Vienna, known for its elegance, its opera, and its schnitzel, is the capital of Austria and one of our favourite European cities. It was ranked first equal for quality of life in the Economist’s 2005 report; it was the home of Mozart and Freud; and the Hapsburg empire, the Holy Roman Empire and Hitler were all based there at some point.
It’s easy to get lost when you visit Vienna, since the street names change often, but then again it’s also easy to get around. Most of the main attractions are in or around the multi-named ring roads, including the Rathaus, the Museumsquartier, the Opera and a variety of parks and squares. Mariahilfer Strasse heads west up to the Westbahnhof, the main train station, around which you’ll find the backpacker mecca of hostels, supermarkets and cheap eateries.
You’re spoilt for choice in Vienna, which I guess is the point of a Vienna travel guide! Have a sausage from a street vendor or sample one of the ubiquitous kebabs – they’re cheaper near the Westbahnhof than at the other end of Mariahilfer Strasse.
Place: Capital of Austria
Population: 1.7 million
Known for: The Third Man & Before Sunrise
Average temperatures: summer 22-25 degrees / winter 0
Airports: Vienna-Schwechat Airport (cheap Vienna flights)
OR: Graz, Linz or Bratislava
Price of a pint: €3-4
Price of a dorm bed: €20
Price of a public transport ticket: €1.70 single
Definitely have a coffee in one of the Viennese coffee shops, but be aware that the coffee might taste different to what you expect! While you’re at it, sample Sachertorte at Cafe Sacher. Yum.
If you’re on the cheap, buy rolls at the supermarket or eat at University mensas (eating halls). Making lunch your main meal will save you a packet due to the prevalence of meal deals at lunchtime. And visit a heurige for an authentic local experience, sampling local wines and locally produced food.
We love the Naschmarkt for the variety of restaurants, especially the Japanese one where you can get a bento box for €7 even at dinnertime.
€1.70 for a single ticket will get you almost anywhere you want to go, but most of the Vienna attractions are walkable. The transport network is excellent though if you do use it.
Attractions – free
Vienna’s a great city for just wandering around in. Visit Mariahilfer Strasse for shopping, or the banks of the Danube for a beer in a floating pub.
Schönbrunn Palace grounds are great for a picnic, or visit the Naschmarkt for the markets during the day, and the restaurants at night. Plus, there’s a lot of great architecture to see, including many churches and synagogues.
Attractions – paid
Visit one or several of the many museums Viennna is famous for. We enjoyed the Sisi museum, but we’ve heard MOMA is a bit shocking. See the Third Man at BergKino and go on a Third Man tour to see all the locations in this famous film. And don’t forget to see the Opera – you can get cheap tickets at the door. Plus, check out the Spanish riding school, it’s the only school in the world that still trains in the Renaissance style.
Attractions – seasonal
The opera film festival on the Rathausplatz is worth a visit if you’re around in July and August, but the best seasonal attraction is the winter Christmas markets and outdoor ice-skating rink. Visit in late November or December and you’ll see markets spring up all over the place, selling high-quality goods and tasty food and drink. Don’t miss out on gluhwine (mulled wine) – it’s cultural!
We used Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides), which we like and recommend, but for more detail try The Rough Guide to Vienna 5 – it’s the most recently published mainstream Vienna travel guide. We love the idea of the Moleskine Vienna Notebook – it’s a pocket-sized lined notebook with several pages of information about Vienna travel.
Where to next?
Vienna is central, so Europe’s your oyster. Head east into Bratislava or Budapest, or south to Graz, and onwards to Slovenia or Croatia. We recommend you see more of Austria by heading west to Linz and on to Salzburg and gorgeous Innsbruck. Don’t miss Czesky Krumlov or Prague in the Czech Republic, or jump on a budget flight to just about anywhere you like.