is the Ruby Sofie Hotel Vienna. Conveniently located near the Landstraße subway, right as you get off the CAT, it’s so close to everything you want to visit, whether its Vienna’s famous landmarks or the business district, if you’re here for work.
We throughly enjoyed their brand of lean luxury. They focus on making the important things count, while doing away with anything superficial. The rooms are the perfect size, and have the coolest shower we have ever seen. They also come with a complimentary smartphone, with data, so you can roam the city freely, without worrying about getting lost. The best feature is the super comfy and big bed (which is a must when you travel with a gentle giant like Derek). It was so comfy that we barely wanted to get up in the morning.
Luckily, they serve a delicious breakfast in the main lounge. With locally sourced and organic ingredients, this amazing buffet was the perfect way to start our days of exploration. The main lounge is also where you can grab a drink for happy hour (hosted daily) and catch some live music on certain dates.
All in all, we loved our stay at Ruby Sofie Hotel Vienna. This design hotel has everything you need to have an amazing time in Vienna. And if this guide wasn’t helpful enough, just ask the staff there to help you. They are super friendly and awesome with local tips and recommendations!
How to get there
From the airport to the city
When you land at the Vienna International Airport (VIE), the fastest way into the city centre is to take the city airport train, or CAT. It takes 15 minutes to get you there, and will cost you 12€ (which is a little pricey, but can be convenient). It will take you straight to Wien Mitte where you can grab another subway connection. The tickets for the CAT are sold at ticket machine by the luggage claim, or at the entrance of the CAT platform. Make sure you get yours because they do check them on board.
Alternatively, you can get to the Vienna city centre by taking a local OBB train. This option is still convenient, and is less expensive than the CAT.
There are a few train stations in Vienna, such as Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof and Wien Meidling. If you are headed anywhere else in Europe after your stay in Vienna, we highly suggest taking the train. There are plenty of routes, and your choice of destinations are limitless.
Not only is it convenient, and cheaper than flying, the environmental impact is much lower too.
Extra travel tips
Depending on what you are looking to do, you may want to get the Vienna City Card. If you want to go to museums, take the Hop On/Hop off bus, or check out some of the city’s paying attractions, this is the card for you. It will offer you discounts or free entry to what you want to do. It also includes free use of the public transportation system.
If you plan on moving around a lot, but without visiting the many sights in the city, you can opt for a 24, 48 or 72-hour pass for the public transport. You can either buy your tickets at a stand (make sure you validate them before you take the subway, or directly on buses and trams. You can also buy your passes online.
We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Vienna for the 2 days we had. With such a rich history, and beautiful areas to visit in and around town, we must have walked 10 miles a day. Like we mentioned, if you have the time, take at least 4 or 5 days here. It will give you enough time to visit museums, take in some shows and explore the city at a leisurely pace.
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