Things to Do In Vienna, Austria (City Guide)

Guest Post By: Britta Pichler is an American expatriate currently living in Vienna, Austria – see her blog at op-expat.com

On the surface Vienna is elegant, traditional, and slow moving – however, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it’s also bohemian, trendy, and a place to party all night long.

Vienna’s elegance and tradition are centrally located in the Inner City, or more formally, the First District.

In its 3.01 km2 of space you’ll find stunning architecture made up of palaces, museums, theaters, and churches.

Most tourists stay in this small area of Vienna to see the major sights, then head out thinking that’s all there is.

Pity, those people missed out on seeing what Vienna is really about.

To do that, you have to get out of the Inner City and head over to the districts that surround it.

There’s the Naschmarkt (meaning snack market) where to locals go to dine.

There’s the 7th district with its huge shopping street and bohemian flair made up of funky coffeehouses and local designers.

Even further out, in the 19th district, is a strong wine culture with vineyards in the city limits.

After a long day of touring the city, a round of all-night partying awaits in multiple pubs, trendy bars and restaurants, and dance clubs - Vienna is a versatile town that has so much more to offer than people think.

Dining

The dining scene in Vienna has exploded over the last few years. The city now offers cuisine from every part of the world to appease every budget.

Traditional Austrian cuisine is a rich, satisfying fare. Go to Café Central or Bettel Student, both of which are in the Inner City, reasonably priced, and consistently good.

Eating at a würstelstand (sausage stand) is a must. The best is in front of the Albertina Museum. Order your sausage with a side of bread and an Austrian Ottakringer beer.

Vienna coffeehouses are an institution. Go in the morning and order a Viennese breakfast. In the afternoon go to Oberlaa for the best cakes in town.

If you’re looking for a more formal dining experience, go to Plachutta and order the tafelspitz.

Doing the Tourist Thing

The Inner City contains almost all of the “must sees” of Vienna.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is in the middle of the city and the elevator ride to the top offers a nice view.

The Hofburg – Imperial Palace has multiple tours, but take the Imperial Apartments Sisi Museum tour due to its refreshing honesty about the famous Austrian Empress.

Vienna is the birthplace of the coffeehouse and The Sacher Café is the most prominent with its famous Sachertorte.

Pair the sweet torte with a strong cup of Viennese coffee and the sugar and caffeine rush will keep you buzzing for hours.

To see all the other sights ride the Vienna Ring Tram which is a good value.

There are two important sights outside of the Inner City. The first is the Schönbrunn Palace.

It offers a 30 and 60 minute tour, but go for the shorter one and spend the rest of the time walking the beautiful gardens.

A little secret about the palace is that it has the world’s oldest zoo on its premises and is a great treat for families.

For hot summer afternoons when touring is done, find the public pool where the chic set of Vienna go to cool off.

The other sight is the Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater. Lines can be long and to be honest, it isn’t worth the wait. Photo opportunities from the ground looking up at the wheel can be really nice though.

Off the Beaten Path

Get off the tourist track to start hanging out where the locals are.  Right outside of the Inner City is the Naschmarkt.

Put up with the crowds and walk at a slow pace to see all the exotic edibles on display. Buy only nibble sized quantities as prices can be high.

To satisfy your hunger go behind the stalls to the diverse restaurants and dine with the Viennese. Some of the places can be a good value like Tewa, which is stand 672.

On Saturdays the Naschmarkt expands to include Europe’s largest flea market. It’s fun to poke through all the dusty knickknacks but the items are overpriced. Note that the Naschmarkt is closed on Sundays and holidays.

From Naschmarkt walk to the bordering bohemian 7th district which is called Neubau. Within a few blocks is Vienna’s biggest shopping street, Mariahilferstraße.

The usual suspects like H&M and Zara are present, but the department store Peek & Cloppenburg has a flagship location which offers the best shopping opportunities.

If you want something original, check out young designers on Zollergasse. Then head east to hit the MuseumsQuartier to grab some culture, coffee, and just hang out.

Experiences & Events

Vienna is a great town to explore on foot. The Vienna Sight Running tour is a unique experience if you’re a jogger or just need to burn off the Austrian sausage, beer, and tortes.

If the thought of jogging makes you woozy, dance away the night during Ball Season. Vienna hosts over 450 balls each year and is one of the most authentic experiences a tourist can participate in.

They are a great way to get into sections of buildings that are normally closed to see dazzling displays of imperial interior design.

Despite the formal setting and a very strict dress code (men must be in tuxedos and women must wear floor-length gowns) balls are anything but stuffy. Prepare for a long night of dancing, live music, and fun.

Tip: Balls vary in expense and experience. The Emperor’s Ball is expensive and touristy so skip it. The Opera Ball might be the most famous but comes off as tacky due to the media circus around it.

The Vienna Philharmonic Ball is the most elegant and despite a high ticket price, is absolutely worth it.

Most Viennese tend to flock toward the Flower Ball, Coffeehouse Owner Ball, and the Bonbon Ball due to fantastic locations and respectable ticket prices.

Nightlife

Nightlife in Vienna isn’t obvious even though the party week starts Wednesdays and on weekends goes all night long. 25hours has a laid back bar with a DJ, good vibe, and cheap drinks.

There is nothing special about lutz except for the fact that it somehow manages to be a cool bar, but skip the club scene. Sofitel is a very sophisticated bar that offers the absolute best view of Vienna.

To go dancing Volksgarten-Pavillon and  Albertina Passage are the places to be. On Fridays and Saturdays don’t show up earlier than midnight.

Getting There and Away

Vienna’s airport is small but efficient. Ryan Air is a great, cheap carrier that flies to and from Vienna from other European cities. Train travel is offered by the ÖBB but check out Eurolines first for great prices on clean, punctual buses with laptop plugs and sometimes WIFI.

Guest Post By: Britta Pichler is an American expatriate currently living in Vienna, Austria – see her blog at op-expat.com.

11 Responses to Things to Do In Vienna, Austria (City Guide)

  1. Yvon July 8, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    That sounds like a great city. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it already. 
    The naschmarkt sounds lovely!

    • Sofia - As We Travel July 8, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      Hey Yvon – thanks for the comment, Vienna is a wonderful city so much to do and see – def. recommend it on a trip to Europe :)

  2. Sylviane Nuccio July 10, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    I’ve never been to Austria or Germany even though I am from France. What a shame, isn’t it? I always heard that Austria is a beautiful country and Vienna a beautiful city, now thanks to our post I know more about this city that I wish to go see some day.

    Thank you for this great post.

    • Nathan July 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      Hey Sylviane – thanks for your comment – Austria really is an amazing place, I hope you can visit Austria sometime soon! :)

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  4. Meridian MacAlister (@meridiana_me) July 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    Vienna definetely a beautiful city, i have never been there but i will visit it soon… great article

  5. Sid July 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Austria is my dream destination. That is why Im facinated with the blog post of yours. I always wanted to visit but expenses are high. I have registered to Qatar Airways initiative where they giving free tickets to contest winners. Guys wish me luck and then hey Austria– I am coming….

  6. jenkakio July 15, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    I wished I had this guide last month when I was in Vienna for a day. I was heading down to Italy on the rail and decided to stop over in Vienna for a day. It was heavily raining all day. Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of the city and pretty much stayed on those “hop on hop off” busses. But I did make a point to visit The Sacher Cafe. The tort is a must try! I don’t really like chocolate, but I just had to have it.

    Great post. It makes me want to visit Vienna again.

  7. Martin July 17, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Being from Vienna and living in the USA for a long time, I can honestly say there is not a better more beautiful city than Wien….and i live in Honolulu, not bad but not like the culture capital!

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