Museums filled with masterpieces, brilliant baroque streetscapes, sumptuous palaces and epicurean delights, naturally Vienna is an unmissable stop on your Europe adventure.
Now with street art, craft beer brewing, an analogue-only hotel stay, and summer ‘beach bars’, contemporary Vienna continues to flourish as a creative cultural hub.
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
The jewel in Vienna's artistic crown is its Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. As well as accumulating vassal lands, the Habsburgs assembled one of Europe's finest collections of art and artefacts. Housed inside a majestic neoclassical building, the highlight of this incredible cache is the Picture Gallery, an encounter with a vast and emotionally powerful collection of works by grand masters, such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's evocative and 'industrial' Tower of Babel from the 16th century or the bright plenitude of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's Summer.
Vienna’s coffee houses
Great works of art have been created in these 'living rooms' of the Viennese. Patronised by luminaries such as Mahler, Klimt, Freud, Trotsky and Otto Wagner in their day, Vienna's Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) were added to the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. Many retain their opulent original decor, and often specialise in a particular cake, such as the Sacher Torte, an iced-chocolate cake with apricot jam once favoured by Emperor Franz Josef, at Café Sacher. New-wave coffee houses are putting their own twist on the tradition.
Have you had enough of culture yet? No? Good, because the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) is a 90,000 sq metre exhibition space encompassing 60 cultural institutions ranging from fine art, music, theatre, and dance to game culture, street art and photography. Highlights include – including the Leopold Museum, MUMOK, Kunsthalle Wien, Architekturzentrum and Zoom but there are multiple micro-museums and creative spaces to explore. It’s also one of the key locations for the annual Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) held over six weeks in May and June.
The annual Calle Libre street art festival focuses on one guiding theme as celebrated artists respond across curated walls for a week each summer. Founded almost a decade ago by Jakob Kettner, the festival brings together live paintings, street art works, guided tours, film screenings and workshops for urban aesthetics. You’ll get the chance to learn more about Vienna’s burgeoning street art scene, discover works from local and international artists, and find out what issues are shaping and challenging the city today.
Ringstrasse Tram Tour
For a spin around Vienna's architectural highlights, jump on a tram and travel along the Ringstrasse, one of Europe's most magnificent streets. The circular boulevard of imposing state buildings was carved out of the space once occupied by fortifications protecting Vienna from Ottoman Turk attack in the 16th century. You’ll pass the Monument to the Victims of Fascism at the former Gestapo headquarters site, the neoclassical facade of Parlament, Austria’s parliament, the Athena Fountain, and Äusseres Burgtor (Outer Palace Gate). The Roman gate leads the way to the Imperial Palace, the Hofburg.
The magnificent rococo former summer palace and gardens of the Habsburgs are a perfect place to experience the pomp, circumstance and gracious legacy of Austria's erstwhile monarchs. A visit to 40 of the palace's lavishly appointed rooms reveals the lifestyle and the eccentricities of Europe's most powerful family. Beyond the Unesco-listed palace, Schloss Schönbrunn Gardens invite a stroll past pseudo-Roman ruins, along bucolic paths winding through leafy woods and a stopover in the gardens' highlight, the Gloriette, with mesmerising views of the palace and city beyond.
The former wintering ground of the Habsburg monarchs for over 700 years, Hofburg is a living palace today. One of the biggest palace complexes in the world, it now houses a fine collection of museums, is home to the Austrian president, Austria's National Library and public offices. It is also the temporary home of the Austrian Parliament while the main building undergoes renovations expected to be completed in 2024.
The newly renovated 1960s modernist Donauturm tower offers panoramic views across the city and the Danube river. It’s also located in one of the most beautiful and largest parks in the city, the Danube Park making it doubly worth a visit. From the top you’ll see the entire surrounding region of Vienna on a clear day. Who can resist booking a sunset meal at a rotating restaurant at 170m high? This is peak tourist, and we love it. The set-price Viennese three-course meal includes lift tickets.
Whether it's coffee houses, local dining, or a pub crawl, there are a host of tours on offer to the best places to eat and drink in Vienna. Bi-lingual local tour guides guide visitors to different, seasonally appropriate (Christmas market foodie tour anyone?) locations to show off the best the city has to offer. One popular outfit founded by local couple Melinda and Thomas, Vienna Food Tours covers the variety of cuisines that influenced Viennese food: sampling appetizers, a sausage stand, mains, and of course something sweet to round it off over a whole afternoon.
Riesenrad Giant Ferris Wheel
It’s famous among cinephiles as the place Graham Greene sent his fictional character Harry Lime for a slow rotation in the 1949 film The Third Man. The 1897-built Riesenrad, otherwise known as the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel, rises above the beautiful green open spaces of the Prater in Vienna’s 2nd district. A ride takes you high above the city and the wooded parkland and meadows below. Save some time to explore the Prater by foot or bicycle after you return to ground level.
Living up to its Italianesque name 'beautiful view', this 18th-century palace and garden ensemble is deceptively close to Vienna's city centre while still creating a feeling of being worlds apart. Symmetrical, finely sculpted and manicured gardens overlooking Vienna's unfolding skyline connect two exquisite palaces dedicated to a who's who of Austrian art. Gustav Klimt's painting The Kiss is a highlight. The masterpieces on display are complemented by interiors so stately that they're worthy of a visit in their own right.
A Gothic reminder of another age, the Stephansdom is Vienna's heart and soul. The awe-inspiring cathedral lords over the city, topped by an intricately tiled roof, with its distinctive row of chevrons and Austrian eagle. Below the cathedral are the Katakomben (catacombs), with their eerie collection of the deceased; inside, a magnificent Gothic stone pulpit presides over the main nave; and rising above it to dizzying heights is the South Tower with its viewing stage offering dazzling panoramas over town.
Copa Cagrana Beach
Just beyond the city centre, nestled by the Donauinsel, lies Copa Cagrana Beach, a stretch of sandy beach bars, pop-up food stalls and a large open-air TV viewing area that locals flock to in the summer months. Only open between June and September Vienna makes the most of the holiday atmosphere with volleyball courts, trampolines and green space beside the water. Nibble on delicate Trześniewski sandwiches (open finger sandwiches) as you look across the Donaukanal, or satiate your summer cravings with a fresh spritzer.
The hills surrounding Vienna are awash with vineyards and views, ripe for hiking and tippling in equal measure. Held in autumn (typically late September or October), the annual wine hiking day sees over 190 winemakers set up small wooden huts along the popular walking paths above Vienna, where thirsty hikers can stop in to try the fresh wine harvest of the year. Pick up your glass from one of the hiking-day stations at the bottom of the trail, and meander your way from Neustift to Nussdorf, Strebersdorf to Stammersdorf, or the shorter Ottakring to Neuwald route. The ‘hikes’ themselves are quite low impact and allow plenty of time to stop, sip and enjoy the fresh air.
VHS, vinyl and typewriters
Seeking a true digital detox can be challenging, with a constant barrage of tech an unavoidable part of our daily lives. To help you stay offline and relax, 25 Hours hotel has collaborated with Supersense cafe to create the first ‘analogue hotel room’ for your perfectly curated escape from modern life. Replacing wi-fi and wide screens with a typewriter, VHS player and vinyl records, the suite offers a stylish retreat to the simpler technologies of decades gone by. Perfect for a truly unplugged weekend getaway. If you want to explore further, book a bicycle from their friends at Schindelhauer.
Craft beer has come of age in Vienna with a number of bars specialising in locally made brews. Just off Mariahilferstrasse, Ammutson Craft Beer Dive's commitment to fresh tap beer from local microbreweries is a welcome addition to the scene. While stalwart craft beer venues like Beaver Brewing Company continue to provide a hearty mix of delicious food, alongside their expansive and regularly changing craft beer menus. Beer drinkers, on your marks...
Vienna's much-loved Christmas market season runs from around mid-November to Christmas Eve. The Christkindlmärkte atmosphere is magical with stalls in streets and squares selling wooden toys, festive decorations and traditional food such as Würstel (sausages) and Glühwein (mulled wine). The centrepiece is the Wiener Weihnachtstraum Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz but you'll find Christmas markets across the city including at Schloss Schönbrunn.
Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus: 15th district
The 15th district is experiencing a rejuvenation thanks to community driven events, interesting stores and markets. Brunch and coffee lovers can get their fill at Landkind, Das Augustin and Turnhalle im Brick 5, and see Austria’s best barista slinging lattes at GOTA Coffee Experts. Hidden down the district's side alleys is the unique indie art gallery, Improper Walls, and quirky stores such as Metaware, a ‘gift shop for nerds & geeks’.
In the evenings, there’s a wealth of food and drink options to explore in the district, from Das Eduard’s pita burgers on its outdoor terrace, to indie bar ein affee and wine haven Reinwein. Vegetarians can enjoy the secluded delights of restaurant and art gallery Hollerei, a short walk from Meidling Hauptstrasse station.
This article was first published in May 2019, last updated by Tasmin Waby on 29 June 2021.