Here's how locals recommend exploring the capital city.
Vienna (or “Wien” in German) is a must-visit city for many travelers, whether you’re visiting Europe for the first time or returning for a new adventure. The capital of Austria is a rich cultural hub, boasting museums, Baroque architecture, and a legacy closely tied to classical music — hence its nickname, the City of Music. Vienna is also the birthplace of Wiener schnitzel, and it continues to hold the title of “most livable city,” as determined by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index.
Tina Haselbacher, the owner of Almanac Hotels — which opened Almanac Palais Vienna in March 2023 — describes Vienna as “a place where tradition meets the contemporary.” While the city is, in many ways, visually defined by its historic structures, Haselbacher explains that there are “interesting and contemporary concepts living behind these traditional facades, such as modern art, cutting-edge culinary innovations, and interactive experiences with today’s creators.”
To discover both sides of Vienna, you’ll want to fill your itinerary with a combination of the old and the new — a stop by the Hofburg Palace followed by an afternoon exploring the Kunsthalle Wien in the Museumsquartier, for example. Read on to discover the best things to do when visiting Vienna, according to locals.
Related: T+L’s Guide to Vienna
Visit the famed Schönbrunn Palace.
According to Julija and Wolfgang Rigon of Good Vienna Tours, you “can't visit Vienna without [seeing] Schönbrunn.” The summer residence of the Habsburgs, Schönbrunn Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. While you’ll inevitably experience lines, particularly if you’re there during the weekend, there’s still plenty to do while you wait. “You get [your ticket] relatively quickly and see what time you are allowed into the castle. While you're waiting, you can grab a bite to eat or visit the gardens,” says the couple.
Enjoy a slow morning at a coffee house.
“Viennese coffee house culture is an integral part of the Viennese lifestyle, so much so that UNESCO placed it on its intangible cultural heritage list,” says Michael Gigl, head of market USA for the Austrian Tourist Office. Don’t expect a fast-paced, Starbucks-like morning, though. “The true secret to the Vienna coffee house experience is the lack of time pressure. No one will bat an eye if you decide to read every single newspaper and magazine on hand," he says. "Opening a laptop, however, is rather frowned upon.” Gigl’s coffee house recommendations include Café Sperl, Café Hawelka, Café Korb, Café Ritter, and Café Schwarzenberg.
Stop by St. Stephen's Cathedral.
At its tallest point, St. Stephen’s Cathedral reaches 136 meters, making it the tallest church in Austria and one of the most recognizable sights in Vienna. Visiting the main entrance is free, but you’ll need to purchase a ticket to see the cathedral in its entirety. “The view from the top, whether by foot or by elevator, is highly recommended in good weather,” says Wolfgang Rigon.
Snap a photo of the Majolikahaus (Majolica House).
“Otto Wagner’s Majolikahaus is a Viennese Art Nouveau-styled building famous for its colorful tiles with a floral motif," says Haselbacher. "It is such a special place to see an icon of the Art Nouveau style." Designed by the Austrian architect in 1898 and 1899, Majolikahaus can be found at Linke Wienzeile 40 in the Laimgrube neighborhood.
Fill up on Wiener schnitzel.
“Without having eaten [Wiener schnitzel] in its hometown, you have not been to Vienna,” says Julija Rigon. Made of thinly pounded veal, dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and fried until golden brown, Wiener schnitzel is said to have been introduced in Vienna in the 1850s. It’s not hard to find the dish here; a few restaurant options include Schnitzelwirt, Skopik & Lohn, and Salzamt.
Take a dip in the Krapfenwaldlbad swimming pool.
If you grow tired of walking around Vienna and find yourself in need of a refreshing swim, make your way out of the city center. “Krapfenwaldlbad is an outdoor swimming area in the woods of Vienna, overlooking the entire city," says Haselbacher. "Head there in the summertime to cool off and mix with locals and families."
Attend a performance at the Vienna State Opera.
“About 10,000 people enjoy a classical music performance somewhere in the city every day, so go grab a ticket to the opera or a concert performance,” says Gigl. The Vienna State Opera House features 350 performances each season — both operas and ballets — and tickets can be purchased online. To learn more about Vienna’s musical history and tradition, Gigl suggests visiting the Haus der Musik (House of Music) “for an engaging interactive experience.”
Get an insider’s view of the city via a walking tour.
Unless someone in your party already has a solid understanding of the city — including its layout, history, and lesser-known facts — a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings. Good Vienna Tours offers tours in English every day at 10 a.m. and again at 2 p.m.
Learn about Vienna’s past and present at the Jewish Museum.
With an emphasis on the time period encompassing the two World Wars, this museum educates visitors on Jewish history, culture, and religion. Though it is split into two locations, a single ticket grants you access to both Museum Dorotheergasse and Museum Judenplatz. The latter is home to the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, a memorial designed by Rachel Whiteread that honors the Austrian victims of the Holocaust.
Indulge in a slice of Sachertorte.
Sachertorte, which Gigl calls “the world’s most storied cake," should be on your must-try list while in Vienna. Invented in 1832 by pastry chef Franz Sacher, Sachertorte is a rich chocolate sponge cake made with layers of apricot jam and a chocolate ganache topping. Café Demel and Café Sacher have had a rivalry over the treat for centuries, so you may need to try both and see which one you prefer.
Relax in Vienna’s green spaces.
“One of the reasons Vienna is consistently named as one, if not the, best place to live, is the city’s abundance of green spaces, parks, and recreational opportunities,” says Gigl. “Try the Prater for a leisurely stroll, or head to the ‘Alte Donau’ (Old Danube) for a swim or a paddleboard session,” says Gigl.
Explore the art collection at the Belvedere Museum.
There’s a high chance art aficionados will already be familiar with the Belvedere Museum, which the Rigons describe as a “beautiful Baroque palace with an even more impressive garden.” Haselbacher adds, “They have the biggest collection of [Gustav] Klimt, and the architecture is really special." The Klimt collection includes his most famous piece, “The Kiss.”
Eat lunch at a würstelstand.
A würstelstand is a traditional Austrian street food outlet that serves sausage, hot dogs, and beer, among other delicacies. You’ll find them all over Vienna, but Würstelstand LEO is said to be the city’s oldest sausage stand. If you aren’t adverse to dairy, order the Käsekrainer, which is a sausage filled with small chunks of cheese.
Walk along the Ringstraße.
In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the construction of a boulevard built around Vienna’s city center. Down came the historic city walls, and the Ringstraße (or Vienna Ring Road) took its place, although it took a few decades to complete. “The State Opera, the Hofburg, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural History, the Burgtheater, the City Hall, and the Parliament are just a few sights on Ringstraße,” says Wolfgang Rigon. He suggests walking the 5.2km (about 3.2 miles) route or taking a streetcar.
Shop in Vienna’s two remaining street markets.
Hasselbacher notes that if you make your way to Währing, the 18th district, you’ll find Kutschkermarkt, one of “the last remaining street markets in Vienna.” The other street market, Brunnenmarkt, is in Ottakring, the 16th district. Both offer a variety of produce, meats, breads, spices, flowers, and more. On Saturdays, Kutschkermarkt also has a farmer’s market, where regional fruits and vegetables join the lineup.
Spend a few hours in the MuseumsQuartier.
Self-described as “one of the largest cultural quarters in the world,” the MuseumsQuartier is a hub of Viennese creativity. Here you’ll find the Leopold Museum, the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), and the contemporary exhibition space Kunsthalle Wien. If you’re interested in architecture, music, theater, dance, street art, literature, photography, or all of the above, you’ll find something interesting in the MuseumsQuartier.
Round out your meal with a Punschkrapfen.
“Punschkrapfen is a local delicacy made of nougat and jam-filled sponge cake soaked with rum,” says Haselbacher. Translated to punch cake, the dessert can be found in numerous places across the city, and you’ll notice it immediately thanks to its bright pink coloring.
Dive into Habsburg history at Hofburg Palace.
Hofburg Palace once served as the Habsburgs’ winter residence, but today it’s the workplace and home of the president of Austria. Visitors are allowed to explore the palace, which houses three museums: the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection (although the latter is expected to be closed until 2026).
Make a reservation at Palmenhaus.
You’ll find Palmenhaus in Vienna’s 1st district, next to the Albertina Museum. “With over 400 butterflies flying in the palm house year-round, it is a lovely spot to be immersed in nature,” says Haselbacher, who adds that it’s also a “very nice spot to have a drink, overlooking the Park Burggarten.”
Visit the history-filled Kunsthistorisches Museum.
“If you are even a little interested in art, a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum is a must,” says Julija Rigon. "It is one of the largest and most important museums in the world." Also referred to as the Museum of Fine Arts, the venue's collections span five millennia and include works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rubens, Michelangelo, Vermeer, and more.
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