Things to see in Vienna
Vienna is one of the most famous travel destinations in Europe. This beautiful city offers various tourist attractions that bring tourists from all around the world. It is one of the most amazing cities not only in Austria but all over the continent.
The baroque summer seat of the Habsburg Emperors, and UNESCO World Heritage site, is an all-time favorite with locals and travelers. The whole complex is simply beautiful, and you can ‘multi-task’ there: First-time visitors like to tour the palace’s sumptuous rooms, once inhabited by the likes of Empress Sisi and Empress Maria Theresia. I love to stroll through the gardens, join friends for coffee at the Gloriette belvedere, visit the award-winning local zoo with my kids, or visit the super charming historic marionette theater. This is one of the greatest attractions in Vienna.
Museum of Fine Arts
Equally, the excitement for the Museum of Fine Arts is shared by both travelers and the Viennese themselves. Its major artworks by Brueghel, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, and Vermeer make it one of the leading princely collections in Europe. My tip: Combine your visit with a Sunday brunch under the magnificent marble cupola of the museum. Food is excellent.
Fans of modern and contemporary art shouldn’t miss the Museumsquartier (MQ), which comprises more than ten Vienna museums and cultural institutions. The MQ is located in the baroque former Imperial Stables and therefore belongs to the Imperial Palace grounds ( Hofburg ), like the Museum of Fine Arts.
MAK and Hofmobiliendepot
If you are into classic and modernist interior design, you can get inspiration in the Museum of Applied Arts and Contemporary Art (MAK), and the Imperial Furniture Collection (Hofmobiliendepot). The MAK also features a collection of the famous Thonet furniture used in many cafes throughout Europe, and dozens of beautifully arranged Biedermeier chairs in all shapes, colors and sizes. The Hofmobiliendepot is the largest collection of furniture and of Biedermeier interiors in the world, thanks to the Habsburgs’ countless residences and furnishing needs.
Tour around Vienna
Vienna is as compact as a Swiss army knife, and most of its landmarks are within the three square kilometers of the city center. It is therefore easy to tour Vienna, whether on foot, by bike, tramway or seaway. There are many places to go in Vienna.
Start out in Vienna’s old town, a UNESCO world heritage site. It includes the large ‘town-in-town’ complex of the former Imperial Palace (Hofburg), and most of the best museums, cafes, restaurants, and shops. Make sure you sneak into some of the historic 17th and 18th-century courtyards, called Pawlatschen.
For an overview of Vienna’s top state buildings and town palaces, most of which are hotels, you can tour the Ringstrasse boulevard in the ‘Ringtram’ tramway. The ride takes 30 minutes, offers audio and LCD guides, and is great value for money.
Other nice walks and tours include the area between the church of St. Charles Borromeo and the Naschmarkt, which is full of Art Nouveau buildings; the renaissance and baroque quarter between St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Danube Canal, and the area around Spittelberg in the seventh district.
There are public and private guided Vienna tours run by local tour operators and private tour guides. Many of them run special tours such as the Third Man Movie Tour, a Sigmund Freud tour or a tour through Jewish Vienna.
Places to eat in Vienna
Viennese eateries have become so much better in the past 10 years. You can now enjoy good authentic local dishes in all categories, from sausage stand to Michelin star restaurant.
Sausage stands and snack bars
Our Vienna sausage is world-famous, and best be eaten at one of the many sausage stands in town. My favorite snack bars in Vienna are mostly local institutions, from my mother’s childhood favorite Trzesniewski and Art Nouveau jewel Zum Schwarzen Kameel (also a fab restaurant) to newcomer Porcus, which lets you savor traditional pork dishes from the old Austrian Empire’s crown lands.
My two top choices of good bourgeois restaurants in the mid-price segment are Plachutta, who cooks the best beef in town and runs six local eateries, and Österreicher im MAK, who offers freshly interpreted Viennese cuisine in a place that brilliantly blends urban design with elements of traditional local taverns.
Michelin star restaurants
The top local haute cuisine choices are long-term incumbent Steirereck im Stadtpark, and newcomer Silvio Nickol Gourmet Restaurant. I have been to both and was blown off by the quality and artistry of their creations.
Insider tip: Sneak behind the curtains of private Vienna at Hofzeile 27, private dining food heaven of Sibylle Fellner-Kisler. She runs the restaurant at her own stylish home in Vienna’s leafy noble suburb Döbling.
Places to go for a drink in Vienna
Our love for coffee and wine has generated hundreds of cafés and wine taverns (Heurige). Café styles go from elegant (Café Central, Café Diglas, Café Museum) to well worn (Café Hawelka, Café Sperl, Café Prueckel) up to modern Viennese style (Kunsthalle Café, Café Leopold).
My shortlist of the best Viennese wineries was shaped and trimmed together with my Viennese friend Babsi, who grew up and lives in Grinzing, Vienna’s center of excellence for wine. Our top three are well-established winery Schuebel-Auer in Nussdorf, a part of Grinzing; Buschenschank Worseg, located in the midst of the vineyards with a spectacular view of Vienna; the Weingut am Reisenberg, a modern winery which lets you lounge in deckchairs in the midst of the vineyards in the summer. My tip: Avoid taverns with large tourist buses in front, and with ‘traditional’ vintner music. They tend to lack authenticity.
Cultural activities in Vienna
What should you do in Vienna what you probably wouldn’t do somewhere else? Risking a cliché, visit a musical performance. It doesn’t have to be classical. Every day, there are between one and three dozen concerts taking place in Vienna, discounting musicals, opera, and theater. Many Vienna concerts form part of renown annual festivals such as Frühling in Wien (Spring in Vienna), Osterklang, Vienna Jazz Festival, or Wien Modern. A great range of things to do in Vienna is provided to every tourist that comes to this city.
My tip: For authenticity and quality, stick to concerts at the Wiener Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, and local concert halls and churches; and to those performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Wiener Symphoniker or the Wiener Tonkuenstler Orchester, and those being part of renown festivals.
As to opera, the two most popular locations are the Vienna Opera House for classical operas and ballets, and the modern Theater an der Wien, a renowned center for both baroque and modern operas. Fewer travelers are aware of the Vienna Volksoper, which is more relaxed and very popular among Viennese for its comedy theatres and children’s operas.
Insider tip: See an opera such as Turandot or Aida at Theater L.E.O., which stands for Letztes Erfreuliches Operntheater (Last Pleasant Opera Theatre). There are no international opera stars there, but you will get a more intimate and informal experience of well-performed opera at an authentic cultural institution.
Places to stay in Vienna
If I was a tourist in Vienna, I would have a hard time to choose a great accommodation, simply because there are so many good hotels, Bed and Breakfasts, and holiday apartments.
In the hotel sector, you tend to get good value for money compared to other European city destinations, from budget hotels like the recently opened Motel One at Wien Westbahnhof, middle of the road places like Hotel Austria Vienna, to design hotels such as Hollmann Beletage and luxury institutions such as the famous Hotel Sacher.
A totally new hotel concept is Urbanauts, which lets you stay in an abandoned original street loft offering urban relaxed chic while being closely connected to the local neighborhood.