Vienna. Home to schnitzel, Freud, Mozart, the Hapsburgs, opera, art, coffeeshops, and so much more.
Traveling around Vienna is an enriching cultural experience.
Over the decade I have been coming in and out of this city, I’ve watched Vienna change from a stiff capital city to a cool, hip, foodie, and arty paradise. (Ok, it’s always been an arty paradise and maybe the “stiff capital” was just my incorrect first impression.)
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the city and all it has to offer. The city has countless museums, palaces, markets, restaurants, quirky art exhibits, delicious food halls, neighbors a wonderful wine region, and is a quick train trip to Bratislava.
There’s a lot to do in Vienna and you can easily spend weeks trying to see it all.
However, no matter how long you plan to be in the city, this Vienna travel guide will help you plan the perfect trip.
There’s so much to do here that I advise you to spend an extra day here. If you think three day is enough, spend four. If you’re here for four, spend five. You won’t regret it.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Vienna
1. Belvedere Palace
2. Schonbrunn Palace
3. The Imperial Palace
4. Mozart Museum
5. Do a Wine Tour
Other Things to See and Do in Vienna
1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Stephansdom is a Gothic cathedral in Vienna, noted for it’s colorful roof. The cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, the most recent reconstruction taking place just after WWII. You can take a tour of the cathedral, the catacombs, and one of the towers for around €11 EUR ($13) (€5 ($6) for children under 15).
2. Go to the Naschmarkt
This is Vienna’s largest open-air food market. It’s been operating for hundreds of years and has a variety of restaurants, street stalls, and grocers. It’s a little touristy (don’t go food shopping here) but it has a cool vibe and, on a warm sunny day, it’s nice to sit out with a meal and a glass of wine. Despite its fame, you’ll still find a lot of locals here. Be sure to hit up Umarfisch for seafood and wine.
3. See the art in the Museumsquartier
Once the imperial stables, the Museumsquartier is now home to three different museums: the Leopold Museum for Art Noveau and Experessionism; Kunsthalle Wien, an exhibition center with rotating exhibitions; and the Museum of Modern Art, which has the largest collection of modern art in central Europe. The Museumsquartier is also home to a number of festivals throughout the year.
4. House of Music
This is a small but fascinating museum featuring exhibits on some of the world’s most well-known Austrian composers — Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, and Schoenberg. You can view manuscripts, artifacts, and there’s also a virtual stage where you can conduct your own symphony.
5. Get classical
Austria has contributed its fair share of composers to the world, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in the classics here. If you’ve ever considered taking in an opera or listening to classical music, this is the place to do it. Prices will vary depending on the performance, but expect to pay at least €50 ($58).
6. Enjoy the Vienna State Opera
Vienna is pretty much synonymous with opera. This opera house is one of the largest and most famous in the world and opera is a major focal point of Viennese life. For €9 ($11), you can take a 40-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. To see a show, I recommend buying last minute standing room tickets for around €10 ($12)(often less) the day of a show, usually around 60-80 minutes before it starts (you can line up earlier than that, but they don’t start selling until right before the show). It’s first come, first serve and you can only buy 1 ticket per person.
7. Visit the Museum of Fine Art
With works from ancient Egypt through the 18th century, this museum is worth taking the time to explore (if museums are your thing, that is!). The primary collection belonged to the Hapsburgs, which includes tons of portraits and armor. Admission is €15 ($18) for adults, with discounts available for students and seniors.
8. Hang out in the Jewish Square
For centuries, Vienna was home to a sizable Jewish population. Then the Nazis came. This area of town features two important museums: the Vienna Jewish Museum that details the role Viennese Jews played in the development of city life; and the Medieval Synagogue, which gives a more authentic look at the history of Jewish life in Vienna. There is also the nearby sober Holocaust memorial designed by British artist Rachel Whiteread.
9. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum features a huge collection of minerals, precious stones, meteorites, fossils, and even some taxidermy because stuffed animals and all! With over 30 million objects, the museum’s collection is one of the biggest in Europe. The museum is also home to a digital planetarium where you can watch movies about the earth and its development. I highly recommend going (cause space is awesome).
10. Walk the Ring Road
Spend an afternoon strolling along the Ring Road in Vienna, taking in all the impressive architecture. It’s here where you’ll find the Parliament building, City Hall, both the Museum of Fine Art and the National History Museum, as well as the State Opera.
11. Freud Museum
Sigmund Freud, the famous founder of psychoanalysis, lived in this apartment-turned-museum from 1891 to 1938. The museum was opened in 1971 with the help of Anna Freud (his youngest daughter) and is home to the original furniture and Freud’s private collection of antiques as well as first editions of his works. There are also films from his private life. It’s small and only takes about an hour to visit.
12. The Albertina
The Albertina is one of the best museums in the city (which says a lot because this is a city of museums)! It’s housed in one of the old private residence wings of the Imperial Palace. It’s most famous for its print collection, which is comprised of over one million prints and 60,000 drawings. However, they have a lot of temporary exhibits that rotate through here too, which I found to be the highlight (I saw one on Raphael).
13. Visit the National History Museum
Home to a detailed anthropology exhibit, as well as a planetarium and prehistoric exhibit, the National History Museum is worth the time if you’re a museum buff. There is a huge collection of meteorites, as well, and the museum is also home to the 30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statue. Admission is €12 ($14) for adults and free for anyone under 19. Discounts are available for students and seniors, as well.
14. Visit Bratislava
Bratislava makes for a great day trip from Vienna. Located only an hour away, you can easily head there for a day to explore its charming medieval center, several castles, a cathedral, beer halls, restaurants, and paths along the Danube. Bratislava is a relatively small capital so it’s easy to get around on foot. Trains depart regularly from Vienna for as little as €10 ($12), while Flixbus runs a regular bus service with tickets starting around €5 ($6). If you stay in the night, Hostel Blues is my favorite hostel in the city.
15. Explore Vienna Woods
This beautiful woodland (known as Wienerwald) is located on the outskirts of the city and is filled with a lot of hiking paths. It’s located around 30km from the city, extremely popular with locals (few tourists get out there). If you don’t have a vehicle, you can take public transportation or try the ride-sharing service BlaBlaCar.
Vienna Travel Costs
Hostels – Hostel dorms start around €13 ($15) per night for a 8-12 bed dorm. If you’re on a budget, be sure to book a hostel with a kitchen. Private double rooms are between €27-€110 ($30-$128) a night.
For anyone traveling with a tent, camping is available outside the city. Camping in Vienna starts around €9 ($11) per night in the low-season for a single tent site, or about €13 ($15) in peak season (July and August). Stay close to the city (4 miles/7 km) at Donaupark Camping Klosterneuburg or travel further (20 miles/32 km) to camp at Campsite Paradise Garden (for about €8/$10 per tent site).
Budget hotels – Budget hotels will start around €30 ($35) per night for a double or twin. This will usually include free WiFi and basic amenities, but rarely free breakfast. Airbnb is another budget-friendly option, with shared accommodation starting around €18 ($20) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least €27 ($30) per night (though prices average double that).
Food – A typical inexpensive restaurant meal can cost about €10 ($12) per person, but you can expect to pay minimum €24 ($28) for a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant. Of course, you can find cheaper meals if you stick to eating at the local markets where you can find a great selection of traditional Austrian food as well as Asian, Greek, and Middle Eastern dishes for around €5-8 ($6-$10).
Fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King will cost around €6-8 ($7-10 USD). A beer at the bar will cost around €4 ($5). If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between €70-90 ($80-105).
Backpacking Vienna Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Vienna, my suggested budget is €45 ($50) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating cheap meals, cooking some meals, eating that free hostel breakfast, visiting a few attractions, not drinking a lot, and using local transportation.
On a mid-range budget of about €110 ($125), you can stay in a nicer hostel private room or budget hotel, eat out at more mid-range restaurants, drink nice cocktails, take some guided tours, and visit any attraction you want.
If you want only private rooms in 4 star hotels, take cabs anywhere, eat out every meal, take any tours you want, and spend with nothing in mind, you can expect to spend around €200 ($230) per day. If you want the best meals in the city, expect to spend even more! Vienna does luxury well (it was an imperial capital after all) so you can really go luxury here. You’ll need a minimum of 200 Euros. After that, the sky is the limit.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style.
Vienna Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Vienna can be an expensive city if you don’t watch your budget. Accommodation, coffees, and food can add up quickly. This was an imperial city so it’s always been rich and well to do and that makes it expensive. However, it doesn’t have to totally break your budget. Here are a bunch of ways to save money in Vienna:
- Take a free walking tour – Vienna offers a handful of free walking tours which are great ways to get familiar with the city and the culture. Good Tours, Anna Loves Vienna, and The Original Free Vienna Walking Tour are all great options. Just be sure to tip!
- Ride Flixbus – Flixbus is budget-friendly way to get around the country. They have (semi-reliable) WiFi, electrical outlets, and decent enough sites for overnight and long-haul bus journeys.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels here don’t include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money make sure you book accommodation that does! Buying your own groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat, but it will definitely save you money!
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing (or similar sharing economy sites) is a great way to not only save money but it’s a great way to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people.
- Skip the fast train to Vienna – Unless you are in a rush to get downtown, skip the City Airport Train. It’s €11 ($13), compared to the regular train that is only around €4 ($5). The time difference is negligible, and that extra €7 will be better spent on cold beer!
- Walk everywhere – All of the major cities in Austria are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra euros.
- Get a Vienna PASS – With the Vienna PASS you get entry to over 60 attractions, museums, and monuments throughout the city. As well as fast track entry to some of the top attractions. If you are planning to visit several of Vienna’s most popular museums and galleries getting the pass could save you a fair amount of money.
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
Where To Stay in Vienna
Need help on a place to stay? Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Vienna:
How to Get Around Vienna
Public transport in Vienna is cheap, fast, clean, and efficient. There are four main forms of public transport: bus (Autobus), local train (S-Bahn), tram (Straßenbahn), and subway (U-Bahn). The public transportation in Vienna works on an honesty system. This can be confusing at first as there are no formal ticket checks or barriers at stations making it appear that public transport is free. Public transport is not free. You will need to buy a ticket at the machines within the stations. If you get caught by one of the undercover ticket inspectors you will pay a hefty fine.
If you will be using public transportation a lot, Vienna offers a 24-hour pass for €8 ($10), a 42-hour pass for €14.10 ($17), and a 72-hour pass for €17.10 ($20). The weekly pass is also €17.10 ($20), while a month pass is €51 ($60).
Taxis and Uber are both readily available too.
If you’re flying into Vienna, the direct airport train is only 16 minutes to downtown and costs €11 ($13) or €19 ($22) return. If you’re not in a hurry, however, take the regular train instead. It is only €4 ($5). Public transportation costs €2.20 ($3) for a standard adult ticket (one zone only). Ticket prices are increased to 2.30 if bought on board.
Car Rental – If you’re driving, make sure to buy an International Driving Permit (IDP) – you’ll need one for any car rental! It costs about €18 ($20) and is valid for one year after the date of issue (plus it’s valid in 150 countries). Car rentals can sometimes be as low as €30 ($35) per day, but this certainly isn’t the most economical way to get around.
When to Go to Vienna
There’s no wrong time to visit Vienna! During the summer months (June – August) you will find the best weather and this is considered peak season for tourist visiting the city. During July and August, many of the local residents leave the city for what they call Sommerpause (Summer break) meaning many small local businesses close.
However, I think the best time to visit Vienna is shoulder season in the spring and fall (April to June and September to October, respectively). It’s still warm during this time but there aren’t as many crowds.
Winter is from December to March. It gets cold, with temperatures dropping as low as -15 °C (5 °F). On the other hand, November to December are considered to be the most magical months in the city because of the Christmas markets.
How to Stay Safe in Vienna
In Vienna, scams and pick-pocketing are common danger you’ll face, especially around high traffic areas like the 1st District (where you will find many of the city’s historic landmarks) and the 4th District (Karlsplatz/ Karlskirche area).
Vienna has an issue with fake event tickets being sold on the street, this can be easily avoided by only booking tickets direct from the venue.
Be cautious of people posing as plain-clothes police officers asking to see your passport. This has become very common in the main tourist areas and in public transport stations. When you produce your passport, they will take it and accuse you of a minor crime and demand you pay a fine. If you refuse they can get aggressive and while you are distracted an accomplice will pick your pockets.
You can read about travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Vienna!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Vienna Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Europe. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Vayable – I enjoy this site because it allows you to experience niche, offbeat, and interesting tours that bigger tour companies might not run (like a street art tour in Berlin). Plus, the groups tend to be very small, making for a more intimate experience.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Context Tours – One of my favorite walking tour companies, Context offers in-depth history, food, and cultural tours through cities in the world, with a speciality in Europe. This company gets experts to lead tours (i.e. a chef to lead a food tour).
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Vienna Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip to Vienna.
The Best Backpack for Vienna
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something smaller or different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for more tips and tricks on how to pick a backpack as well as more pack and luggage suggestions!
What to Pack for Vienna
Here’s what I carry with me and my suggested packing:
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 7 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 4 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- 2 zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- 1 plastic bag (great for laundry)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Vienna Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
To Die in Vienna, by Kevin Wignall
To Die in Vienna is a classic spy thriller soon to become a motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Set in Vienna Freddie Makin is a surveillance operative who has been following Chinese math professor Jiang Cheng for a year when he suddenly finds his life is in danger. The watcher becomes the watched. On the run Freddy is forced into hiding in Vienna while he tried to uncover who is hunting him and why. Although it is set in Vienna unfortunately the author doesn’t do much to really bring the city to life in this book. It’s still a great read though if you like spy novels and you are looking for a book to pass some time in Vienna.
Freud: In His Time and Ours, by Élisabeth Roudinesco
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, is quite possible the most famous Viennese export. His work emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind and is generally recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. In this book Elisabeth Roudinesco offers a modern reinterpretation of the work of Freud in this biography for the twenty-first century. Tracing his life from his upbringing in Vienna, to his final days as a refugee in London. If you are planning to make a visit to the Freud museum while in Vienna this is a great read to shed new light on Freud. If you think you know Freud, think again.
The Age of Insight, by Eric Kandel
At the turn of the 19th century Vienna was the undisputed cultural capital of Europe. A hot bed for revolution, where artists and scientists met and their freely exchanged ideas resulted in breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel tells the story of how Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, influenced our modern day understanding on the mind. This is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about Vienna’s fascinating history.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Vienna
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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Vienna Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Austria and continue planning your trip: