In April 2016, Youali and I spent a total of five nights in Austria’s capital, which we thought was the perfect amount of time. Vienna (Wien in German) is a city with plenty to offer: gourmet Austrian cuisine, a wonderful classical music scene, Gothic architecture, all in one place.
Below are the top 8 things we enjoyed the most and would recommend to everyone:
1) Get lost in the historic center
Everywhere you go, Vienna is an impressive collection of living history. No matter where you start, you will somehow find you way to come across Albertina (an art museum in a palace), Homburg (Imperial Palace) and Stephensplatz (St Stephen’s Plaza with Cathedral and St Peter’s Church). I’ve never been to a city where so many buildings from the old world are such well-maintained and concentrated, accessible within walking distance.
The best way to experience is to walk, get lost in it, and take it all in.
Stephenplatz in Vienna
2) Rent a Vienna City Bike (for free!)
Riding a bike in Vienna is a delight — wide, decidated bike lanes along with clear signage make cycling easy and safe for even the beginners. For starters, Ringstrasse is an amazing 5.3km circular ring road that leads you through the most important points of interest, such as State Opera House (Staatoper), City Hall (Rathaus) and MusuemsQuartier.
Cost: $1 registration fee; $0 for the 1st hour
Ringstrasse (Vienna Ring Road) with bike lanes that take you through the city center
Vienna bike station
Biking near MuseumsQuartier in Vienna
3) Enjoy a play at the Vienna State Opera House (Staatsoper)
State Opera House is a world-renowned place to experience the deep culture of art, history and music in what was once the most important capital of Europe. There is one performance in the evening every day.
Tickets are often sold out more than one month in advance, so be sure to check out the schedule online ahead of your travel dates. Cheapest sitting tickets run at around €50 with rather limited availability.
If a particular show is sold out, or the price is above your budget, there is always an opporutnity to get last minute standing tickets for €3. Youali and I got our ticket on the day of and watched Don Giovanni, a three-hour opera with music by Wolfgage A Mozart. We didn’t know much about opera, but the show was a really worthwhile experience!
Cost: €3 for standing ticket
State Opera House
Inside State Opera House
4) Visit Schönbrunn
The former emperor summer residence is an impressive Baroque-style palace with a vast garden — and a wonderful view of Vienna if you walk all the way up the hill in the back. A UNESCO heritage site, Schönbrunn provides a glimpse of the history of the Habsurge monarchs, as well as the life of Franz Josef, the most influential emperor of Austria (who was born, lived, and died at the palace).
Schönbrunn is an extremely popular place so I would recommend either buying tickets online in advance or, at a minimum, walk in with a credit card to purhcase tickets at a kiosk to skip the wait with the general queue.
Cost: €13.3 for an adult
5) Enjoy Viennese cuisine
Overall, Viennese food exceeded my expectations. I loved the variety: grabbing a gourmet hot dog with a glass of beer or wine (on the street, of course!), popping into a homey Beisl (Austrian gastropub) and get a quick bite of Goulash, or enjoy a feast of Tafelspitz (boiled beef in a broth) at a slightly fancier sit-down restaurant.
Cost: €3 for sausage; €1.5 for beer; €3.4 for frittatensuppe; €7.6 for frittatensuppe
Sausage stand everywhere!
Sausage with amazing mustard on the street
Beisl (Viennese bistro)
Frittatensuppe (Austrian beef broth topped with sliced pancake)
Wienerwurst (Viennese sausage)
6) Get lots and lots of dessert and coffee
If you love coffe and/or have a sweet tooth, Vienna is heaven. There are plenty of coffee shops serving a dozen of coffee variations in every corner of Vienna. Though not a regular coffee drinker, I particularly enjoyed a Viennese melange, a mix of frothed milk and steamed coffee similar to the Italian cappuccino.
The best of both worlds is an eiskaffee (Vienna ice coffee): a bomb coffee + dessert combination with strong espresso topped wiht vanilla ice-cream and a rolled wafer. Simply delicious!
Cost: ~€3 per cake
Apfulstrudel (apple pie) with vanilla ice-cream
7) Take a day trip
Vienna is within two hours from three big cities: Graz (Austria) in the southwest, Brno (Czech Republic) in the north, and Bratislava (Slovakia) in the northeast. There are bus and train options, which make a day trip viable if you are based in Vienna.
We ended up taking a day trip to Graz, which we very much enjoyed.
Cost: €28+ one way train ticket from Vienna to Graz
Grazer Uhrturm (Clock tower in Graz)
Panorama from Grazer Uhrturm
8) Check out local markets
We visited a couple of markets in Vienna, both are easily accessible by the metro.
Karmelitermarkt is a decent market where locals buy meat, flowers and fruits. A few coffee shops are also available with brunch options (where you see people starting drinking wine and beer outdoor at 10am…)
Naschmarkt is a the oldest (almost 100 years) and biggest market of its kind in Vienna, spanning across multiple blocks. A ton of vendors have a diverse culinery offering ranging from Viennese to Indian, from Turkish to Italian. I was very excited to fresh fruits, kebab, and Turkish delight in the same block!
Kabab in Naschmarkt
Turkish treat in Naschmarkt
Beautiful strawberries in Karmelitermarkt
Outdoor breakfast in Karmelitermarkt
Vienna is a gorgeous, historic city with something for everybody. We particularly enjoyed these 8 things with our limited time, so use short list as a starting point for your next trip, and expand to other sights (especially the museums) if time allows!
What are your favorite things to do in Vienna?