Austria’s capital offers a unique blend of imperial traditions, stunning modern architecture and a rhythm that run through its musical heritage and contemporary music scene. Vienna is renowned for its cultural events, imperial sights, coffee houses, cozy wine taverns, and the very special Viennese charm.
Vienna typifies Austria’s rich variety. For every magnificent Habsburg palace, there’s wild canal-side street art. For every old-school museum, you’ll find an avant-garde gallery; and for every Sacher Torte, a Sacher Torte doughnut. As well as offering this seductive blend of old and new, Vienna is compact, romantic and remarkably good value. What are you waiting for?
Vienna’s extensive public transport spans five U-Bahn metro lines, S-Bahn suburban trains, red-and-white trams and buses. Most sights are inside the Ringstrasse, but even the far-flung imperial Schönbrunn palace is easily reached via U-Bahn. The Vienna City Card offers 24, 48 or 72 hours of travel on public transport as well as discounts to restaurants and attractions.
See & do
Based here for six centuries, the Habsburg Empire bequeathed Vienna with a plethora of palaces. Still standing today is the Hofburg complex, incorporating the Spanish Riding School and its balletic Lipizzaner stallions – plus the baroque Belvedere and 1441-room Schönbrunn. Another legacy is the city’s famed music scene: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms all practised here, and few concert venues can match the gold-and-crystal Wiener Staatsoper opera house for atmosphere.
Another must-see is Kunsthistorisches Museum. Commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph to house the extensive imperial collections and make them accessible to the general public, precious masterpieces by Old Masters like Rubens now line the walls here. But don’t think Vienna limits itself to historic pieces and cobbled quaintness. There’s plenty of daring modern design here too, as epitomised by the MuseumsQuartier: former royal stables now hosting avant-garde pieces at the contemporary Mumok, a sleek, charcoal-coloured edifice.
Come summer, locals flood to the Danube River in droves. Along with biking trails and sandy beaches, the car-free Danube Island boasts sleepy gardens and terraced restaurants throughout the Old Danube stretch. Lovebirds can rent a pedalo and enjoy moonlight picnics on the water.
In between all these activities, be sure to leave time for coffee and cake. This non-negotiable Viennese pastime can be easily enjoyed in any of the charmingly old-fashioned coffee shops scattered throughout the city.
Vienna excels at green spaces, but spurn the touristy Stadtpark and busy Burggarten in favour of the small Sigmund-Freud Park where comfortable sun loungers are available for free hire in summer.
Further out is an even more amazing green space. Part of the Donau-Auen National Park falls inside Vienna, and is called the Lobau (‘jungle’) for its dense greenery and wetlands. You might see beavers, sea eagles and kingfishers during an immersive walk or pedal, plus a Napoleonic battlefield. Get there aboard National Park boats which cruise along the Danube canal into the jungle.
Food & drink
Popular dining areas in Vienna are found in Margareten, Mariahilf and around the Stephansplatz. Bistro pubs (beisl), such as the popular Reinthaler’s Beisl, are the best places to enjoy classic dishes including Wiener schnitzel, tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) and goulash. But a newer, vibrant Viennese culinary scene is also afoot. Head to Labstelle for modern updates on traditional Austrian cuisine.
The best place to sample Vienna’s famous Sachertorte is at Café Sacher, while another culinary must is snacking on a piping hot pretzels bought from a street vendor. During the winter months, the ubiquitous Glühwein (hot mulled wine) will keep you warm and toasty.