Vienna is one of my dream cities to live in – beautiful buildings, rich history, yummy food, and incredible social benefit systems. One could easily spend days just exploring the many museums and heritage sites in Vienna.
In fact, the city center of Vienna is compact that visitors could easily get around on foot, by tram, or by subway. I would recommend tourists to make full use of the Vienna Pass which offers free access to numerous top sights and attractions with fast-track entry. So, that’s what I did and let’s dive into Vienna’s history and all the must-sees and dos!
Have an Overview of Vienna’s Inner City on the Vienna Ring Tram
Vienna Ring Road, or the Ringstrasse, is a 5.3km circular grand boulevard around the inner city of Vienna since 1857. Palaces, museums, opera houses, and many monuments were built along this road. Vienna Ring Tram runs along this road and hence, taking the Ring Tram could be a good way to kick off your trip and have an overview of what the city has in store for you. You might see a number of sights like the State Opera (Staatsoper), Museumsquartier, Parliament, Prater Hauptallee, and Rathaus (City Hall), Ottakringer Street, Ankeruhr, and Staftpark on the tram. If you would like to get out of at these stops, you may consider taking the 29 Ring Tram routes (but none of these lines cover the entire loop except the Ring Tram).
Witness the Extravagant Lifestyle of the House of Habsburg
The House of Habsburg had a close tie with Vienna since its foundation in the 11th century, they are one of the most influential and distinguished royal houses of Europe. The House produced emperors and kings of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, Galicia, Portugal, and Spain.
To learn more about the history of the House of Habsburg, visit Schönbrunn Palace to experience first-hand the extravagant lifestyle that the royal family had in their glorious times. This is the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. The palace is built in Rococo style with 1,441 rooms and gardens that rival the Palace of Versailles in France.
Currently, only 40 rooms are open to the public eyes, including the Blue Chinese Salon, Marie Antoinette Room, Franz Joseph’s study, and Oval Cabinet. More, the galleries showcase some of the most valuable crown jewels of Vienna; check out the garden, gloriette, Tiergarten (and yes, they have Koala there!), and Wagenburg. an important figure worth mentioning is Sisi, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who had stunning beauty and a longing for freedom and independence. There is no better place to start exploring the life of this fascinating woman than the Schönbrunn Palace.
Check out: The Versailles Travel Guide
Have a Sip of the Vienna Coffee
Many local Viennese enjoy their unique coffee culture by sitting in a coffee house with a cup of coffee for the entire afternoon. These Viennese cafés are called Kaffeehaus; Traditional Viennese coffee is made with two shots of espresso into whipped cream and syrup, topped off with cocoa sprinkles. However, you will always find that there are more than 20 kinds of coffee on the menu with different levels of milk and alcohol mix – Melange coffee is a mixture of coffee with hot milk; Einspänner Coffee is an espresso topped with whipped cream; Eiskaffee adds vanilla ice-cream to coffee. If you are looking for something extra, try a slice of classic Sachertorte (a well-known Austrian chocolate cake) with your coffee, the sweetness and bitterness complement each other perfectly; or have a full breakfast Viennese-style: A Viennese Breakfast usually includes a portion of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, handmade croissant and bakeries, and soft boil egg. For a larger portion, breakfast may include ham and cheese as well.
There are lots of Kaffeehaus in Vienna, and they may get busy before noon. Recommended places are Café Schwarzenberg, Café Mozart, Café Sacher, Café Sperl, Café Imperial, Palais Ferstel, Café Central, Café Museum, and Café Hawelka… the list goes on. Many of these cafés used to serve famous musicians and public figures. Imagine what it would be like when Mozart was sitting in one of the cafes, learning about the cafe’s history, and admiring its beautiful décor, chandeliers, and furniture. It will enrich your day in Vienna.
The Vital Breakfast at Cafe Schwarzenberg:
- Portion coffee or “Bio Vital Oase” herbal tea of hot chocolate
- Chia seed bread roll and whole grain bread
- Sticks of raw vegetables with avocado dip
- Cereals with nuts and fruits
- Green Smoothie
Some A-la-carte breakfast choices:
- Bone-in ham Thum ham factory
- Cheese variation with Bergbaron, Jerome, and herb cream cheese
- Soft-boiled organic free-range egg
- Poached egg with ham and Hollandaise sauce on toast
- Poached egg with spinach and Hollandaise sauce on toast
- Ham and eggs/bacon and eggs
- Crispy bacon with scrambled eggs or fried eggs
- Scrambled eggs with chives or Sacher sausages
Learn about the Classical Musician’s Past
Vienna is “the Capital of Classical Music”, simply because this is the birthplace of (or where they got educated) a number of influential classical musicians in history, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms to Johann Strauss Junior.
These well-known music giants were actually deeply related – Haydn and Mozart were close friends, Hayden was Beethoven’s teacher and Beethoven paid much respect to his senior Mozart. Both Haydn and Schubert once belonged to Wiener Sängerknaben in different periods!
The House of Habsburg was a great wheel that led to the thriving music development of Vienna. Check out the Museum Mozart Apartment and Museum Beethoven Pasqualatihaus, the residences of the two great musicians, and discover their lives working in Vienna that left the world with unforgettable legacies.
Feel Emotional in a World-Class Opera
I remember the moment that I fell in love with Vienna State Opera was watching Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation as one of the most memorable scenes was shot in this famous opera house – when Benji got out of the subway train and made his way to see the Turandot, I was captivated by the emotional music, stage performance, and singing. While it was all a movie, the Vienna State Opera is truly a sensation in reality.
Together with Garnier in Paris, and La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper) is the world’s three most prestigious opera houses in the world. The building was resurrected in 1955 after a tragic fire in World War II; however, this is the location where Mozart made his debut of Don Giovanni in 1869. Until today, the venue hosts various performances from classical concerts, and ballet to orchestras, the atmosphere, and the choice of musical works give an impression of an authentic concert of the baroque era when Mozart lived. Tickets could be sold out fast and therefore it is recommended to purchase show tickets in advance.
For more, check out Musikverein and Konzerthaus for more shows, or the Volksoper and Burgkapelle for more light-hearted opera and choir performances!
Explore the Many Museums and Galleries
The number of museums and galleries is overwhelming, and most of them are located around Hofburg and MuseumsQuartier. While I plan on sharing a little bit more about these incredible art spaces in the future; It might take days before you could see them all!
Hofburg started construction in the 13th century and has undergone a number of remodeling through the centuries; Alte Burg and Neue Burg combined to occupy over 240,000 sq. feet of floor space with 2600 rooms, and 19 courtyards. Today, most of the structure is open to the public as history or art museums.
Hofburg is at the Michaelerplatz and there you will find the way to Sisi Museums, and Imperial Treasury Vienna. The exit of Sisi Museums is connected to the Heldenplatz in from of the Neue Burg, the building is now three museums including the Austrian National Library, Museum of Ethnology, and Papyrus Museum.
Albertina is located behind the Burggarten. This is a prestigious art museum that plays an important role in the art world with approximately 65,000 drawings and 1 million old master prints. Apart from its impressive graphics collection, the museum hosted many exhibitions of important artists around the world; and they also pay attention to the development of contemporary art exhibitions.
Kunsthistorisches Museum is another museum that you shouldn’t miss; it has a collection of Greek and Egyptian arts, and also the biggest Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s collection worldwide. Famous paintings include Turmbau Zu Babel (1563), Bauernhochzeit (1568), Jager Im Schnee (winter)(1565), Infantino Margarita Teresa in seiBem Kleid (1656), and Infantino Margarita Teresa in blauem (1659). (Interestingly I have also seen his exhibition in Osaka’s National Museum of Art – which I will share in m Osaka’s post 😊). Another highlight of the museum is the Café KHM, and KHM Museum Shop, the beautiful ceiling, and the décor of the café are worth a visit, even if you are not planning to have one of the 15 kinds of cakes on their menu.
MuseumQuartier is located at the Maria-Theresien Platz and it’s a museum cluster with six attractions: Mumok (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien), Leopold Museum, Kunsthalle, MQ Point, Halle, and café Corbaci.
Schloss Belvedere, a little farther from the inner city, showcases many Gustav Klirnt’s paintings like Judith (1901), Allee im Park vor Schloss Kammer (1912), Der Kiss (1908) and Fritza Riedler (1906). Apart from the museums listed above, yet there is still a lot more on the list: from the Jan Arnold Gallery, Kunsthalle, Wien Museum, RomerMuseum, House of Music, and Wien Museum Karlsplatz….
Look out for Creative Architecture and Historic Landmarks
Vienna is filled with Jugendstil architecture. Key Austrian architects like Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Franz Matsch drove the Jugendstil Movement that happens between 1890-1910. The movement changed the style of art in architecture and applied art – quite simply, it means “modern” in English. Simpler curves and lines, bold colors, and asymmetry shapes… are some of the elements that are different from the classical point of view. The modern style focuses on functionality and practicality; There are a number of buildings in Vienna that are perfect examples of the movement in that time. Like Secession, Pavillon Karlsplatz, Postsparkasse, Medaillon Mansion & Majolikahaus, Looshaus, and Engel Apotheke. Check out the Ankeruhr (Anker Clock) – it is located on Hohen Markt Street (next to Wedding Fountain on Hoher Markt Square) and the clock’s 12 historical figures rotate slowly around the front. Except at noon, the figures will do a complete rotation and so don’t be surprised when you see a crowd looking up on the street!
If you are still interested to see some old – the inner city of Austria still kept a glimpse of classical architecture in different corners. Like St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Karlskkirche, and the Rathaus. These buildings have still remained the city’s most recognizable landmarks after hundreds of years.
Saint Rupert’s Church is considered to be the oldest church in the city. Dedicated to Saint Rupert of Salzburg, it is located in the section of the Roman Vindobona. It looks a little bit like a ruin from afar, while it is really old and small, it has great historic value with some of “the oldest” features in the church, including the oldest bell in Vienna (dated from around 1280), and the oldest glass window panes (from approx. 1370). The little squares and lanes surrounding the Ruprechtskirche belong to the oldest part of Vienna.
Look out also for Hundertwasser Architecture
Friedrich Stowasser, better known by his pseudonym, Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser is another big name in the European Architectural scene. Born in Austria, he later moved to New Zealand in the 1970s; but before he moved, he left quite a lot of works in his home country and one of the most notable works is the Hundertwasserhaus. His works, which reminded me so much of Gaudi, are very organic. With lots of curves and bold colors, they are also imaginative and unique. The use of bold colors and distinctive lines make his works stand out from the crowd.
Apart from the Hundertwasser, he has so many other masterpieces scattered all over Vienna, including Fernwärme Wien & Spittelau Incinerator, Kunst Haus, and Village beim Hundertwasser-Krawinahaus. If you are traveling around the country, don’t forget to check out more of his works, like Saint Barbara Church, Pavilion at the DDSG Ponton, and Thermendorf Blumau.
Check out: The Must-see Antoni Gaudí Buildings in Barcelona
Have a Festive Moment in Christmas Market or a Weekend Market
While some local markets like Naschmarkt are worth a trip looking for some fresh produce and creative local-made home products. Go to the Christmas market and celebrate the season if you are in town for Christmas. Christmas markets in Spittelberg, Am Hof, Karlsplatz, and Belvedere Palace are exciting to see, and actually, there are festive food stalls set up in front of the Schönbrunn Palace during Christmas as well. The palace still closed at around 5 pm but the food stalls in the front yard open a little bit later at night. Many people visit there after dark and it was quite a unique experience to enjoy local food in front of the palace.
The most exciting Christmas market in Vienna is at the Rathausplatz located in front of Rathaus (City Hall). The City Hall is the seat of the local government of Vienna, and the building was completed in 1883. The City Hall was actually much bigger and more beautiful than I thought, and I appreciated that the open space in the front park was used as a platform for everyone to enjoy. One of the most exciting highlights of the market is definitely the ice-skating rink. Both adults and kids had a great time chasing each other in the rink! Not only that, inside the City Hall there is an area dedicated to Children, where they can learn how to make Christmas cookies or candles!
Check out: 6 Tips You Need to Know to Go to Christmas Markets Like a Local
Climb up on the City’s viewpoints
Finally, climb up to one of the iconic viewpoints in the city to round up your exploration. Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel is one of the most popular attractions in Vienna. The wheel marks the entrance to the Prater amusement park and is a traditional moving monument of the city’s skyline. With its traditional design and look, an exciting panoramic adventure is guaranteed.
Just to travel a little bit farther to the north in Kaisermühlen, the Danube Tower is the tallest structure in Vienna, standing at 252 meters high. It is a modern architectural marvel that offers unspoiled panoramas across the city from a unique perspective. There is even a rotating restaurant at the top, too.
In case if you still have time at the airport with your Vienna Pass still valid. Don’t miss out on the chance to visit the VISITAIR Terrace. The observation terrace offers unparalleled views over the runways where you can watch both incoming and outgoing planes take off and land. While it offers free entry with a Vienna Pass, this is a perk that not a lot of visitors may know about~