What to Do and See in Vienna Austria

Vienna is so easy to fall in love with - I was looking forward to planning my next trip to Austria before I even left the first one! 

The city is easy to get around, with the excellent public transportation that's available for a reasonable price (72-hour pass or a weekly travel pass valid for a specified calendar week for only 17.10 Euros in 2022). I purchased a 3-day pass when I first arrived and got more than my moneys worth! You can purchase the tickets at the kiosk located at any of the underground metro stations, and validate them when you're ready to start the clock. When you're trying to figure out how to get to where you want to go, you'll quickly notice the U and M icons all over Google Maps that indicate the existence of such stations. Your day-pass will also cover transportation on trams, trains, and buses throughout Vienna, which also have icons all over the map. The only things that needs to be purchased separately are Westbahn trains (trains that take you to other parts of Austria), the City Airport Train (CAT), and airport buses. 

Everything is kept clean; the public transport, the streets, and all the buildings. I didn't even realize how awesome this was until I met a couple on one of the tours we were on that mentioned that they had been avoiding the subway based on their experiences with how dirty similar transportation options were in New York. They had been taking taxis everywhere, which is certainly an option, but an unnecessarily expensive one! 

Also, the people are very friendly and the city is practically crime free. I've read a lot of horror stories about getting pick-pocketed during vacations and having to jump through hoops to get documents or credit cards reissued to avoid being stranded. Vienna is as far from that as I can imagine. In fact, I wasn't paying attention and I left my bag at a Würstelstand, full of expensive chocolates that I had purchased. Instead of congratulating himself on finding a free bag of goodies, a random man actually chased me pretty far down the street to give it back to me! I was very thankful, but my tour guide wasn't the least bit surprised - it turns out most people there would have tried their best to return my bag to me. 

In addition to not having to worry about pick-pocketers, the safety of Vienna makes it a great location for solo or female travelers. My sister and I never came across an area or backstreet we were uncomfortable walking through, and had no qualms with being out by ourselves after dark either. If I wanted to go somewhere on a solo trip, Vienna would be an obvious choice of destination. 

So what should you do to make the most of your trip to Vienna? Here are some of the activities I recommend.

This post contains affiliate links. That means, that at no cost to you, I earn a small commission when you click on a link and purchase the item. I choose products and services based on their usefulness, not for the commission that I'll earn on them.

Take a Walking Food Tour

I love discovering the food of new places, so I can't resist a good food tour! I wasn't able to schedule mine until the last day we were there, but if you can schedule it for the beginning of your visit that would be ideal - you'll get the lay of the land, the guide will teach you how to use the public transport to get around if you haven't already figured it out, and you'll leave with a lot of great restaurant recommendations for the rest of the trip! 

To get the most personalized experience, make sure your tour is for small groups only. Only myself, my sister, and 2 other people were scheduled for the day I went, and our guide customized the experience to exactly what we wanted. We started the day at a traditional Viennese coffee house, Café Korb, for coffee and pastries. The restaurant owner hung out with us for a little while and explained the history of the café to us in the basement lounge area. Then our guide asked what we were interested in, and one of the people in our group piped up and said "Chocolate!" No one was opposed (after all, how can you oppose chocolate?), so our guide took us to a little shop on the edge of the Naschmarkt, called Schokocompany. Not only was their chocolate fair-trade and organic, but it was delicious and had unique fillings in the bars. After trying the cheese flavor, I left with that one, key lime pie, passion fruit and thyme, cranberry and macadamia nut, cola and popcorn, and many others. 

In addition to bars, Schokocompany had melting chocolates to make silky smooth hot chocolate with, so we all enjoyed one of those before continuing onward. 

The next stop was a fun little place called Vollpension - a café that employs elderly people, so that they can add to their retirement pension while everyone else can enjoy the baked goods the employees have spent a lifetime perfecting. After all, who doesn't enjoy desserts baked fresh by their grandma or grandpa? We had just eaten a lot of chocolate, but our guide was nice enough to get us a sampling of the days specials to go, so that we could enjoy them back at our hotel later. 

Next we went to lunch at Meixner's, a cozy place were our guide ordered us an array of different things to try and paired the food with some Austrian wine. One of the people on our tour was vegetarian, so we had some excellent meat-forward and meat-free options. 

Even though we had a lot of food at Meixner's no Viennese food tour would be complete without a trip to a würstelstand! We headed to Würstelstand Alles Walzer Alles Wurst, but my sister and I realized as we approached it that we had gone to that Würstelstand the night before! It was amazing, so I'm not shocked that the locals adore it. Our guide was shocked we had been though, since it's not a popular tourist spot. I think that the only reason that's the case is because it's not located close to a lot of hotels and the chef didn't speak much English. Don't let that stop you from going! The menu is displayed prominently, so you can just point to what you want. 

The guide wanted to make sure we tried new places, so we pivoted and went across the street for baklava at Özaslan Backshop. I'm no stranger to baklava, but this was up there with the best I've had. 

Then we took a tram to the 16th district to try a different würstelstand, A Hasse Und A Zipferl. The owner let us in on his secret to making an excellent goulash (I'll let you go ask him yourself instead of spoiling the surprise), served up a smorgasbord of sausages and mustards for us to try, offered ginger ale and beer so we could make ginger-beer to accompany our food, and kept up a lively conversation with us and the other patrons the entire time we were there. 

By the time we finished eating at A Hasse Und A Zipferl, in the typical Viennese style, it was time for an afternoon coffee. We walked through the Brunnenmarket to Cay Café Am Yppenplatz. The café offers a ton of delicious-looking cake options, but by that time I was stuffed so I just stuck with a cappuccino. 

You can try to recreate my food tour yourself or book your own experience here! Since each tour is customized, you're likely to discover some great spots I didn't make it to - if you do, let me know where I should go on my next trip in the comments!

Take a Wine Tour

There is a sizeable wine region to the north of Vienna. The public transportation is not as great here, since it's outside the more populous areas. Obviously you could take a taxi to a winery or restaurant in the region and back to where you're staying after enjoying a the wine at that location, but if you're going to make the trip, you might as well go to several locations and try a bunch of wines! I think that the best way to do that is with a tour that includes transportation. The one that I recommend is here

The tour in the link above took about 4 hours, went to three locations, and it included a traditional Austrian dinner, plus pickup and drop off to most hotels in Vienna. 

The first stop for us was Weingut Schwarzböck, an organic winery on the main street of Hagenbrunn. They make mostly white wines, so we tasted plenty of those to kick off the tour! The winery owner, who was our host that day, explained the history of the winery, the regions they grew their grapes in, and what made the brand unique while we enjoyed our tasting.

The second winery on our agenda was Bio-Weinbau & Buschenschank Prinz. Prinz has tables set up outside so that on a nice day, you can sip wine right next to the vineyard. However, we were visiting on a chilly April afternoon, so our host set us up at a table inside the cozy wine tavern on the property instead. Prinz also uses organic farming on there vineyards and had plenty of food options available in case you want to linger here and snack or enjoy a meal with your wines. 

We didn't have food at Prinz because for our third stop we went to have dinner and (more) wine at Heurigenschank Anna Stuttner. The restaurant was partitioned into rooms with homey décor, that made our meal feel like it was being had in someone's dining room. Our host brought dish after dish for us enjoy - by the time the strudel came out for dessert I was stuffed. Each course was accompanied by a different bottle of wine, which we learned the details of and then shared among the table. 

Visit Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens 

Schönbrunn Palace was one of my favorite places we went in Vienna and we didn't even get to go inside it! It turns out a certain number of tickets for entry into the palace are sold each day, and when we got there in the early afternoon, they were all sold out. To avoid the same fate, make sure to get there early in the day or buy your tickets online in advance! 

Even without going into the palace we spent 5 hours on the grounds, walked over 6 miles, and didn't even see everything there was to see. So, make sure to wear great walking shoes and plan to spend a whole day here if you can. 

In front of the palace there is a marionette theater, an apple strudel show, and the Imperial Carriage Museum. Plus, in April there were stands set up for the "Easter Market" (a smaller version of the famous Christmas markets in Vienna) with food, drinks, and souvenirs for sale. We browsed the stands for a while and couldn't resist grabbing a huge pretzel before continuing on our way.

The Schönbrunn palace is gigantic, but it is dwarfed by the area behind it - there are various gardens, fountains, statues, the gloriette structure at the top of the hill, a hedge maze, the desert experience house, the palm house, and even a zoo! 

The zoo (tiergarten) is towards the back of the grounds, and requires it's own ticket, which you can purchase at the entrance. It's a small zoo, but what's cool about it is that it's the oldest operating zoo in the world. Since it started as a private collection for the royalty that lived at Schönbrunn in the summer, the paths through the zoo are set up to make sure the animals are as visible as possible, without crowding their exhibits. What that means, is that the exhibits aren't necessarily set up right next to one another and the trails tend to meander around. If you're like me, you may find yourself retracing your steps trying to find all the different trails and animals. 

Experience Viennese Café Culture 

There are cafés everywhere you look in Vienna, and you can't end your visit without going to a few. The idea is to enjoy a coffee and a pastry, but if you don't like coffee, I'd encourage you to still go and enjoy the ambiance and desserts! There are several cafes that are more famous, that you will likely need to wait in line to get into. My strategy was to visit a different café every day I was in Vienna, but to wait in line for one of the more famous options one day. 

The most renowned café options are probably Sacher Café and Café Central. Sacher Café is famous for being the inventor of the Sacher torte, a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam. Sacher torte can be found in other locations around the city now, but there's something so satisfying about trying the original item that started a craze. Café Central isn't known for one particular dessert item, but rather for the people that have visited it in the past, including Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, and others. The plush décor and countless dessert options, make it obvious why people love visiting it in the past, present, and future. 

Other big-name options that are on my list to try are Café Sperl, for a cozier local vibe, Café Demel, known for its historical chocolatery, and Kleines Café, which is supposed to have a particularly delicious apple streusel.

Go on a Hot Rod Tour

The hot rod tours offered in Vienna give an option for a really unique way to see the city. Hotrod Tour Wien will give you a helmet, an earpiece, and a couple of guides to take you on a 2-hour tour. The cars don't look like much but they are zippy! Locals were very amused by our presence and were taking pictures and videos of us driving around like we were celebrities, so be ready to draw some attention. 

We were zooming around on normal roads going 40ish mph. That means you're going to be a little chilly in the spring or the fall and have a ton of wind blowing in your face. I recommend wearing a jacket that's a little warmer than what you need for walking around and maybe some sunglasses to keep the wind from blowing directly in your eyes. I did not think to bring sunglasses and I regretted it a little when we were moving more quickly.

The guides will tell you where you are and what you're driving past, and take go-pro photos and videos of you so that you can focus on driving safely. 

Also, the Hotrod Wien office is located just a few blocks from the famous clock at Hoher Markt and St. Stephan's Cathedral! Before or after your hotrod tour, take advantage of being in the area and watch the clock show at the turn of the hour and take a look inside the cathedral for free, or book a complete tour of it as well. 

See a Show at the Vienna State Opera House

Vienna is renowned for being the home of famous composers such as Beethoven and Mozart, and is therefore a center for classical music and fine arts. I hadn't been to an opera prior to this trip, but since it's such a big part of Vienna's culture and history, I made sure to attend a show at the Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper) while I was there. 

There are operas, ballets, or concerts held at the Opera House almost every day. I didn't have the energy to stand the whole time, so bought tickets in advance for a seat, but you can purchase day-of standing room only tickets on-site for cheap (around 20 euros). Just know that the operas are usually 2 to 3 hours long, when deciding if you should sit or stand. Also, each chair had a tablet that subtitled our opera for us in English, so that we could follow along with what was happening. I'm not sure that the standing room tickets provided something similar. 

The downside to purchasing a seat, other than spending more money, is that some of them only give you a partial view of the stage. The booths that run around the perimeter of the theater have three rows of seats. Thinking that views from the second row are usually pretty great and that closer to the stage might be better, my sister and I purchased seats in the second row of a box that was along the side of the theater. We were only able to see the third of the stage furthest from us, and even that view was often  obscured by the people sitting in the first row. If we stood up, we would have been able to see everything, but that would have completely defeated the point of purchasing seats and kept the poor person in the 3rd row from seeing anything at all. Most of the time I was watching my tablet to see what was being said, but it was still a frustrating situation. 

Another thing to note if you go to a show at the opera house is that formal wear is recommended. I packed a formal dress to wear to the opera, because dressing up can be a lot of fun, but then didn't end up having time to go back to the hotel and change before the show. That turned out to be fine with me, because almost everyone there was wearing business casual attire (a dress and jacket or jeans with a nice top). There seemed to be plenty of men slightly more dressed up - wearing slacks and button downs, but I only saw one couple decked out in what I would consider to be full formal attire (suit and formal dress). 

Visit the Austrian National Library

There is so much to be seen in Vienna between the museums, palaces, historic sites, and other architectural wonders that it's hard to choose what to prioritize. Something that peaked my interest when looking at my options though, was the Austrian National Library (Nationalbibliothek), and it did not disappoint.  

Except on holidays, the National Library is open every day from 10am to 6pm. As is the case with a lot of tourist attractions, it is often best to visit right when it opens or within the last hour before it closes. I tried visiting in the middle of the day originally, and I would have had to wait in the line for entry tickets for at least 30 minutes before getting in the door. And obviously if the line was that long, the library itself was bound to be packed. We gave up and left, but ended up coming back the following day at around 5:15pm. There was one person in front of us to buy tickets and then the library itself was almost empty! 

Since we went with the end-of-the-day strategy, we were a little bit rushed to read all of the informational plaques and exhibit information before we had to leave, but almost everything is contained in one room so that you can see it all in 30 to 45 minutes if you don't linger in any particular spot for too long. 


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