10 things to do in the chic city of Vienna, Austria

In Austria, Europe, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, Unesco, World Travel by Janis2 Comments

Charisma, culture, charm and cakes

When I reminisce about Vienna, my immediate thoughts drift to palatial palaces, exquisite fountains and squares and elegant cafés. Austria’s capital city just exudes style and has a classy culture to match.
Vienna is nestled along the shores of the River Danube, and if you are after a city-break with that little something special, then Vienna is the one.

A sweeping path up to Austria’s parliament building in Vienna.  The huge building was built in the late 19th century in a Greek revival style.

Austria’s parliament building in Vienna

Quick Links

2 dappled grey horses pull a carriage through the historic centre of Vienna.

Horse-drawn Carriage tour

When you stroll around the historic streets, the architecture is so striking. It is such a pleasure that there is an absence of towering buildings, distracting from what is truly a beautiful city.
Visiting any city, there is always a degree of compromise on what you can fit in. With Vienna, you’ll definitely want to try one of their delicious Viennese cakes. I’ve put together a list of the things Gary and I enjoyed during our visit to Vienna. As usual, there is always a good helping of history and culture.

The Vienna State Opera is a beautiful building, erected in the Renaissance Revival style in 1869. It was the first building to be constructed on Vienna’s grand circular boulevard. This incredible opera stages around 300 performances a year, so, you should be lucky in catching a show.

The front of the Vienna State Opera on the Opernring on a bright sunny day.

The Vienna State Opera

The programme is continually changing as they have 58 different operas and 21 ballet productions to choose from. The opera house can seat just over 1,700 people.
You may also recognise it from the Tom Cruise movie, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

The magnificent Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens of are slightly out the city centre of Vienna; however, they are most definitely worth a visit. The palace and gardens were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996.

The view of the Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens from Neptune’s Fountain on the hill.

The Schönbrunn Palace

The stunning 1,441 room Rococo palace was built for the House of Habsburg as a summer residence, and it really does have an impact. Once you’ve taken a tour of the palace, step outside to the beautiful Baroque gardens.
The gardens are amazing, colourful and immaculately kept. Dotted around the grounds are life-size sculptures of Greek gods and mythological figures.
Prior to heading up Gloriette Hill, you come to Neptune’s Fountain, which was built around 1780. Take a stroll around the back, and you’ll get a wonderful view of the palace.

The Gloriette, an ornate pavilion, overlooking the Schönbrunn Palace from Gloriette hill.  The neo-classical structure is now home to a cafe & restaurant.

The Gloriette

As you gently wind your way up through the gardens, the Gloriette emerges more and more into view. Sitting high on the hill you’ll get incredible views of Schönbrunn Palace and the rooftops of Vienna in the distance.
If you fancy heading into to Schönbrunn Palace and like the idea of skipping the line grab your ticket here.

A Palace & Garden Tour

I must admit I wasn’t going to embark on a horse-drawn carriage tour, somehow it just didn’t appeal.

However, after a couple of days of watching them trot at a graceful pace passing the historical monuments, I was won over.

We headed off on fiaker tour as the sun was setting and it was a beautiful way to see the city in all its glory.

I would highly recommend it.

The view from the back of a horse-drawn carriage, at night, in front of Saint Peter's Church in the centre of Vienna
Out on our evening horse-drawn carriage

A helpful guide

If you've yet to discover the beautiful architecture and the delicious cakes in Vienna, you're in for a treat. I found this DK Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide invaluable, they're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Vienna adventure, now you can grab the revised copy.

The Hofburg was once the Imperial Palace of the House of Habsburg and similar to Schönbrunn. It was used as their winter residence.

The Neue Burg, a crescent-shaped neoclassic building that overlooks Heldenplatz, or heroes square.

Neue Burg, the crescent-shaped building overlooks Heldenplatz

The Hofburg has been extended over the centuries with several elegant wings being added. The eye-catching crescent-shaped Neue Burg overlooks the Heldenplatz (Heroes Square).
Passing under arches continuing through the charming complex is the Spanish Riding School. Also here is one of my favourite squares in Vienna which was St. Michael's Square. Especially when the sunset and the arch were illuminated.

The beautiful horse-shoe shaped St. Michael's Square with the floodlit white stone Hofburg, with its verdigris dome decorated with gold features.

St. Michael's Square

The Burg Theatre, which is one of the most important theatres in Austria, was initially adjoined to the Hofburg when it was built in 1741. It was then moved in 1888 to its current location and is a truly stunning building.

The side entrance of the Burgtheatre, the Austrian Nation theatre of a neo-classical design in a cream stone.

The Burgtheatre

Did you know?

The historic centre of Vienna was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Vienna is currently on the ‘in danger’ list, due to the planning of a high-rise development which contravenes the height restriction in place by UNESCO.

In fact, you can visit two, as the Kunsthistorisches Museum (museum of fine art), sits directly opposite its sister museum, Naturhistorisches Museum (natural history).

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, another grand classically styled building from the 19th century.  The building sandstone catches the golden light of the evening in Vienna.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

The two museums looked identical both have a 60-meter-high dome and were both opened in 1891. They look across at each other in the gardens of Maria-Theresien-Platz and form part of the Imperial Palace.
Keep a lookout for the ever-changing exhibitions.

Something a little different architecturally is Hundertwasserhaus. It is a residential building which was designed by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and wow it’s so striking. Constructed between 1983 and 1985 and has become a popular attraction with visitors.

The Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment house styled by an abstract artist where the formality of Austrian architecture is morphed into abstract coloured blocks.

The Hundertwasserhaus

Hundertwasser encouraged the garishness of the house and also the planting of trees and shrubs around the courtyards, balconies and roof terraces.

There so many beautiful churches and chapels around Vienna, some snuggled alongside streets. In contrast, others stand so grand in their own squares. Karlskirche is one to visit, this ornate Baroque church is located in Karlsplatz. Unfortunately for us is was undergoing a little TLC.

The top of Karlskirche in Vienna with its green copper-topped dome set on the white stone church.  Either side are 2 decorative columns, also in white stone, topped gold trimmings and copper domes.

Karlskirche - Well. the roof!

The architectural styles in one city alone are incredible, from the vibrant Baroque to the Gothic and then to the modest lines of Romanesque.

Looking up at St. Stephen’s Cathedral on a bright sunny day with clear blue skies.  The detail in the gothic architectures is impressive with its coloured tiled roof.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

The place of worship that stands out like no other in Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. 

Constructed on the ruins of two previous churches, one of which was consecrated in 1147.

The cathedral that stands today in St. Stephansplatz is so striking, particularly its ornately coloured tiled roof.

There are 230,000 glazed tiles that cover the roof and are displayed as the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle, the coat of arms of the city of Vienna.

Looking towards the roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral on which Vienna's city motif of a doubled headed eagle is depicted in the tiles.

Doubled headed eagle on the roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Ahh, now if you’re heading to Vienna, then you really should find the time to visit one of the elegant Viennese Cafés. These stylish cafés have a history dating back centuries, there’s always time to enjoy a coffee.

Of course, while you are there you need to sample the delicious cakes, it would be rude, not too. Over the last few years, I’ve become a bit of a chocolate fiend, so when I spotted the Sachertorte, there was no other choice.

Inside the elegant Café Central in Vienna with it's high vaulted ceiling and decorative lighting.  In front of us is a pastry counter serving the elegant patisseries these cafés are renown for.

Inside the elegant Café Central

The hop-on hop-off bus tours are not always everyone’s cup of tea, and I understand that. However, in a city like Vienna when there are quite a few places out of town, then these tours make it so easy to reach them.

Also, you see a lot of other locations along the way that you may not have otherwise seen.

So, don’t dismiss it out of hand, take a peek at what is on offer on the multi-lingual Big Bus tour.

The big bus tour

Once you’ve visited the Schönbrunn Palace, jump off at Naschmarkt and visit Vienna’s vibrant food market. A market has existed here since the 16th Century.

Have you seen?

If you’re visiting Austria and fancy treating yourself to another one of their enchanting cities, then head over to Salzburg. Mozart and the Von Trapps, you can’t go wrong.

A friend of mine that lived in Vienna for several years told me about Grinzing and its wine-growing region. I never realised that they had vineyards in Vienna and so close to the city centre.

A scooter sits in front of the entrance to a Heuriger, a local restaurant, in the Grinzing region of Vienna.  The archway leads to a courtyard which serves traditional Viennese food, local wine and beers.

Wine growing region Grinzing

So, as we had the opportunity on our hop-on hop-off tour, I jumped at the chance to head to Grinzing. It was a quaint little town and lovely to stroll around with the rolling hills beyond.

The local wine is served in small Viennese taverns known as Heuriger. They have great beer gardens too, so if wine isn’t your tipple enjoy a local ale.

A view from the courtyard of a Viennese wine restaurant in the Grinzing region of Vienna.  The historic cobbled courtyard and the lane that leads to the exit is lined with tables, chairs & benches.

In the courtyard of a Heuriger in Grinzing

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Inspired to visit Vienna?

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  1. Looks like they brushed up Hundertwasserhaus since our last visit, Janis. When we were there it was very badly maintained, with paint falling off the walls and the black residue of exhaust fumes dulling all the beautiful colours. Nice to see it in its beauty on your photos.

    So you recommend the Fiaker tour, that s good to know. Ellie tries to pressure me into taking her on a tour every time we are in town… Perhaps next time I will let her have it her way haha..

    1. Author

      I think the Hundertwasserhaus is an acquired taste; however, we enjoyed visiting.
      Yes, I do recommend the Faiker tour, I must admit it is not usually the sort of thing that we do, but it was my birthday and I thought let’s do something a bit different. It was lovely doing it at dusk too.

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