Vienna is having a moment; the sparkling home of the Habsburg Empire is one of Europe’s most exciting city breaks offering up lashings of historical glamour, thrilling landscapes to explore, a reliable roster of foodie classics to try (goulash! schnitzel! apricot pancakes!) and a night time scene that has a little something for everyone. And did we mention the Wachau Valley? This below the radar wine region will blow you away with its pretty scenery and world-class bottles that the Austrians, somewhat selfishly in our opinion, seem to want to keep to themselves.
The City Airport Train (known as CAT) is the cheapest and most efficient mode of transport into the heart of the city, dropping you off at Wien Mitte, which is only a 10 minutes walk from Stephanplatz, the central square at the heart of all the action. It costs €11 for a single trip or €19 return and the journey takes about 16 minutes.
Alternatively, taxis are available outside the airport exit and will cost approx. €30 – €40 , taking about 20 minutes to get into the city centre.
If you’re arriving by train (firstly, well done for taking the greener mode of transportation!), you’ll likely be arriving at Wien Hauptbahnhof, the main train station in Vienna, which offers links to the U-Bahn, tram and bus networks as well as multiple train links. The subway is very clean and easy to navigate; it’ll take 7 minutes to get to Stephanplatz from here.
The subway (known as the U-Bahn) is the easiest way of navigating the city. Wiener Linien operates 5Vienna underground lines, 29 tram and 127 bus lines, 24 of which are night lines, which, helpfully, are open weekends and on public holidays. You can buy a ticket at most underground stations, online or at most tobacconists. Passes that offer travel savings are worthwhile if you’re planning on doing plenty of exploring, check out he Vienna Travel Pass for more information.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to validate your ticket (this is true of most European train travel but it’s not always immediately obvious), to do this you’ll need to find one of the blue machines, usually located at the entrance to all the underground stations, where you can stamp it.
The tram service is also very efficient and is a great way to see the city. Lines 1 and 2 are the main lines that will take you to most of the tourist attractions.
Things to do in the City
Get nostalgic at Prater
The Prater Park is a joy. You could easily spend all day here as there’s so much to do. The park is probably most famous for its retro amusement arcade and rides, which includes the iconic Prater Ferris Wheel. Take a ride along the delightfully named LilliputBahn miniature railway to Green Prater, a tree-lined park that used to be used as a hunting ground by (who else) the Habsburgs. It’s a great place to get away from it all and is popular all year long with walkers, joggers and bikers. There are some great restaurants and cafes in the park too; try Schweizerhaus if you’re looking for traditional Austrian or Lusthaus for imperial charm. We also love The Rollercoaster Restaurant for sheer novelty – your food is brought to you on trains or by friendly robots! The Planetarium is a great rainy-day option, perfect for stargazers both young and old.
Catch a live musical performance in the ‘City of Music’
Music is one of Vienna’s most famous exports; home of Johann Strauss and Franz Schubert as well as a musical mecca for the likes of Beethoven and Mozart, Vienna has serious classical music credentials. There are more than 15,000 classical music events held in the city every year, more than any other in the world. Classical connoisseur’s should definitely see a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic (one of the world’s top orchestras) and attend a show at the Musikverein, one of the world’s top music venues, offering events every day of the year amongst truly stunning surroundings (this is where the famous New Year’s Day concert from Vienna is filmed each year). Novices should visit a concert café to get a flavour of the Viennese Waltz and the Blue Danube over a strong cup of coffee and a delicious piece of patisserie. We love Café Central. Or go see the Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra and hear the classics in the world’s longest orangery performed by musicians dressed in historic costume.
Visit a world class museum or gallery
The biggest problem you’ll have is choosing which museum or galleries you want to visit because there are so many to choose from. We adore the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is home to one of the world’s most important art collections (intriguing artefacts from Ancient Egypt mingle with classic works by Titian, Michelangelo and Rembrandt). The Imperial Furniture Collection housed at the Schönbrunn Palace is a unique display that gives you some idea of the pomp and wealth that accompanied the reign of the Habsburgs. The Belvedere is another showstopper; a Baroque palace that hosts one of the world’s most famous paintings, Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss.’ The Museums Quarter complex near the Imperial Palace (which includes the Leopold Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art) offers a culturally-rewarding day out with museums, galleries and restaurants galore to explore.
Enjoy a tour of the city with a local by your side
We always say the best way to get to know the city is through the eyes of the locals that live there, so an Urban Adventures tour with a local guide is your perfect introduction to the charms of Vienna.. Our morning Food Coffee & Market tour will introduce you to the city, it’s history and, most importantly, some of its key food and drink with stops at some of our favourite local markets, including the world famous Naschmarkt. Good Evening Vienna! gets you acquainted with Viennese nightlife, showcasing the best street food, beer and roof top bars in town. Wines of Vienna lets you into the one of Europe’s best kept wine secrets; the breathtaking Wacahu Valley and its fabulous Grüner Veltliner grapes, while the Ring Road Run supports active travelers who want to burn off those Sachertorte calories as they catch a glimpse of some of the city’s most famous sights. If you’re in town for Christmas, don’t miss our seasonal Christmas Market tour either!
Try the best food and drink in Austria at Naschmarkt
One of the city’s best and most popular markets, Naschmarkt is a treasure trove of foodie treats. Trendy restaurants, market stalls and street food vendors come together to give locals and visitors the best all-in-one culinary experience in the city. Join Urban Adventures for our Food, Coffee & Market tour, where you can enjoy a series of specially curated tastings of our favourite Austrian food and drinks including a stop at this legendary market.
Get to know the Habsburgs at Schönbrunn Palace
The Habsburgs were once one of the richest and most glamourous families in the world, find out more about their world with a visit to their summer residence. It’s been mentioned a few times in this list already; a day out at the Schönbrunn Palace should not be missed. Besides listening to a mini-concert by the palace orchestra or visiting the epic furniture collection (see above), this architecturally stunning complex has many highlights including; the Grand Tour (a 60 minute worldwind tour through the 40 most popular staterooms), the extensive and exquisite parks and gardens that are home to stunning sculptures, fountains and follies, the Children’s Museum, the Marionette Theatre and the 10 restaurants/cafes that are dotted all around the grounds.
Soak up the coffeehouse culture
UNESCO recently honoured Viennese coffee culture on their cleverly monikered ‘National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage’ list. Obviously the quality of the coffee is outstanding in most of the historic cafes that are dotted around the city but the real reason you should visit is for the history, the atmosphere and the sense of community; they don’t call them the ‘public living rooms of Vienna’ for nothing! Café Central is an institution with stunning interiors that once served Freud, Hitler and Stalin, while Demel’s confectionary art has been blowing diners away since 1786.
For more suggestions from our in the know local guides on what to add to your Vienna itinerary, see our Things To Do In Vienna post.
Vienna in Popular Culture
Vienna is probably best known for its starring role in Orson Welles’ second most famous blockbuster, The Third Man starring Joseph Cotton and Welles himself playing the mysterious Harry Lime. The viewer is treated to a montage of Vienna’s top historic and architectural highlights at the beginning of the film providing a fabulous showcase for the city, despite many of the locations having suffered significant damage during WWII, which had ended 3 years prior to the film’s release. The Third Man Museum is an absolute must for movie fans, located near Karlsplatz; it not only does a great job of documenting the making of the film and the cult that has risen up around it but it also provides great insight into Welles himself with carefully curated exhibitions that examine his life and work.
The city also featured prominently, and rather beautifully, in Timothy Dalton’s first outing as 007 in 1987’s The Living Daylights. The Ferris Wheel at the Prater Park was quickly added to the travel bucketlists of James Bond fans around the world after Bond romances Cellist Kara Milovy in one of its antique booths. Later, the lovers stay at Hotel Im Palais Schwarzenberg and take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Schönbrunn Palace.
To get into the spirit of your trip to Vienna, we highly recommend creating a Viennese Spotify playlist (or iTunes, we’re not fussy) and listening to some of the locals favourite songs and artists. Falco was a popular Austrian singer/songwriter in the 80s and 90s who is arguably Austria’s biggest musical export since Johann Strauss. Rock Me Amadeus is the stuff of 80’s legend (if the song has not featured in Stranger Things yet, we’re pretty sure that it will at some point). For something a little more contemporary, check out Raf Camora or Nazar, who rock the clubs across the city with their pop/hip hop/dance music.
If you want your holiday reading to double up as city research, look no further than ‘The World of Yesterday’ by one of Austria’s greatest novelists, Stefan Zweig. This epic tells the story of Vienna from its dizzy heights as a cultural capital to its mighty fall as a result of the coming of war and the march of capitalism.
William Boyd’s ‘Waiting For Sunrise’ is a great bet if you’re looking for some classic holiday escapism; it’s a thoroughly entertaining spy novel set in Vienna during WWII that boasts passion, intrigue and a cameo by Sigmund Freud.