Capital of the Republic of Austria and one of Europe’s most visited cities, Vienna (Wien) owes much of its charm and rich history to its splendid location on the banks of the Danube River.
For centuries the gateway between West and East Europe, it was the natural nucleus of the once sprawling Habsburg Empire, and to this day remains Austria’s most important commercial and cultural hub.
Vienna continues to attract visitors with its many great historic sights, fabled collections of art, glittering palaces, and exceptional musical heritage that’s still carried on in concert halls and one of the world’s great opera houses.
With an unmistakably cosmopolitan atmosphere, Vienna retains a distinctive charm and flair, accentuated by its fine old architecture, its famous horse-cabs (Fiaker), as well as its splendid coffee houses with their Viennese cakes and pastries.
Whether you’re looking for places to visit in Vienna for one day or things to do in several days, you’ll have plenty of choices in this elegant city.
If time permits, considering taking some day trips to explore the beautiful surroundings and nearby cities.
For more than six centuries the seat of the Habsburgs – and the official residence of every Austrian ruler since 1275 – the Hofburg is perhaps the most historically significant of Vienna’s palaces.
The official seat of the Austrian President, this sprawling complex consists of numerous buildings reflecting various periods, including architectural flourishes from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo movements.
The complex covers 59 acres with 18 groups of buildings, including 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms.
Its main attractions are the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Silver Collection, while other notable sites within the complex include the Imperial Chapel (Burgkapelle) and the Hofburg Treasury with its large collection of Imperial regalia and relics of the Holy Roman Empire.
Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens
The spectacular 18th-century Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn) is worth visiting not only for its magnificent architecture, but also for its beautiful park-like setting. One of Vienna’s top tourist attractions, this Baroque palace contains more than 1,441 rooms and apartments, including those once used by Empress Maria Theresa.
Tour highlights include a chance to see the Imperial Apartments, including Emperor Franz Joseph’s Walnut Room and his Bedroom, which still has the small soldier’s bed in which he died.
Of Empress Maria Theresa’s rooms, highlights include her richly furnished and decorated garden apartments, along with her Breakfast Room with its floral artwork created by her daughters.
Schönbrunn Park and Gardens is another must-see here, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park, with its sweeping vistas and sumptuous Baroque gardens, is one of several free things to do in Vienna, although you will have to pay to enter the maze and some of the adjoining buildings, such as the 1883 Palm House. If traveling with kids, visit the Children’s Museum for a chance to see them dressed up as a prince or princess.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Vienna’s most important Gothic edifice and the cathedral church of the archbishopric since 1722, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) sits in the historic center of Vienna.
The original 12th-century Romanesque church was replaced by a Late Romanesque one in the 13th century, the remains of which are the massive gate and the Heathen Towers (Heidentürme).
Next came reconstruction in the Gothic style in the 14th century, along with the addition of the choir and the chapels of St. Eligius, St. Tirna, and St. Catherine, while the famous 137-meter high South Tower (Steffl) belongs to the 15th-century.
Improvements and further construction followed from the 17th to 19th centuries, and the whole structure was rebuilt after World War II.
Highlights include climbing the 343 steps to the Steffl’s Watch Room for the spectacular views, and the North Tower, home to the massive Pummerin Bell (a fast lift takes visitors to a viewing platform).
Other features of note are the 14th-century catacombs and the Cathedral Treasure, containing many of the cathedral’s most important artifacts.
The Spanish Riding School
Dating back to the time of Emperor Maximilian II, the superb Spanish Riding School was established after the ruler had the famous Lipizzaner horses introduced to his courtesans in 1562.
Today, it’s one of Vienna’s leading attractions, thrilling audiences with fabulous displays of equestrian skills in the Baroque Winter Riding School in the grounds of the Hofburg Palace, where it has been located since 1735.
Tickets to performances sell quickly, so be sure to book as far in advance as possible.
Address: Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Wien
The Belvedere Palace
Among Vienna’s most popular attractions, Belvedere Palace is really two splendid Baroque buildings: the Lower (Unteres) Belvedere and the Upper (Oberes) Belvedere.
Highlights of the Upper Palace include the Ground Floor Hall, with its statues, and the Ceremonial Staircase, with its rich stucco relief and frescoes. Also worth seeing is the Marble Hall, a stunning two-story hall with numerous period sculptures, paintings, and ceiling frescoes.
The Lower Palace also boasts a Marble Hall, this one noted for its oval plaster medallions and rich ceiling fresco, as well as a Marble Gallery built to house a collection of historic statues. Other notable buildings include the Winter Palace, a Baroque building that once housed the Court Treasury, the Orangery, the Palace Stables (home to the Medieval Treasury), and the Belvedere Gardens and Fountains linking the two palaces.
The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere is an art museum in the Belvedere Palace, known for its extensive collections, including a rich array of sculptures and panel paintings from the 12th to the 16th centuries. But it is perhaps best known for Austrian Symbolist artist Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, a masterpiece of early modern art.
Address: Prinz Eugen Strasse 27, A-1037 Vienna
Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn)
The origins of the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) can be traced to Emperor Francis I’s menagerie, founded in 1752 and the oldest zoo in the world.
With many of its original Baroque buildings still intact, it’s one of the most pleasant zoos in Europe to visit, particularly if you spend a little time seeking refreshment in the original 18th-century Imperial Breakfast Pavilion that now houses a great café.
A highlight of the zoo’s more than 750 species are its giant pandas, including cubs, as well as the many fascinating creatures housed in the interactive Rainforest House and Aquarium.
Address: Maxingstraße 13b, 1130 Wien
Prater Park and the Giant Ferris Wheel
Visiting the Prater, a large natural park between the Danube and the Danube Canal, is a little like stepping into another world. Covering an area of 3,200 acres, this vast park – once a royal hunting ground – has long been one of Vienna’s most popular recreation areas.
There’s something here for everyone, from thrills and spills in the Wurstel area with its old-fashioned theme park rides to dining and dancing (there’s even a dinosaur park for the kids).
A highlight is taking a ride on the famous Giant Wheel, a Viennese landmark that has provided fine views over the city since 1896 (if you can afford it, go for the super luxurious cabin, suitable for parties of up to 12). Other park highlights include the Prater Ziehrer Monument, a larger-than-life statue of composer CM Ziehrer built in 1960; the Prater Museum with its displays documenting the park’s history; a Planetarium; and the Liliputbahn miniature steam railroad traversing a four-kilometer line near the main avenue.
Elsewhere in this vast park there’s room enough for horseback riding, swimming in the stadium pool, football, cycling, tennis, and bowls. Also worth visiting is nearby Danube Park (Donaupark), a 250-acre open space that’s home to a fun miniature railroad, an artificial lake (Lake Iris), and a theater.
Address: 1020 Vienna
The Vienna State Opera House
One of the world’s largest and most splendid theaters, the Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper) has hosted many of the world’s most prominent composers, conductors, soloists, and dancers.
Operatic and ballet performances are staged at least 300 times a year, fuelled by an obsession with music that goes as far back as 1625 when the first Viennese Court Opera was performed.
The current massive Opera House was built in 1869 and is notable for its French Early Renaissance style, while interior highlights include a grand staircase leading to the first floor, the Schwind Foyer (named after its paintings of famous opera scenes), and the exquisite Tea Room with its valuable tapestries.
Capable of accommodating an audience of 2,211 along with 110 musicians, the Opera House is also home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. (English language guided tours are available.)
Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna
Kunsthistorisches Museum and Maria-Theresien-Platz
Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is housed in a magnificent building created expressly to show off the tremendous art collections of the Hapsburg royal family. The superb collection of Dutch art features the world’s largest collection of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, including his masterpiece Tower of Babel.
There are paintings by Raphael, Titian, Bellini, Caravaggio, and Vermeer, plus portraits by Velazquez.
The museum’s specialties are late Italian Renaissance, Baroque, and Flemish painting, but the collections go far beyond those with classical Greek and Roman art and Egyptian collections.The museum overlooks Maria-Theresien-Platz, the focal point of which is the grand monument to Empress Maria Theresa.
The statue was commissioned by Franz Joseph I and was unveiled in 1887. This massive monument depicts the Empress on her throne while surrounded by major personages of her day, including a number of generals on horseback.
The high reliefs depict illustrious figures from the fields of politics, economics, and the arts, including Haydn, Gluck, and Mozart.
Address: Maria-Theresien-Platz, Burgring, Vienna
Vienna City Hall
Vienna’s City Hall (Rathaus) is an impressive Neo-Gothic building that serves as the city’s administrative center.
Remarkable for its size – it occupies nearly 14,000 square meters of the former Parade Ground – this attractive building was completed in 1883 and is notable for the famous Rathausmann on top of its 98-meter high tower, a banner-carrying iron figure presented to the city as a gift from its master locksmith.
The arcaded courtyard in the center of the building is the largest of seven courtyards and is used for popular summer concerts.
Highlights of a tour of the building include the Schmidt Halle, the large entrance into which carriages would once drive to deposit their passengers, and the two Grand Staircases leading to the Assembly Hall.
Other sights included in the tour are the Heraldic Rooms, the City Senate Chamber (notable for its coffered ceiling decorated with gold-leaf and its huge Art Nouveau candelabra), and the Mayor’s reception room.
Address: Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 1, 1010 Wien
Dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, a saint invoked during times of plague, Karlskirche was built in 1737 and remains Vienna’s most important Baroque religious building.
This vast building is crowned by a magnificent 72-meter dome and is famous for its twin 33-meter Triumphal Pillars, based on Trajan’s Column in Rome, with their spiraling bands depicting scenes from the life of St. Charles. Interior highlights include the fabulous frescoes of St. Cecilia.
Also worth visiting is the Gardekirche, built in 1763 in the city’s southern outer district as the church of the Imperial Hospital and later serving Polish congregations (of particular interest is the painting above the High Altar).
Address: Kreuzherrengasse 1, Vienna
Kärtner Strasse and the Donner Fountain
Looking to do a little window shopping after all that museum and gallery hopping? Then head to Vienna’s most elegant street, Kärtner Strasse.
Linking Stephansplatz to the Staatsoper on the Ring and ending at Karlsplatz, this (mostly) pedestrian-friendly area is fun to wander thanks to its lime trees, pavement cafés, fashionable shops, elegant boutiques, and busy shopping arcades.
Although most of the buildings you see today are 18th-century, the Maltese Church still has a few features dating from the 13th-century when the street was started (take a peek inside for its coats of arms of the Knights of Malta).
Other notable buildings are Palais Esterházy, built in 1698 and now home to an upscale restaurant, while nearby buildings house high-end clothing stores. Also of note is the exquisite Donner Fountain, built in 1739 by Georg Raphael Donner to reflect the “caring and wise” city government (it was, of course, commissioned by those who ran Vienna at the time).
The National Theater
Vienna’s superb National Theater (Burgtheater) has long been famous for its productions of German-language plays and performances. Many famous names have acted on its four stages since its founding by Emperor Joseph II in 1776 as the Court Theater.
After a devastating fire in 1945, the theater eventually reopened in 1955 and has since grown in stature as the country’s most important theater.
In addition to its size and the caliber of its performances, the building’s exterior is impressive on account of its numerous decorative figures, scenes, and busts. Equally as impressive is its interior consisting of rich decoration in the French Baroque style, and a staircase with frescoes by Gustav and Ernst Klimt. (Behind the scenes guided tours are available in English.)
Address: Dr Karl-Lueger-Ring 2, Vienna
The Top 10 Austrian Foods to Try in Vienna
- Wiener Schnitzel
- The Sachertorte
- Austrian Goulash
- Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)
- Spargel (Spring Asparagus)
- Erdäpfelsalat (Austrian-style Potato Salad)
- Powidltascherl (Plum Jam Turnovers)
- Tafelspitz (Beef or Veal Boiled in Broth With Vegetables)
- Melange (Viennese Coffee)
- Wiener Wurstel (Viennese Sausages)
Top 15 Austrian Things to Buy in Vienna
- Svarowski Crystal
- Viennese Porcelein
- Artisanal Chocolate
- Selection of Gifts from Museum Gift Stores
- Lobmeyr Glass
- Austrian Dirndl Dress
- Camile Boyer
- Austrian Beer
- Traditional Austrian Clothing
- Bags and Travel Accessories
- A&E Koechert Jewellery
- Viennese Tea and Cafe Experience
- Austrian Traditional Music
- Austrian White Wine
- Ludwig Reiter Leather Goods
- Danube Valley: An easy way to see a little of the countryside and experience life outside the big city is on a Melk Abbey and Danube Valley Day Trip from Vienna. This tour takes you through the forests, fields, and historic abbeys of the Wachau Valley. From spring until fall, the tour includes a 1.5-hour boat trip along the Danube to Melk, with a chance to explore the town’s famous abbey. Included in this eight-hour tour is hotel pickup and drop-off, entry to the abbey, a guide, and all transportation.
- Bratislava: For a little cultural diversion try a day trip to Slovakia’s capital city, just an hour away. The Bratislava Day Trip is a 7.5-hour tour, including transportation, a guided walking tour of the city’s most famous sites, and free time to wander through the city.
- Salzburg: The Salzburg Day Trip from Vienna is a 13-hour tour that hits all the highlights, with a scenic drive through the Alps; a stop at Lake Mondsee; a walking tour of Salzburg’s Old Town; and a chance to see Mirabell Palace, where portions of The Sound of Music were filmed. The tour is led by a professional guide who can point out the highlights and history, especially as it relates to Mozart and other composers.
- Budapest: The Budapest Day Trip from Vienna offers an easy way to add on a beautiful Eastern European city to your itinerary. This 13-hour tour passes through beautiful Hungarian countryside and includes a coach tour of Budapest, stopping at the city’s major attractions.