Vienna is my favorite city in Europe. That was only reinforced after my most recent visit, my third time in the Austrian capital. It is a city of culture, of history, of food, and of beauty. It is a place that should be at the top of every traveler’s wish list.
In this guide, we will just barely scratch the surface of what Vienna has to offer. Make sure to click the links to read more detailed articles focusing on specific aspects of the city.
If you enjoy this guide, please click here to read our Ultimate Guides from all over the world.
If you arrive in Vienna, it will be either by plane or bus/train. The airport is about thirty minutes outside the city center, accessed either by transit or a €30-40 cab. Flights come directly from the east coast, and as there used to be a direct LAX flight on Austrian Air, I am hopeful it returns one day.
If you arrive by train, you’ll end up at the Hauptbahnhof, the central train station, which is an easy metro hop to just about anywhere in the city.
Within the city center, Vienna is best explored on foot. Not only is it flat and easily walkable, but it’s also the best way to experience one of the city’s most important features: its stunning architecture. However, if you need to go longer distances, or aren’t comfortable walking, Vienna also has a great transit system. You’ll mainly be using the subway and trams.
Tickets are €2.40 per person, or €1.50 for seniors, and must be purchased before getting on the metro. They are randomly checked, with significant fines for not having a valid one. There is some discrepancy in trains; while most are modern with an easy button to open doors, a few are older with handles that have to be sharply turned.
Where to Stay
I’d recommend two main areas of the city. First, the old city, basically the area inside the ring that was where the original walls once stood. This is where the overwhelming majority of things you’ll want to see will be, making your time in transit minimal. However, it’s also the most expensive part of Vienna.
Secondarily, you can stay in Leopoldstadt, just across the Danube canal (the river itself is more to the outskirts). I chose an Airbnb here for my most recent stay.
What to Do
Vienna has all the grandeur of a city like Paris. As the former capital of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is full of palaces, monuments, and grand buildings, but with significantly fewer tourists, a smaller city, and a relatively relaxed and minor modern country. See some of that grand history. Two palace complexes, in particular, should be on your list. The Hofburg is in the middle of the city, and contains several museums and parks. Schonbrunn Palace is a metro ride away, and is the more elegant palace. (Click here to read about both.)
The other must-do in Vienna is to see live classical music. Vienna was home to more great composers than anywhere, and concerts happen all over the city on a daily basis. See one. See two.
You can also visit the homes of several of these composers. I visited the apartments of Mozart and Strauss on this trip. (Click here to read about those experiences.) You can also see the homes of Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert, and monuments to those and more. And many are buried in the city’s central cemetery.
Vienna has its share of museums. From the Kunsthistoriches Museum to the National Library to those dealing with the city’s Roman history, you’ll have plenty to choose from. None are necessities, though.
For a unique experience, visit the Prater, a permanent carnival. You can ride the oldest running Ferris wheel in the world, or any number of other cool attractions.
Finally, just stroll. Step into a church or three. Check out a cool building. Walk through a park or square. The city is approachable and amazing to see on foot.
One more thing. If you find yourself with a spare day in Vienna, do yourself a huge favor and take the hour long bus or train to Bratislava, Slovakia. (Click here to read about why I love Bratislava.)
What to Eat
I’ll get to savory things in a moment. Start with cake. The cafe and bakery culture in Vienna is the best in the world, so much so that I wrote a whole article about the cakes you’ll enjoy here. (Click here to read about cake.)
Ok, that out of the way, this is where schnitzel comes from. Wiener schnitzel means Viennese schnitzel, and here it is typically veal. You can also have Austrian goulash, made from beef. Get it with a side of bread dumplings called semelknodel.
Another interesting thing to try is leberkas, sort of a hybrid between meatloaf and sausage. Get it on a roll. It sounds weird, but is a great grab and go lunch.
If you want an interesting brunch dish, try kaiserschmarrn. It’s almost like a thick torn up pancake served with jam and raisins. I got mine in the Prater at a restaurant inside what used to be the carousel.
Other Useful Information
Vienna is known for its Christmas markets, so if you get a chance to visit in November/December, make sure to check that out.
Austrian German is slightly different from German German. Just be prepared to not quite get the accents at first, if you speak German.
I mentioned this in the music article linked above, but it’s worth repeating. The guys dressed as Mozart selling concert tickets are legit and can offer some serious discounts. See what negotiation gets you.
As with other places in the Germanic world, grocery stores are closed on Sundays. Many tourist sights are closed Mondays (or the occasional Tuesday), and restaurants might be closed one or both. Do your research ahead of time so you don’t end up like me and try to go to the Freud Museum on a Tuesday without realizing it’s closed. Oops.
Whether it’s the music, the cake, the beauty and greenery, or the amazing architecture, something about Vienna will capture your heart just as it has mine. I know you’ll love your time there, and I hope this guide helped inspire you to visit!
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