I had just two days on my trip in the Austrian capital, so I hit the ground running. Vienna is prominently known for being one of the most important cultural cities for art, music, and stunning architecture. There is so much to see and do, and I absolutely recommend staying for more than 48 hours! Here’s my guide for making the most of a quick trip to Vienna!
Most of the main attractions are within the city center ring—the architecture of the buildings is beautiful almost everywhere. Tram 1 runs along the city center ring road and riding the tram around in a circle will give you a view of many of the most important buildings.
One of the biggest attractions in Vienna is the Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the Austrian royal family. The Palace complex actually incorporates over 15 different buildings, either with relations to the royal family or important historical or political buildings. Entry to the Hofburg Palace is with a combined ticket to the Imperial State Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection. The Imperial State Apartments show the ornate palace interior, the Sisi Museum explores the life and legacy of Empress Elisabeth, and the Imperial Silver Collection exhibits the enormous royal set. The Hofburg Palace was definitely one of the top highlights of Vienna for me!
Across the street from the Hofburg Palace is MuseumsQuartier, which is composed of many different art and cultural museums, as well as the Natural History Museum.
The Belvedere is one of the most famous art museums in the world. Tickets for the museum are around 20€, but it’s free to walk around the gardens within the museum/palace complex.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the main cathedral in Vienna. Although it’s free to walk directly inside and see the nave, a combined ticket for all the attractions gives you access to an audioguide of the cathedral, a tour of the catacombs, both the North and the South Towers, and the Treasury. The catacombs tour was seriously cool—you see not only the coffins of some of the royalty, but jars containing their entrails! (Visit the Imperial Crypt/Kaisergruft in the Hofburg complex to see where the Hapsburgs keep their hearts.) You can also see real-life skeletons from the former cemetery! Both towers give great views over the city, and the Treasury exhibit gives an amazing eagle-eye look down into the nave. The cathedral has a very interesting multi-colored tile roof.
Practically next door to St. Stephen’s Cathedral is St. Peter’s Church, which is topped with a large green dome. The interior is stunning and there is no admission fee.
Rathaus, or the City Hall, is an impressive 19th-century building built in the Gothic style. There are guided tours of the building available. The Parliament building is next door to the City Hall, and also offers guided tours.
St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche) is another of Vienna’s beautiful Baroque churches.
The Vienna Opera House offers guided tours of the elaborate interior. If you don’t want to throw down the money, they have standing room rush tickets for only 5€! Be there 90 minutes before the show.
The Vienna Museum showcases the city’s history. There is a small exhibit on medieval Vienna (focusing on artifacts from St. Stephen’s Cathedral), as well as displaying art, objects, and the interiors of three rooms. I found the most impressive parts to be the two scale models of Vienna.
The Vienna Jewish Museum gives an overview of the history of the Jewish community in Vienna, mainly focusing on life prior to the Holocaust. Not much is mentioned of the Holocaust itself. There was free admission for EU students.
Prater is a large park right outside the city center ring, close to the banks of the Danube. It has an amusement park—the ferris wheel is the main draw and one of Vienna’s most notable attractions.
Outside of the city center, Schloss Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Palace) is another magnificent display of royal prestige. They have two tours of the palace: the Imperial Tour takes you on about 20 rooms, the Grand Tour takes you on about 40. I paid the 3€ more for the Grand Tour and thought it was well worth it! The gardens are free to wander around, and there is a great view of both the palace and the city of Vienna from the Gloriette at the far end of the park. Schonbrunn has its own stop on the Metro (U-Bahn), line U4. If your time is super limited and you’re not bothered about imperial palaces, choose either Hofburg Palace or Schonbrunn—in the end, they’re fairly similar.
Getting around: Vienna has an extensive Metro system, called the U-bahn, which has 5 lines. There are also lots of trams and buses. You need to buy your tickets beforehand from a machine, and then validate the ticket before entering. It’s also a big city for bicycles, with bike lanes and paths on many of the main roads.
Where I stayed: I stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner, which is one of Vienna’s first hostels. It’s in a great location, about 5 minutes walk from Westbahnhof train/metro station, situated between Schonbrunn and the city center. We were upgraded to a twin private room on arrival, which was definitely a plus! The hostel really seems to know what travelers want: they had a kitchen, common area, bar (with daily happy hour specials), lockers for luggage storage, very knowledgeable staff, and exceptionally clean (though small) bathrooms. I’d stay here again—it was a really nice place! I also got a free drink at the bar for booking directly through the hostel.
My stay in Vienna was short but sweet! Overall, I’d recommend at least 3 days here to take advantage of everything the city has to offer. I definitely hope to return to Austria again!
Have you ever been to Vienna or Austria? Share your experiences in the comments!