No city in Central Europe captures the region’s grace and charm better than Vienna. Within its UNESCO World Heritage Site city center and beyond, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Vienna that highlight the Austrian capital’s rich imperial history and modernism.
Walk along the Danube River to discover Vienna’s interesting neighborhoods, from historic Innere Stadt to eclectic Neubau. Stand in the footsteps of Habsburg rulers as you explore beautiful palaces like Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Imperial Palace, and Belvedere Palace. Pull up a seat at famed cafes and coffee houses like Café Central to sip on dark-roast coffee among the ghosts of intellectual giants. Search out the city’s innovative restaurants and eateries to experience Viennese cuisine favorites like Rindsuppe and Wiener Schnitzel.
Ready to plan the perfect vacation to Austria’s graceful capital? Get started with this quick & easy guide to the best places to visit in Vienna, Austria!
What to see & do in Vienna
Eat & drink at a traditional Heurigen in Grinzing
You’ll want to try authentic Viennese food & drink while visiting Vienna. And there’s no better place to do it than at a Heurige, a traditional Austrian wine tavern. Of all the areas in Vienna to experience it, the most famous is Grinzing. This neighborhood presents travelers with a collection of Heuriger in the vineyards overlooking the city.
Instead of jostling past the hordes of tourists in the city center, you’ll be much happier venturing just outside Vienna to Heuriger frequented by locals. There are some great ones in Austria’s Weinviertel (Wine Quarter) in Stammersdorf and Hagenbrunn or the picturesque town of Perchtoldsdorf to the south. All of these villages are within easy reach.
Flexible with your vacation plans? Try to visit the taverns in autumn, one of the best times to visit Vienna, when the year’s new batches of wine make their debut.
Feed your sweet tooth with Viennese desserts at Cafe Sacher
Whether you have one day in Vienna or a week, you need to try a Sachertorte! This world-famous dessert consists of two layers of chocolate cake separated by a layer of apricot jam and covered in a dark chocolate glaze. The Hotel Sacher holds the right to the “Original Sachertorte,” which makes it the most famous (and most expensive) but not necessarily the tastiest.
The hotel’s Cafe Sacher, located directly across from the State Opera House, offers a sumptuous atmosphere. But if it’s a magnificent Sachertorte you’re after, then I’d recommend L. Heiner K.u.K. Hofzuckerbacker.
There’s another famous Viennese specialty you probably already know well but didn’t realize its origin: the “Danish.” Although the Danes are proud of their “Danish” pastries, even they call it wienerbrød (Viennese bread) because it originated in Vienna, not in Denmark!
While indulging your sweet tooth on your culinary adventure, also keep on the lookout for Viennese specialties like the Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and Topfenstrudel (a sweet Topfen or quark-cheese-filled strudel), often served with a vanilla sauce.
Sip some java at a Viennese coffee house like Cafe Central
Cafe Central was once one of Vienna’s most venerable coffee houses. Intellectuals and authors such as Peter Altenberg, Theodor Herzl, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Loos, and Leon Trotsky would meet here to discuss politics, philosophy, economics, and the like.
With such famous patrons, a long history, and a beautiful atmosphere, it’s no wonder every tourist guide recommends a visit to Cafe Central while exploring Vienna.
However, all of it is slightly deceiving. The real Cafe Central was located in another part of the building, the Palais Ferstel, and closed at the end of WWII. Although you’ll see pictures of these celebrities of old beaming at you from around the cafe, they never actually sat here.
Besides its historical place among Viennese intellectuals, there’s nothing overly special about Cafe Central. The cafe’s architecture is impressive, but the food and drinks are mediocre at best and not worth the inflated prices.
If you’re visiting Vienna on a budget and still want a traditional Viennese coffee house experience, try Cafe Prückel or Cafe Hawelka, where they serve fresh Buchteln, sweet yeast dough dumplings with jam fillings.
(Whatever you do, don’t cave and choose a Starbucks; you’ll be passing up the perfect opportunity to experience the unique personality of each Viennese coffee house!)
Wander around Schönbrunn Palace
One of Vienna’s most iconic attractions, Schönbrunn Palace beckons travelers with its grandeur and history. As a former imperial summer residence, this magnificent palace boasts an astounding 1,441 Rococo-inspired rooms. Step inside, and you’ll be immersed in opulent interiors adorned with antique furnishings and beautiful frescoes, offering a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the Austrian monarchy.
Outside, Schönbrunn Palace is equally breathtaking with its expansive Palace Gardens. Take a stroll through the gardens, keeping your eyes peeled for the Neptune Fountain and the Gloriette, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Vienna.
Don’t miss the Palm House, a haven for exotic plants, and the world’s oldest existing zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn, both located within the palace grounds. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not join the Apple Strudel Shows to dive into Austrian culinary traditions?
With so much to explore, plan at least half a day here to soak in the rich history and splendor of Schönbrunn Palace fully.
Stroll around Hofburg Imperial Palace
Another must-visit on your Vienna itinerary is Hofburg Imperial Palace. The Habsburgs’ winter home is a massive complex, and each era added its architectural flair. Today, it houses the Austrian National Library, the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Silver Collection.
The Imperial Apartments offer a glimpse into the royal family’s private lives, while the Sisi Museum is dedicated to Empress Elisabeth’s life. The Silver Collection showcases imperial dining culture with a vast array of tableware and kitchen utensils.
Don’t miss the Spanish Riding School, where you can watch Lipizzaner horses perform classical dressage. (More on that later…)
Admire the beautiful Baroque architecture of Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace, another jewel in Vienna’s crown, is renowned for its stunning Baroque architecture. This two-palace complex, consisting of the Upper and Lower Belvedere, is nestled within beautifully landscaped gardens adorned with fountains, sculptures, and a botanical garden.
One of the must-see places to visit in Vienna, the Upper Belvedere boasts an impressive 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art collection, including Gustav Klimt’s iconic “The Kiss.” At the Lower Belvedere, you can explore the palace’s sumptuous interiors and a rotating roster of exhibitions.
Additional highlights at Belvedere Palace include the Orangery, a former winter garden, and the Palace Stables. Don’t forget to take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, which offer a serene escape amidst the city buzz.
Take a spin on the Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Giant Wheel)
As featured in the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights, the Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Giant Wheel) is a 65-metre (212-foot) high Ferris wheel. The attraction dates back to 1897, making it one of the oldest Ferris wheels in the world.
A regular ride on the Wiener Riesenrad, to catch magnificent views of Vienna from above, costs €10. Those who want to splurge can take it a step further, though. Rent out one of the private & luxury cabins for a romantic dinner, dessert, or even just a couple of cocktails high above Vienna.
For the ultimate experience at the Wiener Riesenrad, time your visit in the autumn when the wheel’s surrounding park, Prater, plays host to the Vienna Wiesn, an Oktoberfest-like harvest celebration that’s one of the top festivals in Vienna.
Dabble in Viennese cuisine
Although often treated as equivalent to Austrian cuisine, Viennese cuisine is all to its own. Even worse is when it’s considered a simple variation of German food!
With the city’s location at an imperial crossroads, Viennese cuisine pulls in influences from around the entire continent. At the city’s top restaurants, you’ll find food inspired by Western European cuisines like Italian and French and flavors from the East, including Hungarian, Jewish, and Polish. Some tasty Viennese dishes to keep on the lookout for include:
- Rindsuppe: A beef soup with a clear broth often served with thin wheat noodles.
- Wiener Schnitzel: Veal pounded into a thin slice, breaded with batter, and pan-fried to golden perfection.
- Gulasch: Vienna’s own style of goulash, based on the Hungarian original. It often uses only onions and is served with dark bread.
- Tafelspitz: Beef boiled in stock and often served with apple and horseradish sauces.
- Selchfleisch: Smoked meat often served with sauerkraut und dumplings.
Dazzle at The Lipizzaner Horse Shows
Even if you aren’t a self-professed animal lover, spending some time marveling at the Lipizzaner Stallions is a must while visiting Austria’s capital. The Lipizzaner Stallions have been trained at the Spanish Riding School Vienna for more than 400 years—and their deep tradition shows in their graceful movements.
Originally trained by the Habsburgs, the stallions perform two times a week in late spring and fall. We’d recommend purchasing your tickets online six to eight weeks in advance, although some standing-room-only tickets are available on performance days.
Watch the Vienna Boys’ Choir
A special experience for music fans and culture lovers visiting Vienna is to catch the Vienna Boys’ Choir in action. This all-boys soprano & alto choir is unique to the Austrian capital and traces its roots back over 500 years.
The Vienna Boys’ Choir performs in the Hofmusikkapelle at Hofburg Palace on Sunday mornings. (Check schedules and dates here). They do not perform in Vienna between July and November as they’re out touring Austria, Germany, and the United States.
Purchase your tickets online about two months before the performances for the highest chance of securing a seat.
Where to stay in Vienna for sightseeing
With the immense size of Austria’s capital, choosing among the best places to stay in Vienna isn’t always a cinch. The city stretches out over 400 square kilometers, making it extremely important to pick the right area for your vacation.
For most travelers, the Innere Stadt is a great choice. Start your search with a few of these top hotels…
- Motel One Wien-Statsoper: Despite a name that draws parallels to road trip accommodations gone bad, this budget-friendly hotel is a surprising winner. It’s built in a classic 19th-century heritage building that’s located just steps away from the State Opera.
- Boutique Hotel am Stephansplatz: If you want to get central, don’t let this fantastic boutique hotel pass you by. Located beside St. Stephen’s Cathedral, this top mid-range hotel features spacious & sophisticated. As it’s one of the city’s most sought-after hotels, you’ll need to book well in advance to secure your room.
- Park Hyatt Vienna: One of the finest luxury hotels in Vienna, this incredible Park Hyatt occupies a lovely early 20th-century heritage building that perfectly conveys the city’s reputation for class & elegance. Besides the regal rooms, this 5-star hotel offers a ton of extra amenities, from a wellness spa & indoor pool to an on-site brasserie & cigar lounge.