Best Things to Do in Vienna

15 Best Things to Do in Vienna

15 Best Things to Do in Vienna

Vienna, the capital of Austria and a coveted destination in Europe derives its allure and rich heritage from its picturesque position along the Danube River. You will find the best things to do in Vienna since its history as the crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe has bestowed upon it a profound significance, once serving as the heart of the expansive Habsburg Empire and persisting as Austria’s foremost center for commerce and culture.

Annually drawing in more than 17 million visitors, Vienna is enticed with an array of historical landmarks, renowned art collections, opulent palaces, and a distinguished musical legacy. The city’s profound appreciation for its cultural legacy resonates through its grand museums, splendid concert halls, and the globally acclaimed opera house.

Amidst an unmistakably cosmopolitan ambiance, Vienna exudes a distinct charm, highlighted by its exquisite old-world architecture, iconic horse-drawn carriages, known as Fiakers, and its delightful coffeehouses offering the famed Viennese pastries and cakes.

Whether you seek a day’s worth of exploration or a comprehensive itinerary spanning several days, Vienna offers a wealth of choices in this refined setting. For those with time to spare, venturing on day trips to explore the stunning environs and neighboring cities is highly recommended.

Explore our comprehensive guide detailing Vienna’s top tourist attractions and activities to make the most of your visit to Austria’s elegant capital.

1. Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace stands as one of Vienna’s most coveted attractions, comprised of two exquisite Baroque structures: the Lower Belvedere (Unteres Belvedere) and the Upper Belvedere (Oberes Belvedere). The Upper Palace boasts notable features such as the Ground Floor Hall, adorned with statues, and the Ceremonial Staircase, bedecked with intricate stucco relief and frescoes.

The captivating Marble Hall within the Upper Palace is a sight to behold. This remarkable two-story chamber showcases a plethora of period sculptures, paintings, and ceiling frescoes. Meanwhile, the Lower Palace houses its own Marble Hall, distinguished by oval plaster medallions and an opulent ceiling fresco. Additionally, a Marble Gallery graces the Lower Palace, constructed explicitly to exhibit a collection of historic statues.

Visitors to Belvedere should not miss exploring other architectural gems, including the Winter Palace, a Baroque edifice that once served as the Court Treasury, alongside the Orangery, the Palace Stables housing the Medieval Treasury, and the enchanting Belvedere Gardens and Fountains that bridge the two palaces.

For those with time to spare at Belvedere, a visit to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere is highly recommended. This renowned art museum within the palace is celebrated for its extensive collections, showcasing an array of sculptures and panel paintings dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Most notably, the museum houses Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece of early modern art, “The Kiss,” which stands as a pinnacle of Austrian Symbolist artwork.

Belvedere Palace

2. Vienna State Opera House

The Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper), among the globe’s grandest theaters, stands as a historic venue that has welcomed an array of eminent composers, conductors, soloists, and dancers. Hosting over 300 operatic and ballet performances annually, the opera house’s passion for music traces back to 1625 when the first Viennese Court Opera graced its stage.

Constructed in 1869, this colossal Opera House exudes a distinct French Early Renaissance architectural style. Inside, notable features include a magnificent staircase leading to the first floor, the Schwind Foyer adorned with paintings depicting iconic opera scenes, and the exquisite Tea Room embellished with valuable tapestries.

With a seating capacity of 2,211 and accommodation for 110 musicians, the Opera House also serves as the residence of the esteemed Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Engaging behind-the-scenes guided tours in English are accessible to enthusiasts.

For music aficionados, a visit to the Wiener Musikverein, a concert hall that houses the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, offers an enriching experience (advance ticket bookings available online). Additionally, the House of Music (Haus der Musik) provides an immersive journey into the world of sound and music through interactive exhibitions and demonstrations, captivating the curiosity of its visitors.

Vienna State Opera House

3. Tiergarten Schönbrunn

The Vienna Zoo also recognized as Schönbrunn Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn), has its roots in Emperor Francis I’s menagerie and stands as a testament to its legacy. Established in 1752, it proudly holds the title of being the world’s oldest continuously operating zoo. Retaining many original Baroque structures, it ranks among Europe’s most charming zoological gardens. A delightful experience awaits, especially for those who take a moment to relax in the original 18th-century Imperial Breakfast Pavilion, now transformed into a splendid café.

Among the zoo’s impressive collection of over 750 species, the giant pandas, along with their cubs, steal the spotlight. The interactive Rainforest House and Aquarium showcase a myriad of captivating creatures. For families visiting Vienna, consulting the zoo’s official website for feeding times can be an enjoyable and memorable experience. Additionally, exploring the availability of specialized themed and backstage guided tours adds an extra dimension to the visit.

For travelers with a penchant for wildlife and still craving more animal encounters, the Haus des Meeres stands as a noteworthy attraction—a substantial public aquarium housed within a WWII flak tower. Moreover, the Butterfly House (Schmetterlinghaus), nestled adjacent to the Opera House, provides a serene setting for relaxation after a day of sightseeing in Vienna.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn

4. St. Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), the eminent Gothic landmark and the principal cathedral of the archbishopric from 1722, graces the historic core of Vienna. Its origins trace back to a 12th-century Romanesque church, later succeeded by a Late Romanesque iteration in the 13th century, evident in remnants such as the formidable gate and the Heathen Towers (Heidentürme).

Evolution continued in the 14th century, marked by Gothic reconstruction and the inclusion of the choir, alongside chapels venerating St. Eligius, St. Tirna, and St. Catherine. Noteworthy among its features is the renowned 137-meter-tall South Tower (Steffl), a proud testament to the 15th-century enhancements.

Significant enhancements and expansions occurred between the 17th and 19th centuries, culminating in a complete reconstruction post-World War II. Visitors can relish breathtaking panoramas by ascending the 343 steps to Steffl’s Watch Room, or opt for the fast lift to reach a viewing platform, bypassing the stairs.

Other notable facets include the 14th-century catacombs and the Cathedral Treasure, housing a wealth of the cathedral’s most prized artifacts. Engaging English-guided tours are available, including an unforgettable 1.5-hour evening tour that showcases the cathedral’s panoramic city vistas.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

5. Leopold Museum & Vienna’s Museum Quarter

Ever since its inauguration in 2001, Vienna’s Museum Quartier (Museumsquartier, or “MQ”) has emerged as a distinguished cultural enclave housing an array of exceptional museums that beckon exploration. This amalgamation of both historic and contemporary architectural wonders revolves around the erstwhile royal stables, offering an immersive experience that easily consumes a substantial part, if not an entire day, of one’s itinerary.

Top on the list of must-visit institutions is the renowned Leopold Museum, celebrated for its extensive collection showcasing Austria’s foremost modern artists like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Complementing this is MUMOK, the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna, boasting an impressive assembly of over 10,000 contemporary and modern artworks by luminaries including Picasso and Warhol.

Adding to the allure of the Museum Quarter is the highly anticipated Vienna Festival (Wiener Festwochen) held during the summer months. As the event’s headquarters are situated here, it becomes a bustling center once tickets are released, and the surrounding edifices serve as venues for a diverse array of cultural events and concerts. Also nestled within this vibrant district is Tanzquartier, Austria’s premier dance center, alongside artists’ studios and galleries, enriching the cultural landscape of the area.

Leopold Museum & Vienna's Museum Quarter

6. St. Charles Church (Karlskirche)

Dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, revered during times of plague, the St. Charles Church, or Karlskirche, stands as Vienna’s paramount Baroque religious edifice since its completion in 1737. Its grandeur is marked by a striking 72-meter dome, commanding attention alongside the renowned twin 33-meter Triumphal Pillars. These pillars, reminiscent of Trajan’s Column in Rome, intricately depict pivotal moments from St. Charles’s life in spiraling bands.

Inside, the church boasts splendid frescoes featuring St. Cecilia, capturing the eye and imagination. For those seeking musical enchantment, the church hosts a regular concert program, details of which can be found on its official website.

Another noteworthy stop is the Gardekirche, erected in 1763 in Vienna’s southern outer district as the Imperial Hospital’s church, later catering to Polish congregations. Of special significance is the artwork positioned above the High Altar, inviting contemplation and admiration.

St. Charles Church (Karlskirche)

7. Danube Island

If you’ve taken a moment to soak in the breathtaking vistas from the Danube Tower, you might have noticed an intriguing sight: Vienna seemingly cradled by not just one river, but two. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The wider expanse is the Danube River, while parallel to it flows the Donaukanal, often referred to as the “new Danube.” Spanning between them is the elongated Danube Island (Donauinsel), an unmissable gem for sightseers.

Despite measuring a mere 210 meters at its widest point, the island stretches over 21 kilometers in length and serves as a beloved retreat for locals seeking leisurely walks and moments of relaxation. Accessible via water taxis or bridges, the island boasts an array of dining options, catering to both casual diners and those seeking upscale experiences. Its serene ambiance is perfect for an unhurried stroll along the banks of the Danube.

Sports enthusiasts flock to this haven, engaging in an assortment of activities such as biking, rollerblading, and partaking in water adventures like canoeing, kayaking, and swimming at the numerous beaches dotting its shores. Notably, Danube Island sets the stage for the annual Donauinselfest, Europe’s largest open-air festival. This vibrant celebration attracts an estimated three million attendees each September, adding to the island’s allure and vibrancy.

Danube Island

8. Kunsthistorisches Museum and Maria-Theresien-Platz

Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, housed within a stunning architectural marvel, was purpose-built to showcase the extraordinary art amassed by the Hapsburg royal family. Among its prized treasures is an unparalleled collection of Dutch art, notably boasting the world’s most extensive compilation of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works, including his renowned masterpiece, the Tower of Babel.

The museum’s riches span beyond Bruegel, encompassing masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Bellini, Caravaggio, Vermeer, and portraits by Velazquez. While renowned for its focus on late Italian Renaissance, Baroque, and Flemish paintings, the museum’s scope transcends these eras, encompassing classical Greek and Roman art, as well as a treasury of Egyptian artifacts.

For an enriched experience, tailored English-language guided tours cater to individual interests. A visit to the museum’s café is highly recommended, It offers a charming atrium setting adorned with towering walls and elegantly embellished ceilings.

From its vantage point overlooking Maria-Theresien-Platz, the museum provides a view of the grand monument honoring Empress Maria Theresa. Commissioned by Franz Joseph I and unveiled in 1887, this monumental statue depicts the Empress seated on her throne, encircled by prominent figures of her era, including several mounted generals. The intricate reliefs portray influential personalities from politics, economics, and the arts, paying tribute to luminaries like Haydn, Gluck, and Mozart.

For those with time for further art exploration, a visit to the Museum of Applied Arts (Museum für Angewandte Kunst), or MAK, is recommended. This exceptional museum showcases traditional Austrian craftsmanship and artistry alongside contemporary expressions in art, design, and architecture.

Kunsthistorisches Museum and Maria-Theresien-Platz

9. Hofburg

For over six centuries, the Hofburg has stood as the esteemed seat of the Hofburg dynasty and served as the official residence for Austrian rulers since 1275, making it the most historically significant among Vienna’s palatial landmarks. As the present official seat of the Austrian President, this expansive complex embodies a fusion of architectural styles, boasting elements from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods.

Encompassing a staggering 59 acres and comprising 18 clusters of buildings, including 19 inner courtyards and a staggering 2,600 rooms, the Hofburg captivates visitors with its sheer size and historical resonance. Key attractions within this opulent estate include the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Silver Collection. Additionally, the Imperial Chapel (Burgkapelle) and the Hofburg Treasury stand out, housing an extensive array of Imperial regalia and relics from the Holy Roman Empire. Engaging guided tours conducted in English provide in-depth insights into this regal enclave.

The Vienna Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour offers an excellent way to visit Hofburg and other major tourist sites in the city. Ideal for first-time visitors seeking an overview of Vienna’s landmarks, this tour allows flexibility with one-, two-, or three-day options, ensuring a comprehensive exploration of the city’s splendors and a glimpse into its rich history.

Hofburg

10. Imperial Schönbrunn Palace 

The Schönbrunn Palace, a breathtaking 18th-century marvel (Schloss Schönbrunn), beckons visitors not only with its exquisite architecture but also its serene parkland surroundings. As one of Vienna’s foremost tourist destinations, this resplendent Baroque palace boasts an impressive count of 1,441 rooms and apartments, once inhabited by Empress Maria Theresa herself.

A tour of this opulent abode reveals captivating highlights, such as the Imperial Apartments showcasing Emperor Franz Joseph’s Walnut Room and his Bedroom, where the soldier’s bed remains—a poignant relic from his final moments. Exploring Empress Maria Theresa’s quarters unveils her lavishly adorned garden apartments, including the charming Breakfast Room adorned with floral artwork crafted by her daughters.

The Schönbrunn Park and Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, present sweeping panoramas and opulent Baroque-styled landscapes, offering an array of free activities (although admission fees apply for certain features like the maze and the 1883 Palm House). Families traveling with children can delight in the Children’s Museum, where little ones can dress up as princes or princesses for an enchanting experience.

To maximize your visit and skip the entrance queues, consider the “Skip the Line: Guided Tour of Schönbrunn Palace and Vienna Historical City Tour.” This convenient tour includes hotel or Opera House pickup and an informative drive along the iconic Ringstrasse, passing major landmarks like the Hofburg Palace, City Hall, and the Vienna State Opera. The guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace allows access without the hassle of waiting in line. The excursion culminates at Belvedere Palace, where discounted admission grants access to marvels like Gustav Klimt’s renowned masterpiece, “The Kiss,” and other notable Austrian artworks.

Imperial Schönbrunn Palace 

11. Albertina Museum

The Albertina Museum proudly houses an extensive collection showcasing the brilliance of modern art’s eminent figures. Within its walls, one discovers a rich array of works spanning various schools and movements—French impressionists, Vienna secessionists, the Russian avant-garde, expressionists, and fauvists—all brilliantly represented by their foremost artists.

Displayed here are significant pieces by Chagall, Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, Magritte, Vlaminck, Modigliani, Klimt, Munch, Kandinsky, Münter, Miró, Brach, and Ernst, inviting visitors to compare and appreciate their genius. With over a million art pieces and 65,000 drawings, this indispensable stop in Vienna offers an immersive experience.

The museum’s setting, a resplendent 17th-century palace where Habsburg archdukes once resided, now boasts meticulously restored State Rooms exuding their original opulence. Permanent exhibits complemented by temporary displays await exploration. Guided tours in English and informative audioguides cater to diverse interests. Families can engage in private children’s tours, including entertaining workshops.

For those with time on their Vienna itinerary, a visit to the newly opened Albertina Modern is a must. Just a leisurely 10-minute walk away on Karlsplatz, this renovated neoclassical building houses Albertina’s vast collection of post-WWII and contemporary art, showcasing Austrian and international artists’ creativity.

Albertina Museum

12. Prater Ziehrer Monument

Exploring the Prater, nestled between the Danube and the Danube Canal, transports visitors to a realm of its own. Encompassing 3,200 acres, this expansive park—once a royal hunting ground—remains among Vienna’s cherished recreational spots. It caters to all, offering an eclectic mix of experiences: from nostalgic amusements at the Wurstel area’s vintage rides to fine dining, dancing, and a dinosaur-themed park for young adventurers.

A standout attraction is the iconic Giant Wheel (Wiener Riesenrad), an emblem of Vienna granting breathtaking city vistas since 1896. Opt for the luxurious cabin experience, perfect for groups of up to 12, if within your means. The park boasts other gems like the monumental Prater Ziehrer Statue honoring composer CM Ziehrer, erected in 1960, the engaging Prater Museum chronicling the park’s history, a Planetarium, and the Liliputbahn miniature steam train traveling a four-kilometer route near the main avenue.

Across this sprawling park, activities abound—horseback riding, stadium pool swims, football, cycling, tennis, and bowls. The adjacent Danube Park (Donaupark) also beckons with its 250 acres housing a delightful miniature railway, the serene Lake Iris, and a theater. Nighttime ventures into the Prater park offer an additional layer of fun and are highly recommended for a unique experience.

Prater Ziehrer Monument

13. Burgtheater Austria’s National Theater

The Burgtheater, revered as Vienna’s eminent National Theater, has earned its renown for presenting German-language plays and stellar performances. Since Emperor Joseph II established it as the Court Theater in 1776, numerous illustrious actors have graced its four stages. Despite enduring destruction from bombings and fire in 1945, the theater triumphantly reopened in 1955, ascending to become the nation’s paramount theatrical institution.

Beyond its theatrical prowess, the Burgtheater captivates with its exterior adorned by an array of decorative figures, captivating scenes, and distinguished busts. Its interior exudes opulence, showcasing lavish French Baroque-style embellishments, while a staircase adorned with frescoes by Gustav and Ernst Klimt adds to its splendor. Delving behind the scenes, guided tours conducted in English offer an enriching experience well worth the investment.

Burgtheater Austria's National Theater

14. Franciscan Church St Jerome

The Franziskanerkirche, dating back to the early 17th century within the Roman Catholic tradition and alternatively recognized as the Church of St. Jerome, stands out in Vienna for its Renaissance-style facade, contrasting beautifully with its opulent Baroque interior. Noteworthy features encompass the exquisite High Altar crafted in 1707 and a captivating 1550 painting portraying the Madonna and Child. Among the array of paintings, notable works include the depiction of the Martyrdom of St. Capristan and an homage to the church’s patron saint.

Adding to its allure is the meticulously carved Baroque organ dating to 1643, holding the distinction of being Vienna’s oldest organ. Remarkably adorned with folding doors embellished with intricately carved and painted saints, it stands as a testament to masterful craftsmanship. However, the church’s most famed relic remains the carved image known as the Madonna with the Axe. This iconic piece holds historical significance, as it was carried by Austrian soldiers during their Hungarian campaign against the Turks, credited by many for their victorious outcome.

Franciscan Church St Jerome

15. Sigmund Freud Museum

The inception of the Sigmund Freud Museum in 1971 invites visitors into the enthralling world of one of modern history’s most exceptional intellects. Nestled within Freud’s former residence—constructed in 1891 and his abode for 47 prolific years—the museum offers an intimate portrayal of his life. Its rooms and exhibits delve into the history of psychoanalysis, unraveling its profound impact on art and societal paradigms.

Enshrined within the museum’s confines lies a treasury of Freud’s original manuscripts housed in a revered research library, esteemed as one of the globe’s paramount repositories. Alongside personal relics from his life and an impressive array of antique collections, the premises also host a striking collection of modern art, adding another layer of depth to this captivating institution.

Sigmund Freud Museum

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