Vienna is a travel destination packed with cultural and historic attractions, and breathtaking baroque architecture.
The captivating capital of Austria attracts around seven million visitors a year and is the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe. Chances are if you are travelling through Eastern Europe, you will end up in Vienna at some stage. Plan to stay at least three or four nights. There’s plenty to keep you occupied!
Vienna’s old city centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in 2001. The Ringstrasse — the ring of wide boulevards that surround the old centre — is one of the city’s greatest assets. It’s lined with museums, magnificent buildings, parks and gardens. The Ringstrasse replaced the old city wall, which was demolished in the mid-1800s by order of Emperor Franz Josef l. That decision is largely what led to the open and airy city residents and visitors enjoy today.
Enjoy this Vienna travel guide.
Vienna for history lovers
There’s no shortage of ways to step back in time in Vienna.
The imposing Hofburg (imperial buildings of state) is a historical must-see. This was the seat of power of the mighty Hapsburg dynasty that ruled Austria for six centuries. There are three areas of the Hofburg that are open to the public, but if you have limited time, don’t miss the Kaiserappartements — the former home of Emperor Franz Josef l.
Franz Josef ruled Austria from the mid 1800s until his death in 1916 during World War l, and was the longest-serving of the Hapsburg emperors. The apartments — which Franz Josef shared with his wife Elizabeth (known as Sisi) and their family — are largely undisturbed and provide a fascinating insight into imperial life.
The Hapburgs didn’t travel far for their summer holidays — just seven kilometres to the rococo vision that is Schönbrunn Palace on the outskirts of the city. The palace started life as a humble hunting lodge in the 16th century, and ended up anything but humble!
Top cultural experiences in Vienna
The Albertina museum is home to an incredible collection of artworks by the great masters, including Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Cezanne.
Good things do come in small packages. The Albertina’s most famous piece is Albrecht Durer’s small unassuming watercolour Young Hare — painted in 1502.
You might recall seeing or hearing about the Vienna Art and Design exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne a few years ago. It focused on the Vienna Secession artistic movement led by Gustav Klimt at the end of the 19th century. You can visit the Secession building in Vienna and see its famous Beethoven Frieze.
No visit to Vienna would be complete without attending a Mozart recital. Mozart was born in Salzburg but spent much of his life in Vienna composing around 600 musical works. Purchase a ticket to the chamber concert of your choice in the main square around St Stephen’s Cathedral. The Vienna Residence Orchestra is one option, which performs at the wonderful Palais Auersperg.
Great places to eat in Vienna
The kaffeehauses (coffee houses) of Vienna are an absolute institution, and an important part of Viennese history.
Traditionally a breeding ground for innovation and social change, the who’s who of Viennese society would gather at coffee houses across the city in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to debate the issues of the day.
Today the coffee hours are a must-visit for caffeine-crazy Aussies, but be warned, the Viennese take their coffee drinking very seriously. There are no takeaways. You sit, relax and enjoy every sip of your coffee in the undoubtedly opulent surrounds. Cafe Sacher in the old city centre is an excellent option. While you’re there, try a slice of their famous Sacher Torte.
Top rated Vestibül restaurant in the foyer of the gorgeously historical Burgtheatre (or Burg as it’s known to locals) is a must for connoisseurs of fine food. The Burg is located right on the Ringstrasse. Vestibül features a fine dining menu with an emphasis on local produce and a fusion of Austrian and French styles. Try their signature dish of the unlikely combination of lobster and cabbage in paprika sauce.
You can’t come all the way to Austria without trying a traditional Wiener Schnitzel: paper-thin veal, deep-fried and served with fresh lemon. The place to do it is the Griechenbeisl — a traditional Viennese restaurant established in the late 1400s (parts of the building date back to the 1300s!). Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert all dined here.
Where to shop in Vienna
The shopping in Vienna is fabulous, as you would expect.
The pedestrian Kohlmarkt is the spot to head for if you’re looking for big name brands. It’s home to Vienna’s most celebrated jewelers, including Wagner. All the big international names are also present: Tiffany and Co, Cartier and others. The holiday for your credit card is definitely over!
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Ways to relax in Vienna
The city has an amazing number of municipal parks and gardens.
The Stadtpark is one of the most beautiful and offers an absolute wealth of historic monuments to enjoy. It was also the city’s first public park.
The Burggarten is another fabulous option. Once the private garden of Franz Josef l, it contains the only public monument to the emperor.
Sigmund Freud Park — located just outside the Ringstrasse on the northern side of the old city — offers, appropriately, free use of sun lounges.
And finally, sit back, relax and enjoy a sightseeing cruise on the mighty Danube River through the heart of Vienna. It’s another opportunity to soak up the grandeur of one of Europe’s most historic cities.
Where to stay in Vienna
Hotel Sacher Vienna
The Hotel Sacher Vienna is one of the city’s finest accommodation options. In fact, it’s one of Europe’s top luxury hotels and famous guests have included John F Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II. The hotel features classic styling throughout, sumptuous furnishings and exquisite attention to detail, and is located in the heart of the old city. The executive suites offer up to 70 square metres of internal space.
The Guesthouse Vienna
For a boutique accommodation option, The Guesthouse Vienna will fit the bill. It’s also located in the centre of the old city.
British designer Sir Terence Conran inspired the contemporary finishes and every room features a stocked wine fridge and mini bar which is complimentary (apart from spirits), and Molton Brown toiletries. There are only four room types and they’re all amazing.
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About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.