After spending a few days in Vienna this past month, there is one thing I know for sure: I’m returning to the city as soon as I get the chance. Vienna became, without a doubt, one of my favorite European cities. The architecture, the history behind it, the colors, the people, and just the whole atmosphere of this capital makes it the perfect travel destination. Whether you like spending time outdoors or you’re a history fanatic; there’s something for everyone in Wien (how you say it in German!).
What should you do during your time in this Austrian city? Here’s my full guide.
- Biking — I was impressed at how bike friendly Vienna is. Everyone bikes around and I think it’s the city where I’ve seen most bikes, right after Amsterdam. There are many bike stations around the city where you can rent them really cheap. I highly recommend taking one day to visit some attractions on bike. You’ll feel like a local and it’s really safe!
- Credit cards — Credit cards are accepted mostly everywhere in Vienna, with the exception of Nashmarkt (see below) and even then, you can still use cards there with some limitations. I did not take out cash in the city and save some bank fees by just swiping my card.
- Tipping —Most returns already include tips and service charges in the bill. If you pay by card, there’s actually no option to tip after. It is also customary to round up your bill if you’re satisfied with the service. If paying a €28 bill, just say to the waiter to round it up to €30, for example.
- Transportation — Transportation in Vienna is AMAZING, and you shouldn’t have to use a taxi to get absolutely anywhere. They also have Uber, in case you need that. The metro goes everywhere. At the time of this post, Google Maps doesn’t show metro directions, so it’s good to have the metro map in your phone so you can use it. It’s very easy to use, and I’ve included it below. Like most European cities, the metro works on the “honesty” method. You buy a ticket, validate it, and then get on. Out of the times I was in the metro they never had an inspection, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Cards are accepted at the metro machines to buy tickets.
- Language — Language shouldn’t be an issue in Vienna, as everyone speaks English and German (Austrian dialect).
- Student Discount — Everywhere in Vienna you can save money if you’re a student. Make sure to have your student card and to ask if there’s a student discount, as many times they won’t tell you.
- Safety — 5/5 on my safety scale. At no point did I feel in danger in the city, and even walking late at night by myself I felt safe. Vienna is considered by many studies as being “very safe.”
- Expenses — Vienna is a bit expensive, but it’s also doable. Meals in restaurants range from about €10-15, while a beer could be around €4. Most of your money will go to attractions, like the palaces and museums. Due to its amazing public transport, you’ll save lots of money on taxis. I believe you can do Vienna for around $50-60/ day if you cook some meals, buy some snacks at the supermarket, and stay at hostels that aren’t too pricey.
- Belvedere Palace — To get to Belvedere Palace, use Line 1 of the U-Bahn (Vienna metro) and get off at Hauptbahnhof. Belvedere palace actually consists of several palaces that are now museums. There’s the Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere, each being art museums offering different art. €20 gets you in the Upper and Lower Belvedere, and you save €6.50. Tickets can be bought online. In the Belvedere complex, you also have the 21er Haus, Belvedere’s contemporary art collection. This also requires an extra ticket. As you can see, you can easily spend a whole day here, so make sure to get there early. Besides the museums, the palace itself is beautiful from the outside. Even if you don’t go to all or any of the museums, I definitely recommend going. You can walk through the gardens of the palace for free as well.
- Stadtpark — When you get out of Belvedere, of before you go, get to Stadtpark. Something that I loved about Vienna was the many plazas and green spaces that it has. Stadtpark was one of my favorites. It is great for a picnic, a stroll, to do some reading, or to tan. In the summer, you will see locals and tourists tanning in the grass! There are restaurants and a small lake in the park, so it’s definitely worth a visit to escape from the crazy city life.
- Vienna State Opera — Vienna is known for its opera worldwide, so you must at least pass by the Vienna State Opera so you can see the beautiful architecture. If you want to get tickets cheap, it is recommended to get there early. For example, for the 6:30pm opera you should already be in line by 3pm. You can get standing tickets for as little as €4 if you do this. However, if you can’t get tickets, you can still go outside and watch the opera live for free in huge screens. It’s still an amazing experience and you’ll be joined by many people! ONLY buy tickets from the Opera House, and not from people in the streets if you don’t want to get ripped off. Here’s the schedule with all the concerts and events.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral — St. Stephen’s Cathedral is an icon of Vienna. Located in the center of the city, you must visit this church, not only because of its beautiful romanesque and Gothic architecture but also because of its history. It was completed in 1160! The cathedral stands tall in Vienna and can be visited free of charge.
- Catholic Church of St. Peter or Peterskirche — Located a couple blocks away from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, this baroque church is also beautiful. The dome and the altar deserve a visit. Also free.
- Hofburg Palace — I was a bit confused about Hofburg Palace before going. It is overwhelmingly huge and I didn’t even know if you could go in! Turns out, you can definitely go in, and there are three amazing museums inside this palace. If you want to truly understand the history of Austria, you must visit this place. Built in the 13th century, the former imperial palace was the residence of the Habsburg dynasty for many years. It is currently the seat of government in Austria. Within the palace, there are three museums: the Imperial Silver Collection, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Apartments. The Imperial Silver Collection houses an incredible and overwhelming amount of silverware from the Habsburg dynasty. The Sisi Museum shows you the life (and death) of the beloved and mysterious Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sisi. This museum will get you wanting to learn more about her life. At last, the Imperial Apartments take you through the actual apartments of the imperial family. There’s no better way to see how the monarchs lived than by stepping into their residence. An audio guide is included with your ticket purchase, and a combined ticket can be bought to do the Hofburg Palace and the Schönbrunn Palace and save some money.
- Burggarten — Another green area by the Hofburg Palace is Burggarten. This small park houses a butterfly conservatory and a beautiful statue of Mozart. It’s also a great place to relax. At night/afternoon, you can hear music and see locals and tourists dancing, which was truly beautiful.
- Schönbrunn Palace — Done with the Hofburg Palace? Good! Head onto the next one. Personally, I found the Schönbrunn palace more fascinating than the Hofburg Palace. This palace was the former summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs and it holds over 300 years of secrets. To visit Schönbrunn, take the U4 line to Schönbrunn. There are two tours you can do; the Imperial Tour and the Grand Tour. Tickets can be bought online or at the palace. The Imperial Tour includes 22 rooms and takes around 30-40 minutes, while the Grand Tour takes 50-60 minutes and includes 40 rooms. The difference in price is about three euros, so I highly recommend the Grand Tour if you want to truly get a feel of the palace. Here, you’ll see original furniture from the monarchs, their room, paintings, and even the same room where it is believed that Mozart gave his first concert. Pictures are not allowed! After you’re done with the palace, make sure you walk through the gardens. This is free of charge, and they are filled with roses and fountains and are truly beautiful. If you have time (and money!), visit the Tiergarten Schönbrunn or Vienna Zoo, located behind the palace. The zoo is considered the oldest zoo in the world, and tickets reflect that… with a whopping €18.50 per person.
- Burgtheater, Rathaus (City Hall of Vienna), Austrian Parliament Building —These three are really close to each other, by the center. I recommend visiting for the beautiful architecture, specially the breathtaking Austrian Parliament Building.
- Sigmund Freud Museum — Unless you’re REALLY into Sigmund Freud, I actually recommend skipping this museum. Everything here can be learned on Wikipedia, and only the first room of the museum (which was Freud’s apartment at one point) contains original artifacts. There’s too much information, mostly through pictures and an audio guide, and it’s a bit overwhelming. If you still want to go, take the U4 to Roßauer Lände station.
- Naschmarkt — Naschmarkt is simply AMAZING. This market is about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) long and you can buy everything here. It’s like the bazaars from Turkey! From souvenirs to food to drinks and cheese and meat and clothes and… well, you get the point. It was really cheap, too. I got 8 pieces of falafel for €2. A couple of recommendations for this place. 1) Make sure you go early so you can get food that’s fresh 2) Have cash. Although some places accept cards, most don’t or you need a minimum or there’s a fee. 3) Don’t buy the first thing you see. Look around. The prices change quite a bit per kiosk.
- MuseumsQuartier — MuseumsQuartier is a large area in the center of Vienna that houses art museums, constant events, restaurants, and an open space to just relax. A great place to go for drinks as well.
- Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien — This art museum, located right across from the Hofburg palace, was one of my favorite things to do in Vienna. This art museum not only houses national treasures, but has a great collection of Greek and Roman artifacts. Expect to spend a few hours here, and make sure you grab a free guide in the front where it tells you the highlights of every room (you’ll go crazy otherwise!).
- Mariahilfer Straße & Kärntner Straße — Want to do some shopping and dining out? Head to these two famous streets! Mariahilfer Straße is the city’s longest and most lively shopping street, while Kärntner Straße is also another famous shopping street in central Vienna.
- Supermarkets — To save some $, buy snacks and food at supermarkets during some of your days in Vienna. Billa, a famous European supermarket chain, always has fresh salads and sandwiches. Also carry snacks to avoid overspending!
- Café Central — If you go to Vienna, you’ll probably hear about this place. The café opened in in 1876, and some of its customers included Freud, Josip Broz Tito, Vladimir Lenin, and even Hitler… Today, you’ll always find a line for the place, but thankfully it moves fast. Inside, there’s live piano music, beautiful decor, and expensive food. Very expensive food. A soup and a dessert came out to be around $17, and none blew me away. I definitely recommend coming here, but I recommend getting coffee or something cheap.
- Amerlingbeisl — This famous Gastropub serves amazing schnitzel. A great place to grab breakfast or brunch. The food was impeccable.
WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
- Couch surf — Vienna is a place I recommend doing Couchsurfing. With the hostels ranging from $20-30 (the cheapest ones), lodging is definitely more expensive than most Europeans cities in here. Don’t know how Couchsurfing works? Read my post on it here.
- Plan — Decide which museums/attractions you want to go to. Are you really a fan of Freud’s work? If not, don’t go to the museum, for example. You don’t have to do it all!
- Cook your own food — Like I mentioned above, cooking your own food is one of the main ways to save money in Vienna.
- Carry your student ID — Are you a student? You’re in luck, but only if you have your student ID with you. You can save money from most attractions with that precious ID.
- Use public transport.
- If staying at a hostel/Airbnb, stay a bit far from the city center to save money, and just take the useful metro.