Vienna is one of those cities that make you feel incredibly small – in a good way. The ancient grandiosity is almost palpable as you walk down the streets of the capital city of Austria and marvel at the monumental buildings everywhere around you. As true as this is for many European cities, Vienna absolutely knows how to bring the magic to another level. While I was visiting, I had the feeling that no matter where I went, I was bound to find myself standing next to a large building with pillars, statues and ancient words.
Vienna used to be the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and many historical figures have considered the city their home, from Ludwig van Beethoven to Sigmund Freud to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. With its baroque buildings, horse carriages and grand museums at every corner, Vienna hasn’t lost its spark throughout centuries of modernisation and urban development. When you’re in Vienna in the 21st century, you’re just as amazed as if you visited two hundred years ago – except now you can also go to H & M.
The best word I would use to describe the vibe of Vienna is royal. Although the Austro-Hungarian Empire is long gone, the city is still full of its remnants and stands proudly in memory of its royal grandness. Looking up at buildings that almost don’t seem real makes you feel incredibly small and insignificant, which can in turn evoke feelings of humility, amazement, enchantment and maybe even gratitude to those who came before us. And let’s be real, hearing horse hooves clicking on the street cobblestones as they drag beautiful carriages definitely transports you back in time.
Museums, cathedrals and palaces – that’s what the historical city centre of Vienna is all about. There are more ancient museums and historical landmarks than I can count, and they’re usually not too far from each other, which makes it an easy trip on foot. You can always hop on the tram on the Ringstraße, though, which takes you all around the inner city of Vienna, showing you all the sights and stopping at all the places you could possibly want to go to.
My absolute favourite part of Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is so high in the sky that you actually have to put some effort into peering up. I’m also a big fan of Schönbrunn Palace and its vast gardens where the Habsburg rulers usually retired to for the summer.
If you get tired of the history of it all, don’t worry – after all, Vienna is still a modern city that knows how to keep up with the requirements of the 21st century in spite of the city’s ancient atmosphere. There are plenty of modern attractions, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls and Instagram-friendly sites as well.
And have I mentioned there’s a library in Vienna that looks like it’s been taken out of The Beauty and the Beast? This place is an absolute must-go for any book lovers.
Without further ado, let’s get into all the details about the best things you can do during your stay in Vienna, the capital of Austria!
Marvel at St. Stephen’s Cathedral
If you’re taking the subway to the historical city centre, chances are you will come out right on Stephanplatz. Stephanplatz is located at the very centre of Vienna and it’s a popular meeting spot because it’s so easy to navigate from it!
The square is named after St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom in German) which sits right in front of the subway. You really can’t miss it – it’s one of the top 10 tallest churches in the whole world! This Gothic and Romanesque cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and it’s become somewhat of a symbol of the city. Thanks to its colourful roof, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a building that everyone associates Vienna with.
What’s more, the church holds a significant historical value. Many important members of the royalty have had a wedding in the cathedral, such as Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anne of Bohemia and Hungary. Royal funerals and funerals of politicians have taken place there as well.
When I entered the cathedral for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel serene. I’ve been to many churches throughout Europe, however, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has definitely made the biggest impression on me. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous from the inside as it is from the outside, but the cathedral has a heavy and omnipresent holy atmosphere that I haven’t encountered anywhere else.
I highly recommend visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral and seeing what it’s like for yourself, especially at night. I entered at around 8 PM during winter, and the candles burning in the darkness absolutely added to the serenity of the experience.
Explore Schönbrunn Palace
Another historical building that is basically a symbol of Vienna is Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn in German). The palace is often the first image you see when you google Vienna, and for a good reason – it’s probably the most grandiose building in the whole city. Plus, its historical relevance can’t be ignored, being in the centre of influence for over 300 years. The Habsburg royalty has used the palace as their summer residence, for example Franz Joseph I spent a large portion of his life there.
Schönbrunn Palace was built in Rococo style, which is well-known for its theatrical and highly decorative nature, and the building showcases that in a spectacular fashion. There are over 1400 rooms in the palace, and trust me, you definitely know why when you see how big it is. The walk up to the palace itself is quite long, not to mention how immense the gardens at the back are.
Nowadays, the palace is a big tourist attraction. There are many different tours you can take, and they all vary in price. I recommend opting for the skip-the-line option, which comes in at €38 per person and receives fantastic reviews of the tour guide.
However, the gardens don’t cost anything! You’re free to roam the space, walk up the big hill at the back and have a wonderful view of Vienna from the large structure at the top called Gloriette. This monument built by Maria Theresa has an observation deck and a café inside, so why not stop for a coffee with your friends and enjoy the view of the city?
Enjoy a ride on the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel
Anyone a fan of amusement parks? I, for one, absolutely love theme parks and carnivals, which is why I was so happy when I found out there was an actual Ferris Wheel right in Vienna! And as the name suggests, it’s giant!
The Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel (Wiener Riesenrad in German) was built back in 1897 as a part of celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. This actually sounds like a great idea! If I was an emperor, I’d build a Ferris Wheel too. I’d make one whole quarter of Vienna into a theme park whilst I’m at it, which is basically what’s been done – the wheel stands at the entrance of an amusement park called Prater.
Yes, that’s right. You can go to an amusement park right in the centre of Vienna.
The Ferris Wheel has gone through some tumultuous events throughout history. For example, it burned down in 1944 and got rebuilt a year later (together with many other buildings in the city, such as St. Stephen’s Cathedral). During the Coronavirus crisis, the Giant Ferris Wheel actually stopped operating for the first time in 73 years!
One ride on the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel costs 12 € per adult and 5 € per child, and it lasts for 10-20 minutes. Buy a skip-the-line-ticket in advance if you’re planning to check it out — it’s the same price as the standard ticket but you don’t have to queue!
There’s also a Panorama Museum on the site where you can discover more about the history of the wheel, as well as a restaurant and a gift shop.
My absolute favourite thing about the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel is the wonderful view of Vienna you can enjoy as you slowly ride up and up. There’s nothing like it!
See the Hundertwasserhaus and Marvel at its Architecture
As we already know, Vienna is full of ancient beautiful palaces that are hard to ignore. But did you know there are quite modern architecturally interesting buildings as well?
The Hunderwasserhaus was built in an expressionist style. I don’t know how about you but before my stay in Vienna, I had only seen expressionism on paintings. Trust me, it’s a completely different experience when you’re looking at a whole building.
The Hundertwasserhaus is an apartment building that was created by an Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and an architect Joseph Krawina. Located in Landstrasse, a district close to the city centre, this place is now a very popular tourist attraction in Vienna.
No wonder why! The building looks extremely strange and beautiful at the same time. It’s so extraordinary and colourful that basically anyone would want to snap a picture. No matter if you want the Hundertwasserhaus to be your selfie background or if you’re in it for an artistic shot of the building, it’s bound to make your photo stand out among others.
It’s also one of those structures that truly make you appreciate the creativity of the humankind.
Visit the Hofburg
If you’re short on time and you have to choose which palaces to visit out of all the incredible palaces there are in the capital city of Austria, The Hofburg should definitely be up there. This place is extremely important for many reasons, one of which is the fact that it used to be the imperial palace of the Habsburg Dynasty. While they retreated to the Schönbrunn Palace for the summer, they usually preferred to stay at The Hofburg during the winter months.
What’s more, The Hofburg is now the official seat of the president of Austria. Built in the 13th century, the palace has been the main residence of those in power throughout hundreds of years. As Austria grew older, the palace expanded – nowadays, it includes places such as the treasury, the Burgtheater or the imperial library. It’s apparently one of the biggest palace complexes in the whole world!
What makes The Hofburg stand out in my eyes is the fact it houses the Spanish Riding School. People literally learn how to ride horses in the most skilled way possible there – the classic equestrian skills have apparently been preserved there for ages, which means the art is still taught in its original form. You can even book a ticket and go see a performance!
I don’t know about any other official seat of president that’s devoted to teaching people how to ride horses. You have to admit that’s quite unique.
Enter a Bookworm’s Dream in the Austrian National Library
Speaking of The Hofburg, the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in German) can be found in Neue Burg Wing in the very same palace, and let me tell you… it’s absolutely worth visiting if you’re interested in books.
As a total bookworm, entering the library was like stepping into my literal dream. I basically felt like Beauty from Beauty and the Beast. I had a baggy jacket and a backpack instead of a yellow dress, but still.
This library contains over 12 million items and it’s the biggest library in all of Austria. Oh, and it’s also the most beautiful library I’ve ever visited. Since I basically live in libraries no matter what city I’m in, this says something.
My favourite part of the library is the State Hall, which was built in the 18th century and is almost 20 metres high. And the walls are covered in ancient books! I’m getting excited just thinking about it. If I was to visit Vienna again, this would be the first place I go.
When it comes to admission fees, the price differs based on what you’d like to explore. There are different museums you can visit as well as the State Hall. Entering the State Hall itself costs 8 € per adult, 6 € per student and 6.50 € per pensioner. There are various group prices and family discounts you can check out, though!
You Must Check Out the Museumsquartier
Vienna is full of ancient museums that have a lot to teach you about Vienna’s history, art, science and more. The most essential museum spot in the city would have to be the Museumsquartier – I mean, it’s literally an area of 90 000 square metres devoted to museums only.
The Museumsquartier includes museums such as Leopold Museum (they have the largest collection of works by Egon Schiele in the world), Kunsthalle Wien (the main focus is on international contemporary art) or Architekturzentrum Wien. And there are so many more! All these museums can be found in buildings both ancient and modern, which creates a nice atmosphere of old knowledge and new opportunities.
Personally, exploring museums is a great way to learn more about the city you’re staying in. It allows you to discover a lot about the city’s history, its culture and its people, which always sheds new light on the urban space and makes your travel experience all the more enriching.
So why not check out the Museumsquartier? The ticket price depends on which museums you’d like to go to. For example, you can buy a ticket called MQ FAB 4 – its price starts at 22,90 €. The ticket grants you access to Architekturzentrum Wien, Kunsthalle Wien, Leopold Museum and mumok. There are also some discounts included in the price!
Experience the History of Vienna with an Interactive Exhibit
If you’re looking for a way to learn about the history of Vienna but you’re not a big fan of museums and palace exhibitions, don’t fret! Vienna has got you covered. Time Travel Vienna is a place full of interactive exhibits that will not only teach you all you need to know but also offer you an unforgettable multi-media experience.
Once inside, you get to watch a movie in a 5D cinema, go on a virtual reality ride, explore the studios of artists such as Egon Schiele, and sit down in what resembles The Imperial Theatre to watch the Habsburg Show. And there’s so much more! The exhibits are incredibly fun and interactive, showing you the history of Vienna from a brand-new entertaining angle.
You can book a ticket online or purchase it onsite, it’s all up to you. An online ticket costs 16.90 € per adult, 13.50 € per child and 15.20 € per student and senior.
The best thing about Time Travel Vienna? It’s right in the city centre, just around 7 minutes from Stephansplatz! Entertainment combined with history is right at your fingertips in the very heart of the city.
Have Fun at the Museum of Illusions
Another great entertainment-based space in the Vienna city centre is the Museum of Illusions (Museum der Illusionen in German). As the name suggests, the museum lets you discover exhibits that are created using optical illusions.
And they’re actually incredible! Sometimes the illusions are so good you can feel slightly disoriented, and as you walk through the exhibits, you won’t cease to feel amazed. Plus, you’re encouraged to take photos and selfies during your visit, so don’t hold back! Great Instagram snapshots are waiting.
The museum features attractions like the Upside Down Room, the Chair Illusion, the Vortex Tunnel and so much more. I, for one, absolutely loved the Infinity Room whilst I was there. All the mirrors around you create an illusion of infinity, which is just breath-taking. I’d probably never seen myself from so many angles before.
What about the ticket prices, I hear you ask? One ticket is 13 € per adult, 11 € per student and senior, 9 € per child (up to 18 years!), and children under the age of 4 can enter the museum for free.
Relax at Lainzer Tiergarten
If you get tired of the hustle and bustle of the city centre, you can use the public transport to get to Lainzer Tiergarten located in the southwest part of Vienna. This wildlife preserve is absolutely huge, and it offers some peace and quiet to anyone who would like to spend a nice afternoon in nature.
The place actually used to belong to Emperor Ferdinand I. as his hunting go-to destination, however, it’s been open to the public for a very long time now. The whole preserve isn’t open all-year round though – if you’re visiting Vienna during winter, you might be only able to access the Hermesvilla, which is – you have three guesses – a palace. It’s very close to Lainzer Tiergarten and just like every single palace in Vienna, it’s absolutely stunning.
You can enter the preserve from 7 different gates, and the main gate is called Lainzer Tor. Once you’re on the grounds, you might get lucky and catch a sight of a wild boar, a deer or a mouflon. Who knows? You might see all three!
There are also some amazing viewpoints. If you’ve come to spend a longer amount of time in Vienna, I highly recommend you put on some hiking shoes and visit Lainzer Tiergarten. After all, nature is good for the soul no matter where you go!
Catch a Mozart Concert at the Golden Hall
What’s better than seeing a Mozart Concert?
Yes, exactly. Seeing a Mozart Concert in a city Mozart considered his home. With Get Your Guide, you can book a ticket to go see a magnificent concert in the Golden Hall. You’ll listen to beautiful never-aging music while being surrounded by decorations and tapestries that will blow your mind. If there’s a better way to spend your evening in Vienna, I honestly haven’t discovered it yet. Listening to works by Mozart and Strauss in one of the finest music halls in the city is as Vienna-like as it gets.
The famous musicians on stage all wear Baroque costumes and wigs during the performance, which only adds to the greatness of the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. Soloists, musicians and opera singers will make the amazing works of Mozart and Strauss come alive for you as you sit back and enjoy the music. This experience is a must-do for anyone interested in classical music.
You can book a ticket for 55 € per person with Get Your Guide.
Let Vienna’s Madame Tussauds Museum Charm You
Did you know there’s a Madame Tussauds Museum in Vienna? I’d always thought it was just London, however, Vienna is full of surprises. And museums. Don’t forget the museums. They’re basically at every corner!
Madame Tussauds Vienna can be found at the famous amusement park Prater and it’s the eleventh location of the Madame Tussauds franchise, which means it’s definitely not just London. Vienna proved me wrong.
The museum is amazing! As could be expected, the place displays wax figures that represent notable people from history as well as pop culture. There are around 80 displays covering three floors, and they’re split into categories based on careers – you can find famous people from the realms of sport, music, art, film, politics and so much more.
My favourite figure in the whole museum would have to be Benedict Cumberbatch. His display was launched only recently, in 2017, and my guess is that many fans would visit the museum just to get the chance to see him. If you’re not one of his fangirls, though, you can look forward to seeing figures of Morgan Freeman, Lady Gaga, Dalai Lama, Michael Jackson, or even Angela Merkel herself.
Honestly, the museum is a lot of fun. When you book your ticket online, it will cost you around 24 € per adult. More expensive packages include souvenirs and photos that you can take home with you.
Sample a Viennese Pastry at The Demel
It’s impossible to visit Vienna and not have a taste of the delicious Viennese food. Be it warm meals, crispy pastries or cakes, Vienna has so many amazing dishes to offer!
One of the most famous bakeries in the city is The Demel whose history dates all the way back to 1786. The Demel used to be one of the favourite places of Viennese aristocrats. I mean, Emperor Franz Josef I. himself absolutely loved the place!
It’s likely that you might have to stand in a queue when you’re waiting for your turn to try out the delicious pastries since the bakery is so popular, however, it’s so worth it. And I’m saying that as an absolute cake enthusiast. Their hand-made biscuits and cakes are amazing, not to mention the popular Doboscake.
If you’re not a fan of sweets, don’t worry. The Demel offers lots of savoury treats as well, for example the Wiener Schnitzel (very traditional Austrian food) can be purchased there.
Plus, The Demel is also a café – while you’re choosing which cake to eat, you can buy yourself a steaming cup of coffee to get all the energy you need for another day of exploring the beautiful city of Vienna. Wine and beer are also available.
Visiting The Demel makes for an excellent breakfast that lets you start the day in a very Viennese fashion. And who’d say no to that?
Jump on a Guided Underground Walking Tour
Vienna is breath-taking on the surface, but have you ever asked yourself what’s hiding underground? No matter if you’re very interested in archaeology or if you’d just like to explore the history of Vienna from beneath, taking a guided underground walking tour is an excellent way to add some flavour to your trip.
When you book this tour with Get Your Guide, you will be able to experience the underworld of the capital of Austria while a guide tells you all you need to know. Medieval archaeological excavations, basements, cellars, the Baroque crypt of St. Michael’s Church and more can be discovered on this walking tour that lasts around 90 minutes.
Personally, the most interesting part is the crypt of St. Michael’s Church. There are over 4 thousand people buried there, including notable historical figures. You even get to have a glance at well-preserved mummies.
This tour might seem a little bit spooky, however, it sheds light on some parts of Vienna you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. And if you’re a lover of mystery, horror, archaeology or history, all the better!
The underground walking tour costs 22 € per person with Get Your Guide.
Visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum
It wouldn’t be an article about Vienna if we didn’t finish this off with yet another museum, would it?
Kunsthistorisches Museum is a grand building that will absolutely enchant you, especially its stunning dome. Even though it’s a museum, the structure looks more like a palace. And it’s even more beautiful from the inside, if you can believe it!
The art museum holds collections such as the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities or the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, and it’s considered to be one of the most vital museums in art history worldwide. It’s also the largest museum in all of Austria!
There are always interesting exhibitions to go and see, and many of them change depending on the time of the year. If you’re a fan of art though, you’ll always find something fascinating in the Kunsthistorisches Museum!
One ticket usually costs 16 € per adult. People up to 19 years of age can enter the museum for free.
And That Was Vienna!
Vienna is an amazing city to visit for anyone who would like to experience that ancient royal atmosphere of Europe. With monumental buildings at every corner, museums that will blow your mind and a culture that celebrates its royal roots, Vienna is the perfect place to go to find out more about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, see beautiful sights and, of course, have fun.
From cathedrals and palaces to rollercoasters and interactive exhibits, Vienna has so many various places to offer that you definitely won’t get bored during your stay. No matter if you’re in the city for a weekend or a month, you’re bound to have a fascinating visit.
Be careful, though. If you visit The Demel once, you might be tempted to go back every single day for the rest of your holiday. I can’t guarantee you won’t get a sugar rush. I certainly did.