Vienna is a city with an impressive history and a myriad of impressive buildings to go with it. Whether you’re interested in the history of the long-reigning Habsburg family, classical music composed by the city’s own Mozart, museums, cafes, shopping or opera, there are plenty of fun things to do Vienna and interesting places to visit in Vienna that will keep you entertained for days on end.
Many of its sites such as the Hofburg Palace, Parliament, and museums of natural history and art are located in the historic old town in the 1st District and it is these top places of interest and sites that attract the most visitors. But there is more to Vienna than meets the eye. As Austria’s capital, it is a city full of culture, tradition, classical music and so much more. So follow me around Vienna as I share with you the Top things to do in Vienna, including my favourite locations, foods, drinks and pastimes in one of Europe’s imperial cities!
Explore some art
Vienna is a city designed for art lovers. Its numerous museums offer a rich variety of iconic masterpieces by some of the world’s most famous artists, including Gustav Klimt, Monet and Picasso to name but a few. Discover The Leopald Museum in the Museum Quartier, home to some of Austria’s modern art treasures as well as many of Gustav Klimt most important works. There is also the Albertina Museum with works by Monet, Picasso, Kandinsky and Edvard Munch. Not only is the Albertina great for art lovers but architectural appreciators will enjoy its splendid classical interior and exterior. For avid fans of Gustav Klimt, a visit to the Belvedere Palace is a must. It houses some of the artist’s most famous works of art including the iconic “The Kiss” painting.
Visit a museum or two
Art museums aside, there is also a host of other museums to explore including the Museums of Fine Art and Natural History that dominate the Maria-Theresien-Platz. The two identical museums face each other and are often mistaken for palaces due to their grandeur and palace like exteriors. Both of the museums have impressive interiors and are well worth an afternoon of your time.
See extremely cute animals at the zoo
As the previous residence of the historic Maria Theresia, Schönbrunn Palace is an attraction that brings in thousands of visitors every year. Its impressive staterooms and picturesque and well-manicured gardens are definitely worth seeing. It is also home to the world’s oldest existing zoo. In 1752, Franz Stephan (the husband of Maria Theresia) opened a menagerie at Schönbrunn (which is now the current zoo). At the time it marked the arrival of Indian rhinoceros to Austria, a very exotic animal back in those days. A year after its founding, Franz Stephan decided to develop the grounds, building a botanical garden for which he sourced exotic plants and animals on various research expeditions. Now the zoo at Schönbrunn is home to 500 species of animal ranging from exotic to indigenous wild animals and marine life to name but a few.
It is also home to the world’s oldest existing zoo. In 1752, Franz Stephan (the husband of Maria Theresia) opened a menagerie at Schönbrunn (which is now the current zoo). At the time it marked the arrival of Indian rhinoceros to Austria, a very exotic animal back in those days. A year after its founding, Franz Stephan decided to develop the grounds, building a botanical garden for which he sourced exotic plants and animals on various research expeditions. Now the zoo at Schönbrunn is home to 500 species of animal ranging from exotic to indigenous wild animals and marine life to name but a few.
Ride the giant Ferris Wheel
The Prater is Vienna’s biggest and most well known recreational park. Without its acres of vast greenery and trees, Vienna would be a polluted city. It is one of the best spots to hang out and enjoy Viennese summers, with a range of sports available, running tracks, restaurants, pubs and its biggest attraction, its amusement park. However, its most iconic attraction is the giant Ferris wheel that dates back to 1897 when it was erected as an advance contribution to Franz Joseph’s fiftieth-anniversary celebrations. Since then it has become a symbol of Vienna and it achieved world fame when it appeared in the movies “The Third Man” and “Before Sunrise”.
Taste Sacher Cake at Hotel Sacher
Invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria, the Sacher Torte is essentially a chocolate cake thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing on top of it is the crowning glory. It is often served with unsweetened whipped cream on the side. The original Sacher Torte can be eaten and enjoyed in the Sacher Hotel Cafe in the centre of Vienna, although if you can not get a reservation you can try Sacher Torte in almost every cafe in the city. If you book two weeks (sometimes a week) in advance you should aim to try a piece in its original place of origin. I promise you its worth it!
It is often served with unsweetened whipped cream on the side. The original Sacher Torte can be eaten and enjoyed in the Sacher Hotel Cafe in the centre of Vienna, although if you can not get a reservation you can try Sacher Torte in almost every cafe in the city. If you book two weeks (sometimes a week) in advance you should aim to try a piece in its original place of origin. I promise you its worth it!
See an opera
The Vienna State Opera House is one of the top opera addresses in the world and anyone with an interest in Opera should make the time to visit this masterpiece of architecture and elegance. Take a tour around its stunning interior including the grand ballroom, the marble hall and the staircase or time your visit to witness a true Viennese opera. Tickets are available in advance, with the opera house offering a different program every day, with over 50 operas and ballet works on around 300 days per season.
Shop at the Nasch-market
Vienna’s Nasch Market is one of the most famous in the city and it appears in most Top 10 things to do in Vienna lists. Why? Because it is one of the best places to experience true rustic Viennese Market experience. On a Saturday this place is heaving with tourists and locals alike browsing it numerous fruit and vegetable stalls, spice stalls, food vendors, clothes stalls, souvenir shops etc. It is also a great place to head to for an after work drink with friends or a budget-friendly lunch. There is a wide range of cuisine on offer and plenty of cheese, meat, seafood and sweet stalls offering free samples to try too!
Ride the ring tram
The Ringstraße is the main road that surrounds the inner city (1st district) of Vienna. It is home to some of the most famous sight including the Opera House, Hofburg Palace, Parliament and City Hall. The Ring is definitely one of my favourite places in Vienna, and you can certainly spend all afternoon exploring its impressive buildings, museums and its vibrant atmosphere along the way. But if you’re tired of walking or you want to city the city from a different perspective, jump on the Vienna Ring Tram that departs on a lap of the Ring every 30 minutes from Schwedenplatz. A separate tickets are required (not normal public transport tickets) and are available to purchase on the tram. Alighting is not possible on the 25 minute trip.
Take a horse and carriage ride
If you’re a romantic like me, nothing beats viewing Imperial Vienna’s highlights then from the back of a horse and carriage. There certainly is no cosier way to travel around the city than a tour by horse and carriage or fiakers as another term. You can find fiaker stands in different areas of the city including Stephansplatz, Heldenplatz (occasionally Michaelerplatz), Albertinaplatz, Petersplatz and Burgtheater. The short tour (approx. 20 min. through the centre of the Old City) costs € 55; the long tour (approx. 40 min. through the Ringstrasse and the Old City) € 80. While it certainly isn’t the cheapest way of exploring the city it is certainly the most laid back and romantic way!
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Dance a waltz
Every girl dreams of being Cinderella right? And you should be no exception! Vienna hosts hundreds of balls during the three-month season, starting with the Imperial Ball (or Kaiserball) at the Hofburg on New Year’s Eve and including the fabulously glamorous Opera Ball on 31 January. But if you don’t fancy making a fool of yourself, try a lesson or two at the city’s Tanzschule Elmayer (www.elmayer.com), which charges €58 per couple for 50 minutes’ tuition.
Watch the world famous Lippizaner horses
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna with their impressive white stallions head the top 10 lists for Vienna and for good reason. Admire riding skills of the highest order – from pirouettes to caprioles with a visit to the only institution in the world where the classic equestrian skills (haute école) has been preserved and is still practised in its original form. Dates for performances and morning training as well as information on how to obtain tickets at www.srs.at
Discover its cafe scene
The Viennese Coffee House Culture is world famous and a visit to one, two, three or four of Vienna’s cafes won’t do you any harm (although you’ll have plenty of energy to get around all those museums!). The city is full of great cafes, with some great ones including Cafe Central where you can enjoy your cappuccino accompanied by classical music, Cafe Sperl (my favourite) a classy venue with a history, or another favourite of mine Kleines Café, made famous in the film “Before Sunrise”.
Explore the city on a “The Third Man” tour
The classic movie was filmed in Vienna in 1948.Today hundreds of visitors retrace the footsteps of Harry Lime on the Third Man Tour sewer tour, at the Riesenrad (the Giant Ferris Wheel) and in the Third Man Museum. The scars of the war have disappeared but almost all the locations featured in the Carol Reeds film noir classic have remained unchanged. Online booking: www.drittemanntour.at
Take a dip in the Danube
Vienna is known as the city on the Danube, and while most of us cruise along it, some swimming in it. One of the most popular places to do so is on Danube Island. It features 42 kilometres of sand, swimming bays, playgrounds, running and skating tracks, boats, bicycles and surfboards to hire, bars, cafés and restaurants. This is the recreational paradise in Vienna, although you may also find locals swimming in the Danube Canal closer to the city centre when the temperatures sore!
Climb Donauturm Tower
At 252 metre in height, The Danube Tower (The Donauturm Tower) is one if the best look out viewpoints in the city. Take the elevator to the top and enjoy spectacular views over the cosmopolitan Vienna below. There is a glass terrace during the winter and a summer outside terrace during the summer. Previously a radio signal transmission tower, it is the highest building of Vienna and an attraction that is often overlooked by tourists.
For more ideas on what to do in Vienna, check out the tourism board website.