Vienna is one of a kind, a city that must be seen if you are in Europe. Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire for a long time which left an important mark that can be seen to this day. It is a highly intellectual city that breathes history, art and music. At every step you take, you will come across a building, monument or a shop that is historically important in some way. Also, as the Capital of music, it is true that you can feel in the atmosphere that music lives in the city. Both the Viennese and the city itself show you, with pride, its history and artistic heritage.
The city alone is a journey through the history of European politics and classical music. However, to help you to enjoy and not to miss a thing, below I detail the must see and do in Vienna this 2020.
1. What to see in Vienna: Visit the Hofburg Palace.
The Hofburg Palace is the largest and oldest of the palaces in the city, and certainly one of the must-see palaces in Vienna. It is a large building that includes several institutions. You can find the former Imperial Rooms, the Sisi Museum, the Winter Riding School, the Austrian National Library, and also the presidential office.
During six centuries The Hofburg Palace was the official residence of the Habsburg family, so it is full of history. In this residence lived one of the most recognized Austrian Empresses, the famous and rebellious Sisi. In fact she has her own museum in the Palace, where the intense life of the Empress is told: Her rebellion against the rules of the court, her continuous travels, her obsession with beauty, her relationship with the Emperor and even her murder in Geneva. The visit includes an audio guide that explains in detail the collections of the museum.
Visiting to the Imperial Rooms is also interesting. A tour of 19 rooms including offices, living rooms, dressing rooms and bedrooms. All decorated and preserved to perfection where you can appreciate the splendor of the Habsburg imperial family for centuries. The visit also includes an audio guide so you can walk around listening to the stories and details of what you are seeing.
The palace is very well located in Michaelerplatz, very close to the center of Vienna and the subway station. The entrance to the palace is € 15 for adults and € 9 for children under 18. Although, with the Vienna Pass admission is free.
2. What to see in Vienna: Austrian National Library.
Personally, Libraries are something that always caught my attention, not because I am fan of old books but because many of them are amazing. Vienna is no exception. So, after visiting the Hofburg Palace you must go to the Austrian National Library. In my opinion, is something you cannot miss when visiting Vienna.
It is a library dating from the 18th century requested by Carlos VI and built in a Baroque style. It has more than 8 million documents, of which 200 thousand books were printed between the 16th and 19th centuries. However, what most impresses is its architecture and decoration.
The imperial hall is almost 80 meters long and 20 meters high with a large dome in the center. The room is covered with huge wooden shelves, full of books, accompanied by outstanding sculptures, ancient globes and painted frescoes on the ceilings that complete the decoration. It is a pleasure to behold.
The libraries are located very close to the Hofburg Palace, at Josefsplatz 1. The entrance fee to the library is € 8 and free with the Vienna Pass.
3. What to see in Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace.
The Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most beautiful and important places to visit and see in Vienna. Such is the beauty and its relevance that the palace and its gardens were named as World Heritage Site in 1996. Its construction dates from the 17th century (the style that we can see today) and for a long time was the Habsburg family summer resort. In 1819 the palace was painted yellow as it represented one of the “standards” of the Habsburg monarchy and it is usually found that color in all official buildings.
What to see in the palace.
The palace itself is a beauty since the Habsburg family did not come short in greatness. Once inside you can see the different rooms and galleries full of luxuries and details. The most striking are the Grand Gallery, where the imperial festivals were held, the Circular Chinese Room, the Breakfast Room, and the Blue Chinese Room.
But that is not all, the palace has beautiful gardens that can be visited and enjoyed. What stand out from the garden are: The Palace Gloriette, from its top you have an incredible view of the palace with the city of Vienna behind. The Labyrinth Garden to have fun for a while trying to find the exit (ideal to go with children). The Palmenhaus, where you find a greenhouse with hundreds of different plants. You can even find some ancient Roman ruins in the Schönbrunn gardens. All these garden attractions surrounded by a lot of green, fountains and sculptures, not in vain it is known as the Viennese Versailles.
The palace is on the outskirts of the city but is very easy and quick to access. It can be reached by Metro U4 (Schönbrunn station), tram lines 10 and 58 (Schönbrunn) or by bus line 10A.
Entrance to the gardens is free but you do have to pay to enter the Central Palace and some areas of the garden. There are different tickets depending on the area you want to visit, but including with the entrance to the palace (free with the Vienna pass, you can buy it here) you receive an audio guide in several languages.
4. What to see in Vienna: A walk along the Ringstrasse.
The Ringstrasse is an avenue of almost 5.3 kilometers that surrounds the historic center of the city. Along this long avenue you can see many of the most important buildings in Vienna. For example, you can find the Royal Hofburg Palace, the Town Hall, The Parliament, The University, the Museum of Art History, the Museum of Natural History and The Burgtheater. Furthermore, the Ringstrasse has numerous parks, cafes, hotels and shops that transform this avenue in a place of great activity and movement.
The Ringstrasse is not only one great avenue, it is a combination of different streets that include the word ring in their names. These are Stubenring, Parkring, Schubertring, Kärntner Ring, Opernring, Burgring, Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring, Dr Karl-Lueger-Ring and Schottenring.
The avenue arises during the XIX century due to the growth of the city. Several neighborhoods began to grow on the outside of the walls that used to surround the city in the 13th century. After some time, in 1857, the Emperor Franz Joseph decided to tear down the wall in order to increase the space for the city. So, the space left where the wall used to be gave birth to the new boulevard Ringstrasse.
It is certainly one of the avenues that you must visit on our trip to the city of Vienna. But don’t worry if it seems too much walking, you can do it by tram (or you can do a little on foot and another by tram). The Ring tram goes along the avenue and costs € 9 with an audio guide.
5. What to see in Vienna: The Vienna Opera.
Being in the capital of music, the opera house is a building that we must see in Vienna. A huge neo-Renaissance-style building inaugurated in 1869 with a performance of the most important Austrian musician, Mozart, of course.
History has it that Viennese did not respond very well to the opening the Opera. They criticized the building saying they expected more from the Theater. These negative opinions terribly affected its architect leading him to commit suicide. After that, the next architect also suffered so much pressure from the people, that he couldn’t stand it and died of a heart attack. Tragic stories for such a beautiful and representative building.
There are two ways to enter the Theater. The first one is by taking a guided tour of the interior. During the tour you will see the entrance hall, go up the main staircase to see the auditorium, the stage, the tea room and the marble room, among other rooms.
The second option is buying a ticket to see a show. Despite what you can imagine, its possible to get tickets at very cheap prices. However, do not expect to be in the front row. All you have to do is go to the ticket offices at the back of the building 90 min before the show starts. Surely you will stand in line for a while but you can get tickets at a very good price. The tickets are a bit far from the stage and standing, but for a price of € 4 to see the opera in the very theater of Vienna is totally worth it. The plus is that when you get tired you can go around the interior to explore it.
6. What to see in Vienna: St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
St. Stephen’s cathedral is a beautiful Gothic-style church located in the center of what was once the walled city. Nowaday it’s in the same St. Stephen’s Square (Stephansplatz) where one of Vienna’s most important pedestrians street ends, the Kärntner Straße.
The St. Stephen’s cathedral is 107.2 mts long and 34.2 wide. From the outside, what captures the most attention is the roof. A combination of colored bricks with the imperial and royal double-headed eagle in addition to the coats of arms of the city of Vienna and Austria.
Once inside you can see very beautiful altars, chapels, the Pilgram pulpit, the image of the crucified Christ as well as the catacombs where several members of the Habsburg family are buried.
In addition, the cathedral has four towers. The south tower is the tallest one with 136.44 mts. After climbing 343 steps, it leads you to the tower hall from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
The entrance to the Cathedral is free but you must pay if you want to visit one of its towers or the catacombs.
7. What to see in Vienna: Stadtpark. A beautiful park to relax.
If you are in the city center and need to take a break, you can go to the Stadtpark. This was the first public park in Vienna openned in 1862. It was born after the old wall was demolished and the Ringstrasse was built
Today with its 65,000 square meters and the river Wien running through the middle of the park, the Stadtpark is one of the Viennese favorite places to be outdoors and relax.
Beside the extensive natural areas, in the park you can find several monuments. However, the most photographed is the monument of Johann Strauss, a gilded bronze statue that was inaugurated in 1921.
Stadtpark is a good option for a picnic in a beautiful park to rest, relax and thus regain strength to continue touring the essential places to see in Vienna.
8. What to see in Vienna: The Belvedere Palace.
If the Habsburgs had their summer palace, how could Prince Eugene of Savoy not have his own. This palace was the Prince’s residence in the 17th century.
Actually the Belvedere Palace consists of two opposite buildings separated by a large garden. The Belvedere Superior or Alto Belvedere, is located at the highest point of the garden. This is the main building and shows a more elaborate facade. On the other hand, the lower Belvedere, located at the other end of the palace complex, is a little more austere in detail.
Bare in mind, if you are not very fond of art and you have little time, compared to the other two palaces, the Hofburg and the Schönbrunn, the Belvedere can be dismissed. Actually, inside the Palace there are some empty rooms since only Renaissance and Baroque paintings are found on its walls. There is no reminiscence of what the interior of the palace was in ancient times. The Belvedere is nice to see from the outside and stroll through its gardens, but its interior is definitely a not must see.
9. What to see in Vienna: Café Central and Sasha cake.
If there is something Vienna is known for lacking, it is its cafes full of glamor, intellectualism and history. Just to mention some of the most important: Cafe Sluka, known to have been a supplier to the Imperial House. Also, Cafe Museum, great personalities such as Karl Kraus and Elías Canetti passed by that café. Then Cafe Landtmann, also recognized by his clientele Sigmund Freud , Marlene Dietrich, Romy Schneider. Cafe Sasher, famous hotel for its creation of the Sasher cake and Cafe Central, famous café by writers like Arthur Schnitzler.
If I’d have to choose one (very difficult task) it would be the Café Central, where its atmosphere, its decoration, the piano music and above all its exquisite pastry, make drinking coffee an unforgettable experience. It is true that at snack time you may have to wait a bit to enter, but it is really worth it.
Regardless of the cafeteria you choose, you shouldn’t leave Vienna without experiencing having a coffee with a Sasher cake (typical of Austria) or some other Austrian pastry delight.
10. What to see in Vienna: Hundertwasserhaus.
The Hundertwasser house is a series of apartments where the facades have an original architecture. Floors and ceilings with wavy lines, houses painted in different colors, trees and plants that come out of the windows and balconies. Everything seems as thought it was designed by a child. The residents of the apartments are only allowed to decorate the part of the facade that surrounds the windows to their liking.
The complex of houses was built between 1983 and 1986 by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Some people find him similar to the artist Gaudí but from Austria.
In addition, a few minutes walk from the Hundertwasserhaus is Hundertwasser Village. An original shopping center that follows the same style as the Hundertwasserhaus that was also created by the same artist. Friedensreich designed a shopping center with a “town square”, one bar and numerous Hundertwasser-style shops.
The Hundertwasser house can only be seen from the outside, but obviously the shopping center is freely accessible.
To get to the Hundertwasser house, take the tram, line 1 and get off at the Hetzgasse station.
11. What to see in Vienna: Prater. A park for everyone.
The Vienna Prater is a huge green space to walk, relax, enjoy nature, but also to have fun with its attractions. The park has in it the old Prater amusement park.
The Prater had been used for centuries as imperial hunting ground until 1766 when it was opened to the public. After some time, in 1895, the amusement park opened in the Prater and is still working. Many of the attractions are kept in perfect condition with the same style so it gives it a vintage atmosphere.
The amusement park has many attractions. The roller coasters, a ghost train, a flight simulator, a fair with different game stands and especially games for children. Also, there is a the traditional carousels, a puppet theater and an old train. The offer for fun is varied and there are also dozens of cafes, restaurants, ice cream stands and foodtrucks.
However, what stands out most in the park is its giant Ferris wheel, the oldest one in all of Europe. Since its inauguration in 1897, the Ferris Wheel with 60 meters high become one of the emblems of the city.
The amusement park is a highly recommended activity to do in Vienna. In addition to being a place with a lot of history and charm, the admission is free. You can enjoy strolling through streets full of ancient attractions and fast food stalls.
The entire park is active between March and October only, but the Giant Ferris wheel is open all the year round. Entering the park is free but attractions are paid (between € 1 to € 5). In the case of the Ferris Wheel it is free with the Vienna Pass (you can buy it here).
12. What to see in Vienna: Mozart’s House.
Being in Vienna, the capital of music, is a great way to learn more about the life of Austria’s greatest musician. One way to do so is by visiting the Mozart House.
On Domgasse 5 is located the only surviving house in Vienna that Mozart lived in. He lived in this house between the years 1784 to 1787 and it’s probably here where Amadeus spent his best years. It is here where he performed his best compositions, including perhaps the most illustrious opera, “The wedding of Figaro”.
Four floors can be visited in the building. During the tour, the interesting facts about Mozart’s years in Vienna, the places where he acted, his relationship with the Freemasons, his great passion for bets and details about his compositions are revealed.
The museum itself is not a must do in Vienna if you have little time. However it is very interesting to know more about the hectic life of this music genius. Also if you have the Vienna Pass, access is free.
Excursions from Vienna.
Bratislava in 1 day.
Only 60 kilometers from Vienna is the capital of Slovakia. Bratislava, a beautiful city, with a special atmosphere that can be easily explored in one day.
If you want to go from Vienna to Bratislava, you can read “The 10 best things to see in Bratislava in one day”.
Salzburg in 1 day.
Salzburg, Austria’s fourth largest city declared a World Heritage Site, is an excellent destination for a day trip from Vienna. Surrounded by an incredible landscape of the Alps, Salzburg mixes the old with the modern in a perfect communion. Take an excursion to Salzburg.
Where to stay in Vienna?
Vienna is an important tourist destination in Europe and because of this it offers a wide range of accommodation. However, it’s a big city so the location can be critical. Even more knowing that Vienna is not characterized by being a cheap destination.
The city is divided into districts, the most central are from 1 to 9. District 1, Innere Stadt is the best one location-wise, but all the others are not so far and are also well connected by different means of transport.
The Innere Stadt area corresponds to the old town. Much of the tourist attractions are in and around this area. It is also the place where most of the shops, restaurants and cafes are located.
Mainly, in this area and the areas bordering the Ringstrasse, there are accommodation of all kinds but also the most expensive in the city. Here you have to choose between ideal location versus cost per night. In my opinion, the Innere Stadt is the first area to look at when booking accommodation in Vienna since it is possible that among so many varieties you can find something suitable.
Riess City Hotel
Motel one Wein Staatoper
Pension Neuer Markt
The Leopoldstadt district is located northeast of the old town, crossing the Danube canal. It may seem a bit far away. However, it is well connected to the metro or even a few minutes walk across one of its bridges.
In addition, in this area is the Prater Park which you can enjoy. The district is large and also has a lot of accommodation to offer so there are several possibilities for different budgets.
MEININGER Hotel Wien Downtown Sissi
Ibis Wien Messe
The Wieden district lies to the south of the old town and is characterized by the train station Wiedner Hauptbahnhof train station. So it is very convenient if you arrive or leave Vienna by Train. Most of the activity in this area is centered on Karlsplatz, where the Church of San Carlos Borromeo is located.
This district is very well connected with the metro lines U1 and U4. Also, like much of the city of Vienna, it has a wide range of accommodation and cheaper prices, making it one of the best options to stay in Vienna.
Drei Kronen Hotel Wien City
AllYouNeed Hotel Vienna4
wombat’s CITY Hostels Vienna – Naschmarkt
I hope you enjoyed this article What to see in Vienna. Travel guide with top 12 activities to do. If you would like to share others activities or have any doubt, you could leave it in the comments section. I will be happy to read them.