Making our way through Europe from Turkey, we stopped in Vienna to tour the city. Captivated by its modern elegance and rich history, Vienna was once one of the most influential cities on Earth! Filled to the brim with Imperial architecture, first-rate museums, elegant coffee houses, classical music, ballet, and theater performances, whatever your desire to see, you shall find in Vienna.
As you build your Vienna itinerary of imperial castles, government buildings, churches, theaters, and parks, you will find plenty of seeing no matter your time there.
Let’s get started.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
With more than one million visitors a year, the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a must-see while in Vienna. But, before you enter, you must admire the Gothic structure with so much detail built from the 12th century with a 137-meter-high spire and colorful mosaic tile roof.
After a horrible fire that destroyed most of the church, only two surviving towers went under reconstruction in 1263. During WWII, the church again suffered from fires dropped in the city as bombs which required parts of the church had to be rebuilt.
The exterior of the church is made from limestone, which has turned black over time from pollution. Unfortunately, it is challenging to remove due to the soft texture of limestone. The south side of the roof features an Imperial double-headed eagle made from ceramic mosaic tiles.
The interior of the lavishly decorated Cathedral is filled with artistic pieces made by a master artist. The Gothic-style pulpit is something to see! Numerous formal chapels within the church where people such as Mozart’s funeral took place. One of the most significant items to see is the Maria Potsch Icon and the organ that dates back to 1334.
- TIP: While on our Free Walking Tour, we visited the exterior of the Cathedral. If you want a more detailed tour of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which includes a visit to the Treasury, the South Tower, and the Dom Museum, I suggest purchasing an all-inclusive ticket.
In 1679 a plague, called Yersinia pestis, known as the bacteria, infected many people plagued Vienna. To help ward off the epidemic, the authorities built a wooden Pestsaule (pest column) on Graben Street.
Various sculptures and others were involved in the development and construction, including Fischer von Erlach (iconic architecture of Schönbrunn Palace, Spanish Riding School, or Karlskirche).
Due to the Habsburg dynasty marrying a relative, many had deformities such as Kaiser, which is seen in the Plague Column with a protruding lower lip. You may also notice things in sets of threes due to representing the Holy Trinity.
- TIP: Take the time to stroll Graben Street as you will find many shops and interesting buildings. It is a car-free area, and a fun place to people watch!
St. Peter’s Catholic Church (Peterskirche)
Hidden off of Graben Street, this 18th-century green dome Baroque church is worth a visit. The church is small in size but packed with niches of religious statues and high alter areas.
- TIP: Enjoy a classical music concert at St. Peter’s Church. See concert schedule.
Mozart lived in Vienna from 1784-1787, writing one of the world-famous operas, “Le Nozze di Figaro.” Although none of the original furnishings survived, each room contains a replica of items believed in his home during that era.
- Admission: 12 EUR, for a guided tour 60 EUR. Free entrance with a Vienna Pass.
Visit the Art Nouveau Anker Clock on Hoher Market Street at 12:00 PM to watch the historical figures rotate slowly around the front. The clock was built in 1914. The Anker Insurance Company once was headquarters in the building and built this beautiful Jugendstil clock. Jugendstil art remains a highlight of Austrian history. The location is here.
- TIP: To see the figurines, it is best to arrive 30 minutes early (11:30 AM).
Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial
This giant square stone is designed as an inverted library. The names of the concentration camps where an estimated 65,000 Austrian Jews perished are dedicated to those victims. The location is here.
Vienna State Opera
Located near our hotel is the beautiful 19th century Wien State Opera building. The Renaissance building has 1709 seats and was the first major building on Ringstrasse. Throughout the year, world-class opera or ballet performances take place. Vienna is known for its strong musical history and continues today, reflected through the many performances held all year.
St. Anne’s Church (Annakirche)
Surviving many hardships, St. Anne’s Church has some of the most elaborate ceiling frescos, high altar paintings, and frescos of Franz Xaver created by Daniel Gran. In addition, the wood-carved statue representing Saint Anne with the Virgin Mary and the Child of Christ created in 1510 is a fantastic piece of artwork. Enjoy a classical concert inside this well acoustic church.
Many of Vienna’s major sites such as the Hofburg Palace, the Vienna State Opera, and the Vienna Rathaus are located on Ringstrasse. It is one of the most stunning roads in the world. If you need a break from walking, ride the Ring Tram that runs parallel to the road.
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church is one of the oldest churches in Vienna, built-in 1220 and located in one of the most beautiful squares, lined with horse buggies waiting to take passengers for a ride. Today it is the parish and monastery church of the Salvadorians. Church-guided tours are offered, highlighting the history and art.
For more than 100 years the Albertina served as the residence of the Habsburgs. Today, it is an art museum with exhibits of French and German expressionism, Russian avant-garde, and many other genres of art. In addition, the museum has one of the largest graphic collections in the world.
- Admission: Albertina is 16.90 EUR, Albertina Modern 12.00 EUR, Combination ticket 23 EUR. With a Vienna City Card, you will get a discount. Headphone Guide is an additional 2 EUR, or a Public Guided Tour is an additional 5 EUR
Not far from Albertina is the historic Hotel Sacher. The Sacher Hotel is known to offer elegance in its accommodations and has a long list of artists, politicians and celebrates as guests.
Even if you don’t plan to stay at the Hotel Sacher, you will want to stop and order the Sacher-Torte. In 1832 Prince Metternich requested a dessert for a special occasion from the head chef. Unfortunately, the chef became ill, and so a 16-year old apprentice Franz Sacher filled in and created a cake that was the most delicious to the Prince.
Enjoy an afternoon tea or coffee and sample one of their many delicious desserts.
Spanish Riding School
I found it odd to see the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but the Lipizzan horses have a history of over 400 years admired by Austrians. Watching a performance by these beautiful horses is well worth a visit. Guided tours are offered to educate you about the history and operations of the Spanish Riding School.
Sisi is the nickname of Empress Elisabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. Forced to marry him when she was in her early teens, the relationship turned sour. Nevertheless, many people loved her for her zealous take on life. The museum displays the Empress’s life from her Bavarian childhood through her assassination in Geneva.
- Hours: 10:00 – 17:00 (last admission at 16:00)
- Admission: 15 EUR with a free audio guide.
Things to do in Vienna
Hofburg (Imperial Palace)
Hofburg is the former Imperial Palace, but today, it is the home to three museums: the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Silver Collection. In addition, it is home to the Spanish Riding School, Congress Center, the seat of the Austrian Federal President, and the historic Heldenplatz. The complex is one of the biggest palace complexes in the world. Parts of the building date back to the 13th century, with construction, carried on until the 20th century.
- Admission: A Self-Guided Tour (Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments, and Sisi Museum) 15 EUR (Free with the Vienna Pass). Purchase tickets at the Michaelerplatz entranceway at the northeastern end of the Hofburg complex.
If you need a break from all the sightseeing, visit Burggarten Park near Hofburg. It is an excellent place to sit and relax with several monuments (Mozart monument). After the destruction by Napoleon’s troops left Vienna in 1809, the area was redesigned, creating a private garden (the park) for the Imperial family.
Museum Quarter (MuseumsQuartier)
The Museum Quarter is one of Vienna’s most prominent districts for contemporary art and culture in the world. It was built in the early 18th century as the imperial stables, expanded over the years, adding modern buildings creating this unique space for museums. The spectrum ranges from fine art, architecture, music, fashion, theater, dance, literature, photography, and street art design.
Three main attractions within MQ are:
- Leopold Museum is 14 EUR (Free with Vienna Pass); 10:00-18:00
- MUMOK is open Tue. – Sun. 10:00 – 18:00, 13 EUR, Guided Tour 13 EUR
- Kunsthalle is open Tue. – Sun. 11:00-19:00, Thur.11:00 – 21:00, 8 EUR
- Architecture Center is open 10:00 – 19:00, 9 EUR
- Zoom Kindermuseum (for children) open Tue. – Fri. 8:45 – 10:30,13:30 -15:15; 5 EUR children; 5 EUR adult
- Libelle is free to visit (ride the lift to the top); April-Oct.10:00 – 22:00
- Natural History Museum is open Thur. – Mon. 9:00 – 18:30, Wed. 9:00 – 20:00; Closed on Tue., 12 EUR
- Kunsthistorisches Museum is open daily 10:00 – 18:00, Thur. 10:00 – 21:00; 18 EUR; Guided Tour is addition 6 EUR
One activity we always like to explore when in a new city is visiting the local markets. Naschmarkt is a great place to sample a wide variety of food from around the world. This market has been offering Austrians fresh fruit and vegetables since the 16th century. You will find over 100 stalls offering herbs, cheese, baked goods, meats, seafood, and colorful produce.
If you are interested in Naschmarkt Guided Food Tour, click here.
St. Charles Church (Karlskirche)
If you plan to visit the Belvedere Palace, stop by the St. Charles Church and see this stunning Baroque church from the 18th century. The church is consecrated to the patron saint of the Habsburg emperor, Saint Charles Borromeo. Then, take the panoramic elevator to a platform where you can look at the frescoes from close up.
- TIP: Enjoy a concert which performs here regularly.
- Hours: Mon. – Sat. 9:00 – 17:30, Sun. 12:00 – 18:30
- Admission: 8 EUR (ticket includes access to the elevator)
Schwarzenbergplatz and Soviet Memorial
This semi-circular white marble colonnade of a Red Army Soldier was built to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers killed in action during WWII. The Soviet War Memorial is located in Vienna’s Schwarzenbergplatz.
Not far from the Soviet Memorial is the Palace Schwarzenberg. This baroque Palace was commissioned by Count Heinrich-Franz von Mansfield, Prince of Fondi. Later, it was sold to Prince Adam Franz Karl von Schwarzenberg, who was from Bohemia. The Palace was completed in 1728. The Palace suffered damage from WWII and was later occupied by the Soviets, who occupied Vienna after the collapse of Nazism.
Today, part of the structure has been converted into a five-star hotel and is used by the municipal administration of Vienna for special events.
One of Vienna’s most beautiful baroque palaces is the Belvedere Palace. The Palace was used as a summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Palace was built in 1712 and today is a museum with the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings and notable works from French Impressionism, Austrian Baroque, and Viennese Biedermeier.
The Belvedere Palace is divided into three main areas: The Upper and Lower Belvedere and the Gardens. The Upper Belvedere houses collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings. The Lower Belvedere houses temporary exhibitions along with a few restored rooms to tour. Finally, the Belvedere Gardens, free to walk around, offer a jaw-dropping view of the Vienna skyline.
- Consider taking a Private Tour to Belvedere Palace.
- Admission: Combo ticket 19.90 EUR, Upper Belvedere is 15.90 EUR, Lower Belvedere is 8.90 EUR
- Hours: 10:00 – 18:00
Austrian Parliament Building
This Neo-Classical building is home to the Austrian Parliament, built-in 1883. It houses more than 100 rooms, including a committee room, libraries, bars, and a gym. It is a working government building and where Austria’s president is sworn into office takes place.
- If you are interested in a Guided Tour, visit here.
City Hall (Rathaus)
While we were in Vienna, the City Hall was being renovated but still a building worth mentioning. It is the seat of the local government of Vienna. Between 1892-1894, the Vienna City Hall was the world’s tallest building. The Rathausmann is a monument on the tops of the building, known as the symbol of Vienna.
- Free guided tours are offered Mon., Wed., and Fri. at 13:00.
Nearby are a few other interesting sites to visit:
- Rathaus Park is a park near the City Hall, built-in 1872, offering green space and is used as parade grounds for festivals.
- Burg Theatre is a great place to see performances of plays promoting contemporary playwriters. Book a ticket here.
- Café Landtmann is a must, as many royals throughout history have met here for coffee. We enjoyed a lovely lunch while sitting on the patio.
One of the most interesting Neo-Gothic-designed churches in Vienna is the Votive Church. The church was built on behalf of the failed assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853. The emperor’s brother decided to build a church in gratitude to God for the salvation of the emperor. Maximilian, the future Emperor of Mexico, asked the people for donations which is how the church was given its name, Votive Church, meaning donations (votive offerings).
Within the Votive Church are a museum housing glass paintings and other Neo-Gothic masterpiece collections.
- Church Hours: Tue. – Sat. 10:00 – 18:00, Sun. 9:00 – 13:00; Museum Hours: Tue.-Fri. 15:30 – 17:30, Sat. 10:00 – 12:00 and 15:30 – 17:30
- Admission to Museum: 8 EUR
Sigmund Freud Museum
Sigmund Freud lived for 47 years in Vienna. Then, in 1971, his apartment and workplace were converted into a museum dedicated to his life and works.
- Hours: Wed. – Sun. 10:00 – 18:00
- Admission: 14 EUR
Leopoldstadt is Vienna’s 2nd District, running along the Danube River. Here you will find trendy beach bars, murals, or graffiti art, and it is home to a Jewish neighborhood filled with kosher food stalls.
Prater and the Giant Ferris Wheel
Also located in Leopoldstadt is Prater, an amusement park that has been in operation since 1766 as a public leisure center of Vienna. One of Vienna’s landmarks is the world-famous Wurstelprater (Giant Ferris Wheel). The Giant Ferris Wheel was built in celebration of Emperor Franz Joseph’s 50th jubilee. It is spectacular to see lite up it at night.
- Skip the line and purchase a Giant Ferris Wheel ride.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
This fairytale castle church stands out and is considered one of Vienna’s most beautiful Basilica-style Catholic churches. Built between 1898 and 1910 in the Rhenish-Romanesque style and administered by the Holy Trinity’s Order. It is home to the Vienna English Speaking Catholic Community. Check out the Elisabeth Chapel, which is modeled after the Palatine Chapel in the Aachen Cathedral. The location is here.
- Hours: Mon.-Wed. 7:30 – 12:00, Thur. and Fri. 8:30 – 12:00 and 17:00 – 19:00, Sat. 7:30 -12:00 and 17:00 – 19:15, Sun. 8:00 – 12:15 and 17:30 – 19:15
Once the summer home of the Habsburgs, the Schönbrunn Palace is a marvel to see with Baroque splendor. The Palace is modeled after the Versailles to mimic the Palace politically, socially and it didn’t succeed! With over 1,400 rooms, it is the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monument in Austria, filled with over 300 decades of history. The lavish formal gardens and park is a popular place to relax. The whole site has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996.
Admission: You can purchase several combinations of tickets. A combination ticket for Palace, Zoo, Palm House, Desert Experience House is 44 EUR. Take a Guided Tour to learn more.
Other sites to see while on the grounds:
Most of the city attractions will require a ticket. To avoid waiting, you may want to consider purchasing tickets online. Some walking tours include visits to these sights, so check before making your purchase.
- I highly recommend purchasing Vienna Pass if you wish to visit many of the popular attractions.
- Book a Free Walking Guided Tour. The best way to get to know Vienna.
- Another option for discounts is the Vienna Card. You can get one for a 48 or 72-hour denomination. This gives you unlimited use of the U-Bahn (subway), trams, and buses around the city. Also, you will get discounts at museums, sights, theaters, concerts, in shops and cafes.
- Take a Guided Viennese Coffee-Hour Tour or a Private Austrian Food Tour.
- If you wish to get in some exercise while on vacation, consider taking a Classic Bike Tour.
- Short on time, I suggest you take the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus.
- A fun way to explore the city is by Segway.
WHERE TO STAY
Depending on your budget, you will have many options in accommodations. Staying near the Vienna State Opera gave us easy and quick access to all the major attractions. Here are a few recommendations to consider:
- Austria Trend Hotel Astoria is located in the historic center, near the Cathedral and the metro.
- Hotel Daniel is steps away from the Belvedere Palace and offers a daily breakfast.
- 25Hours Hotel is a young, hip, irreverent and fun hotel-themed Viennese Circus. It is located near the Museums Quarters.
- Grand Hotel Wien is a classic, royal-style hotel where many celebrities enjoy staying. It is pricey!
- Arthotel ANA Boutique Six is a good mid-range hotel near the city center.
- Hadrigan offers nice, clean rooms near public transportation
WHERE TO EAT
On every street corner alleyway, you will find a coffee shop. Viennese love coffee! Popular Austrian coffee to drink is the Wiener Mélange (black coffee covered with whipped cream).
- Restaurant Sole is where you find handmade pasta along with delicious fish dishes.
- Mozart Café is a great place to order Kaiserschmarm; a popular fluffy Austrian pancake served with plum compote or apple sauce. Delicious!
- Le Bol is a French café serving excellent options for a hearty breakfast.
- Joseph Brot is a heart-warming bakery serving pastries, coffee, and other dishes.
- Waldemar Tagesbar offers breakfast, lunch, and salad options on the menu.
- Café Central, located in the 1st District, is a unique architecture building with tons of history. It is said that Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, and a few other well-known people frequent here!
- While walking the streets, you must stop at a Wurstelstand (sausage stalls). Devour a debreziner (paprika-spiced sausage) or sample other varieties of sausage sold here.
- For dinner, visit Gasthaus Pfudl or Purstner, both serving Austrian food.
- Lugeck is located in one of the most picturesque buildings in downtown Vienna serving traditional dishes and local beers.