Vienna Austria has long had a reputation as being one of the very best cities in the world. In fact, it was recently named the World’s Most Livable City for the eighth time in ten years. But what’s it like to spend time in Vienna as a short-term visitor? We recently spent nearly two weeks in Vienna. It served as our hub city during a nearly 7-week odyssey in Central Europe and the Balkans. And so, over the course of this particular trip, it came to feel like home. We began and ended our trip with multiple days exploring Vienna. Plus we were in and out of town several times as we made various regional connections. Consequently, I had time to learn a lot about the World’s Most Livable City as a traveler. Here are the 8 most insightful Vienna Travel Tips I gathered while there.
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So Much Grandeur
For hundreds of years, Vienna was the Imperial City of the Habsburg Empire. The Habsburg emperors ruled large swaths of Central and Western Europe from their base in Vienna, and accumulated great wealth in the process. All of this wealth is very much on display throughout the city.
So the first of my Vienna Travel Tips is to expect lots of grandeur as you visit Vienna’s top sites. You’ll be visiting one huge Baroque Palace after another, several of which are surrounded by extensive gardens.
The largest of these is the Hofburg – located in central Vienna. This was the primary residence of the Habsburgs and is huge complex made up of multiple buildings. Most of these now house a variety of museums, but Austria’s modern-day President resides and has offices within the complex, too.
When it comes to touring the Hofburg, you won’t find a universal “Hofburg Palace Admission”. Instead, you enter its various public buildings and museums separately (here’s a good overview of these), and pay separate admission fees too. You can also find various organized tours (like this one) that will give you a much better historical perspective than you can get on your own.
Another Habsburg Palace – Schönbrunn Palace – is Vienna’s most popular tourist attraction. This was the Habsburg’s summer palace and it sits on a massive parcel of land outside of the central Vienna (originally the royal family’s hunting grounds). You can tour the inside of this Palace, but you’ll choose between different admission prices, depending on how many rooms you want to see.
You can also wander Schönbrunn’s extensive grounds mostly for free – though some areas such as the Vienna Zoo charge a separate admission.
The Upper Belvedere is another former Hapsburg palace, located not far from the city center. It sits within another large garden space that it shares with a second palace – the Lower Belvedere. Both palaces are now fine art museums. Like Schönbrunn, anyone is free to wander the grounds.
So Many Museums
Not only is Vienna a city of palaces, it’s also a city of museums. So many museums! Over 100 museums in fact!!
So the second of my Vienna Travel Tips is try not to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of museums in Vienna. Know that you are going to miss most of them during a short stay. Choose a few that sound most interesting to you and enjoy.
One of the very most popular museums in Vienna is one I just mentioned – The Upper Belvedere. Visiting the Upper Belvedere requires some planning. This museum has a timed-entry system and can sell out during busy times of year. This is because the Upper Belvedere displays The Kiss by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt – certainly the most famous piece of art in Vienna.
And like most pieces of great art, it’s amazing to see The Kiss in person. We’ve had a print in our house for a long time, and it’s not even close. The definition, the lines, the colors, the precious metals used. Seeing This Kiss for yourself should definitely be on your list of things to do in Vienna.
Another museum we visited was the Austrian National Library in the Hofburg. Though I suppose it’s not technically a museum, it still very much feels like one. This library was established by Emperor Charles VI in the early 1700s (that’s his statue in the photo), and it contains thousands of now-precious volumes collected during Habsburg rule.
The painted main room itself is stunning, the book shelves alone are works of art, and some of its most important medieval illustrated books are displayed behind glass cases on the main floor.
And as you might imagine, some of Vienna’s 100+ museums are fairly unique. One of these is the Globe Museum. Here you’ll find an impressive collection of globes constructed through the centuries, along with information about the history of globe construction. Given that we are world travelers, we love globes, and so we loved this museum.
Here’s a guide to some of the most popular museums in Vienna to help you navigate your own museum choices in Vienna.
So Much Music
Not only is Vienna a city of palaces and a city of museums, but Vienna is also officially known as The City of Music. This is because Vienna has been the epicenter of classical music since the 1700s. Mozart, Hadyn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert all lived, composed, and performed in Vienna.
So the third of my Vienna Travel Tips is that if you appreciate classical music, you will love Vienna. You will be able to walk in the footsteps of these musical geniuses, and listen to their music in the very places it was created.
And as with the 100+ museums in Vienna, you can also be overwhelmed with the sheer number of music experiences here. We managed to take in several during our time in the city.
One of these is the House of Music. This has been labeled a “Sound Museum”. Its interactive displays take you on a journey of general music discovery and understanding. And you are also guided through the history of classical music in Vienna, including rooms dedicated to each of Vienna’s most celebrated composers.
We also journeyed to the Vienna suburbs and spent some time at the Beethoven Museum. This museum is inside one of Beethoven’s Vienna residences, and presents a detailed look into his troubled life and his musical genius.
And you will not have any difficulty finding live classical music performances in Vienna. We attended one inside the 16th-century St Anne’s Church. This was a string quartet performance. The musicians used instruments that were several hundred years old, and played music by Hadyn, Mozart, and Beethoven. This particular evening was definitely a highlight of our time in Vienna (you can click here to book).
Here’s a look at some other music performance opportunities available on Viator:
The Vienna Pass May Be Helpful
It’s probably obvious now that a visit to Vienna can be quite expensive. The entry fees to all of these palaces and museums and musical events will quickly add up.
So #4 on my list of Vienna Travel Tips is to consider purchasing the Vienna Pass.
The Vienna Pass gets you free entry into 70 of Vienna’s top sites within a specified time frame. You can buy passes for 1, 2, 3, or 6 day visits (the price increases with the number of days you choose).
I did not purchase the Vienna Pass. Passes like these only save money if you cram a lot of sight-seeing into a short period of time. And that’s not usually how we travel. With our slow approach to travel, we generally only see 1-2 major sites per day. Because we also take time to enjoy a leisurely lunch… wander around and soak up the vibe of a place…maybe stop somewhere for a coffee…etc.
But if you are in Vienna for a short time, and want to see as much as you possibly can each day, then the Vienna Pass may make sense for you. It also includes free use of the Vienna Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus for the duration of your Pass. This additional benefit may be attractive if you don’t want to use Vienna’s public transportation network. Here’s a link to the Vienna Pass website for more info.
Impressive Public Transportation
However, another reason I didn’t purchase the Vienna Pass is that I personally don’t like Hop-On Hop-Off tourists buses. I would much rather ride with locals on a subway or tram, than ride with other tourists on a sight-seeing bus.
And so #5 on my list of Vienna Travel Tips is don’t be afraid to use Vienna’s public transportation system. It’s extensive, it’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s cheap.
We could always efficiently go where ever we wanted throughout Vienna, using a combination of subway, tram, suburban trains, and walking. Google Maps would always show me the best route, along with anticipated departure/arrival times. And the ticketing system is by far the easiest I’ve ever come across in all my travels.
While you can buy paper tickets, it’s much easier to use the Wien Mobile App and purchase tickets on your phone. Within the App, you can choose from a variety of ticketing options – single ride tickets, day passes, or various multi-day passes.
Because our initial time in Vienna lasted a week, I purchased a 7 day pass upon arrival. My ticket was then stored in my phone, and I was required to show it only if asked by a transportation official. That’s it! No turnstiles at the subway or train station. No validation boxes on trams. Just an electronic ticket in your pocket.
And as you can see in the photo, a 7 day pass is quite inexpensive – just 17 Euros. The shorter passes are quite reasonably priced too. And this pass allows you to ride on any form of public transportation within the city boundaries. It was all truly awesome!
I am also a fan of Uber or other local Ride Share options when we travel, and you can use your Uber App in Vienna. However, any time I used Uber (when needing to transport all our luggage), a Vienna taxi was sent. So…using the Uber app in Vienna is definitely convenient for helping to arrange a ride, avoid language barriers, and pay without cash. But it doesn’t offer any clear price advantage over simply grabbing a cab.
A Hub For Central Europe
Vienna’s regional transportation network is also great. So #6 on my list of Vienna Travel Tips is consider making Vienna a hub for exploring elsewhere.
As I mentioned earlier, our time in Vienna bookended a longer itinerary. We used Austria’s excellent OBB train network for a day trip to Bratislava Slovakia (1 hour by train). Plus we used the train for traveling to Ljubljana Slovenia (6 hours) and Budapest Hungary (2.75 hours). It’s also easy to reach Salzburg, Munich, and Prague within a reasonable amount of time from Vienna.
Using these regional trains in and out of Vienna was easy. And much less expensive than car rental or air travel. I’ve outlined our experience riding the train between Vienna and Budapest in another post if you’d like to learn more. And The Man in Seat 61 is a very useful resource for finding itineraries and routes from Vienna (and other European cities too).
We did need to use air travel for part of our itinerary, but Vienna was also a great hub for that. We flew on Austrian Air to visit Kotor Montenegro and Dubrovnik Croatia. Flight time was less than an hour. And in my trip planning, I found that Austrian Air is very well connected to other nearby countries not easily reached by train.
Plus, Vienna has a great airport transportation infrastructure, with two different train routes providing fast connections to the city. And you can find all kinds of hotels within a few blocks of Vienna’s Central Train Station for quick overnight stays. This all helped make our jumping around quite easy.
(If you would like to read more about some of our experiences elsewhere on this trip, then check out my posts on the Kotor Cable Car, the Pletna Boats of Lake Bled Slovenia, and touring Hungarian Parliament.)
Wiener Schnitzel and Würstelstands
The photo below shows the classic Viennese sit-down meal. Wiener Schnitzel. Pan-fried breaded veal cutlets served with a deliciously vinegary cold potato salad.
But, eating Weiner Schnitzel in Vienna isn’t cheap. Our plates in the photo above cost 23 Euros each at a mid-range Vienna restaurant. It’s easy to spend 60-70 Euro for two people on an average lunch (with a small glass of wine) in Vienna.
But there is a cheap alternative for eating in Vienna, and it’s #7 on my list of Vienna Travel Tips. Be sure to visit the Würstelstands. You’ll find these outdoor sausage kiosks scattered throughout central Vienna, and you can feed yourself for less than 10 Euros.
At the Würstelstands, you’ll find a wide array of sausage types….
Then you can choose to have your selection served sliced, with a side of mustard and bread…
Or served in a bun. The very popular version below is called a Bosna. It’s a bratwurst served with onions and curry powder.
Most Würstelstands also sell French Fries, and you can typically get beer, wine, and soft drinks too. Once you have your food, simply stand at one of the surrounding counters and chow down.
All in all, a quintessential Austrian experience and a cheap meal too!
Coffee and Cake
Coffee house culture is a big deal in Vienna. In fact, UNESCO has designated Viennese Coffee House Culture as one of Austria’s Intangible Cultural Heritages. So naturally, #8 on my list of Vienna Travel Tips is to hang out at a coffee house.
In the classic Viennese coffee houses, the decor can be quite elegant with the waitstaff dressed in black ties. But despite the elegance, these coffee houses are a welcoming place where anyone can hang out, have a coffee, read, converse, or just generally pass the time.
Some of the most famed coffee houses in central Vienna can be quite overrun with tourists. Cafe Central is perhaps the most popular, due partially to its opulent decor. And we always saw a line to enter Cafe Sacher, famous for creating one of Vienna’s most popular desserts – the Sachertorte. (It’s a dense chocolate cake layered with apricot jam.)
For our coffee house experience, I chose Cafe Landtmann which was a favorite of Sigmund Freud’s, and reportedly serves Arnold Schwartzenegger’s favorite Apple Strudel. We easily found a table and friendly attentive servers.
And speaking of Apple Strudel, that is indeed what I ordered to go along with my coffee. While not a requirement, eating cake or pastry at Viennese coffee houses is also very traditional, and in my mind at least, a necessary part of the experience. (Many also serve regular food too – if you are visiting at mealtime.)
But like many things in Vienna, you will pay a premium for the experience. 32 Euros for two coffees and two cakes. Definitely not an every-afternoon indulgence, but definitely a Vienna must-do.
Here’s a list of some of the more well-known and classic coffee houses in Vienna.
As you can surely now see, there really is a lot to do in Vienna. At the rate Mrs. TT and I explore each destination, it would take us months to see it all. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Vienna tops the list of Most Livable Cities – boredom is impossible! Hopefully these Vienna Travel Tips will help you navigate it all.
Because many travelers visit Vienna and Budapest on the same itinerary, you may also find my Budapest Travel Tips useful.
And if you would like to read about more of my travel tips from around the world, then check out these posts: