There is something very special about Vienna. First time I visited Vienna was over 20 years ago, for a long weekend with a few friends. And whilst it was quite nice, I somehow never returned. Until five years ago, when I started working with my Austrian client. And since the client’s head office is located just outside Vienna, most of my Austria trips started and/or ended in Vienna. Giving me plenty of time to explore Austria’s capital and absolutely fall in love with Vienna. So, if you are planning on visiting Vienna for the first time, here’s my essential travel guide for Vienna.
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Vienna so special. In terms of capital cities, Vienna sure isn’t the biggest there is. I mean, the entire population of Austria would fit into London. So really, with just under 2 million people, Vienna is tiny compared to London. But what Vienna lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in charm. Vienna oozes with history and laissez-faire. If you are interested in history, classical music or art, Vienna is the place for you. Empress Sissi, Mozart, Klimt, Hundertwasser, they all left their mark on Vienna.
If you want to get a feeling for Vienna, take the time to just sit in a Kaffeehaus (coffeehouse), enjoy a cup of coffee (see below how best to order that, not that easy in Austria) and just people watch. Talk to the people around you, soak in the Viennese way of living and slow down. Vienna was voted one of the best cities to live in for 10 years in a row and I can see why. Not sure I’d like to actually live here for good. But I sure love to visit whenever I get the chance. If only I could somehow make Mr T fall in love with Vienna a little more.
In this travel guide, I’ll answer those important questions when visiting Vienna for the first time:
General info about Vienna
How do I get from Vienna Airport to city centre?
How best to get around Vienna? Which ticket do I need for Vienna?
How do I order a coffee in Vienna?
What time of year should I visit Vienna?
Is it safe to visit Vienna?
Visiting Vienna for the first time: General info about Vienna
Vienna is the capital of Austria. It is located in the east, close to the Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian border. The river Danube runs through Vienna. Vienna has an international airport with a good flight network to all major European cities, plus a few long-haul destinations to the US and Asia.
Language in Vienna is German. Austria has their own version of German, which (depending on region) can be a bit tricky to understand, even if you are fluent / native German. But I love the Viennese dialect, it just sounds charming.
Thanks to the close proximity to several other countries, you will hear loads of different languages in Vienna. And most Austrians (especially the younger ones) will speak decent English, so getting around shouldn’t be too difficult.
Most shops in Vienna will open from approx. 9am to 6 / 6.30pm (some supermarkets may open earlier and close later) Monday to Saturday and are closed on Sunday and bank holidays (which the exception of some supermarkets in train stations, which may be open seven days a week).
When going out for a meal, service will usually be included in the price of the food (unless specifically pointed out otherwise), however a tip of 10-15% would normally be expected (although not mandatory, so if you weren’t happy with the service, it is acceptable to give less).
Currency in Austria is Euro and credit cards are widely accepted in shops and supermarkets. However, I wouldn’t automatically expect all restaurants to accept card payments. It might be wise to carry some cash or check with the waiter before you order. Just in case.
Visiting Vienna for the first time: How do I get from Vienna Airport to the city centre?
Vienna Airport is located in Schwechat, approx. 18 km southeast of Vienna. Unfortunately, Vienna Airport is not connected to the subway system. However, there is a fast train that takes you directly from Vienna Airport to the centre of Vienna.
The CAT (City Airport Train) runs every 30 minutes and takes 16 minutes from the airport into town. A return ticket will cost you 21 Euros (kids up to 14 years travel for free). When taking the CAT you will arrive at Wien-Mitte / Landstrasse, from where you can easily connect to the subway U3 and U4.
A cheaper way to get from Vienna Airport into Vienna would be to take the bus. It will take a bit longer (depending on traffic), but a return ticket will only cost you 13 EUR.
Personally, I have never done the bus, so I can’t really comment on it.
Obviously, you can also take a cab or call an Uber, which might be quicker than taking the CAT (depending on where in Vienna you need to get to) but will be considerably more expensive.
Visiting Vienna for the first time: How best to get around Vienna? Which ticket do I need for Vienna?
The town centre of Vienna is fairly compact, so you can walk a lot of it (if you fancy). But the public transport system in Vienna is quite good with several subways, trams and busses on offer. Whilst the subways and trams don’t run 24/7, they will operate from early morning until round about midnight. And most busses will run through the night.
Getting a ticket for public transport in Vienna is easy. Unlike other cities, Vienna’s city centre is not divided into any zones. So, it is a flat fee for all journeys. You can buy a 24 h / 48 h / 72 h ticket for Vienna (which will cost you 8 / 14.10 / 17.10 Euros) or get a weekly ticket, if you stay longer (which is actually the same price as a 72-hour ticket. The ticket isn’t valid per calendar day, but actual time, so if you activate your ticket in the evening, it will be valid for the next 24 / 48 / 72 hours, not just until midnight. Which is great if you are visiting Vienna for the first time as a weekend trip from Friday evening until Sunday evening. As this means you would only need a 48-hour ticket, not a 3-day ticket.
Being accustomed to ticket barriers and Oyster touch points whenever using public transport in London, the Viennese system is a little confusing at first. You buy your ticket, you activate it, then you keep it in your bag and don’t actually take it out (unless a ticket inspector wants to see it).
Visiting Vienna for the first time: How do I order a coffee in Vienna?
OK, if you’ve never been to Vienna (or Austria in general), this might sound really weird. I mean how difficult can it be to order a cup of coffee. But let me tell you. Even after so many trips to Vienna, I still struggle to remember which is which. To save you from the same embarrassment, let me lend you a helping hand here:
Verlängerter: Black americano (so espresso with hot water).
Verlängerter Braun: White americano
Mokka: not as you would expect in England a latte with chocolate. Instead it is a very strong short coffee.
Doppelter Mokka: same just double
Kleiner / Grosser Schwarzer: a single or double espresso
Kleiner / Grosser Brauner: a single or double espresso, served with cream.
Wiener Melange: Half coffee, half milk with frothed milk. We would probably call this a cappuccino in the UK.
Kaffee verkehrt: Literally translated ‘Coffee upside down’. This is what you’d call a latte in the UK.
Einspänner: A mokka with whipped cream on top.
Häferlkaffee: a large mug of filtered coffee
Confused? Join the club. But no worries, you’ll get the hang of it eventually. And as long as each coffee is accompanied by a gorgeous piece of cake (and gosh, Austrians sure know how to bake delicious cakes), the struggle isn’t too bad.
Visiting Vienna for the first time: What time of year should I visit Vienna?
Personally, I am not too keen on Vienna in the height of summer. Firstly, it can get really crowded during school holidays. But also, it can get really hot and very humid in Vienna. Making it almost unbearable at times. A few years back I visited Vienna with my mum over the August bank holiday weekend. It was an unusually hot weekend and we had temperatures of 33-38 degrees Celsius the entire time. As lovely as Vienna is, this was living hell and we quickly learned that spending hours in museums is a great way to stay cool (thanks to an air-con on full blast).
My personal favourite would be late spring, when Vienna is already a bit warmer than London and everything is lovely green and in full bloom.
Or visit Vienna in the run up to Christmas for the ultimate winter wonderland experience. There is something very magical about the Christmas lights and Christmas markets in Vienna, which you really should experience at least once in your life.
Visiting Vienna for the first time: Is it safe to visit Vienna?
I am not going to google Vienna crime statistics for you. This is only my personal experience speaking here. But having visited Vienna as a female solo traveller numerous times, I can say that I never felt unsafe in Vienna. I have walked around town on my own in the evenings and never had a bad experience. Of course, you might come across the occasional shady individual, same as in every major city. But personally, I haven’t come across any no-go areas in Vienna. I mean the obvious rules apply. Keep an eye on your belongings, don’t have your valuables on show etc. But there is absolutely no need to be on wide alert all day. Just enjoy Vienna and its very laid-back atmosphere.
Tell me! Are you planning on visiting Vienna for the first time? Or have you been and would like to add something I’ve forgotten here? Tell me.