Vienna, the capital of Austria, had long been an outstanding item on my bucket list. In my imagination, I was sitting in an elegant café, sniffing the smell of strong coffee to enjoy a delicious Sachertorte. I would admire vintage horse-drawn carriages in the historic city centre on my way to visit Sissi and Franz Josef memorabilia. The day would, of course, conclude with a Wiener Schnitzel and ‘Pommes Frites’.
Sometimes, dreams come true. Vienna turned out to be exactly as my expectations. I did have sugar cake and strong coffee. I saw white Lipppizaner stallions and elegant palaces. Still, it also had a surprising side, such as expressionist architecture, Art Nouveau, lively markets, modern art and green parks.
On my journey to the second Austrian city, Graz, I only had 36 hours to spend in Vienna. That is not much considering the many attractions. Moreover, although Vienna is not a megacity, it is not exactly small, with almost 2 million inhabitants—not enough time to see everything worth seeing.
Luckily I had the help of my resident cousin in selecting the best spots to visit, which I will share with you below. I will also point out the lows and highlights of the places.
City trip Vienna
- Vienna Opera
- Cathedral Stephansdom
- Art Noveau at the Naschmarkt
- Expressionism at the Hundertwasser Haus
- The Spanish Riding School
- Hofburg, Schloss Belvedere, Schloss Schönbrunn
- Coffee, lunch & dinner
Discover Vienna by bike on a guided tour
If you don’t have much time, try Vienna’s three-hour English-speaking guided bike tour. You will see the most important highlights, such as the Rathaus (City Hall), Naschmarkt Market, and Hundertwasser House.
Make your debut at the Vienna State Opera
Address Wiener Staatsoper Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna
Admire the St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, a.k.a. Steffl, by the locals. The cathedral tower is 136.7 meters high. Note the colourful roof.
Even though this is the largest cathedral in Austria, it is a church like many others. I have visited hundreds of churches, thanks to my Italian mother. That is why I no longer get thrilled seeing yet another one.
But yes, the building has more than 700 years of history. The interior is impressive, as cathedrals usually are. Anyway, tastes differ. If you want to see the temple, pay for a guided tour or do an audio tour to make the most of your visit. This is the only way to access the church’s central part.
Sights of the Cathedral
Inside are: 14th-century stained glass, a 15th-century pulpit; 17th-century choir stalls; the chapel where two of Mozart’s children were baptized and a hugely decorated sarcophagus of Emperor Frederick III (1415 – 1493).
An audio tour costs € 6.00.
One of the absolute highlights of the city is the Vienna State Opera. However, a classical concert or opera is like casting pearls before swine because of tone-deaf.
A guided tour of the opera is more suited to my taste. The guide explains the somewhat dark history of the construction, what happens behind the scenes these days and shows the most critical parts of the buildings.
The tour is either in German, English or Spanish.
This is also the venue for the annual Vienna Opera Ball. Each year, the debutantes’ defile is the Ball’s highlight. The men dress in black, the women in white.
Tickets for the Ball go from €315 per person. This does not include food.
The well-heeled can rent a private box for the evening for as little as €23.600. A bargain, as you and your eleven guests will be able to enjoy the event comfortably. Thus, there won’t be any need to dine with the plebs in the standard room (from €105 pp) as staff will deliver food to your box.
If interested in attending the event, plan. The debutante balls tend to sell out far in advance.
Address Stephansdom Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna
Feast your senses with Art Noveau at the Naschmarkt
The Naschmarkt is a flea and food market. The 120 stalls and stores date from the beginning of the 20th century. Most have the original, curled dark green cast-iron structure, also used at the metro stations in this neighbourhood.
Around the market are some of Vienna’s most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings. These were built by the renowned architect Otto Wagner.
You will find Turkish, Polish, German, and Italian food stalls on the market.
Address Naschmarkt, 1060 Vienna
Experience expressionism at the Hundertwasser House
The Hundertwasser house in Vienna carries the unmistakable hand of artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose birth name was Friedrich Stowasser. The inhabitants of the Hundertwasserhaus (apartment building) have the right to design the façade around the windows to their taste. Hundreds of trees and shrubs on the balconies and roof terraces make the Hundertwasserhaus a green hot spot in the city’s heart. Unfortunately, most of the Hundertwasserhaus can only be seen from the outside. There is, however, a café with a terrace in the building.
Directly opposite the Hundertwasserhaus is the Hundertwasser village, which is open to visitors. The artist created his shopping centre with a ‘village square’, a bar and shops in the typical Hundertwasser style.
Just like the Hundertwasserhaus, the Kunst Haus Wien, only a few minutes walk from the Hundertwasserhaus, is also designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. As is typical for Hundertwasser’s buildings, the structure has hardly any straight lines. A permanent Hundertwasser exhibition and temporary by other artists are shown here in approximately 1,600 square meters of space.
Address Kegelgasse 37-39, 1030 Vienna
Spanish Riding School: a look behind the scenes
Vienna’s famous Spanish Riding School uses exclusively Lipizzaner, who trace their lineage to the sixteenth century (source). However, only the white stallions. The mares are kept at the Austrian stud farm Piber in Styria.
The Gala performance usually takes place at the weekend. If you are not around over the weekend, alternative options are available. For example, take a stables tour or attend the morning training to see the horses. Of course, the training session does not have the glamour or completeness of a gala performance. It is also cheaper than the gala.
A visit to the school was high on my wish list. But unfortunately, I could not be there because of my travel schedule.
Against my expectations, I did not enjoy the training session. Mainly because one of the young stallions was hit with a whip against his hooves (not hard, but still) to force the horse to ‘dance’. I understand that top performances (horse or human) require sacrifices. But the confrontation with this during the training made me decide to miss out on the Gala performance on a subsequent visit to Vienna. Nevertheless, I still think it was pretty spectacular to watch the performance.
In any case, if you decide to go, make sure you are well on time. Then, if you enter as one of the first, you can conquer a place in the royal box at the head of the ring, where you have the best view.
Buy tickets for training at the box office. It is advisable to book in advance to get a seat for a gala performance.
Address Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Vienna
Visiting Sissi in Vienna’s most beautiful palaces
Each self-respecting noble family built a baroque or neoclassical palace when the Habsburg empire peaked. Today there are so many Viennese palaces that there seem to be one on almost every corner. The three best-known are:
The Hofburg was the winter palace of the imperial family. If you have limited time and want to see one of the royal residences, this is the best option since it is in the city centre.
The crown jewels of Sissi & Franz Josef, the Holy Grail, the living rooms of the Habsburgs and the Sissi Museum are just a few of the glittery highlights.
2. Schloss Belvedere
3. Schloss Schönbrunn
Schönbrunn is the Baroque summer palace of the imperial family. The palace is one of the most famous sights in Vienna – although outside the centre. A tour takes 2 to 3 hours. Schedule at least half a day for this activity, including travel to and from the centre.
Coffee, Lunch & Dinner in Vienna
Pastry at Demel
To taste traditional Viennese Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel, go to Demel for coffee with cake. The salon is decorated in a rococo style.
Demel, founded in 1786, looks back on a long history. Famous customers were Emperor Franz Josef I, who was already enthusiastic about the cake as a child, and later Sissi. They had Demel deliver delicacies to the Hofburg.
Address Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Vienna
Breakfast or lunch at the Naschmarkt
To eat adventurously, visit the Naschmarkt, where you can choose from Turkish, Polish, Italian and Austrian dishes.
Lunch at the Weltmuseum
The Weltmuseum is an ethnographic museum and houses some of Austria’s most important collections of non-European cultures in Austria. The building alone is worth a visit. However, buying a ticket for the museum is unnecessary if you only take lunch here.
The museum and café are closed on Wednesdays.
Address Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna
Lunch or dinner at Palmenhaus
Near the Welt Museum is the Palmenhaus. The glass building is in an oasis of tranquillity in the city centre. A butterfly museum is next to the cafe.
Address Burggarten 1, 1010 Vienna
Wiener Schnitzel at Salonplafond
Restaurant Salonplafond, in the Museum of Applied Arts, is a modern interpretation of the traditional Viennese restaurant. The ultimate place for a large serving of Wiener Schnitzel.
Address Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna
Staying overnight in Vienna
Vienna has options for every budget and every wish. Compare prices and availability here.
- Austria is part of the EU; therefore, the currency used is Euros.
- This means that if you are a European Citizen, you will be insured for medical emergencies via EHIC. But not for repatriation, lost luggage, etc.
- If you need travel insurance, click here to obtain a quote.
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