Vienna, Austria's capital city, is one of Europe's most fascinating places. Lying on the banks of the majestic Danube River, it has long been a gateway between East and West Europe. I have created a Vienna travel guide of things to see and do in this magnificent city.
Vienna continues to lure millions of visitors today including digital nomads looking for a great place to visit in Europe, thanks to its rich history, incredible historical sights, fascinating museums, grand palaces, and excellent culture. Despite exuding a cosmopolitan vibe, Vienna still maintains its distinctive charm, as evident in the ancient architecture dotting the city.
Whether you're looking to visit over the weekend or spend a week or more, you will have plenty to enjoy in this elegant city. Below, check out our list of the best things to see and do in my Vienna travel guide.
1. Visit St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom)
St. Stephen's Cathedral is one of Vienna's landmarks, making it one of the top things to see on your visit. Standing proudly in the historic center of Vienna, the monolithic structure has been one of the most significant churches in Austria. It has a massive tower dominating the city skyline and a beautifully decorated roof with colorful tiles featuring intricate patterns.
Aside from the 137-meter-high South Tower, the other notable features of the church are the catacombs from the 14th century and the Cathedral Treasure, which holds the cathedral's most prominent artifacts. Visit early to avoid crowds and join one of the English language tours to learn more about its history. You can also join the evening tour, where you can marvel at the superb views of the city from the cathedral's tower.
2. Explore the Schönbrunn Palace
There's a good reason why the Schönbrunn Palace is one of the top things to see in Vienna. The magnificent 18th-century Baroque palace features impressive architecture and stunning gardens. It has more than a thousand rooms, including those used by Empress Maria Theresa. One of the highlights of your visit is seeing Emperor Franz Joseph's room, which still has the bed in which he died.
You will also find fascinating things in the rooms used by the empress, including her richly decorated garden apartments, breakfast room, and intricate floral artwork made by her daughters. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens are a lovely place to stroll around.
3. Discover Fascinating Collections at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Housed in a magnificent building, the Kunsthistorisches Museum houses impressive art collections owned by the Hapsburg royal family and other fascinating artistic treasures, such as the vast collection of the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, including his famous masterpiece, the Tower of Babel.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum also holds paintings by Raphael, Bellini, and Titian and portraits by Velazquez. Although the museum focuses on Italian Renaissance and Flemish painting, there are also classical Greek and Roman art collections, including Egyptian artifacts. After checking out the museum's fascinating collections, relax at its cafe, which has elegantly decorated walls and ceilings.
4. Ride Vienna's Giant Ferris Wheel
Riding the Giant Ferris Wheel is one of the top things to do in Vienna. You will find it within the Prater amusement park, which sits by the beautiful Danube River. Enjoy great views of the city as you ride the giant wheel, which has been offering rides since 1896. The luxurious cabin is worth the splurge, which can accommodate up to a dozen passengers.
After your ride, take the time to explore the other highlights within the amusement park, such as the Prater Ziehrer Monument, a massive statue of famous composer CM Ziehrer. Drop by the Prater Museum, which features incredible displays documenting the park's history. Other attractions to check out are the Planetarium and the Liliputbahn miniature steam railroad, which travels in a four-kilometer line near the main avenue.
5. Stroll Around the Bustling Naschmarkt
The best place to soak up Vienna's local culture is in the bustling Naschmarkt, a vast market established in the 16th century and houses over a hundred stalls. It's the perfect representation of Vienna's heritage and culture and an enjoyable place to stroll around, offering tourists an authentic taste of the local life.
Stretching for around 1.5 km, the Naschmarkt lies along Wienzeile Street, with hundreds of stalls selling everything, from fresh fruits and veggies to cheeses, herbs, seafood, and more. The market's atmosphere, sights, sounds, and smells are a true feast for the senses, and a visit to this market is such a fascinating experience.
6. Check out House of Music (Haus der Musik)
Music lovers should check out Vienna's Haus der Musik, a musical history museum paying homage to Stanley Kubrick, an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. It showcases the work of Vienna's great composers with futuristic displays about different sound concepts.
Check out the Wiener Philharmoniker Orchestra Museum and the interactive exhibits. One section of the museum presents the story of the Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra, including numerous memorabilia. Another floor showcases the works of famous composers like Mozart and Beethoven.
7. Watch a Performance at the Vienna State Opera House
The Vienna State Opera House is one of the world's grandest and most splendid theaters, hosting some of the world's most famous performers, soloists, conductors, dancers, and composers. It stages hundreds of operating and ballet performances each year, inspired by music from early 1600 during the first performance of the Viennese Court Opera.
Built in 1869, the massive Opera House is recognized for its French Renaissance Style architecture with lavish interiors, including a grand staircase to take you to the first floor. It has a capacity of 2,211 and can accommodate more than a hundred musicians. If you cannot watch a performance, you can join guided tours, with some available in English.
8. See the Wildlife at Schönbrunn Zoo
While visiting the Schonbrunn Palace, you should drop by the Vienna Zoo, the world's oldest zoo that's still in operation. The zoo is also considered a center for species preservation and educational fulfillment. It was built as a menagerie in the 1700s and still has several original Baroque buildings from when it was first constructed.
As one of the best zoos to visit in Europe, the Schonbrunn Zoo is home to more than 700 species of animals, with the giant pandas being its most famous residents. Aside from admiring the fascinating creatures up close, take the time to visit the many beautiful buildings within the zoo, including a cafe that used to be an Imperial Breakfast Pavilion from the 18th-century.
9. Admire the Art Collections at Albertina Museum
For art lovers, visiting the magnificent Albertina Museum should be on top of your list of things to do in Vienna. It houses art collections from some of the most prominent artists in the world, including those from French impressionists, the Russian avant-garde, and Vienna secessionists. Here, you will find important works of Picasso, Chagall, Magritte, Cezanne, Munch, Ernst, Brach, and more.
Home to over a million art pieces, including over 65,000 drawings, the Albertina Museum is one of the world's finest museums. Many of these art pieces hang in a gorgeous 17th-century palace that used to be the residence of Habsburg archdukes. Aside from the permanent displays, you will also find temporary exhibits. If you still have some time to spare, you should also visit the Albertina Modern. It houses a massive collection of art pieces from the post-WWII era, including contemporary works of art by local and international artists.
10. Join a Ghost Tour
If you're looking for unique things to do in Vienna, consider joining a ghost tour. As one of the world's oldest cities, the city is wrapped in myths, legends, and disturbing stories. You will learn more about these when you join one of the tours.
The ghost tours of Vienna are led by local guides who also have their share of creepy stories to tell. You will also have the chance to visit unique attractions like the Hofburg Palace and Neuer Markt. Some tours include fun activities, a fun way to bond if you're traveling to Vienna with friends.
11. Ride a Horse Drawn Carriage
A more exciting way to go sightseeing in Vienna is through a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage will take you to the city center and discover the city's most notable landmarks. If you are in a group, you can hire a carriage that can take up to four people. It's a popular activity for tourists in Vienna, including families and couples on a romantic trip.
You will find horse-drawn stands in some of the most touristy areas in the city, such as Stephansplatz, Albertinaplatz, Petersplatz, and Michaelerplatz. It's also possible to take the horse-drawn carriage at the Central Cemetery, where you can explore numerous memorial graves of famous Viennese personalities like Mozart and Beethoven.
12. Cruise along the Danube River
Another exciting way to go sightseeing in Vienna is to cruise along the Danube River. As Europe's longest river, the Danube River flows through ten countries starting in Germany and passing through Vienna before emptying into the Black Sea. There are various cruises to choose from – you can take the one-hour cruise, taking you through Schwedenplatz and towards the planetarium and observatories and ending at the Reichsbrucke bridge beside St. Francis of Assisi's church.
A fancier option would be to take the dinner cruise, where you can indulge in a delicious buffet dinner complimented by Austria's best wines and accompanied by music performances. While enjoying your meal, marvel at the enchanting sights of the city, which looks more magical at night.
13. See the Belvedere Palace
The Belvedere Palace is one of Vienna's top attractions, featuring two magnificent Baroque buildings – the Lower Belvedere and the Upper Belvedere. Visit the Upper Palace, where you will find grand statues at the Ground Floor Hall and a Ceremonial Staircase featuring rich stucco relief and frescoes. You should also check out the Marble Hall, an impressive two-story hall with numerous period paintings, sculptures, and frescoes.
At the Lower Palace, there's the Marble Hall, which features a rich ceiling fresco and a Marble Gallery that houses a fascinating collection of historical statues. Other notable buildings in the Belvedere Palace include the Winter Palace, a Baroque building used to house the Orangery, Court Treasury, and the Palace Stables, which has the Medieval Treasury.
14. Learn About Jewish History at the Museum Judenplatz
Another great museum to visit in Vienna is the Judenplatz museum, where you can learn about Jewish life in Vienna during the Middle Ages. Operated by the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna, the Judenplatz museum has showrooms dedicated to medieval Jewry and a virtual tour of Vienna during the 14th century. It also showcases fascinating excavations from the medieval synagogue.
Judenplatz museum has a variety of religious and cultural displays depicting Vienna's Jews during the Middle Ages until the expulsion and destruction of the “Wiener Gesera.” In the museum's subterranean rooms, you will find foundations of destroyed synagogues and selected excavation findings from the Middle Ages. Aside from the permanent displays, there are also temporary exhibitions on the museum's ground floor.
15. Go On a Day Trip to The Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey
If you want to venture outside Vienna, consider going on a day trip to Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey. The Wachau Valley is one of Austria's most prominent wine-growing regions and is only an hour's drive from Vienna. Famous for its apricot and grapes farming, Wachau Valley produces high-quality wine made from various apricots and grapes. You will have a chance to visit local wineries and witness how they make wine. Of course, you also get to sample these delectable beverages.
Along the way, you can stop by Melk Abbey, a magnificent Benedictine abbey perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the scenic Danube River and bordering the Wachau Valley. It has a 12th Century monastic school where notable Austrian composers, writers, and musicians have studied. It also houses the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of Austria's first ruling dynasty. The Melk Abbey remains one of the world's oldest schools still in operation.