Vienna, Austria is a fabulous city that is home to world class museums, the Opera, cafes, pastries, and the famous Sacher Torte. Tim and I loved Vienna, although we were here for only two full days. We raced through the city and saw as much as possible. Of everything we saw and did, here are our ten favorite things to see and do in Vienna.
Top Ten Vienna
Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)
The Vienna State Opera is very impressive and it is ten times grander than its competition in Budapest. For just a few euros, Tim and I bought standing room only tickets for the Opera Nabucco. We were able to tour the entire opera building before the performance and then watch the show from the standing room only section. Being able to get these cheap tickets makes the opera accessible for everyone.
Travel Tip: You can purchase standing room only tickets for as little as 3 – 4 €. Imagine watching a world class performance at a dirt cheap price! What makes this even better is that with your ticket, you can now tour the opera building on your own before the show. Tim and I spent about a half an hour before the performance, wandering through the opera house and taking photos from the balconies.
Guided tours of the opera house cost 8€ (learn more here). So, by purchasing standing room only tickets, you get to see a show, tour the opera house on your own, and save some euros.
Learn more about how to get your standing room opera tickets here.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
This cathedral, consecrated in 1147, is one of Vienna’s most recognizable symbols. Tim and I briefly went into the church but the highlight for us was climbing the 343 stairs of the south tower for excellent views over Vienna. In my opinion, the views of Vienna and the views of the roof are what makes St. Stephen’s Cathedral worthwhile. The tiled roof is very unique and from the tower you can see the highlights of Vienna.
Climbing the South Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral: The South Tower is open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. It costs 3.50€ per person. Access is on the outside on the right side of the cathedral (if you are looking at the front of the cathedral).
Have Breakfast in a Viennese Cafe
This is not to be missed! If you love great food, great coffee, or taking part in a great Viennese culture, have breakfast or brunch in a cafe in Vienna.
Vienna is known as the “coffee house capital of the world,” and there are numerous cafes to choose from. We chose Cafe Central and had our best meal in Vienna. We drank coffee and juice and ate pastries that were so good we visited the pastry counter twice. It was absolutely wonderful and one of my favorite memories of Vienna. When we return to Vienna someday, this will be number one on my list to do again!
Visit Schonbrunn Palace
Schonbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs, who were the rulers of the Austrian empire. Schonbrunn was Vienna’s answer to Versailles in Paris. Tour the palace, walk the manicured grounds, and take in the view from the Trianon.
Travel Tip: Purchase your tickets online in advance to save time. This is one of the most popular places to visit in Vienna so lines to get in can be long. Here is the link to Schonbrunn’s official website to learn more.
Take a Stroll Down Graben
Graben is one of Vienna’s most famous streets. This is an upscale area with stores like Cartier and Versace. Tim and I bought lunch at a gourmet supermarket and ate it while sitting on a bench, people watching. Later, we made a stop at Demel, an extremely famous chocolate shop. Delicious!
Have a Slice of the World’s Most Famous Chocolate Cake, the Sacher Torte
The Sacher Torte is a famous chocolate cake: two layers of cake separated by apricot jam and covered in chocolate icing. The cake was “invented” by Franz Sacher at the request of Prince Wenzel von Metternich for some of his special guests. The cake was first served at Demel and then later at Hotel Sacher. Tim and I sat in the cafe at Hotel Sacher and shared a slice. The cake was good but I wouldn’t say it was the best chocolate cake I ever had.
Visit Hofburg Palace
The Hofburg Palace was the official residence of the Hapsburgs. It was home to Franz Joseph and his wife, Sisi, from the late 1800’s to the very early 1900’s. Here the Hapsburgs lived, entertained, and ruled over their people.
Tim and I toured the Royal Apartments, the Treasury, and the Austrian National Library. The Austrian National Library was our favorite exhibit. We loved the grand room, decorations, and shelves and shelves of books. Plus, it was cool, quiet, and away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the palace.
Have Dinner at a Heuriger
A heuriger is a unique Viennese experience. A heuriger is a wine garden serving homemade wine and small meals. They maintain an old village atmosphere and serve traditional Viennese food. Tim and I went to Schubel-Auer Heuriger, located on the outskirts of Vienna. The place was charming but a bit intimidating since they only spoke German.
A grumpy waiter showed us to our seat and we placed our order for a half liter of white wine. Then we walked up to the counter to pick out our food. All of the food was displayed in glass cases. We pointed to what looked good, the waitress and her son dished it out, warmed it up, and then we took our tray back to our seats. We tried sauerkraut, pork, roast beef, pickled green beans, and shmalz (which is lard).
The food was decent but the experience was wonderful. If you like the idea of having a less touristic experience and trying new foods, then dinner at a heuriger is definitely a must-do.
Visit the Belvedere Palace
The Belvedere Palace is a baroque palace surrounded by a gorgeous garden. For us, the highlight was the visit to the art gallery to see the world’s largest collection of art by Gustav Klimt.
You can purchase tickets online to tour just the Upper Belvedere (to see the Klimt art collection), the Lower Belvedere, or the entire Belvedere Palace.
Walk Around the Kunsthistorisches Museum
I was amazed at the number of museums there are in the city of Vienna. Tim and I went to several of them, and one of our favorites was the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Say that three times fast!!
This museum displays the collected artwork of the Hapsburgs. Are you getting the sense that Vienna would have been nothing if not for the Hapsburg family? We viewed artwork by Vermeer, Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael. The interior of the museum was just as impressive as the artwork.
For people who enjoy visiting a place with lots of history, culture, and an appreciation for the arts, Vienna is a top choice. Just don’t forget to start your day off at one of Vienna’s amazing cafes.
Post updated February 2018.