In Europe

Vienna, Austria | A Two-Day Travel Guide

things to do in vienna
Photo by daniel plan on Unsplash

Vienna is one of those cities I knew nothing about before I moved to Europe but presumed it should be at the top of my travel wish list. I first visited taking the night train from Düsseldorf. Then, I moved to Berlin and ended up visiting Vienna frequently for work on top of another tourist visit with the in-laws. Suddenly Vienna became one of the cities I visited most in the world.

Let me tell you, there are worse things that can happen than having to visit Vienna on the regular.

Where is Vienna?

Perched on the northeastern edge of Austria, Vienna serves as the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe. With the Danube River cutting through, it’s enveloped by the natural beauty of the Vienna Woods to its west. This geographic positioning has historically made Vienna a cultural, economic, and political hub, a status it retains to this day. The city’s layout is a testament to its strategic importance, with its well-preserved historic center and the seamless integration of public transport systems facilitating easy access to and from Europe.

How to get to Vienna

Vienna International Airport, located just outside the city, is well-connected to destinations worldwide, serving as your gateway to this historic city. From the airport, the City Airport Train (CAT) offers a speedy 16-minute journey to the city center, providing a hassle-free introduction to Vienna’s efficient public transport system.

For travelers in Europe, Vienna is a central node in the continent’s extensive rail network. Direct trains from cities like Munich, Budapest, and Zurich bring visitors into the heart of Vienna, offering scenic routes that are both eco-friendly and convenient. The Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) is a marvel of modern infrastructure, linking international and domestic lines in a hub that mirrors the city’s blend of history and modernity.

Best time of year to visit Vienna

Choosing the perfect time to visit Vienna is like picking a favorite note in a symphony — each season plays its part in the city’s allure. Spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) offer mild weather and fewer tourists, ideal for leisurely exploration of outdoor sights and green spaces. These seasons also host a plethora of cultural events, from music festivals to art exhibitions, capturing Vienna’s vibrant cultural scene.

Summer in Vienna is a spectacle of sunny days and lively outdoor events, from open-air concerts to movie screenings under the stars. The city pulses with energy, and while it can get crowded, the vibrancy of summer brings Vienna to life. Meanwhile, winter covers Vienna in a blanket of snow, transforming it into a wonderland of Christmas markets (if that’s your thing), twinkling lights, and the aroma of mulled wine. Despite the chill, the festive atmosphere and the chance to experience Vienna’s famed ball season make winter a magical time to visit.

Things to do in Vienna

Vienna is a city where history and modernity dance together, offering stunning architecture, a rich cultural landscape, and a dynamic culinary scene. From the architectural magnificence of Schönbrunn Palace to the contemporary vibes of the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna caters to an array of interests and tastes.

Schönbrunn Palace

A visit to Vienna would be incomplete without exploring the grandeur of Schönbrunn Palace. This UNESCO World Heritage site was the summer residence of those inbred Habsburg rulers, and its 1,441 rooms are a showcase of Baroque architecture and opulent décor. The palace gardens are a masterpiece of landscape design, offering a serene escape with meticulously manicured lawns, elaborate sculptures, and the Gloriette, with its panoramic views of Vienna.

Belvedere Palace

Another jewel in Vienna’s architectural crown is Belvedere Palace. Comprising two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the complex is not only an architectural marvel but also houses an impressive art collection, including Gustav Klimt’s iconic “The Kiss.” The gardens between the two palaces offer a peaceful retreat, blending art with nature.

Hofburg Palace

The Hofburg Palace stands as a symbol of the power and prestige of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, it serves multiple roles: as the official residence of the Austrian president, a museum complex, and a cultural venue. Visitors can explore the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Silver Collection, gaining insight into the imperial lifestyle and the intriguing story of Empress Elisabeth.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Dominating the Vienna skyline, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) is a Gothic masterpiece with a colorful tiled roof and a towering spire that offers breathtaking views of the city. Its interior is equally impressive, with intricate stonework, stunning altarpieces, and the catacombs that tell the darker side of Vienna’s history.

Me? I’m not a churchy guy. So a walk by the thing while moseying down the pedestrianized plaza was good enough for me (though I have gone inside on other occasions).

MuseumsQuartier

For a contemporary cultural experience, head to the MuseumsQuartier, one of the largest cultural complexes in the world. Here, art ranges from classic to avant-garde, housed in institutions like the Leopold Museum, MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), and Kunsthalle Wien. The complex itself is a lively space, buzzing with cafes, shops, and open spaces that invite visitors to linger and soak in Vienna’s creative atmosphere.

Vienna State Opera

Experience the pinnacle of Vienna’s music scene at the State Opera House, one of the leading opera houses in the world. With a repertoire that spans from classic operas to contemporary performances, a night at the opera is a must for music lovers. Even if you don’t catch a performance, guided tours of the opulent interior are available, offering a glimpse into the world of opera and the building’s fascinating history.

Naschmarkt

For a taste of local life, stroll through the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s largest and most famous market. Spanning several blocks, this vibrant market is a sensory delight, offering everything from fresh produce and exotic spices to international delicacies and traditional Austrian dishes. The surrounding area is dotted with cafes and restaurants, making it the perfect spot for a leisurely brunch or a culinary adventure.

Restaurants in Vienna

Steirereck

Steirereck, nestled in the lush Stadtpark, is not just a restaurant; it’s an institution. This two-Michelin-starred establishment redefines Austrian cuisine, with Chef Heinz Reitbauer at the helm. The menu is a testament to innovation and quality, sourcing ingredients from the restaurant’s own farm. The dining experience here is unparalleled, blending exquisite flavors with impeccable service and a setting that’s both elegant and inviting.

Tian Vienna

Tian, in the heart of Vienna, is a sanctuary for vegetarian and vegan gourmet dining. With a commitment to sustainability and creativity, Tian transforms seasonal, organic produce into culinary masterpieces. The restaurant’s Michelin star is a nod to its excellence, offering a dining experience that challenges perceptions of plant-based cuisine.

Swing Kitchen

For a more casual yet equally conscious dining option, Swing Kitchen offers vegan fast food that doesn’t skimp on flavor. From crispy vegan burgers to sweet desserts, every item on the menu is designed to delight. It’s a testament to Vienna’s progressive food scene, proving that fast food can be both delicious and sustainable.

Apapika Bowls

This is my on-the-go lunch spot in Vienna. Their bowls are healthy (at least I think) and perfectly filling. It’s the Tofu Toto bowl for me each and every time.

Hotels in Vienna

Whether you’re seeking the luxury of a historic hotel or the charm of a boutique inn, Vienna’s accommodation options cater to every preference and budget.

Magdas Hotel

Magdas Hotel is more than a place to stay; it’s a social enterprise that employs people from refugee backgrounds, offering them a chance to build a new life in Vienna. The hotel’s rooms are stylish and comfortable, but it’s the story and the warm, welcoming atmosphere that make Magdas truly special. This is the first Vienna hotel I stayed in while traveling for a video project (check it out above).

SO/ Vienna

SO/ Vienna is less a place to stay and more an invitation to step into a world where design reigns supreme. This hotel doesn’t just embrace modern aesthetics; it flaunts them, courtesy of the visionary Jean Nouvel. Its façade is a conversation starter, but it’s the interior — with its bold lines and daring use of space — that truly sings. Rooms offer floor-to-ceiling windows, framing the Donaukanal and cityscape as if they were pieces of live art. The hotel’s restaurant, perched high above the city, doesn’t just dish out meals; it serves panoramic views with a side of culinary excellence. SO/ Vienna is for the traveler who sips their cocktail while pondering the intersection of form and function.

Ruby Lissi Hotel

Ruby Lissi Hotel is a nod to the city’s storied past, wrapped in a chic, contemporary package. This hotel takes its cues from the life and times of Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, but with a twist. Think of it as a history lesson you can sleep in, but with better bedding and significantly improved plumbing. The design is a mash-up of old-world elegance and modern minimalism, creating spaces that feel both cozy and cool. With a lean-luxe philosophy, Ruby Lissi focuses on providing the essentials of a great stay — location, comfort, and style — without unnecessary frills. It’s the kind of place where you can enjoy a craft beer in the library lounge and feel like you’re part of Vienna’s ongoing narrative.

Hotel Kaiserhof Wien

Tucked away on a quiet street yet a mere stone’s throw from the opera, Hotel Kaiserhof Wien is where tradition and hospitality intertwine to create a haven of comfort. It’s like stepping into a bygone era, but with all the modern amenities discreetly woven into the fabric of its historic charm. This hotel doesn’t just offer rooms; it offers a glimpse into Vienna’s imperial past, with a touch of contemporary luxury. The Kaiserhof Wien prides itself on its attention to detail, from the sumptuous breakfast buffet heralded as a royal feast to the elegantly appointed rooms that whisper rather than shout luxury. It’s the kind of place where the staff remembers your name and your coffee preference, making it a home away from home for those who appreciate the finer things in life without the pomp and circumstance. With its blend of classic Viennese culture and modern comfort, Hotel Kaiserhof Wien invites its guests to indulge in the art of refined hospitality.

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