Top 10 Things To Do in Vienna:
The first time we went to Vienna it was totally unplanned as our connecting train to Budapest was canceled, but are sure we glad it happened. Nothing against Budapest, we just really fell in love with everything there is to do in Vienna on that trip. There are grand palaces, historic squares, Medieval churches, World-class museums, a focus on the arts, and tons of avenues for socializing in Vienna. It doesn’t even matter what time of year you visit as there is always a ton to see.
Narrowing down the top ten things to do in Vienna was extremely difficult as there are easily 25 sights and activities that could round out the list. In the end, we decided to get right down to the meat and potatoes, showing only the very best of the best. Some of the sights on our list are obviously touristy, but a few are often overlooked by visitors even though they are loved by local Viennese. To us that is the whole point of traveling to a wonderful city like Vienna, you see the can’t miss touristy stops while taking enough time to also live as the locals do. Hope you enjoy our list of the top ten things to do in Vienna!
1. Schönbrunn Palace & Gardens:
About Schönbrunn Palace: When the Hapsburg royal family took control of this riverside property 1569, it was considered very rural in the woods outside Vienna. In the 1700s, Emperor Charles VI and his daughter Maria Theresa started to turn the property from a hunting lodge into a true estate. This included gardens, fountains, and a zoo which today is the World’s oldest.
When beloved Empress Sisi moved to Schonbrunn in the mid-1800s, the estate moved to palace status as it grew to 1,441 stately rooms and grand halls. Empress Sisi had an unlimited budget along with a taste for fashion and design. Today you can tour dozens of the main rooms, along with the grounds, garden, zoo, and carriage museum. The powerful property, along with interesting stories of the iconic rulers we mentioned, easily makes Schonbrunn the top attraction to see in Vienna.
Read More: Schonbrunn Palace Tours.
2. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom):
About Saint Stephen’s Cathedral: When Saint Stephen’s Parish was established in 1137 sat outside the walls of Vindobona next to a Roman cemetery. Over the centuries the chapel grew into a mighty cathedral and the focal point that modern Vienna was built around. Saint Stephens is our favorite church in town and made a strong push as the top thing to do in Vienna. Make sure to climb the 466-foot-tall South Tower called Old Steve for breathtaking views of Old Town.
The front door is the oldest part of the church and is nicknamed the Giant’s Door for a mastodon leg that once hung above it. The Gothic interior is filled with Renaissance artwork and flooded with colorful light from Medieval stain glass windows. In-the-know travelers make sure to visit the catacombs where you can see the guts from the Hapsburg rulers as well as tombs of local religious leaders. A special treat is the underground Virgil Chapel from the 1200s which can only be accessed through the subway station in Saint Stephen’s Square.
Featured On: Free Vienna Walking Tour.
3. Imperial Palace (Hofburg):
About Hofburg Palace: Growing from a Gothic castle to a Renaissance palace, it was from the mighty Hofburg that the Hapsburg Dynasty ruled Austria for 650 years. In the mid-1200s, Vienna’s city wall was expanded outward from the original Roman camp called Vindobona and a new royal castle was built. The new Hofburg Castle laid on the edge of town, replacing the old city center residence called Castle Babenbergerpfalz. Hofburg was built as a storybook Gothic castle with a moat, drawbridge and 4 corner towers.
Over the centuries each new generation seemed to add onto the royal castle until it eventually became a sprawling multi-wing palace surrounded by gardens. Today you can tour the elegant imperial apartment, see a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir, check out the impressive silver collection and see the treasury which is packed with over 600 years of history. Remember the Hapsburgs also served as Holy Roman Emperors for 250 in addition to ruling Austria so they were able to gather a lot of wealth from their power.
Some of our favorite parts of Hofburg Palace are the connected building which house the Spanish Riding School and the National Library. The Hapsburgs believed that they could show their power through architecture and they were right.
Featured On: Free Vienna Walking Tour.
4. Museum Quartier :
About Museum Quartier: The Museum Quartier is more than a collection of World-class museums, it is truly a grand work of art in itself. In the late-1800s, Emperor Franz Joseph was working on his grand Kaiserforum complex to show the might and sophistication of Austria. As seen in this 1865 mockup sketch, it was to include additions to Hofburg Palace and a mega-sized central forum surrounded by grand buildings. While the project was never completed because the monarchy fell, the project did give us a lot to be excited about.
The main highlights of the Museum Quartier are the two massive twin museums on opposite sides of a central garden. On the North side, the Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches) holds an interesting collection of fossils, taxidermied animals, and other artifacts. The most famous piece is the 4-inch-tall Venus of Willendorf Statue. This statue depicts a chubby, naked female figure which was carved into limestone somewhere between 22,000-24,000 BC.
On the South side of the square is the highly rated Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches) which holds Vienna’s greatest collection of paintings covering very fun loving art from over a 200-year span. Even the building itself is a piece of art as the common spaces inside are breathtaking. The Koonst, as it is called locally, also holds an amazing Egyptian Museum. Don’t forget to check out the Museum Quartier’s central garden which is dominated by a large fountain capped by a statue of Empress Maria Theresa.
If you are looking for a hipper experience, head over to the Leopold Modern Art Museum & Mumok Museum on the West side of the square. Housed in the former royal stables, the museums hold great exhibits on pop and modern art.
Featured On: Vienna Ring Tram Tour.
5. Visit A Cafe:
About Vienna’s Cafes: Just like Munich is known for its beer halls, Vienna is famous for its wonderful cafes. With mouth-watering deserts, great conversation, flavorful coffee, and unique atmospheres, Vienna’s cafes serve as the cities melting pot. From paupers to kings, everyone has sipped a cup of joe was sampling chocolate cake.
The cafes really saw their place cemented into the culture of Vienna in the mid-1800s through early-1900s when famous psychologists, poets, and revolutionaries met to philosophize and share their thoughts. No list of the top ten things to do in Vienna is complete without a stop a cafe. While the two most famous cafes are Demel and Sacher, there seems to be at least one amazing cafe on every block in Old Town Vienna.
6. Christmas Markets:
About Vienna’s Christmas Markets: Going back to Medieval times, the first Advent Markets (Krippenmarkt) were authorized in Vienna by Emperor Albrecht I in 1298. Since then Christmas has spread into every nook and cranny of Vienna which now has 20 market locations running from mid-November through Christmas Eve. With stalls selling mulled wine and crafts under canopies of hanging lights, you’ll feel like you are in a holiday wonderland.
Of the markets, there are 6 majors ones in Vienna’s most popular squares. We loved the one as Schonbrunn Palace, but the gigantic market at Town Hall is probably the best. The market spills out into the park and has an excellent ice skating rink with the Town Hall as a perfect backdrop. Expect the markets to be open from 10am to 10pm every day for the 5-6 week festivities.
7. State Opera House (Staatsoper):
About The State Opera House: In a city famous for music and the arts, it is the grand Vienna State Opera House (Staatsoper), that definitely takes the prize. Opened in 1863, this gorgeous 1200 seat theater has housed some of Austria’s most famous classical musicians and still hosts over 300 performances a year. The beautiful theater and grand common areas make touring the Opera House amazing. The beautiful theater and grand common areas make touring the Opera House amazing.
If you are looking to catch a show at this monument to music, you can expect to choose from famous operas, ballets, and can even take part in large Viennese Balls. It was in Vienna where the Waltz was born and where Mozart wrote his famous opera The Marriage of Figaro so you know they know how to put on a show. One of the best parts of the State Opera House is that they sell standing room only seats before each show for only a couple of euros. This lets you pop in to get part of the experience then leave once you had your fill without breaking the bank for your ticket.
Featured On: Free Vienna Walking Tour.
8. Capuchin Imperial Crypt (Kaisergruft):
About The Imperial Crypt: The unique, and slightly creepy, Imperial Crypt below the Capuchin Church is one of the coolest things to see in Old Town Vienna. The church was part of the Capuchin Monastery, founded in 1617 by Anna wife of Holy Roman Emperor Matthias. Delayed until 1633 because of the 30 Years War, the crypt holds elaborate tombs of some of Austria’s greatest leaders.
In total there are bodies of 150 members of the Hapsburg royal family buried at Capuchin. Oddly it’s really just the bodies in the crypt’s tombs as the Hapsburgs organs are not buried here. The royal guts are actually housed below Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and their hearts are in the Augustiner Church. While the Crypt has huge visual and photogenic appeal, it is also a very informative experience. The most visited tombs are those of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz Joesph.
Featured On: Free Vienna Walking Tour.
9. Pedestrian Only Shopping Areas:
About Vienna’s Shopping Streets: Shopping has always been important in Vienna, even going back to Medieval times. In its early days, Vienna sat at the intersection of two important trade routes, the Lime and Amber Roads. Pine Market and Hoher Markt set the stage as the hot spots to shop. As the city wall was expanded in the 1200s and the new city laid out Kärntner Strasse, Graben and Kohlmarkt became the most popular shopping streets which they still are today.
The pedestrian-only shopping lanes in Vienna are are the perfect place to window shop high-end brands, buy souvenirs, and slowly stroll while taking in the city. During any trip to Vienna, you will cross paths with city’s romantic traffic-free lanes often and love them every time.
10. Belvedere Palace:
About Belvedere Palace: Too often overlooked by foreign tourists Belvedere Palace was built by Prince Eugene Savoy in the 1600s. Belvedere, meaning beautiful views in German, is split into an Upper Palace (Eugene’s party house), and the Lower Palace (his garden villa).
The Upper Palace where the Prince did all of his entertaining is the place to focus most of your time definitely has the most to do. Before you even go inside you’ll be drawn to the picturesque flower garden and reflecting pool. Inside the Upper Palace is a surprisingly great art museum with some of the best paintings in Vienna. We recommend visiting the Lower Palace also which is very walkable and sits halfway between the Upper Palace and the Ringtrasse Loop.
Read More: Other Sights In Vienna.
11. Prater Park:
About Prater Park: Just North of Vienna’s main tourist area is a 200-year-old amusement park called Prater which is bound to spark nostalgia. Featured in the acclaimed movie The 3rd Man in 1949, Prater is a great place for family fun. The rides are great for the whole family and the classic 220-foot-tall ferris wheel was famously featured in the 1949 Oscar-winning film The Third Man. The best things about this amusement park is that there is no admission fee, you only pay for what you ride.
The island, called Leopold, that Prater Park sits on was once part of royal hunting grounds before finally being opened to the public in 1766. The island also served as the home of Vienna’s Jewish community from the 1400’s on. Even if you don’t go for the rides, make sure to visit the Swiss House Beer Garden which adds another level of fun. The beer garden is open daily until 11:30pm March 15th-October and is closed for the Winter. Do yourself a favor and put Prater park on your itinerary for a truly Viennese experience.
12. Town Hall (Rathaus):
About Vienna’s Town Hall: When Vienna’s Medieval city wall was torn down in the mid-1800s to make way for the grand boulevard known as the Ringstrasse, the Old Town Hall from 1316 was abandoned in favor of this new spectacular Neo-Gothic building.
Completed in 1883, the 321-foot-tall tower of Town Hall (Rathaus) dominates the large square below it of it. If you choose to hike up the 331 steps to the top of the tower you’ll have great views of Vienna. The tower is capped with a 17-foot-tall Rathausmann who stands guard over the city. The watchman might not look that big from the ground but he weighs over 1400 pounds and is so large that he would need a size 31 shoe!
In the Summer months, a full-sized movie screen takes up the entire side of City Hall as it plays free outdoor movies over the park and Beer Garden. The Rathaus Platz Beer Garden has authentic food, great beer, and wine from all over the world with good prices and a ton of perfect outdoor seating. Most of the Beer Garden workers are often in traditional Austrian dress which makes the whole experience that much more unique. In the Winter there is a large outdoor ice staking rink set up in the park and the entire City Area turns into a Christmas Village.
Featured On: Vienna Ring Tram Tour.
13. Karlplatz & Naschmarkt:
About Karlsplatz & Naschmarkt: Just two blocks off of Ringstrasse, there is a really cool collection of sights around Karlsplatz you just have to visit. The focal point of the square is the giant Saint Charles Church built in 1737. With a large green dome and huge reflecting pool, the white is a favorite among photographers. The Church was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI after Vienna’s last bout of Plague because he felt that his prayers were the reason why the Plague stopped.
The park out front of the Saint Charles Church offers public access to the underground sewer tours. On the tours you can follow the footsteps of the famous chase scene from the 1949 film The 3rd Man in Vienna’s sewers. It is here that Orson Welles’ character Harry Lime descended below the city. The tours from May to October from Thursday to Sunday 10-20 clock (every hour).
Near Karlplatz you find the windowless Sessionist Art Museum which has a unique golden dome nicknamed the Cabbage Head. Opened in 1898, the the museum was made in a modernist style with the interior meant to be a white canvass for exhibits instead of a classic museum. Next to the museum is Vienna’s most popular produce market, the 6 block long Naschmarkt. An active market has been operating here since 1780 and today has 100 vintage stalls. This is an market where you will find more locals than tourists and get a real taste for Vienna.