I love Vienna. And over the years I’ve visited quite a few times. Both for work (my client’s head office was just outside Vienna, so any Austrian tour would start and end in Vienna) and on leisure. And I totally fell for the city and the people. Any excuse and I’ll be over there without hesitation. Be it a weekend with a friend or visiting the Viennese Christmas markets with my mum. Occasionally I might even get Mr T to come with me. Although he isn’t quite so keen on Vienna (probably because it always seems to be pouring with rain all day long whenever he comes over). What about you? Have you ever been to Vienna? No? Well, you really should go and visit, it is absolutely gorgeous.
To help you make up your mind, let me share with you my 19 top things to see and do in Vienna. For sure there is something here for you.
Top things to see and do in Vienna: Go around the Ring
The name kind of gives it away. The ‘Ring’ is a ring road around the historic city centre of Vienna. And the ‘Ring Bim’ (its actual name is ‘Vienna Ring Tram’, but it is referred to by the Viennese as the ‘Ring Bim’) is a bright yellow tram that takes you on a sightseeing tour around said ring road.
Its start and end point is Schwedenplatz and (unlike some hop on hop off busses) it does not have any other stops. The Ring Tram takes around 25 minutes to circle the city centre once and you can listen to an audio guide (available in several languages) whilst riding it.
Unfortunately, your normal public transport ticket isn’t valid for the Ring Bim. You will have to buy a separate ticket, which costs 12 Euros for adults and 6 Euros for kids (prices correct in March 2021). You can buy your tickets online or directly in the tram (be aware, it is cash only in the tram).
Want to go around the Ring for less?
For a cheaper alternative, you could take the normal trams to circle the Ring using your public transport ticket.
Line 1 used to run the full circle, but unfortunately, this was changed a few years back. Now you will have change trams halfway.
Start at Schwedenplatz (same starting point as for the Ring Tram) and take Line 2 towards Ottakring. Ride on Line 2 until you get to the Opera, then change to Line 1 (same platform, so it is an easy interchange) to get you back to Schwedenplatz. You won’t have running commentary. But paired with a map or travel guidebook, you can see all the ring has to offer for a fraction of the price.
Things to do in Vienna: Prater + the Wiener Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel)
The Prater is a large park in the 2nd district in Vienna and well worth a visit. But whilst you might not have time to visit the entire area, I would certainly recommend you visit the Volksprater, an amusement park within the Prater Park. The Volksprater has been here since the first half of the 19th century, although the attractions have obviously changed over the years.
Getting there is easy, just take the underground U1 or U2 to Praterstern and it is a short walk from there.
Whilst not all stalls and attractions are open throughout the winter months, the Prater is a destination all year round. There is a Winter Market from November to January (although for the winter season 2020/21, this sadly was cancelled, like so many other Christmas markets).
A visit to the Prater is free, but you will have to pay if you want to go on any of the rides.
The Wiener Riesenrad
I would recommend you take a ride on the Wiener Riesenrad (the Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel). At 65 metres, it might not be as high as some of the more modern wheels (the London Eye for example is more than double that height at 135m and even that is only number 4 worldwide), but the Wiener Riesenrad has been around for more than 120 years. And back in the day, it was the highest Ferris wheel in the world for a whopping 65 years (from 1920 to 1985). At 12 Euros / adult and 5 Euros / child, the Ferris Wheel might not be cheap (albeit a lot cheaper than the London Eye to be honest), but it sure is worth buying a ticket. Enjoy the historic wood wagons and the magnificent views across Vienna (if you are afraid of heights, there are seats in the middle of the wagons, so that you can stay clear of the windows).
Talking of the wood wagons. Did you notice that only every other wagon still exists? During WWII the wheel was almost completely destroyed. Whilst it was rebuilt in record time after the war, instead of the original 30 wagons, only 15 were re-installed.
Top things to do in Vienna: Visit the Operahouse
I love visiting opera houses. And the one in Vienna sure is a magnificent one that is worth a visit any time. Over the years, I’ve actually visited it twice. And I would urge you to include the Opera on your list of things to do in Vienna if you get the chance.
Yes, if you want front row seats, these might set you back a few bobs. But you can get reasonably priced tickets. There might be a restricted view with the cheapest tickets, but to soak up the atmosphere and listen to the Opera, you don’t always need a perfect 360 view of the stage.
Second time round (during the Christmas market trip with my mum, we went for cheap tickets to see Madame Butterfly (mainly because I left it too long to book them and could only get very cheap or very expensive ones). They were only 15 Euros a piece (albeit with restricted view). You can go even lower in price, if you purchase your tickets last minute. An hour or so before each performance, standing only tickets are sold for 10 Euros each. So, if you’ve never been to an opera before, there really isn’t any excuse not to include this in your Vienna itinerary.
Top things to do in Vienna: Visit a Kaffeehaus
One thing that is forever linked with Vienna is its coffee culture and the Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses). For a lot of tourists, the go to Kaffeehaus would be the Hotel Sacher (opposite the Vienna State Opera). Hence the rather lengthy queues to get in. I am not suggesting you skip Hotel Sacher, after all, their original Sachertorte is to die for. But there are plenty of other coffee houses around, so don’t despair if you’d rather not wait around for a table to become available. Just go elsewhere. My personal favourite is the Café Mozart (just around the corner, although that can also get rather busy). Regardless which one you visit, take your time. Have a coffee and some cake, people watch and just enjoy the slower pace and laissez faire that Vienna is so famous for. But be prepared, ordering coffee in Vienna isn’t for the faint hearted. The Austrians have their own names for coffees, so it can be a bit tricky. Even after numerous visits to Vienna and other parts of Austria, I still struggle.
19 Things to do in Vienna: Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral)
Thanks to its 136m high south tower, the Stephansdom is hard to miss as you walk the city centre. With its distinctive roof (made of multicoloured glazed roof tiles), the massive cathedral in the heart of Vienna is a beauty to look at. If you go early in the morning, you might be lucky and have the Stephansplatz (the square around the cathedral) almost to yourself. Go in the afternoon and it will be packed with tourists, street performers and shoppers. If you visit Vienna in the run up to Christmas, you will find a picturesque Christmas market wrapped around the cathedral.
Next to the Stephansdom you can spot the traditional fiakers (horse drawn carriages) waiting to take you on a tour. Whilst picturesque to look at, personally I wouldn’t take one of those fiaker tours (I’ve done the whole romantic horsedrawn carriage ride in New York and it did make it straight onto my ‘Rookie Mistakes in New York’ list). With prices starting at 80 EUR for a 40-minute sightseeing tour, the carriage rides certainly don’t come cheap.
Things to do in Vienna: Visit the Manner Shop
Once you are done exploring the Stephansdom, head to the Manner shop next door (the bright pink shop on the corner, you can’t really miss it). Treat yourself to a selection of Manner wafers (or pack some as your Vienna souvenirs).
Best things to do in Vienna: Try an original Wiener Schnitzel
Growing up in Germany, a Schnitzel Viennese style would be a stable on any German restaurant menu. But Viennese style isn’t the same as a proper Wiener Schnitzel. As you are in Vienna, you might as well try the real deal.
But what is an authentic Wiener Schnitzel?
A Wiener Schnitzel is always always made of veal cutlet (not pork or chicken, which are often referred to as Viennese style). It is breaded and pan fried (not deep fried). And if you have a Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna, it will typically be served with potato salad and a lemon slice, not with French fries and Ketchup.
If you are a vegetarian, you are probably not too keen on trying a Wiener Schnitzel but be assured that the Austrian Cuisine also has some yummy meat-free offerings (Käsespätzle for example).
Things to do in Vienna: Visit the Hundertwasser House and KunstHaus
If you are interested in architecture, you have probably heard of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Although he originally started out as a painter, Hundertwasser eventually became involved in architecture and his organic, colourful creations are well worth a visit. The Hundertwasser House (located at the corner of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse) is a fine example of expressionist architecture and one of Vienna’s most visited landmarks. It is an apartment building, so you won’t be able to see the inside. Please be considerate when visiting. Whilst the Hundertwasser House sure is a perfectly instagramable backdrop, it also is home to actual people. And they might not all be too keen having their privacy invaded by you. So please be considerate when visiting.
If you are interested in Hundertwasser and his work, also head to the KunstHaus (art house) down the road. It is the only museum to have a permanent exhibition of Hundertwasser’s work (plus in itself another example of Hundertwasser’s architecture).
19 Things to do in Vienna: Visit Schloss Schönbrunn
Situated a little away from the City Centre is Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the House of Habsburg. With over 1400 rooms, the palace in Rococo style is quite impressive to look at. Plus, Schloss Schönbrunn has great gardens to walk in.
If you head to Vienna in the run up to Christmas, Schloss Schönbrunn is also the picturesque setting for one of Vienna’s many Christmas markets.
Visit the Naschmarkt
One of my favourite things to do in Vienna. Located in the 6th district, the Naschmarkt is Vienna’s biggest market. It is a short walk from the city centre. Or if going there by public transport, you could take the underground U4 to Kettenbrückengasse or the U2 to Karlsplatz.
The Naschmarkt is an outdoor market, selling fruit and veg, herbs and spices as well as baked goods and some souvenirs. Paired with loads of interesting restaurants. The market is open Monday to Saturday. The stalls open from around 6am and close in the early evening, but the restaurants are open for longer. On Saturday, there is also a flea market (starting at Kettenbrückengasse). My personal favourite would be to start your Saturday with breakfast at one of the restaurants on the Naschmarkt, then stroll the stalls and the flea market, before continuing with the rest of your list of things to do in Vienna. Just be careful. All those exotic fruits and nuts look delicious, but if you aren’t careful, you might end up with a massive bill (been there, done that… well actually mum, not me).
Things to do in Vienna: Hofburg and Burggarten
If there is one thing Vienna isn’t short of, it is palaces. Whilst the House of Habsburg used Schloss Schönbrunn as their summer residence, the Hofburg was their winter quarter. And nowadays is the official residence of the President of Austria.
Located right in the city centre, in the first district, the Hofburg and adjacent Burggarten are a short stroll away from St. Stephens Cathedral and the Opera House.
It houses several museums (including the Albertina and the Sisi Museum). Built in stages over seven centuries (the Neue Burg (new castle) was completed as recent as 1913), the Hofburg is actually the largest non-religious building in Europe.
When I went to Vienna with my mum a couple of years ago (one of those mother-daughter-weekends), we actually went to see a concert of the Wiener Hofburgorchester on Saturday evening. After all, Vienna has very strong links to music with both Mozart and Strauss living and composing there (amongst others).
If the weather is nice, you might also want to have a wander around the Burggarten.
Things to do in Vienna: See the Ankeruhr
Just a few paces from the Stephansdom, but a little hidden from view, the Ankeruhr is a musical clock dating back to the early 20th century. A beautiful Art Deco piece, it spans between two buildings and has become a popular tourist spot over the years. Every hour a different figure will appear, accompanied by music and at noon all 12 figures will parade (so, you might want to time your visit well). Originally, the music came from a built-in mechanical organ. But the clock was damaged during WWII and when it was eventually re-built, the organ couldn’t be repaired and the music since comes from a tape.
See the Rathaus
The Wiener Rathaus (Vienna city hall) is a beautiful neo-Gothic building in the 1st district. Go, have a look and enjoy its gardens. If you visit in the run up to Christmas, you will find one of Vienna’s biggest Christmas markets in front of city hall, along with an ice rink.
You will also find a selection of nice restaurants and cafes in the vicinity.
Things to do in Vienna: Haus der Musik (the House of Music)
Given the strong history that Vienna has with music, it is probably no surprise that they have an entire museum dedicated to all things music. Especially when visiting Vienna with kids, I would urge you to go and explore the House of Music.
Located near the Stephansdom, it is easy to get to. And even without kids, there are loads of things to do and see at the museum. Spread over four floors, you can virtually conduct an orchestra, learn about the great composers, the Vienna Philharmonics and the scientific side of sound.
Tickets are 14 Euros for adults (or 7 Euros, if you visit in the evening).
Take a boat tour down the Danube
Did you know that Bratislava is just about an hour away from Vienna? If you have some time spare, you could take boat trip down the Danube (Is it down? Or is it actually up? TBH, I am not quite sure…well, either way… it will be down the Danube at some point during your return journey) and visit Slovakia’s capital as a little day trip.
I have visited Bratislava before, but have not actually done the Danube boat tour myself. But I would love to, and it is on my list of things to do in Vienna… sooner or later.
Things to do in Vienna: Shopping Trip
As far as I am concerned, no city trip is ever complete without a little retail therapy. And Vienna is no exception. So, last but not least, a shopping trip couldn’t miss on my list of things to do in Vienna. My personal favourite is the Steffl, a Vienna institution and department store on Kärntnerstrasse, just a few paces from the Stephansdom. Maybe not the ideal shop for your everyday shopping, as it can be a little pricy. But I have found so many bargains here over the years, that I just can’t resist to have a browse every time I am in Vienna.
And if you head to the top floor, there is also a roof top bar with great views over Vienna and onto the Stephansdom.
Vienna’s main shopping streets are the Kärntnerstrasse and Graben, as well as the Mariahilferstrasse.
OK, that’s it for now. My list of 19 things to do in Vienna. Obviously, there is loads more. And I might add a few as and when I think of them (I mean, 20 things to do in Vienna would have probably sounded a lot better). Have you been to Vienna? Did you enjoy it? What were your favourite things to do in Vienna?