Although Vienna can be costly, there are plenty of opportunities for budget travelers to get a feel for the city's culture. From free opera nights and museums to buzzing markets and splendid gardens which don’t cost a cent, here are the best free things to do in Austria's capital.

Visit Stephansdom

With its distinctive mosaic of zig-zagging roof tiles, the 12th century Stephansdom is a Viennese landmark. Part of the gothic masterpiece is open to the public for free, allowing visitors to get a sense of the cathedral's atmospheric interior and visit some of the smaller altars. You'll need to pay for guided tours or to visit the towers, the museum and the catacombs

Take a free walking tour 

A wander through the historic streets is a great way to get underneath the skin of Vienna and the ivie App can help do just that. Its self-guided walks cover key sights from the Schönbrunn Palace to the Ringstrasse and almost everything in between. 

If you'd prefer some company, try one of the free guided walking tours offered by volunteers such as Vienna Greeters. Run by enthusiastic locals, the private two-hour tours might just be the best way to get to know the city's hidden corners and lesser-known stories.

The manicured grounds and gardens of Belvedere Palace are free to visit
The manicured grounds and gardens of Belvedere Palace are free to visit ©Krzysztof Dydynski/Lonely Planet

Admire the Lipizzan horses

Throughout the center of town, you’ll often hear the quintessentially Viennese sound of clip-clopping horses' hooves. Carriage horses still pull fiaker (traditional horse-drawn carriages) across the cobblestones, while the famous Lipizzan breed train at the city's renowned Spanish Riding School.

The stately Lipizzan horses, which used to be bred for the monarchs of the Habsburg court, can admired in their stalls for free. The stallions are even more impressive in action and you can catch a glimpse of them at 10am from Tuesday to Saturday, as they get led across the Reitschulgasse to the Winter Riding School for their morning routine.

See Vienna from above  

MQ Libelle, at the top of the roof of the Leopold Museum, is a terrace offering great views all the way from the MuseumsQuartier to the Hausberge mountains. The glass structure of the Libelle, (German for 'dragonfly'), is an artwork in itself, but there is also an exhibition space for art installations right underneath it called MQ Art Box, which is open 24/7 and you can visit for free. The rooftop area is open daily except for Tuesday and access is via two outdoor lifts on the east side.

For sweeping views, head to the new 360° Ocean Sky, on the 11th floor of a repurposed flak tower. You can stop for a drink, but you don’t have to. The elevator stops next to the entrance to the restaurant, so you can walk the entire platform and enjoy the panorama without entering the venue.

People buying food at market stands on Naschmarkt in Vienna
People buying food at market stands on Naschmarkt in Vienna ©TasfotoNL/Shutterstock

Taste local produce at the markets

Vienna has a wealth of local markets to explore for free. Stall holders at Naschmarkt let visitors sample delicious bite-sized morsels such as olives and sweets with no obligation to buy, whilst the energetic Brunnenmarkt in the multicultural 16th district holds more than 170 market stalls.

Kutschermarkt is one of the oldest street markets in the city, or for a more everyday experience, head to Schwendermarkt in the 15th district or Karmelitermarkt in the 2nd district, where locals regularly gather for free community events.

Go museum-hopping

Although the more well-known museums in Vienna charge an entry fee, if your stay happens to include the first Sunday of the month, you are in luck, as many can be visited then for free.

Participating museums include the MUSA, which puts on contemporary art exhibitions; the Pratermuseum, which revels in the history of Vienna’s iconic amusement park; the Clock Museum, which is home to more than 700 timepieces; the birthplace of composer Franz Schubert; and the Haydnhaus, where musical maestro Joseph Haydn lived in his later life.

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Catch an outdoor classical music concert

Some of the ticketed summer shows at Vienna’s Opera House are live-streamed for free in its outdoor courtyard. Arrive around 90 minutes before curtains-up to secure a seat and enjoy the thrill of catching a show in the open air. The Vienna Philharmonic also hosts free evening concerts in the summer, usually for one night in June. 

Stroll the Schönbrunn Palace and Belvedere Gardens

The gardens at Schönbrunn Palace stretch 0.75 miles (1.2km) east to west with plenty of hidden treasures and quiet corners to enjoy, including the iconic Gloriette with views across the city. Likewise, the perfectly manicured, Unesco World Heritage-listed Belvedere Palace gardens are a baroque marvel that’s free to visit.

Join locals at the Donauinsel 

In summertime locals flock to the Donauinsel, a long, artificial island by the Danube, to swim, stand-up paddleboard, barbecue and sunbathe. The nearby CopaBeach and green wedge of Arbeiterstrandgasse are also easy-to-access swim spots and beloved lazy hangouts of the city. You’ll need nothing more than a towel and sunscreen to lap up a day’s entertainment by the water.

Visitors walk along Vienna's Ringstrasse, past the historic Burgtheater
Visitors walk along Vienna's Ringstrasse, past the historic Burgtheater ©trabantos/Shutterstock

Pay respects at the Zentralfriedhof

The largest and most famous of Vienna’s graveyards is the final resting place for musical luminaries such as Strauss, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. Many other figures from the 19th and 20th centuries, including architect Albert Loos, writer Albert Schnitzler and beloved Austrian rockstar Falco, can also be paid homage to in the vast grounds of Zentralfriedhof.

Give yourself plenty of time to explore the grounds that stretch for more than 0.9 sq mi (2.4 sq km). Aside from mausoleums, visitors will find dedications to fallen soldiers from both World Wars, the ornate church of St Borromäus and a museum of funerals.

Relax in Lainzer Tiergarten 

Like the emperors and the empresses of the past, you can retire from the hustle and bustle of the center and spend a relaxing day at the Lainzer Tiergarten on the outskirts of Vienna. Small children will enjoy the forest playgrounds, and there are also nature trails to explore. The park contains Hermesvilla, a small castle villa which the Emperor Franz Joseph gave to his wife Elizabeth as a present. The building is free to enter on the first Sunday of each month.

Whizz around the city on a bike

Vienna is well connected by public transport, but visitors can whizz around the city on Citybikes which are available to rent from 121 public bike stations. There's a one-off payment of €1 to register with your credit card, but if you return the bike within one hour and wait for 15 minutes before you ride another bike, it’s free.

You might also like:
The best neighborhoods in Vienna: Where to stay, play, wine and dine in the Austrian capital
The 10 best day trips from Vienna
The best time to visit Vienna: from Christmas markets to film fests

This article was first published December 2019 and updated November 2021

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