Guide to the most classical European capital. Viennese waltz, palaces and the famous opera… the city is actually far more interesting than what they write in travel guides.
You can drink tap water in Vienna and water in cafés is free of charge if you clarify that you need normal, not mineral water (Leitungswasser in German).
There is a variety of ways to get from the airport, but the cheapest option that costs 4.40€ is the S7 train. The Wien Mobil app helps with routes around the city.
For the most part, waiters in cafés and restaurants are not particularly friendly.
There are no turnstiles in the Viennese underground but if a conductor catches you without a ticket, you’ll pay 100€.
Take your student ID with you on your trip if you’re still studying. Most museum tickets will be available at half the price. Admission is free for children under 19 years of age.
Main attractions: Stephansdom cathedral (1), the opera (2), palaces: Hofburg (3) (winter residence of the Habsburgs, residence of the current president of Austria), Belvedere (4) (summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy with a collection of paintings including Klimt’s ‘Kiss’), Schönbrunn (5) (summer residence of the Habsburgs with a park and a zoo), Hundertwasser house (6), Ring (city ring with the main touristic attractions), museums: Albertina gallery (7), twin museums (Museum of Art History and Natural History), Leopold museum (9) with a collection of works by Schiele, MUMOK museum of modern art (10), Haus des Meeres oceanarium (11), Rathaus (12), Prater (13) – an old attraction park that works to this day, Graben and Mariahilferstraße (14, 15) – the main shopping streets in the city.
Vienna really likes to turn your plans on its head. It’s rather spontaneous. No matter how perfectly you plan your day, there’s always a 70% chance that it’ll rain or become very cold and you won’t be able to enjoy your walk. So this guide is divided into two parts, for bad and good weather. Don’t rely on the weather forecast too much, it’s more like a fairy tale that can only fool visitors.
What to do in Vienna
All of the places mentioned in the text can be found in the map at the end of the article, which you’re welcome to download and use during your travels.
Good weather conditions
Bargain at flea markets
There are flea markets (Flohmarkt in German) virtually every weekend. The atmosphere is quite special – people bargain, rejoice about deals, slowly walk through the rows whilst looking at someone’s former treasures and find their own. An ordinary market becomes a celebration here. A list of the best flea markets can be found at this link.
Relax on the Danube waterfront
The embankment of the Danube is very extensive. The best option is to take the U4 underground or the tram number 5 or 33 to the Friedensbrücke station (16) and start your walk from there. At the station you can rent the City Bikes (almost) for free. If you cycle along the riverside you can, firstly, observe all of the surroundings, and secondly, you can reach the Schwedenplatz station (17) and see how young people spend their time. If you don’t feel up to riding all the way back, feel free to park your bike at the nearest station and go into the first café you see along the embankment. You can’t go wrong here. Some people sit on the parapet, hanging their feet over the edge into the Danube, some drink wine, others work out. This is Vienna, so diverse and so soulful.
Explore Vienna’s green side
The local parks are love at first sight. It’s not surprising that tourists have already taken a fancy to many of them. We tried to choose a few places that have remained unnoticed. In the Liechtensteinpark (18), for instance, there is a palace with a tiny pond in front of it. The Setagaya (19) is a Japanese park with sakura trees, a classical garden and tea-drinking masterclasses. Sternwartepark (20) is our third point of interest. The literal translation of the German word Sternewarte is the ‘expectation of stars’ and refers to the observatory. It is located in the very centre of the park, which is more like a forest right out of a fairy tale.
As for popular places, be sure to visit the Volksgarten square (21), which is located right on the central Ring, and the park that surrounds the Schönbrunn palace. There’s something special about these locations. In the Volksgarten there are signs attached to the rosebushes that explain for whom they were planted. An entire story is contained in just a few sentences here – a man confesses his love and writes that the lips of his sweetheart are just like these scarlet roses. On another signboard children promise that their mother will always remain in their hearts, no matter where she is. There are funny and sad dedications, long and short ones consisting of two words, ‘For you’. But each one, absolutely every single one is individual. Across from the palace in Schönbrunn, at the very top of the hill, there is a lake with ducks and a forest that spreads out to the left-hand side. At the very entrance to the park there is a blooming archway. If you visit in the period of time from the spring to the autumn you’ll be able to see it for yourself and take pictures among the rosebuds.
Besides parks, there is also a nature reserve that can be visited free of charge. The natural reserve, in this case, is a forest where boars, deer and roe deer roam about freely. Of course, they hide in the thicket, but their footprints can be seen everywhere, and sometimes you can even hear their distinctive grunts. There are pedestrian pathways, but you can go off the beaten path and enjoy nature with all of its inhabitants. In order to reach the nature reserve, take the U4 underground in the direction of Hütteldorf (22) and then walk to the Lainzer Tiergarten (23) with the help of Google Maps.
See how the locals live
As is the case with any other city, Vienna is divided into districts. As in any other city, the districts can be pleasant and not so pleasant. In the 9th and 19th districts (24, 25), which are within walking distance of each other, every building is decorated with bas-reliefs, and you can also create an entire album with pictures of beautiful doors. Take a walk in the cottage district in the 19th district (the Cottageviertel in German), where a succession of modern houses are covered with ivy and flowering bushes shyly peek out from behind the fences.
Try Austrian wine and wander among the vineyards
Take the tram number 38 and go to Grinzing (26), the end of the line. When you get off you might get the impression that you’ve ended up in a small village but you’re actually still within the city limits. Grinzing is a place where it is always calm and pleasant. Although deserted during the day, it starts to gradually come to life after 17:00. That’s because the taverns start to open. Vineyards are just ten minutes away from the tram stop. The grapes are harvested every autumn in Vienna, and you can drink some new wine in the taverns. When you pass by a series of cafés, when the small houses and the old tall church are left behind, turn into the first picturesque street corner and follow the narrow stream right to the vineyards. Here you can lie on a blanket, sit on a bench or quietly eat the sweet grape bunches that have been left after the harvest season.
Find picturesque shops
First, we take the U2 underground line to the Museumsquartier station (27). And no, we don’t go to the museums, that would be a crime if the Viennese weather decides to cooperate. We go up one of the main streets, the Mariahilferstraße. Not for long though. We find the steps, go down them and turn right. Now we can look around. Don’t be afraid to get lost, the pedestrian zone is only a few steps away. You will find yourself in the surrounding area, which is most interesting! Here you’ll find the showrooms of local designers, cute cafés and picturesque stores. Walk around and enjoy yourself, take pictures and be sure to ingrain it in your memory. And then feel free to return to the Mariahilferstraße, only to go down one of the small alleys on the other side of the street. This way you can get all the way to the Westbahnhof train station (28).
Visit the observation decks
It’s not at all true that you have to pay for everything! When it comes to Vienna, some of the most magical moments can be enjoyed practically for free. For example, the university cafeteria offers a great view of the city. By the by, everyone is welcome to visit this dining room and grab a bite to eat for only 6€. It can be found at Universitätsstraße, 7 (29) on the 5th floor and is open daily from 11:00 till 14:00. There is also a great café called Akakiko at Mariahilferstraße, 42 (30). Delicious sushi is sold here, but the best thing is the view of the old church and the rooftops of the houses of Vienna from the panoramic windows.
Bad weather conditions
It often rains in Vienna, it’s cloudy more often than not. But that doesn’t mean that you have to dart from the Stephansdom to the opera. You can do something far more interesting.
Take a tram ride on the Ring
The trams in Vienna are a symbol, not an ordinary means of transport. There are old and new ones, but don’t always jump into the latter. This one time we happened to overhear a phone conversation during which an Austrian was updating his companion on his whereabouts and proclaimed, “I’m already on the tram. An old one, thank goodness!”. You can truly feel the spirit of the city in the old trams, so take the one that looks the shabbiest after picking up a hot chocolate in the nearest coffeehouse and go on a ride around the ring. You can get into the D tram or the trams number 1 and 71. Get off at any stop, take a walk, take some pictures and get back on whenever. Pay special attention to the Karlskirche cathedral (31) with the pond in front of it, the Rathaus, the parliament (32), the twin museums and the Maria Theresia square (33), and, of course, the opera.
Pop into the ancient university
The main building of the University of Vienna (34) is remarkable for two reasons: it was founded in the distant year 1365, and anyone can go inside. Feel free to go up the stone steps of the main entrance, push the massive doors and you’ll find yourself in the hall of one of the best educational institutions in Europe. Go right through and you’ll turn up in the inner courtyard with columns. Here you can lie on the green lawn, sit in the deck chairs with the students and take a million beautiful pictures. Apart from that, there is an incredible library in the university that looks like it’s been taken right out of a J.K. Rowling book! Simply ask the first stranger how to get to the reading room. This link will provide you with all the details about lectures at the University of Vienna. Take a look, choose a time that suits you and pop by. Please keep in mind that admission is free only to classes that are marked as ‘VO’ (Vorlesung in German, meaning lectures).
Take a trip to the hot springs
In Vienna, there is the Therme Wien thermal spa (35), whereas in Baden, just outside the city, there is the Römertherme (36). Both of these are spa centres with warm healing springs, pools, saunas and a variety of wellness treatments.
Taste the Austrian delicacies
When you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into any of the Viennese restaurants and try the local cuisine, for example, the Schnitzel with potato saladand poppy seeds noodles for dessert (the Mohnnudeln in German). You also can order the national potato dumplings with sweet or savoury fillings in the special eatery called Knödelmanufaktur (37). Viennese sausages can be found on every street corner, but in our opinion, the ones sold at the 24/7 stall on Währingerstraße, 52 (38) are the tastiest in the city. If you feel like eating meat cuts whilst enjoying the city views, head over to the stall at Albertinaplatz, 1 (39), take the food and go up to the observation deck in the Albertina gallery. In terms of fast food, Vienna is famous for its shawarma (the Döner in German) because a lot of people of eastern nationalities live in the city. The most delicious one can be found in the Berliner Döner on Zieglergasse, 33a (40) (careful, the lines here are always very long).
The great thing about shopping is that instead of having to get drenched in the rain, you can walk around a warm shopping centre while doing something useful. The best place to start is the main streets, that being Kärntner Straße (41) (and Graben), and the Mariahilferstraße, before moving on to one of the shopping centres in the list. Besides, not far from Vienna there is the large Parndorf Outlet (42) with luxury brands with discounts of up to -70%. The shuttle bus departs right from the Opera. Take a few coffee breaks to make your shopping trip a bit more remarkable. It should be kept in mind that in general all shops (except grocery stores) are open until 19:00, till 20:00 on Thursday and till 18:00 on Saturdays. Everything is closed on Sundays.
Visit the most interesting museums
The museums in the city are innumerable, but we’ll tell you about the most memorable ones.
Albertina: whichever exhibition you visit, you’re sure to leave in a good mood. It’s a very pleasant place! Drop by the museum store with its many funny little creations.
Hundertwasser Museum: an unusual house designed by Hundertwasser, the Austrian architect and artist. There is a Kunst Haus Wien museum not far from the house and a small artificial village with tiny shops and several cafés.
Snow globe manufacture (44): did you know that snow globes were invented in Vienna? In a small cosy shop-cum-museum you can learn more about their history and buy the most beautiful one as a souvenir.
Aquarium Haus des Meeres: a ten-storey oceanarium is not a bad way to spend a few hours on a rainy day, wouldn’t you say? At the entrance, you can lower your fingers into the water and the little fish will start to kiss your fingertips. The local monkey comes so close that you can even stroke it. And on the last floor, there is a terrace with an insane view of the city! Yet it’s probably best to visit it in good weather.
Visit a traditional Viennese coffeehouse
Vienna is a traditional city and the Viennese coffeehouse is one of the most memorable local traditions. This is the centre of Austrian life – politicians determine the future of the country over a cup of coffee, journalists hold press conferences, and mere mortals drink and savour it. Once we heard the following phrase: “The idea of the project, as is customary in Vienna, was born over yet another cup of coffee”. The interior of some coffeehouses has remained intact since the 1870s, and the very concept of a Viennese coffeehouse was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here are a few icons: Café Landtmann (45), Café Central (46), Demel (47) (there are always a lot of tourists here), Oberlaa Konditorei (48), and Aida (49).
Apart from the classical cafés, the modern coffee culture of the third wave (specialty coffee) is very well developed in Vienna in, for example, Jonas Reindl (50), Kaffeefabrik (51), Kaffemik (52), Coffee Pirates (53). You can order a mélange, having first picked up the latest newspaper in a stall (available in different languages) and relax. Try to live in the moment, looking at the people around you. This is Vienna for what it really is. Especially when it’s cloudy outside.