Vienna, Austria’s capital, is known for its rich history, art, music and architecture. Our Essential Guide to Vienna shows you all the things we really enjoyed about this impressive city—and some tips on avoiding some of the mistakes we made here too!
When I think of Vienna, my imagination goes to the tall powdered wigs and giant bustles of rococo ballgowns twirling to the operatic music of 18th Century court life.
In reality, Vienna is a busy modern city, whose culture and elegance goes far beyond the rich halls of its multitude palaces.
Check out our super-quick video dash through Vienna:
Vienna’s streets create city canyons in the white cliff facades of Baroque and Art Nouveau, their cobbles leading you to hidden churches or presenting the grandeur of a palace or cathedral. But also the banks of the Danube, alleys of antique shops and of course the amazing food.
Bakeries glow with the promise of bread and pastry, while busy late-night würstelständs proffer sausages and beer from their huts on the edge of broad plazas.
And there’s always more to find.
Museums and galleries, Roman ruins and chic shopping malls, fine dining and cool bars, and even one of the world’s oldest amusement parks—Prater Amusement Park dates back to 1766—are all here for your enjoyment.
Essential Guide to Vienna, Austria
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive guide, but it has the highlights of the things we experienced when we were in Vienna last.
We’ve broken things down into five sections to make the guide easier to navigate. You can click on each of these headings to go straight to each one.
1. Where to Stay
Packed to its exposed rafters with old-world charm, Hotel Graben feels like you’ve stepped into a time machine. In a good way.
Rooms are huge (for Europe!) with double-height ceilings and big windows, the concierge and reception are so friendly and the adjoining restaurant–Santo Stefano–is busy with visitors and locals most evenings.
It’s also brilliantly located right off Stephansplatz, the main plaza of Vienna old town, and the beautiful St Stephen’s Cathedral. This means it’s also really close to the city’s U-Bahn subway system.
Also close to Stephansplatz, this cool, modern hotel and its striking round windows offers a contemporary yet sophisticated place to stay in Vienna.
Across the street is the hotel’s bar—a rooftop bar in fact, with amazing views over the city from the ninth floor.
Where to Eat and Drink
This cute cafe with outdoor seating does great coffee in the day and is the perfect spot for a cheeky glass of wine in the evening. Excellent people-watching and surrounded by historic architecture.
Literally ‘window cafe’, this hole-in-the-wall cafe became Insta-famous for its somewhat impractical coffee in an ice cream cone fad. Cashing in on this—and the fact that it’s the only coffee place open before 10am—two small flat whites will set you back AU$15. The coffee’s made well at least.
Busy Italian-style eatery with wines from Italy (we sneaked a cheeky mezzo litro carafe of Moltepulciano up at the bar) great for people-watching. The pizzas look formidable.
– Billa Corso Neuer Markt
Not far from Hotel Graben is a Billa Corso—a ubiquitous Austrian supermarket chain—where, a bit like Eataly’s supermarket cafes, you can buy your lunch an eat it there. It has outdoor seating too, but best of all it’s open on a Sunday!
Perhaps one of the most unique food options in Vienna is Trzesniewski—a sandwich buffet shop next to Graben Hotel in Stephansplatz (there are other branches in the city). Going back to 1902, this shop sells finger rolls and narrow-cut open sandwiches topped with all kinds of ingredients, all of which are very finely chopped into a paste. You go in, choose your sarnies and leave.
Barely a block back from busy Stephansplatz and in the shadow of the pretty domed roof of St Peters Church, Le Cru has a surprisingly local low-key vibe. Specialising in small producers of French Champagne, this little bar offers tasting experiences and takeaways, but also has a weekly by-the-glass menu that’s pleasingly affordable.
Dark, conspiratorially atmospheric little bar. Great cocktails and vibe with a real mix of patrons. Just off Neuer Markt plaza and the Donnerbrunnen fountain, it’s worth seeking out this tucked-away bohemian speakeasy for an excellent martini or house negroni.
– Billa Corso Hohe Markt rooftop wine bar
A couple of streets north of Stephansplatz is another Billa Corso (I told you they were ubiquitous) right opposite the Hotel Topazz Lamee we mentioned. This store has a wine bar above it. You can choose from the wine list or, amazingly, you can buy the bottle you want in the store and they’ll serve it to you.
Beyond the walls of the old town, this pumping local bar and eatery was the perfect lunch spot for us. Good beer and food my wienerschnitsel was tasty and satisfying and Christina’s kalbsbutterschnitzel (a veal schnitzel patty) was tasty albeit a tad weird.
A beisl is a kind of down-to-earth gastro pub serving homely food at reasonable prices. Reinthaler’s Beisl off Stephansplatz is ostensibly that, though the staff churn through the perma-queue, forcing diners to share tables only to stand over them for a tip at the end. The food’s not bad, but it’s more about the experience I guess.
– Zum Goldenen Wurstel
Sausage vans are everywhere in Austria, but Zum Goldenen Wurstel, close to St Stephens Cathedral, must be the most popular. Open late, it’s the perfect place for a snack on your way home. You can even grab a beer here.
Things to See and Do
– Get lost
Vienna’s a great walking city. Even within the walls of the old town, little streets and alleys will have you turning this way and that, discovering strange and wonderful things you would probably miss if you knew where you were going. So let your feet lead you.
Alternatively, there are local guides that can take you on private walking tours like this that are amazing.
– Stephansplatz and the cathedral tower
The heart of Vienna Old Town, the long, broad thoroughfare of Stephansplatz is full of life—especially on a Saturday night. Climb to the top of the beautiful St Stephens Cathedral tower for panoramic city views.
And make sure you check out the looming and somewhat disturbing Wiener Pestsäule—the Column of Pestilence. It’s a memorial to the victims of the Black Death that swept through 17th Century Europe.
– Antiques shops south of Stephansplatz
Down the network of little streets and alleys from Stephansplatz—especially Dorotheergasse past Hotel Graben—are hundreds of pretty little antiques shops and museums that add another level of charm to this fascinating city.
Vienna’s largest outdoor market, the permanent stalls of Naschmarkt take up almost half a kilometre of streets just outside the old town walls. Explore delicious food from around the world and a range of souvenirs too. The closest metro station is Kettenbruckengasse.
There are also food safaris like this you can book for the market.
For something a little left of field, there’s the weirdness of Hundertwasserhaus on the east of the city near the canal. Its creator, oddball artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser focused on nonconformity and this building shows that. Wobbly floors, brightly painted walls and a wealth of his art boggles the eyes, mind and senses.
– Museums and palaces
Vienna is packed with museums and palaces, but in the southwest of the old town is the MuseumsQuartier, where you’ll find some of Europe’s finest. Nearby, the sprawling Hofburg Palace has the revered Spanish Riding School and some interesting Roman ruins on its grounds where the Habsburg Empire once ran most of Europe for over six centuries.
– Vienna is a wonderful walking city. It’s pretty much flat until you get to the low mountains way to the north and west, so exploring Vienna on foot is a great option. You can also book local guides for walking tours like this one.
– The underground metro system is comprehensive, efficient and easy to navigate. Trains run regularly from the airport to the city, via Wien Mitte and a transfer to Landstrasse Station.
When we arrived by train from Germany, we arrived at Wien Hbf and from there it was a quick metro train right to Stephansplatz—one of the two stations within the old town walls.
– Travelling outside the Old Town, your best options are the city trams, which cover a huge area around the city.
– To use all the different public transport options in Vienna, you’ll need a City Card. This was super useful for the couple of days we were there and it’s pretty cheap too. It also gives you discounts on loads of attractions, exhibits and entertainment.
– Try not to visit Vienna on a Sunday; everything’s shut.
– If you are here on a Sunday, head to the Heurigen—Austrian wine taverns that are part of the wine regions surrounding Vienna.
Just 30min from city on the tram direct to Grinzing north west of Old Town Vienna, you’ll find yourself in the city’s wine region. Make sure you’ve got your City Pass so you can use the public transport though.
– Best views of the city for free
On the northern bank of the Danube Canal, on the rooftop of the Sofitel SO is Das Loft. It’s a restaurant and bar, but if you’re discreet, you can go up and have a look round for free.
The views out over the city and canal are amazing.
If you want to eat here, you must have a reservation or risk being sneered at by the help. No, the staff here are not very friendly I’m afraid.
– How to get cheap tickets to the opera
Around the side of the Vienna State Opera, you’ll find a surprisingly well-marked door reading ‘Stehplatz’ or Standing Room. To make the opera more affordable for the masses, the State Opera made standing-room tickets available you can pick up for as little as €4. Here are more details.
These are just some of the many attractions and activities that Vienna has to offer that we enjoyed.
Whether you’re interested in history, art, music or food, you’re sure to find something to suit your interests in this beautiful European city.