With world-class palaces and sumptuous museums, there are a host of grand things to do in Vienna. Get inspired by soaring music and a greedy collection or art in the most stately city in Europe.  

By: Mark Barnes | Published: 18 Nov 2023

The Habsburg Royal family ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 300 years. Vienna still bears the remnants of this wealth and power today.

Few places in Europe can compete with Vienna’s grandeur. Imposing state apartments with priceless royal collections and grandmasters sit alongside Gothic architecture and baroque halls.

Beyond the ostentatious palaces, old-school neighborhoods, fueled by traditional coffee houses, echo philosophical ramblings. Trendy areas with colorful street art, provide urban spaces that keep Vienna feeling young and cool.

Here are the best things to do in Vienna, Europe’s capital of regal cool.

museum vienna
KUNSTHISTORISCHES MUSEUM

1 – HOFBURG PALACE

The Habsburgs, also known as the House of Austria, were one of the great Royal families of Europe. For 300 years they sat on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

Their home was the sprawling Hofburg Palace, a series of interconnected buildings forming the highlight of a visit to Vienna.

Built for defensive purposes in 1279, it was transformed into an ostentatious imperial palace.

Some of the highlights are:

  • Sisi Museum – See the personal objects of Empress Elisabeth in lavishly appointed rooms.
  • Spanish Riding School – White Lipizzaner stallions perform classic equestrian movements in front of the Baroque palace.
  • Imperial Treasury Museum – Contains some of the most important treasures in the world at the Imperial Treasury Museum.

2 – AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY

Rooms don’t get any more impressive than the Prunksaal, the Grand Hall in the center of the Austrian National Library. Century-old wooden bookcases hold over 200,000 medieval leather-bound books that reach up to the 20-meter-high ceiling.  

The domed roof, supported by towering pillars with intricately carved marble reliefs, is rich in dramatic frescoes – a bold display of imperial flair.

Apart from the majestic display of Habsburg wealth and power, it’s also the largest library in Austria. Unfortunately, the books are out of bounds, but it’s still a wonderful thing to do in Vienna.

BookAustrian National Library entry tickets.

3 – STEPHANDSOM

The Innere Stadt is the old center of Vienna. Surrounded by the Ringstraße which marks the route of the former city walls, it’s here you’ll find many of the best sights in Vienna.

Stephandsom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) soars above the rest of the inner city with a tall steeple and a colorful tiled roof. Inside it’s dark and gloomy and distinctly Gothic with narrow columns extenuating its height.

In 2021 the ‘Ladder to Heaven’ modern art installation was added to the cathedral. It represents the connection to heaven and earth and it adds a cool modern contrast to an old medieval building.

A great way to experience the Gothic space is to attend a classical concert at Stephendsom.

4 – INNERE STADT

It’s worth spending a few hours exploring the streets of the Innere Stadt that surround the church. There are majestic façades, narrow passageways, cute and quirky shops, and numerous hidden churches to seek out.

Pop into Palais Kinsky, a magnificent baroque palace with a stunning entrance hall and grand staircase.

The Ferstel Passage, a quaint old shopping arcade is also well worth exploring. Some of the highlights are Xocolat, an excellent chocolate shop; Caffe Couture, an excellent coffee roaster; and Beaulieu, a fine French restaurant.

All the locations are marked on our map below.

5 – ENJOY VIENNA’S COFFEE CULTURE

The Viennese take their coffee houses seriously. Some are tucked into narrow alleyways while others stand proud on the corners of sweeping boulevards. If you are spending 2 or 3 days in Vienna, you’ll have plenty of time to try a few.

Café Central – Housed in an imposing building the interior of Cafe Central is reminiscent of a Turkish palace with a grand arched ceiling. It’s a very popular thing to do in Vienna, so queues can be long if you haven’t made a reservation.

Café Leopold Hawelka – Our favorite coffeehouse in Vienna, Leopold Hawelka is an old-school cafe just south of Stephandsom. The old striped cushioned booths give it all the atmosphere you want from a Viennese cafe.

Kleines Café – This tiny coffeehouse on a lovely little hidden square with cobbled stones and an old fountain is the perfect place to soak up the Viennese lifestyle.

6 – TRY VIENNA’S FAMOUS CAKES

Vienna has several famous cakes and trying them all is an unmissable thing to do.

Leading the offerings is Sachertorte; a dense chocolate cake with layers of apricot jam. It’s the dessert staple in most Vienne establishments, but the original is claimed by Café Sacher.

Another great dessert to try is Kaiserschmarrn. This sweet fluffy pancake with rum-soaked raisins is ripped apart, caramelized, and served with powdered sugar and a fruit preserve. It’s delicious and the best we had was at Demel.

We wouldn’t exactly say we were captivated by Apple Strudel as most visitors to Vienna are, however, the punters at Café Central seemed pretty happy with their decision.

7 – SCHLOSS BELVEDERE

The Schloss Belvedere is one of the world’s finest baroque palaces with opulent rooms, lovely gardens, and sweeping city views

There are three museums to choose from inside the building, but we highly recommend the Upper Belvedere.

Housed in the main palace, it’s an important collection of Habsburg art. The highlight is the first floor which focuses on Viennese art from 1880-1914. This section contains the largest collection of Gustav Klimt pieces in the world.

Impressionists, Romantics, and Realists are on the floor above.

The Upper Belvedere is a great way to explore the history of art progression in an inspiring setting.

The two other museums are the Lower Belvedere & Belvedere 21. Both have temporary exhibitions, so it’s worth seeing what’s on before you buy tickets.

BookUpper Belvedere skip-the-line tickets.

8 – KARLSKIRCHE

Built in the 18th century after the great plague had swept through Europe, Karlskirche is the finest Baroque church in Vienna. Its copper-domed roof is flanked on either side by towering columns.

The inside of the church has frescoed ceilings, a spiral staircase, a small treasury, and views over the city.

Karlskirche is recognized as one of the most outstanding concert venues in Vienna. One of the best ways to get a peek inside is by attending the Mozart & Vivaldi concerts performed on period instruments by the famous Orchestra 1756.

karlskirche vienna 3
KARLSKIRCHE

9 – NASCHMARKT

Consisting of about 120 stalls, the Vienna Naschmarkt is a colorful culinary journey through the flavors of Europe and the Middle East.

It ranges from traditional Austrian sausages and cheeses to Italian pasta and Turkish dried fruit and baklava.

There are coffee shops and wine shops, places to buy clothes and rugs, and plenty of interesting little cafes for lunch. Sit in sheepskin-covered chairs at Neni am Naschmarkt and enjoy Israeli-influenced creations, or dine amongst milliner artifacts at Nomade Moderne.

Saturday is the busiest time to visit with more of the stalls open and a massive flea market underway.

10 – LEOPOLD MUSEUM

There are few cities with more museums than Vienna, and there are only so many you can visit, but we recommend including the Leopold Museum.

Dedicated to Secession Art (for which Viennese artists were the most influential), it tracks the historic break between the conservative art of the 19th century and the avant-garde artists of the 20th.

Gustav Klimt led the group, but the museum delves deeper into his follower’s works such as Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl. Spread over two floors it’s unsettling, provocative, entirely enthralling, and utterly Viennese.

Bookskip-the-line tickets for the Leopold Museum.

11 – ALBERTINA MUSEUM

Whereas the Leopold Museum gives a unique insight into Viennese Art the Albertina Museum is a whirlwind tour of European art from Monet to Picasso.

Once a remarkable private collection but gifted to the state, it is a journey through impressionism, pointillism, and cubism to early modern.

Be engrossed by the brushstrokes of Monet, Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Miro, and Chagall.

Temporary exhibitions are housed on the top and bottom floor. On our visit, we were lucky to be treated to a Dialogue with Edvard Munch.

Bookskip-the-line tickets for the Albertina Museum.

12 – KUNSTHISTORISCHES MUSEUM

Our final museum recommendation is the Kunsthistorisches (KHM) Museum, the granddaddy of museums in Vienna.

It houses many of the treasures of the Habsburgs and it’s so big you could spend a whole day here. There are four good reasons to visit.

Firstly, if you are interested in ancient history there is a plethora of Greek, Roman and Assyrian sculptures and mosaics.

Secondly, the wide collection of strange curiosities picked up by the Habsburg Emperors over the centuries could keep you intrigued for hours.

Thirdly, the volume of works by grandmasters from the 16th to 18th centuries including Rubens, Bruegel, van Dyck, Titian, and Tintoretto is immense.

But one of the best reasons to visit is the magnificent building they are housed in. Sweeping staircases, frescoed ceilings, grey marble pillars, and massive doorways connect the rooms adorned with important art.

Bookskip-the-line tickets for Kunsthistorisches.

13 – LUNCH AT PALMENHAUS

Palmenhaus – a massive greenhouse restaurant – is near many of the museums and a great place to rest the weary legs after hours of strolling around. Dine inside with towering palms all around you or enjoy the outdoor terrace overlooking the park.

It’s a great place to grab a coffee or a glass of wine. They also had some pretty decent vegetarian options, something that wasn’t too easy to find in many places in Vienna.

14 – LEOPOLDSTADT & CANAL

If the Innere Stadt is home to old Vienna then Leopoldstadt, just across the canal, is the younger cooler neighbour. Vienna’s 2nd district is a cool part of town to explore.

Karmeliterviertel is a trendy urban neighborhood with a laidback and unpretentious vibe. Its main market (Karmerlitermarkt) has a variety of food stalls during the week but becomes a vibrant farmers’ market on Saturday.

Down by the canal, modern street art brightens up the walls, while on sunny days locals flock to the bars and barges lining the waterfront.

You can hire a bike, go for a swim in a pool barge, or simply grab a drink and watch the world go by.

15 – DINNER IN A BEISL

To absorb old school Vienna one of the best things to do is have a meal in a beisl. These traditional bistros are pared-back, down-to-earth establishments that have been serving the same fare for centuries.

Standard favorites are Wiener Schnitzel; slow-cooked beef goulash with dumplings; and Tafelspitz – Viennese-style boiled beef.  Wash it all down with wine or locally brewed beer and end with a homemade strudel.

Griechenbeisl has been serving food in atmospheric wood-paneled rooms since 1447. Glacis Beisl has a wonderful outdoor courtyard lit by low-hanging lights.

16 – RATHAUS

Towering over the Ringstraße is Vienna’s monumental Gothic town hall. Its richly adorned façade consists of multiple layers of arches rising to five spindly turrets. The design is intricate and beautifully symmetrical.

There’s a free tour to look inside the interior but simply staring up at the outside is one of the best things to do in Vienna.

rathaus vienna
RATHAUS

17 – STAATSOPER & VIENNA BOYS CHOIR

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the wealth and power of the Habsburgs attracted many composers looking to make their living. Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and Brahms are just a few who spent time creating masterpieces in Vienna.

Befitting this heritage, Vienna has some great music venues.

There are few opera houses in the world with more grandeur than Staatsoper.

Seeing a performance is great, but even if you don’t want to stump up for the tickets it’s worth taking a tour. The main concert hall is a magnificent sweep of red velvet and curved boxes and the intermission rooms and staircases are stunning.

18 – SUNSET DRINKS AT DACHBODEN LOFT

The rooftop bar of the 25 Hours Hotel, Dachboden Loft, is one of the best places in Vienna for a relaxed cocktail to watch sunset over the city.

Friendly staff, a chilled atmosphere, live music, and well-priced cocktails make it one of the best rooftop bars in the city.

The indoor space has an urban-inspired design, and the outdoor terrace has excellent views over Hofburg Palace and Rathaus.

Some classic bar snacks are available to order, or you can grab a pizza from the restaurant on the ground floor and bring it up to the bar.

19 – SIGMUND FREUD MUSEUM 

The Sigmund Freud Museum is where the founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked for 47 years before being forced to flee from the Nazis.

Visit all the rooms where Sigmund and Anna Freud held their practices. There are exhibitions on the family’s life and the history of the development of psychoanalysis, as well as original pieces of furniture on loan from the London Museum. 

It’s an interesting exhibition, although you don’t need long to look around. 

Regular events and exhibitions take place in the museum.

BookSkip-the-Line Sigmund Freud Museum tickets.

20 – RIDE THE WIENER RIESENRAD AT PRATER PARK

Prater Park, the city’s green playground, contains Wurstelprater. This massive amusement park is packed with nostalgic dreams of old fun fairs with enough crazy rides for the kids. 

Ride the mysterious ghost train, hit the go-carts, or amble through a fun house. It’s a great thing to do in Vienna with kids.

The park is best known for the large Ferris wheel, Wiener Riesenrad, featured in the film The Third Man starring Orson Wells. Although the park is only open from March to October, the Ferris Wheel runs all year weather permitting.

BookSkip-the-line Wiener Riesenrad tickets.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN VIENNA 

Our list of the 18 best things to do in Vienna is curated from our favorite experiences during our trips to the city. But here are a few more that you might fancy.

SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE

Another grand Habsburg palace, Schonbrunn Palace is a 30-minute train journey from the center of town. Complete with lavish baroque rooms and grand gardens on a mighty scale, Mozart played here in 1786. Book skip-the-line tickets to Schönbrunn Palace.

SECESSION BUILDING

If you are a fan of Klimt, pop in to see his Beethoven Frieze at the Secession Building.

HEURIGER

A heuriger is a tavern where local winemakers serve their own tipple. Most are located on the outskirts of the city, so they take a bit of getting to, but if you have the time, it’s a fun traditional night out. This guide has some great ideas.

MUMOK

If you feel you could see some more modern art, head to MUMOK. Focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s a mix of nouveau realism, pop art, cubism, and photorealism in an imposing grey granite block of a building.

vienna opera house
VIENNA OPERA HOUSE

HOW MANY DAYS SHOULD YOU SPEND IN VIENNA?

We recommend staying 2 to 3 days in Vienna.

In two days, you can explore the Hofburg Palace, the Innere Stadt, Schloss Belvedere, and try plenty of traditional Austrian food.

A third day allows time to visit more of Vienna’s museums. If you are an art fan you could easily spend an extra collecting some of the smaller galleries.

3 DAYS IN VIENNA ITINERARY

Here’s how to capture all the best things to do in Vienna in 3 days. We have put the main sights together to minimize the walking and break up the museums.

DAY 1

DAY 2

DAY 3

WHERE TO STAY IN VIENNA

Vienna has a flair for boutique hotels with style. Many are in refurbished grand old residences that incorporate chic design with traditional style. So, if you’re looking for a special weekend getaway, Vienna is a great choice. Here are some recommendations from us.  

OUR PICK

BOUTIQUE

BOUTIQUEHOTEL DAS TYROL

This modern design 4-star boutique hotel is decorated with original works by contemporary Viennese artists. It’s quirky, bright, good value and only a short walk or metro ride to all the main sights.


COOL STYLE

HOTEL MOTTO

In a grand building on the main shopping street of Vienna, this hotel has wonderfully stylish touches, a cool breakfast/cocktail bar, and a sun-drenched rooftop terrace. With just a 12-minute walk to the Museumsquartier, it’s very convenient too.


REGAL

HOTEL IMPERIAL

The height of luxury and grandeur in the heart of Vienna, this grand dame hotel transports you back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Built for the Prince of Württemberg, it offers a slice of royal life on the imposing Ringstraße Boulevard.


VIENNA TOURS

Most of the main attractions in Vienna are easy to visit without a tour. However, here are some we recommend, including a day trip to the beautiful Hallstatt.

  • Hofburg Palace – This walking tour of Vienna includes several sites in the palace complex.
  • Musikeverein – Hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Vienna’s Musikverein.
  • Hallstatt Day Trip – This day trip to the Alps, includes the Instagram-friendly Hallstatt.

VIENNA DISCOUNT CARDS

Vienna travel cards are available for 24 hours (€8); 48 hours (€14); or 72 hours (€17); or as part of the Vienna City Card. It provides free travel on all public transport in the center of Vienna.

A single trip costs €2.40 so if your hotel is a little out of the center it could easily save you money, especially if you are spending 3 days in Vienna.

The Vienna City Card gives you discounts (about 20%) on almost all museums and sights.

vienna
vienna 2

MAP | THINGS TO DO IN VIENNA

To help you plan your 3 days in Vienna, we have included all the main attractions on the below map, organized by day.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


GETTING TO VIENNA

BY TRAIN

Vienna is located in the heart of Europe and trains journey from all over the continent arriving at Wien Hauptbahnof Station. The station is just a thirty-minute walk or 10-minute metro ride to the center of the city.

Traveling by train is not only a fun way to arrive but good for the planet too. Check Austrian Rail for timetables and tickets.

BY AIR

Vienna International Airport welcomes flights from many airlines, but most routes are provided by Austrian Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier. The airport is a 25-minute taxi ride (about €35-40) from the center of town or a 15-minute train ride (leaving every thirty minutes) from Wien Hauptbahnhof Station (about €5).  

BEST TIME TO VISIT VIENNA

The best time to visit Vienna is in the shoulder seasons of May to June and September to October. The temperatures are warm but not too hot and the city is in full swing but not too crowded.

Spring is particularly lovely as tulips and roses bring life and color to the parks.

In June, two international music festivals (Vienna Jazz Festival and Donauinselfest) come to town and two world-class orchestras perform for free.

In September Vienna Fashion Week arrives and in October there is the Long Night of the Museums and the Film Festival.

In July and August, the city gets busy with tourists, hotel prices rise and temperatures average 27 to 28°C. In the winter months, Vienna usually gets some snow with temperatures plunging to around zero, but December brings a wonderful Christmas spirit to the streets.

If you are flexible on what days to visit, try to avoid Tuesday as almost all the museums are closed.

This guide was produced in partnership with the Vienna Tourist Board.

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