Best things to do in Vienna, Austria – a holiday in the world’s best city

In a word, Vienna is awesome. Not in the way that everything seems to be “awesome” these days, so much so that is has lost its meaning. Vienna is awesome in the truest sense of the word – inducing awe and inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence and admiration.

That feeling of awe starts the moment you step into the city. You are immediately surrounded by locals who truly appreciate the perks of living in the world’s best city and are happy to keep it that way. You’ll find yourself marveling at the efficient public transportation, the clean and orderly streets, and the meticulously manicured lawns and gardens you’ll find at every turn.

And then there’s the old city center – not at all what you would expect when you hear the word “old.” Unlike other historic centers that evoke the feeling of stepping back in time, a walk in Vienna’s historic center is more like being in a time-lapse. The towering spires of Gothic cathedrals coexist with the unapologetic opulence and sweeping curves of Baroque palaces, the gilt and ornamented buildings of Viennese art nouveau, and the mirrored windows and curved façades of modernist architecture, making the city a physical expression of the Vienna secession’s credo: “To every age its art; to every art its freedom.”

Indeed, Vienna claims its artistic freedom brazenly, pummeling forward and taking art and culture into new directions, but always with a nod to the masters that have earned their permanent mark in the city’s story. You won’t be able to pass through Vienna without seeing prints of Klimt’s “The Kiss” or hearing strains of Mozart’s compositions. But graffiti-filled walls and electronic dance music wafting from underground tunnels are just as at home in this city, splashing youth and vibrancy to a city that has already seen and accomplished much, but isn’t quite ready to relax and retire.

That gives us a city that has much to offer – a city break that is more than just a set of sights, a lineup of restaurants, and a checklist of must-dos. Vienna is the scent of coffee and fresh bread in the morning; the bold, deliberate strokes of Schiele; the twitter of birds and the rustling of the leaves as you look down on the city. All of these make us, like Klimt’s famous pair, fall in love with the city, boldly and indulgently.

Here’s your essential travel guide to Vienna, Austria’s majestic capital. Get ready to enjoy the ultimate little holiday in this city that has mastered the art of work-life balance. Live the city’s mantra – productive idleness – with mornings lingering in coffee houses, afternoons filled with classic and trailblazing art and culture, and evenings at the park or the opera. Whatever you’re in the mood for, this city break guide covers all the best things to do in Vienna.

Best things to do in Vienna, Austria

  1. Map of Vienna’s best landmarks
  2. What to see and do in Vienna
  3. Day trips from Vienna
  4. Essential travel guide – planning your trip to Vienna
  5. Further reading – understanding Vienna
  6. Read next – holidays in Austria and Central Europe

Map of Vienna, Austria

Most of Vienna’s historic landmarks are concentrated in the Innerstadt, the old city center. Other exciting districts lie within a comfortable walking distance, or easily reached by trams and the subway.

Use this Google map to help you find your way around Vienna as you follow our recommended sights below.

Essential sights – Best things to do in Vienna – 3-day itinerary

Most Central European itineraries blitz through Vienna in a day or two, focusing on the city’s historical center. While, indeed, Austria’s majestic past is well-encapsulated in Vienna’s historic center, there’s much more to this city that a quick day trip cannot cover. You must go beyond the harried sightseeing trail to really experience what makes Vienna the best city to live in – its way of life that is all about balance, leisure, and lingering.

This 3-day itinerary gives you a glimpse of the Viennese lifestyle by understanding the history and traditions of the city, enjoying the art and food, and kicking back and living the good life, Vienna-style.

Live the good life, Vienna-style with this 3-day itinerary that is all about the city’s secret recipe to a happy life: productive idleness. Spend day 1 understanding and appreciating the city’s grand history, day 2 enjoying the art and food at your leisure, and end day 3 with a happy buzz filling up on hearty food, young wine, and amazing sunset views. Here’s your essential city break guide to Vienna, Austria.

Day 1 – explore Vienna’s historic landmarks

Begin the day with coffee

One of the first things you’ll notice when you step into Vienna is the peculiar mix of efficiency and leisure. While everything is orderly and functions excellently, the people seem to be so relaxed and unhurried. What’s their secret?

You can best understand this by spending your first morning in a coffee house. Ease into the city’s tempo with a cup of coffee and a hearty Viennese breakfast. You’ll find that the coffee houses are quite different from cafés elsewhere. Instead of baristas with man buns offering 80,000 ways to have your caffeine fix and then hollering out your name once they’ve fixed your venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip cup to-go, you’ll find lush velvet couches, elegant chandeliers, and waiters in impeccable jackets and bowties, serving coffee on a small silver tray. The very traditional ones won’t have WiFi or sockets for your notebook, but they will have a rack of newspapers and subdued mood music, inviting everyone who walks in to linger, the perfect ode to idle time.

If these all sound old-fashioned, that’s because it is. The coffee house culture has been central to Vienna’s social life since 1683, when Turkish invaders left bags of coffee as they were chased out of town. This prompted the Viennese to build coffee houses, which became places designed for reflection and creation, reading and gossiping, and watching the world go by.

Over the centuries, Viennese coffee houses became the ultimate symbol of the public sphere – an extended living room where people gathered to do anything and nothing. It was the perfect place to bum around where a single cup of coffee could buy you an entire day’s stay on a comfortable couch. But it was also a place where some of Vienna’s most celebrated artists and intellectuals – like Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele, Leon Trotsky, and Gustav Klimt – went on a regular basis. Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven played in coffee houses, and writers finished entire novels in them.

In 2011, UNESCO added the Viennese coffee house culture to the list of intangible cultural heritage in Austria, whimsically describing coffee houses as “a place where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”

You can see coffee houses on almost every corner of the Innerstadt. Don’t be intimidated by the ornate decors and the butler-like waiters. And stop checking the time while you’re inside – let the coffee house magic wash over you.

If you’re in the Innerstadt, check out Café Mozart, a traditional Viennese coffee house service classic Viennese cuisine since 1794. Café Frauenhuber is another classic coffee house – and they have an adorable and useful Viennese tea and coffee primer that will bring you up to speed on everything you need to know about the coffee culture. Both can get pretty touristy, though, so if you’re looking for something totally off-the-grid, trek to Café Jelinek in the Margareten (5th) district.

If all these seem too stuffy and highbrow for you, you can find modern takes on the Viennese coffee house concept in hipster districts like Neubau. Check out Das Möbel or Kaffemik.

Bask in the majesty of the Schönbrunn Palace

Now that you’re officially “woke” to Vienna’s secret thanks to coffee and society, it’s time to pay a visit to the city’s most impressive structure.

The lavish buildings of the Old Town may have already given you a glimpse of the Habsburgs’ tendency for excess, but nothing will prepare you for the imperial majesty of the Schönbrunn Palace and the aptly-named Gloriette. (Its name is actually from the French word gloire which means “little room” but it sure looks more glorious than gloire!)

The Schonbrunn palace complex is the perfect example of the Habsburgs’ lavish lifestyle and tendency for excess. With a 1,441-room Baroque palace, a sprawling garden, and a gloriette that gives panoramic views of the city, this UNESCO heritage site gives you a glimpse of Austria’s majestic past. A visit to Schonbrunn is one of the best things to do in Vienna, Austria.

The Schönbrunn Complex, comprising of a palace, an extensive garden, and several more buildings, is a well-preserved Baroque ensemble and an excellent example of Gesamtkunstwerk, a masterly fusion of many art forms, earning it its designation as a UNESCO heritage site. It was the residence of the Habsburgs in the 18th century, as well as a potent material symbol of their power and influence, and its 300-year history reflect the changing tastes of successive monarchs.

A tour of the palace will bring you to about 40 of the palace’s 1,441 rooms. Every room has a story about the Habsburgs, especially Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed “Sisi”) who married into the family and subsequently became one of the most fascinating, but ultimately tragic, characters in the history of the House. But my personal favorite room was the Mirrors Room, where 6-year-old Mozart played for the first time for the Imperial family. If you, like me, grew up playing his compositions or even just listening to them, no words could describe how you would feel standing in that room.

After the palace tour, go around the gardens and take your perfectly-framed ‘grams. Make your way to the Gloriette, a structure that stands on a 60-meter-high hill that was used as a dining hall, festival hall, and a breakfast room for emperor Franz Joseph I. The views of the city – as well as the short trek to reach the panoramic viewpoint – will leave you breathless.

From here, you can visit other areas of the Schönbrunn complex – the world’s oldest operating zoo, a botanical exhibit, a greenhouse, and a museum. You could also attend a concert or seasonal exhibits in the palace.

You can get to the Schönbrunn Palace Complex via the underground U4, trams 10 and 60, and bus 10A, all with stops at Schönbrunn. You should get your tickets in advance as this is Vienna’s most visited tourist spot. Or, a sweeter deal is to combine your visit with a Mozart and Strauss concert and a scrumptious Austrian dinner with this Schloss Schonbrunn concert ticket.

End your first day on a high note

After a full day exploring the Schonbrunn Complex, it’s time to relax and enjoy yet more of the finer things in life that classical Vienna is all about. A concert at the Schloss Schonbrunn completes the picture, but if you want to experience the Old Town as well, you can get tickets to the Kursalon concert instead. You can combine the auditory experience with a gustatory one and add a traditional Austrian dinner to the package.

After the concert, take a walk around the Old Town to see the buildings illuminated at night. The Karlskirche is especially gorgeous, as well as the state buildings inside the Ringstrasse. For a sweet nightcap, partake of another Vienna staple: the sachertorte. Pair this with a cup of mélange at the Café Sacher before heading home.

Vienna is filled to the brim with beautiful buildings from every art movement. This is Karlskirche, the city’s most outstanding baroque church. Read more about the city’s top historical landmarks in this essential travel guide to Vienna, Austria.

Day 2 – get to know Vienna’s art and culture

Day 1 covered classical Vienna. For day 2, we’ll be immersing ourselves in the city’s art and culture, which is pivotal to understanding the city.

Begin the day with brunch

A city that loves its coffee would naturally love its breakfast and brunch, too.

Breakfast places are a relatively new addition to the Viennese morning landscape, but already, they are popping up on every district with different themes and specialties, and their own brands of quirkiness. You can opt to follow your nose or your hotel concierge’s recommendation, but if you happen to be at a loss, here are a few suggestions:

  • Justizcafe in Innerstadt is a no-frills canteen inside the Justice Ministry, offering great views of the city center and cheap, delicious food.
  • The Joseph Brot bistro in Landstrasse serves some of Vienna’s best artisanal breads.
  • Mr and Mrs Feelgood in Wieden is where to go for a fresh and healthy fare.
  • Café Goldegg, also in Wieden, serves a filling Austrian breakfast.

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Next up: a quick tour of Viennese art

After filling up our bellies, it’s time to feed our minds!

Vienna has over a hundred museums, ranging from the classical collections to contemporary exhibits. You can visit most of the best ones with a Vienna Pass, including the following three museums that we highly recommend for first-timers to Vienna: Kunsthistoriches, Albertina, and the Belvedere.

The Kunsthistoriches, or Art History Museum, was built in 1891 to house the extensive collections of the Habsburg family. It is currently the largest art museum in Austria, and one of the most significant collections displaying precious artworks from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque era. The museum houses major works of European art history, including paintings by Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Brueghel. The best thing about the Kunsthistoriches? While the exhibits certainly rival that of the Louvre in quality and quantity, it’s not as well-known and touristy. You’ll have time to really appreciate the art without jostling with the crowds.

From the classics, we move on to modern exhibits. The Albertina houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world with approximately 1 million old master prints. But the current star of the Albertina is the Batliner collection, featuring works by artists of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, including Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Toulose-Lautrec, and Gauguin. You would also see examples of German Expressionism, as well as masterpieces by Picasso, ranging from his early Cubist works to paintings from his experimental late period.

From the Innerstadt, we move on to Landstrasse, where we will explore the beautiful Baroque garden palace, the Belvedere. This is where you’ll find the artworks of the 20th century Austrian masters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka. They were all prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement, who aimed to explore the possibilities of art beyond the confines of academic tradition. This is a great collection to experience the exciting spirit of the turn-of-the-century Vienna.

A slice of life at the Naschmarkt

Through Vienna’s top three museums, we traveled through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque eras, through the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements, and all the way to the turn of the 20th century with the Vienna Secession artists. You can continue your art appreciation with a visit to Schleifmühlgasse, a hip street in Wieden where you can find contemporary art galleries such as the Galerie Georg Kargl.

Otherwise, our next stop is Naschmarkt, an outdoor market that has been a part of Viennese daily life since the 16th century. The market was first established to distribute the different products brought by vendors from outside the city, as well as those that come from overseas from parts of the world connected to the Austrian empire. Today, this is where locals do their daily shopping and where visitors like us can enjoy the sights and sounds of this ancient market.

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Vienna’s multiculturalism is best represented in the Naschmarkt, where you will see local wines, sausages, and cheese, alongside a wide range of international goods like sushi, kimchi, kebab, and more. You can dine alfresco in the market or assemble your own picnic food and head to Volksgarten. Or if you want a proper restaurant serving hearty Austrian meals, head to the lively Gasthaus Pöschl and get a Wiener schnitzel served with creamy Viennese potato salad.

Living it up like the young ‘uns

If dinner does not end with you in a food coma, it’s time to experience Vienna’s night life scene! And I promise, this one won’t involve operas or hundred-year-old cakes!

Head to Wieden, the city’s young and edgy district. You can find most of the excitement in and around the Schleifmühlgasse, an avenue lined with contemporary art galleries, specialty stores, trendy bars, vegan supermarkets, and multicultural restaurants.

If you’re looking for a fun and friendly place to relax after a whole day of walking, head to the Szigeti Sekt Comptoir, a wine bar selling Austrian sparkling wines. You’ll get to try plenty of grape varieties as they sell both by the bottle and by the glass.

If you’re looking for a livelier pub with plenty of food and drinks, head to Four Bells instead. This is an Irish pub also in Schleifmühlgasse where you can find sports-lovers and a hearty bunch.

You can also join this fun evening tour of the city with visits to bars, street food stalls, and the city’s trendiest night spots.

Vienna is the world’s most livable city, and definitely a top holiday destination! They have the best of both worlds – productivity and relaxation, a glorious past and an exciting future, coffee and wine! Don’t miss out on the best things to do in Vienna – check out this essential travel guide to help you plan your trip to Austria’s beautiful capital.

Day 3 – live the good life, Vienna-style

We’ve had a pretty busy two days in Vienna so far. If your feet are already aching but your mind is still racing, it’s time to step back from the city’s hustle and bustle and live the good life, Vienna-style.

Do you ever wonder how the Viennese can keep their city in tip-top shape and their creativity at a constant high (and for centuries now!), while having seemingly infinite time to enjoy life’s pleasures? Their secret: productive idleness.

You can see this in the coffee houses, where time becomes irrelevant and ideas are born after a day of doing nothing. You can feel it in the cadence of the city, where no one seems to be in a hurry, and yet everything functions like clockwork. The locals have certainly weaved in little holidays into their daily routines, and for our last day in the city, our mission is to find that balance and hopefully bring it home with us.

Venture to Döbling, a residential district at the edge of the city, where the tree-lined alleys of the suburbs give way to the forests of the Vienna woods. While aimless wandering should be the theme for this day, here’s a sample itinerary with all the things you can enjoy on this day.

Begin the day with brunch at Blaustern. This quaint restaurant serves international dishes, and they have a large outdoor patio that’s perfect for warm days. Afterwards, go for a walk along Döblinger Hauptstrasse, Döbling’s main shopping street. You’ll find indie bookstores and boutiques here, all contributing to the district’s charming, small-town feel. Pick up a bottle of wine and some bread for a simple picnic later in the day.

Head next to Setagayapark, a Japanese-inspired garden with waterfalls, ponds, and relaxing florals. If you get restless and start to crave for activity, walk the trails to the Vienna woods and find your perfect spot for a picnic. A 5-KM hike through the woods and vineyards will bring you to Kahlenberg, where you can enjoy amazing views of the city.

As the sun sets, make your way to a heuriger – a wine tavern serving young wine and simple traditional food, mostly set on picturesque vineyards with gorgeous views. You can find plenty in Grinzing as you make your way back from Kahlenberg, or in the other villages in the district. Some favorites are: Fuhrgassl-Huber in Neustift, Müllers Heuriger and Weingut in Grinzing, and Mayer am Nussberg along Kahlenberger Strasse.

If the coffee houses and the secret gardens don’t succeed in pulling you in to Vienna’s productive idleness, an evening in a heuriger certainly will. The beautiful sunset, the rustic ambience, the refreshing young wine, the hearty food, and the sounds of laughter and lively conversations will definitely make time stop for as long as it takes for you to finally feel gemütlichkeit – that warm, wonderful feeling of well-being and belonging, giving the perfect end to your little holiday in Vienna.

More things to do in Vienna

It’s difficult to capture a full Viennese experience in 3 days, but this itinerary gives a great overview of what Vienna has to offer. You can find more ideas in this district guide, where I write about the best things to do in Vienna’s most exciting districts, or check out these day trips you can take from Vienna.

Day trips in and around Vienna

Some days it’s nice to just relax and let others do the planning, the driving, and the research for you. Here are some day tours in and around Vienna with exciting itineraries and expert guides.

Food, coffee, and market tour – The yummiest way to experience Vienna! If you’ve ever wondered why Vienna is constantly ranked as the world’s most livable city, this tour will let you in on the secret. (Hint: Take one sip of the local coffee and you’ll love living and breathing in this city.)

Vienna at night – The days are glorious in Vienna, but the fun continues at night! Join this walking tour to Vienna’s most beautiful evening sights, night markets, and trendiest bars.

Danube valley day trip – If you need to take a quick break from Vienna’s dazzling city sights, join this day trip to the Wachau Valley. You’ll be treated to UNESCO World Heritage sites, rolling hills, and a romantic cruise along the Danube.

Salzburg day tripAustria’s second city is definitely worth more than a day trip, but if you’re short on time, this full day tour will give you a great overview of Salzburg, as well as the nearby Salzkammergut region. You’ll ride comfortably through the Austrian countryside, stop by a picturesque storybook town in the mountainous lake region, and have ample time to explore Salzburg on foot.

Prague day tripThis is another neighboring Central European city with a lot to offer. Make time to explore the Czech Republic’s capital, even if you only have an extra day. This day tour also treats you to the lush Moravian countryside, guaranteed to make you start plotting you trip back to the region, ASAP.

Essential travel guide for your visit to Vienna

Vienna is a must-visit for every first-time traveler to Austria. You’ll learn a lot about the country’s history, traditions, and arts even with a short visit to its capital. Vienna is also a great base for road trips and day trips to other landmarks in Central Europe. Plus, it has its own international airport that connects Central Europe to the rest of the world.

Getting there – You’ll find plenty of flights to Vienna’s international airport, making it a convenient gateway to Central Europe. If you’re coming from other European countries, you can also take the train or bus.

Getting around – It’s easy to go around using Vienna’s public transportation. They have tourist-friendly rates and you can enjoy unlimited access to the city’s public transportation. You can get transportation cards from station kiosks, or online in advance. Use AnachB to plan your routes, or the Google map above.

Where to stay – Here’s a comprehensive district and hotel guide to help you find the best place to stay in Vienna.

If you need quick recommendations, check out: Hotel Sachier Wien, the best luxury hotel in the city with a great location right in the middle of the historic city center; Hotel Sans Souci Wien, for a glamorous boutique hotel that straddles the old and modern districts of Vienna; Hotel Landhaus Fuhrgassl-Huber, if you want to stay in Vienna’s relaxing outskirts close to the Vienna woods, vineyards, and wine taverns; and Do Step Inn Central for a comfy hostel with fantastic prices.

Renting a car in Vienna – Austria is great for a road trip holiday. There are plenty of charming villages and magnificent natural landscapes, and it’s pretty much like being on the set of the Sound of Music. I don’t recommend driving in Vienna (it’s costly and difficult to find a parking space plus the public transportation is nice and convenient), but to get out of the city, driving is really the best way to go.

Make sure to reserve your rental car in advance to get good rates. Take note that Europe mainly drives manual; if you need an automatic transmission car, it’s recommended to reserve at least 3 months in advance. The major car companies all have convenient downtown pick-up locations. If you need to return the car to another city (like Salzburg or even Prague), you can compare all major rental car companies here to see which ones will allow you to do that.

Book your tickets to attractions online – There are so many things to do in Vienna that it would be a shame to have to spend a chunk of your holiday waiting in line for entry tickets, so if you have a good idea of things you want to do, it’s best to book your tickets online in advance. Here’s where to book the major sights:

  • Vienna Pass – This all-in-one pass gives you access to Vienna’s top attractions, including the Imperial Palace, Schönbrunn Zoo, and the Natural History Museum. You’ll also get unlimited rides on the hop-on hop-off bus which will bring you to all the popular destinations in Vienna. If you like museums and/or are traveling with kids, this pass gives you the best value.
  • Bus pass + walking tour + boat ride – If museums are not your thing and you’d rather experience beautiful outdoor scenery, this pass may be best for you. You can still reach most of Vienna’s landmarks on the hop-on hop-off bus, plus enjoy a boat ride on the Danube.
  • Kursalon Strauss and Mozart concert – When in Vienna, you must experience Strauss and Mozart. Spend a night enjoying Austria’s grand traditions as you revel in classical music, traditional cuisine, and the city’s magnificent atmosphere.

Tell us: What are you most excited about your trip to Austria?

Further reading – understanding Vienna

Workaholism is more and more becoming a common malady in today’s world. If the thought of taking a holiday – like the one you’re planning now – makes you feel guilty, you’ll want to read about Vienna’s brand of “productive idleness.” In Vienna, you don’t have to choose between productivity and relaxation – you can do both, and the results may be better than you think.

A photo essay commemorating the Viennese art nouveau, the 1990s movement led by Gustav Klimt that splashed the city with gold, intricate ornaments, and a fresh deviation from the pomp of centuries past.

I won’t deny that almost half of my food and restaurant recommendations on this guide verge on touristy. I was a tourist in Vienna, and in my opinion, Vienna is one of those cities where you should just let your snootiness down and just be a tourist. However, it’s also great to try out Vienna’s “local” scene – those haunts that are less-frequented by the sightseeing crowd and thus have developed their cuisines and creations beyond appeasing the general international public. At least this Instagramming Vienna-food-authority and I have two things in common: we both love brunch and find joy in chocolates.

Read next – holidays in Austria and Central Europe

Apart from being a perfect city break, Vienna is also the perfect jump-off point for trips around Austria and the neighboring countries. Here are the best places to visit around Vienna.

Hallstatt is my top recommended side trip from Vienna! This storybook town lies in the middle of Austria’s mountainous lake region, offering the perfect escape from the grand cities. Snuggled between a mountain range and a lake, this little town has plenty of picturesque vistas and lots of outdoor activities to offer. It also harbors an ancient salt mine, ice caves, and plenty of nearby hiking and skiing spots. You can reach it in 3 hours from Vienna, and it’s the perfect stopover as you make your way to Salzburg.

If you want to try your hand at driving in Austria, here’s the perfect road trip itinerary from Vienna to Salzburg. It passes through Hallstatt and plenty of charming little towns, giving you a great overview of Austria’s majestic cities and delightful countryside.

It would be a shame to miss Prague when it’s so close to Vienna. If you love art, history, and glorious pasts, you’d definitely want to make your way to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. If you have a couple extra days, combine it with a trip to Cesky Krumlov.

Do you prefer the sprawling countryside to busy cities? Head to South Moravia instead. This is Czech Republic’s luscious wine region just an hour’s drive north of Vienna, where you’ll get to enjoy stunning natural landscapes, medieval castle towns, hearty food, and great wine.

* * *

I hope this travel guide to Vienna helps you plan your trip to Central Europe! This region is certainly one of the most magical places for a holiday, and Vienna is definitely a must-visit for art, history, and culture-lovers.

Don’t forget to check out the other guides for Europe – you’re in for an amazing holiday.

Happy travels to Austria!

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