Vienna, Austria is a city that simply exudes elegance. With its classic architecture, wide streets, and subtle glamour walking through the city feels a bit like stepping back in time. Each building is more ornate than the last, and the atmosphere is one of true class and sophistication. There are so many interesting things to discover here that no Vienna sightseeing trip could possibly cover it all!
Most people visit Vienna for its lovely buildings, extensive history, and legendary music scene. What’s more, Austria has been globally recognized as a leader in ecotourism meaning that even in urban areas, it’s more than possible to make your visit a sustainable one.
Visiting Vienna was a real highlight of my time in Austria. If you’re visiting yourself, I wouldn’t be surprised if you adored it immediately too.
When to Visit Vienna
In short, there’s really no bad time to visit Vienna. The city sees generally good weather throughout the year. The nicest time to visit is during the summer when you have chances of warmer temperatures and bright sunshine. You’ll also be able to swim in the river via the island in the middle. Although the weather will likely be great during the summer months, it is the height of the tourist season so you’ll probably run into bigger crowds.
The shoulder season (mainly spring and fall) can be a great time to visit to minimize prices and the chances of running into other tourists, but the weather can sometimes be a little cold or rainy. If you do plan to visit during the shoulder season, aim for late spring and early fall to miss the rains.
One of my best Vienna travel tips is this: for something really special, visit in December.
During the holidays, the Christmas markets will be in full swing and the streets will be decorated with twinkling lights and giant garlands. For me personally, visiting at Christmas Time was nothing short of magical. Just make sure to bundle up because it will not be warm outside!
The Best Things to Do in Vienna
During any Vienna sightseeing tour, a stop at the main square of Stephansplatz (Stephan’s Plaza) is obligatory. It’s smack in the center of the city and since it’s one of the more popular things to do in Vienna, it’s often crowded but it certainly warrants the visitors.
The plaza and surrounding areas are mostly pedestrian-only streets, making it the perfect place to wander around and take in the beauty of the city. Here are a few things you’ll want to see nearby.
St. Stephan’s Cathedral
This striking cathedral commands the attention of anyone visiting Stephansplatz. With its sharp spires and intricate roof patterns, it’s a stunner from the outside. This towering landmark is a national symbol of Austria and steeped in history. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral has seen much change over the years, including Medieval, Gothic, and Baroque architectural styles, as well as being almost completely rebuilt after World War II. Today, it is also a museum with many treasures, catacombs, huge bell towers, and it’s signature tiled roof depicting Vienna’s coat of arms. Make sure to go inside to take a guided tour.
This fancy old clock is one of a kind. Although perhaps easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, the timepiece sounds its signature chimes every hour on the hour.
This detailed landmark pays homage to all the victims of the plague. Built in the 17th-century, it doesn’t have the most pleasant symbolism, but it’s still beautiful to look at.
Sample Delicious Food at the Naschmarkt
If you’re making a list of what to do in Vienna, make sure eating is at the top! In German, the word naschen means to nibble or snack on something so as you might have guessed, the main draw of Vienna’s famous market is the food.
This market has everything from bars and eateries to local meat counters to organic produce to a ceramics shop selling dishes in the shape of food (my personal favourite)! Even if you don’t need to buy anything (or eat anything), visiting the Naschmarkt is still one of the best things to do in Vienna. Simply stroll, browse, and enjoy the atmosphere.
Visit Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace (Schloß Schönbrunn in German) is an 18th-century Baroque palace and UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts incredible 1,441 rooms as well as over 1,000,000 square meters of gardens and grounds. It is considered to be one of Austria’s most important historical and cultural landmarks.
The palace was originally built to be private hunting grounds for emperors at the end of the 17th-century. From there, it developed into the summer residence of many royals, including Maria Theresa and the Habsburg family. Today, it’s one of the top things to do in Vienna, with much to explore both in and around the palace.
Tour the Palace
To get the full story of Schönbrunn, head inside the palace for an audio tour. You’ll learn all about how the palace and grounds changed throughout the years as well as the characters that lived there. Meandering through the lavish rooms and halls, it’s crazy to imagine what it must have been like living there a few centuries ago.
Walk the Grounds
In the typical style of 18th-century royal residences, the grounds of the palace are just as over-the-top as the palace itself. In the area surrounding Schönbrunn, you’ll find numerous gardens, greenhouses, a hedge maze, and even a zoo. For some magnificent views of the city (and a bit of exercise,) climb the hill behind the palace to the Gloriette monument.
If you’re in search of some really unique things to do in Vienna, Schönbrunn has a number of events that take place on the grounds throughout the year. If you’re visiting in May, don’t miss the Summer Night Concert, a free, open-air classical music concert featuring the Vienna Philharmonic. If you’re visiting around Christmas, this is the place to be. Right in front of the palace each December, they host the best Christmas market in town.
Experience the City of Music… Musically!
Austria’s capital isn’t nicknamed the City of Music for nothing. Vienna has been home to more classical composers than any other city on earth and many operas, musicals, and other performances have been born here. Many famous musical groups reside in Vienna such as the Vienna Boys Choir and the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the best orchestras in the world. If you can snag a ticket, do so! If not, you’ll likely get to enjoy the musical city in other ways, even if just from buskers on the street.
Paying homage to some of the greats like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss is easy in Vienna, but that doesn’t mean it’s a city of only classical music! While there, I attended the concert of a singer/songwriter from Vienna which was fantastic. There’s music in this city for everybody and this spirit is palpable everywhere you go. However, to really get the full effect, consider visiting these landmarks.
Vienna State Opera
Few buildings in Vienna are as grandiose as the State Opera. Although attending a show here is a really special experience and one of the best things to do in Vienna, tickets can be expensive and hard to come by. If you can’t get tickets, make sure to at least take a guided tour inside.
This magnificent concert hall has a consistently packed schedule of renowned performers, usually in the classical genre, that put on concerts throughout the year.
House of Music Museum
This unique, interactive museum has displays about everything from ancient music history to modern sound technology. Best of all, the museum is hands on so you’re allowed to touch a lot of the displays.
Mozart Museum and Apartment
Where to Stay in Vienna
If you’re wondering where to stay in Vienna to be conscious of both the environment and your wallet, the Boutiquehotel Stadthalle should be your first choice. With its energy neutral status, upcycled decor, rooftop lavender garden, and organic breakfast, this award winning hotel make for an awesome earth-friendly stay.
This modern “art hotel” is an awesome choice if you want a change of pace from Vienna’s timeless and classic feel. Inside, you’ll find bright colours, sharp edges, and an upbeat atmosphere. Der Wilhelmshof is EU Ecolabel Certified and participates in multiple sustainable practices such as energy conservation and recycling.
Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof
Although housed in an older looking building, this funky hotel is brand new on the inside. The Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof has a great location and a number of eco-friendly practices such as a certified waste management program and carbon offsetting practices.
The Grand Hotel
If you’re looking for a perfect splash of elegance in Vienna, The Grand Hotel is your best bet. Looking like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Hotel is dripping with crystal chandeliers, golden banisters, and antique furniture. Between the checkered tile floors and the dazzling ceilings, you’ll find luxury rooms, a Michelin star restaurant, and a world class spa. Best of all, the hotel has been certified by Green Globe International, making your experience there just as eco-friendly as it is luxurious. If you stay here, make sure you visit the rooftop terrace for one of the best views of Vienna from above.
Where to Eat and Drink
Wrenkh Restaurant & Wiener Kochsalon
The Wrenkh Restaurant is not only a restaurant but a cooking school as well. The menu features primarily vegetarian dishes, and it’s exciting lunch options change each day of the week. You can see the schedule of offerings here.
Simply Raw Bakery
If you’re looking for a healthy lunch or a sweet treat, Simply Raw Bakery is an awesome choice. Everything on the menu is raw, vegan, organic, gluten free, lactose free, and free of added sugars (and is, of course, delicious.) They have everything from superfood bowls to pressed juices to smoothies and homemade ice cream.
Café & Restaurant Motto am Fluss
The Motto am Fluss (Motto at the River in English) is a stylish eatery in a boat-shaped building. Sitting above the Danube canal, you’ll have lovely views over the water as you eat. Both the lunch and dinner menus have ample vegetarian and pescetarian options.
If you’re feeling like an extra special evening out, dine at TIAN, a vegetarian restaurant with a Michelin star. Here, you can expect multiple courses of artistically presented gourmet meals prepared by master chefs. They use only organic and sustainably sourced ingredients in their dishes.
How Much Time Do You Need in Vienna?
Vienna isn’t the largest city, but it’s packed with history, culture, and endless things to do. In Vienna, you’ll find that the pace of life is generally easy going and that very few people are in a hurry around town. I would personally recommend staying a minimum of three days to make sure you have enough time to see the main sights at a leisurely pace. However, there are so many things to do in Vienna that you could easily stay for a week.
Vienna is one of my favourite cities in Europe and no trip through Austria would be complete without a visit. There are so many things to do in Vienna for every interest, with a rich history, ornate architecture, and subtle ritz stealing the show. If you have the chance to visit, don’t hesitate. It’s impossible not to love Vienna!
Have you ever visited Austria’s capital city? What are some of your favourite things to do in Vienna?
About the Author: Casey Snook is a native Bostonian currently living in Berlin. She’s an obsessive travel magnet collector and is on a mission to find the best sushi in every city she visits. Casey loves getting outdoors when she’s traveling and is always trying to dive deeper into local cultures while abroad. You can read more about her adventures at CarefreeCompass.com.