Ultimate Vienna Guide
Funnily enough, I have published so many articles and guides about destinations across the globe. But it took me a while to compile guides for Austria. I am really excited to share my Ultimate Guide to Vienna with you.
The first district called “Innere Stadt” (Inner City) is the area where most of the sights are located. The best way to explore this area is on foot. I have put together two walks for you to make the most of your visit. My posts include not only maps but also a video about these walks.
Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace)
The summer palace of the Habsburgs was inspired by the French Versailles Palace and a must see. When you visit the palace, take an audio guide and do the short tour (the longer one is a bit repetitive). After you have seen the interiors, walk up to the Gloriette and enjoy the beautiful view. The zoo which was founded in 1752 is also really nice to visit. After the palace, I recommend going to Hietzinger Hauptstraße and have a cake at Café Oberlaa 🙂 Factor in about half a day to for your visit of Schönbrunn. The subway line U4 takes you there directly (station: Schönbrunn).
Take tram 38 until the last stop called “Grinzing”. This area used to be a suburban town of Vienna and is now part of the city with a lot of local “Heurigen” – these are places where they sell their own wine and local food. It is a very beautiful area for a walk. My favourite restaurant is Pfarrwirt. It is not a Heurigen but is one of my favourite places for authentic Viennese food (no need to tell you that the Schnitzel is amazing).
Concerts and Opera
There is no trip to Vienna without going to a concert or the opera. The most famous places are the Musikvereinssaal (Golden Hall) and the Vienna State Opera. The safest thing is to ask at the hotel if they can check for you which concerts/operas are available that day. It is quite hard to get tickets, because people book months in advance. But there are cheap tickets for which you have to queue. But most of them are for standing in the back. Alternatively, there are great options at the Theater and der Wien and the Konzerthaus and the chances for good tickets are much higher.
The density of museums in Vienna is very high and walking through the inner districts will feel like walking a museum as well. It is really tough for me to narrow down the top museums here, but I tried to give you an overview of the ones I visit regularly:
Every time when I am back home, a visit at the Albertina is a must. The museum is host to the famous Batliner Collection which involves exhibits by Claude Monet or Albrecht Duerer, for example.
About 3 times per year, there are special exhibitions covering painting (at the moment about Austrian painter Maria Lassnig), drawing, sculpture and photography. The rooms of Albertina themselves used to be part of the Hofburg Palace and are truly beautiful.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna has one of the biggest art collections in Europe including works by Raphael, the Brueghel Brothers and Rubens. Furthermore, their collection of sculptures spanning over centuries is impressive. Also pay attention to the building itself.
The Belvedere Palace is one of the three major palaces you should visit during your stay in Vienna (the other to are the Hofburg and the Schönbrunn Palace). The former palace of Prince Eugene is not only famous for the buildings and imperial gardens but also for the collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.
This museum next to the famous Karlskirche hosts exhibitions relating to the history of Vienna. It is lesser known among tourists but the quality of the exhibitions is impressive. Stay tuned for my review about the current exhibition “Vienna from Above”!
Kunst Haus Wien Museum Hundertwasser
The building was designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and in addition to the permanent Hundertwasser exhibition, the museum uses Hundertwasser’s approach on ecology and sustainability and hosts exhibitions with artists who use the same ideas.
Where to Eat
Coffee and Cake
You have to drink coffee and eat cake – otherwise you have not been to Vienna. Vienna is famous for its coffee culture (coffee was introduced by the Turks while the city was besieged in the 16th century. Check out my post about my favourite coffee places in Vienna.
For one of the best views, the Justizcafé at the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) is one of my insider tips: the café of the Justizpalast itself has a canteen feel, but you do not go there for the coffee, go there for the best views for your pictures 🙂
Weibel’s Wirtshaus (Kumpfgasse 2) has the best Schnitzel in town. A lot of guides recommend Figlmüller As local, I have only been there with friends who came to visit and insisted to eat the “biggest Schnitzel in town”. However, big does not automatically mean delicious and apart from unfriendly staff, the place was always very crowded and overpriced. Plachutta (Wollzeile 38) has various outlets across the city but the main outlet is in Wollzeile 38. They are not only famous for Schnitzel but also for “Tafelspitz”, which is beef cooked in its broth and served with potatoes and veggies.
Techno Café @ Volksgarten Pavillon
Every Tuesday during the summer months, the Pavillon of the adjacent Volksgarten Club (see below) opens its doors for the Techno Café. It has a really cool vibe and nice food and drinks. It is also a nice place for lunch as its terrace is in the Volksgarten park.
The area around the Leopoldmuseum used to be the stables of the Hofburg palace. Today it is the perfect symbiosis of museums and restaurants and bars. My favourite is Café Halle (I highly recommend their Club Sandwhich and Burger) but most of the places are really nice there.
Drinks with a View
Lamée Rooftop and the Rooftop of the Ritz in summer, in winter I recommend Sky Bar at Steffl Department Store in Kärntnerstraße, Das LOFT @ Sofitel (it is quite tough to get a spot on weekends and it is a bit pricey) and Onyx Bar (really nice view of St. Stephen’s Cathedral).
This club located in the Volksgarten Park has an indoor and outdoor are, which is open during the summer months. Depending on the day, they have house, hip hop or 80s/90s music and depending on the music, the crowd is mixed. Entry is EUR 13 (USD 15) on weekends.
SASS Music Club
This club is popular among locals and is a rather non-mainstream place with electro music.
In general, Austrians start a night out with dinner at around 7-8 which is then either extended by drinks or we leave to a bar until around midnight/1 am. Clubs are open until 4-5 am.
Unfortunately, the inner district which is the major place for tourists, has become a global shopping area in the sense that it is dominated by big brands and department stores. I do not want to give you recommendations about brands that you can shop anywhere else as well. Therefore, I am currently putting together guides with hidden shopping gems in Vienna. Stay tuned!
Where to Stay
As a local, I usually do not stay at a hotel when I am in Austria. However, I have recently stayed at the Grand Ferdinand and we had a great time (review coming soon). In general, I would recommend that you stay in the first district or in the close proximity of it.
Vienna International Airport (VIE) has become a hub connecting Western and Eastern Europe and is connected to the major metropoles in the world with direct connections. (I have been complaining how badly connected it is, but the past few years, Austrian Airlines has re-introduced direct flights to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, for example).
Public transport is quite convenient with subway (called “U-Bahn), tram (which is fondly called “Bim” by the Viennese) and busses. A single trip costs EUR 2.20 (USD 2.50) (if you purchase it at a subway station, 2.30 if you buy it on the tram. Do not ask me why, I have no clue either :P). I would recommend buying a ticket for 24-48 hours, depending on how long you are in Vienna.
Taxis are quite expensive. For the trip from the airport, it is about EUR 30-40 (USD 34-45) depending on the location of your hotel. You can book a taxi up to 24 hours in advance online. For a trip within the city, you need to factor in between EUR 8-10 (USD 9-12).
When I travel, a lot of people ask me which language we speak in Austria. At school, work and public events we speak Standard German and at home we speak a dialect. This dialect varies from the West (where it sounds similar to Swiss German) to the East (where it is a variation of Standard German: we pronounce words differently, some words are different and the Grammar may differ). In general, you will be able to get around with English in most tourist places in Vienna. Needless to say, a bit of German might help but it is not a must.
Austria is part of the Eurozone and, therefore, uses the Euro.
In this guide, I focused on the places which are within the vicinity of the tourist attractions. I am also working on a series about further districts about Vienna and more hidden gems. Stay tuned!
My famous namesake Empress Elisabeth – also know as Sissi – is waiting for you to visit her at the Volksgarten 🙂
I seriously love this blog on Vienna! I have an older sister living there for the past 15 years, but I’ve only gone to the touristy stuff so this list of other places to hit up seems like a refreshing option! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much for your feedback, Jin. I’m happy to show you a different side of Vienna. I am planning more off-the-beaten-tracks posts at the moment 🙂
Me and my partner have been thinking of doing a European adventure and this is totally informative! It’s nice that you were able to have a breakdown of the things that we should know.
Oh that’s so exciting! You definitely should do a Europe trip and try out some stuff on my list!
What a fun and wanderlust-inspiring trip! I am looking forward to my trip to Vienna even more now! Diglas looks like my kind of cafe!
In one of the Diglas branches, you can watch documentaries about how they make the cakes. I love these traditional cafés, they have such a unique vibe.
Vienna looks absolutely stunning! I can’t wait to visit on my Europe tour. The Kunst Haus Wien Museum Hundertwasser is gorgeous, that’s going on the must-see list, Thanks for the recommendations!
You’re welcome, Kristi. The Kunst Haus Wien is really cool indeed – the floor of the rooms is uneven, so funny!
What a lovely guide! From Schnitzel to opera, it’s great to get a local’s perspective. Also helpful to know that English-speakers can get by, although I’d definitely want to learn a few key German phrases before visiting. Thank you!
Some German phrases are definitely helpful, it makes your life so much easier. But in general, you should be able to get around with English.
I really like the way you broke this article down into categories. Thank you for writing it. I would love to visit Vienna and now I feel prepared to do so ?
Thanks for your comment. I tried to find a format that’s intuitive, so I’m very happy to read that you like it 🙂
I’ve been to Vienna so can say that this is such a great guide with really helpful tips! Beautiful photos as well!
Thank you so much for your lovely feedback!
Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities that I know of. And you have list almost all that one would like to cover here on a short trip . Will be great if you could tell me how much time should be allocated to see it all and what order will be best.
Probably the best way to explore is with my Quick Guide – I have compiled a walk that takes you about half a day to explore the main sights. I’d recommend starting with this and then allocate more time to the places you’d like to focus on.