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Vienna Travel Guide, Austria

Vienna (Wien in German) is the reigning empress of Europe. As you wander Vienna’s immaculate streets, you’re quickly reminded that this elegant city was the former imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Beyond the sheer beauty of the city, it’s the relaxed, stress-free atmosphere that is most appealing. Everything runs on time. No one ever seems to be in a hurry. And, unlike other European capital cities, Vienna isn’t overcrowded and swamped with tourism.

This Vienna City Guide is packed with unique recommendations and local insight (Kati and I live in Vienna). We’re going to tell you exactly what to see and do in Austria‘s gorgeous capital city.

“The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt.” – Karl Kraus, Austrian Writer

Gloriette at Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
  • State: Vienna is the Capital of Austria as well as one of Austria’s 9 states.
  • Population: 1.9 Million
  • Tipping Etiquette: 5-10%, cash ideally. For small bills, round up to the nearest Euro.
  • Water Quality: Tap water is safe to drink.
  • Public Transit: Vienna is very walkable but also has an excellent transportation system. The Wiener Linien (subway, trams, and buses) and the ÖBB (trains) provide a very extensive public transportation system in Vienna. The Vienna City Card includes public transit. The fastest way to get from the Airport to the City is the CAT (City Airport Train).
  • Interesting Fact: Home to over 1,700 acres of vineyards within the city limits, Vienna is the only capital city in the world to produce significant quantities of wine within the city limits.
  • Unique Walking Tours: Vienna Tours 
  • Where to Stay in Vienna: Hotel Schani Salon (midrange), Altstadt Vienna (luxury), or Hotel Imperial (luxury)
  • Get the Guidebooks: Lonely Planet Pocket Vienna, Lonely Planet Vienna Travel Guide, and DK Eyewitness Vienna

Where to Stay in Vienna

Vienna, Austria

Budget | Vienna Hostel Ruthensteiner is a friendly accommodation near Vienna’s Westbahnhof train station. In addition to on-site bike rental and regular events such as barbecues and movie nights, the hostel offers a welcoming atmosphere for travelers from all over the world.

Midrange | Hotel Schani Salon is an excellent hotel located on Mariahilfer Straße, Vienna’s biggest shopping street, a few steps away from the Neubaugasse U-Bahn station (U3). We love this Vienna hotel, because of the bright, modern rooms, the friendly vibe, the communal lounge and bar, and the helpful staff. Breakfast is healthy and varied. 

Luxury | Altstadt Vienna is a boutique 4-star hotel in the charming Spittelberg quarter, close to Kunsthistorisches Museum. This contemporary-art-filled hotel features uniquely designed interiors and a hidden rooftop terrace (open from March until October). A wonderful breakfast is served in the Red Salon daily. In the afternoon, complimentary tea and homemade cakes are served in front of the open fireplace. 

Luxury | The Leo Grand is advantageously located in the inner district of Vienna, steps away from Peterskirche, Stephansdom, and the Graben. This top-rated hotel features luxurious rooms with romantic, pastel-colored furnishings and decor. Stay here for the unbeatable location, helpful personnel, and fairy tale vibes. Breakfast is available at an extra charge.

Luxury | The palatial Hotel Imperial harkens back to imperial times with its grand, antique-filled interiors and sumptuous rooms and suites (fit for royalty). This 5-star hotel is set on the Ringstrasse boulevard in the heart of Vienna, walking distance to the Vienna Opera House, the Kärntner Strasse shopping street, Karlskirche, and the Musikverein concert hall. This hotel features a cocktail bar in the historic Hallensalon, rooftop fitness center with a sauna, on-site restaurant (Opus) and café (Café Imperial). Breakfast available.

Look for accommodation in Vienna.

7 Best Things to Do in Vienna

1. Drink Coffee at a Kaffeehaus

Cafe Sacher, Vienna, Austria

One of the best ways to experience Viennese culture is to visit a traditional Kaffeehaus (coffee house). Drinking coffee in Vienna is the antithesis of the grab-and-go, paper-cup culture of the U.S. It’s elegant and slow. You can spend the whole day reading a newspaper. No one will pressure you to leave.

Vienna’s Best Coffee Houses:

  • Café Central – beautiful interior with vaulted ceilings.
  • Café Sacher – if you want to try the original Sachertorte, you must come here. We’ve tried others, but they can’t compete.
  • Café Sperl – our favorite.

Kaffeehaus Etiquette – unless otherwise stated, you can seat yourself. A waiter will come eventually, though it can feel like an eternity. It’s best to order a traditional Viennese coffee. For example, say “Melange” not “Cappuccino.”

Learn more: Coffee Culture in Vienna

2. Attend an Opera

Interior of the Vienna State Opera

Whether you’re a first-time or a seasoned opera viewer, Vienna is the perfect place to experience an Opera. There are two ways to see an opera: seated or standing. If you’re on a budget, or if a performance is sold out, you can still see an opera from the Standing Room (Stehplatz in German). Standing room tickets can be purchased on the day of the performance.

Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

Built in 1869, devastated by bombings in WWII, and rebuilt after the war, this magnificent opera house is located on the Ringstrasse in the first district (Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Wien). Each season, the Staatsoper stages 60 different operas and ballets, amounting to 350 performances. 

Vienna People’s Opera (Wiener Volksoper)

The Volksoper is located in the 18th district. It stages opera, operettas, musicals, and ballets. Most works are performed in German. We recommend coming here to see operettas (opera with spoken dialogue), like Die Fledermaus (Johann Strauss II) and Die lustige Witwe (Franz Lehár).

Theater an der Wien

This regal opera house, completed in 1801, faces the Naschmarkt and is located at Linke Wienzeile 6, 1060 Wien. Come to Theater an der Wien if you want to see a cutting edge and non-traditional-staging of your favorite opera.

3. Drink Wine at a Viennese Heurigen

Weinhandwerk Heuriger, Vienna, Austria

A Heurigen is a wine tavern in Eastern Austria. More specifically, it’s where a local winemaker serves their new wine under a special license during the growing season.

The name traditionally is a reference to this year’s young wine, which can be purchased by the glass or in bottles. In the fall, when grapes are being harvested, fresh grape juice (Traubensaft), as well as fermented grape juice (Sturm), are also served.

Heurigen are usually rustic and charming, offer indoor and outdoor seating, and are frequented by Austrians of all ages. In the traditional Heurigen, only cold snacks are offered (e.g. belegtes Brot, sliced bread with toppings).

Especially around Vienna, it’s common to see a buffet, with cold meats, hard and soft cheeses, different spreads, olives and pickles, and various salads. In the more “modern” Heurigen, a small selection of warm foods (e.g. Spinatstrudel) are offered.

Typically, Heuriger are only open for a limited period of time. In Vienna, you can find these wine establishments in the following districts: Grinzing (19th District), Nussdorf (19), Kahlenbergerdorf (19), Neustift am Walde (19),  Stammersdorf (21), Mauer (23), and Oberlaa (10). 

4. Relax in Vienna’s Thermal Day Spa: Therme Wien

Therme Wien, Vienna, Austria

Therme Wien is a massive thermal spa complex in Vienna, bordering Kurpark Oberlaa. In fact, it’s the largest Therme in Austria.

The 75,000 m² spa comprises 26 indoor and outdoor pools, 18 saunas, multiple relaxation zones, a fitness center, spa treatment center, and canteen-style restaurant. The facilities are immaculate.

The day spa is conveniently located at the Oberlaa station on line 1 of the Vienna U-Bahn. From St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansplatz), it’s only a 17 minute U-Bahn ride to Oberlaa and Therme Wien.

Visiting Therme Wien is an authentic introduction to Austrian spa culture. This is not a tourist attraction. Locals of all ages visit Therme Wien to soak in thermal water, swim, sweat in saunas, and get massages. There are adults-only spaces and pools and areas designed for children.

It’s possible to purchase 3-hour entry tickets, day tickets, or after-work tickets (6 pm till closing).

For the most enjoyable experience, get the Relax! One Day Holiday ticket. This VIP ticket gives you exclusive access to the Relax lounge with complimentary refreshments (juice, water, coffee, tea), fruit, and snacks all day. Another perk is the spa bag (two towels and a bathrobe) free rental and complimentary exchange of wet towels throughout the day. 

Learn More: How to Visit an Austrian Therme 

5. Dance the Viennese Waltz at a Ball

Vienna Rainbow Ball Opening Waltz

Austria has a glorious ball season, which starts in mid-January and ends in April.

Each ball has a unique theme and program, though you’ll experience an opening ceremony and the waltz at each one.

Some are very traditional, and others are alternative. Most importantly, balls in Austria are for everyone. There are non-barrier balls that enable easy access for those with handicaps, LGBTQ balls, political party balls, and hundreds more.

Dress Code: These dress codes vary, depending on the ball.

Tickets: Buy in Advance.

Read Next: Attending the Regenbogen Ball – The Most Elegant LGBT Event in Vienna

6. Walk the Palace Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna in Autumn, Austria

Schönbrunn was the summer palace of the Habsburgs.

The yellow rococo building is more than just a building for the Viennese. Locals run here, relax in the palace gardens, eat brunch at the Gloriette, take their kids to the Zoo, and visit the annual Christmas Market in December.

Built in 1752, The baroque Schönbrunn Zoo is in fact the oldest zoo in the world. It once served as the private menagerie of Emperor Franz Stephen and Empress Maria Theresa.

You don’t have to tour the interior of the palace to enjoy Schönbrunn.

A few ways to enjoy the summer palace:

1. Visit the Vienna Imperial Carriage Museum (Kaiserliche Wagenburg Wien).

2. Have Brunch at the Gloriette on Saturday or Sunday.

3. Walk from the Palace to the Gloriette for a great view of the city (Free).

4. Tour the State Rooms and Imperial Apartments of the palace. You can buy your tickets online.

5. Walk the palace gardens (Free).

6. Visit Tiergarten Schönbrunn (the Vienna Zoo).

7. Party under the Subway – Stadtbahnbögen

The best nightlife in Vienna can be found in the Stadtbahnbögen (city train arches), between the stops Spittelau and Gumpendorfer Straße. Here, under the overground U-Bahn 6 (subway), you’ll find an endless party.

Small bars, clubs, and eateries are wedged closely together under the rail line. Our favorite spots are Chelsea (if you love to watch soccer), B72 (if you love live music) and the Gürtelbräu (if you love beer).  Every year at the end of August, there’s a Gürtel Nightwalk with concerts inside and outside of the Stadtbahnbögen venues. 

When to Visit Vienna

Vienna City Hall Christmas Market, Vienna in December, Austria

Fall in Vienna

Autumn is the most colorful and flavorful season in Vienna. Fall colors peak between mid/late October and early November. Our favorite places to see fall foliage are the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, the Stadtwanderweg 1 (Vienna City Walk), and the Augarten Park.

Seasonal menus highlight dishes with pumpkin, chestnut, parsnips, and red cabbage. Starting in late October, you can order the beloved Martini Gansl goose dish.

If you love wine, Autumn is the best time to visit Vienna. Heurigen (wine taverns) are open and you can taste the dangerously good early wine called Sturm that’s only available in the fall.

Learn more: Austria in Autumn

Winter in Vienna

Vienna dresses up for the Christmas season, and it’s enchanting.

Illuminated chandeliers and lights deck the main streets of the first district. Starting in mid-late November, Christmas markets pop up throughout the city.

Here are all the festive things to do in Vienna in December. If you’re traveling to Vienna in January, read Vienna in January.

The traditional ball season begins in November and ends on Ash Wednesday. The capital hosts over 300 balls each year. Attending a Viennese ball is quite the cultural experience, but requires preparation (e.g. tickets, proper attire, etc…).

Also, don’t miss out on seeing a Krampus Run, or Perchten Run in winter.

Spring in Vienna

If you like outdoor activities, Spring is a lovely time to visit. Consider biking the Donauinsel, or through the Prater.

Make sure to savor any dish with Bärlauch, which is wild garlic that only grows in spring. In the weeks leading up to Easter, there are Easter Markets throughout the city. Early spring can still be very crisp, so bring a warm jacket.

Summer in Vienna

In the summer, the Viennese socialize on the Donaukanal, go to outdoor movie theaters, and swim in the Alte Donau. Vienna can get really hot and sticky in the summer months.

We recommend watching a free open-air screening of a concert, ballet, or opera at the Rathausplatz Film Festival, in front of Vienna’s City Hall. Before the film, you can grab a bite to eat. There are over a dozen food vendors selling international food and drinks at the Rathausplatz (City Hall Square).

In summer, you can also eat along the Danube Canal at the season open-air Summer Stage.

What to Eat and Drink in Vienna

Martinigansl, Vienna, Austria

Good to Know: Austrian Etiquette

Prost (Cheers) – In Austrian culture, it’s really important to make purposeful eye contact when you toast. Say “Prost” or “Zum Wohl.” You should tap glasses with everyone within reach. There’s only one exception to the rule. When you drink Sturm, an early wine, you should say “Mahlzeit” not “Prost.”

Mahlzeit (Bon appetite) – You say Mahlzeit right before anyone at your table begins to eat. It means “enjoy your meal.”

Viennese Gastronomy

Wiener Schnitzel, Vienna, Austria

Wiener Schnitzel – Thin, breaded and pan fried veal. Squeeze a slice of lemon on this quintessential Viennese dish before digging in. If you’re not into veal (we’re not), you can usually order Schnitzel vom Schwein (pork), Schnitzel von der Pute (turkey), or Schnitzel vom Huhn (chicken). Schnitzel is typically served with a side of mixed or potato salad.

Tafelspitz – Boiled Beef. This Viennese specialty was actually Emperor Franz Jospeh’s favorite dish. The tender beef is served in a pot of broth with bone marrow. The dish is accompanied by sides of fried potato rosti, vegetables (spinach, string beans), horseradish and apple sauces. We recommend trying this dish at Plachutta.

Eiernockerl – flour dumplings with egg. This is comfort food at its best. While you can order this as a main dish, we think it’s better as a side dish.

Kaiserschmarrn – Shredded Pancakes. It’s often made with raisins. If you don’t want the raisins say, “Bitte ohne Rosinen.” This is eaten as both a meal and a dessert. We say eat it for dessert. Traditionally, it’s served with a side of plum sauce.

Austrian Wine

If you want to order a glass of wine, you should say “ein Achterl” (an eighth of a liter), which is the common serving size.

Weisswein gespritzt – It’s very common to drink white wine with mineral water, especially earlier in the day.  If you like sweeter drinks, order a Kaiserspritzer, which is white wine, mineral water, and Holunderblütersirup (elderflower syrup).

Sturm – this is an early, sweet wine that is only served in early Fall. Unlike all other alcoholic beverages, you don’t say Prost (Cheers) before drinking. Instead, you say Mahlzeit. If you make the mistake of saying Prost, there’s an unwritten rule that says you’re obliged to pay for this round of drinks.

Grüner Veltliner – dry white wine.

Gelber Muskateller –  aromatic white wine.

Where to Eat and Drink in Vienna

Thell Restaurant, Vienna, Austria

Read Best Restaurants in Vienna for a summary of our favorite places to eat in Vienna, including traditional Viennese dining establishments as well as international restaurants. 

Traditional Austrian Restaurants

Zur Goldenen Kugel is an upscale Beisl serving Viennese classics and seasonal dishes. If you’re visiting Vienna in late October, or November, pre-order their traditional Martinigansl mit Rotkraut & Knödel (traditional goose dish with red cabbage and dumplings) when you make your reservation. This establishment is more expensive than the average Beisl (down-to-earth traditional Viennese tavern), but the prices are completely justified. 

Gmoakeller is a traditional Viennese restaurant dating back to 1858, located near the Akademietheater and Wiener Kozerthaus. This is a great restaurant to savor Viennese specialities. We ate the Martinigansl in November and it was outstanding. 

Servitenwirt is a cozy restaurant with a terrace on the charming Servitengasse in the 9th district. Their Mittagsmenu (lunch menu) is reasonably priced and very good. 

Lugeck. Housed in the historic Regensburger Hof building in Vienna’s first district, Lugeck is a fresh-faced Viennese tavern created by Hans and Thomas Figlmüller. Come here for the Wiener Schnitzel.

Plachutta. This restaurant serves traditional Viennese cuisine. This is the best place to try Tafelspitz, Emperor Franz Joseph’s favorite dish. The service, presentation, and quality is excellent. They have several locations across Vienna.

Gasthaus Kopp. This is a no-frills, down-to-earth, traditional Austrian Beisl. It’s out-of-the-way, but worth the extra effort to get here. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Ilona Stüberl. Ilona is a tiny, cozy Hungarian restaurant in the first district. This gem has been operating since the 1950s. Food portions are generous and prices are very reasonable.

Gasthaus Quell. Serving Viennese classics, Gasthaus Quell is a down-to-earth place to eat during the week (open Monday – Friday). The interior is cozy, warm and authentic.

Kaffee Alt Wien. Traditional café in the first district, founded in 1922. They serve a limited, but tasty menu. This is a great place to meet up with friends, drink beer, eat goulash, and of course drink a Melange.

Breakfast and Brunch Restaurants

Motto am Fluss. Located on the Donaukanal (Danube Canal), this stylish brunch spot is great for sunny days. It feels like you’re eating on a river cruise ship. Come here if you’ve had your fill of bread basket breakfasts.

Meierei im Stadtpark Website. Located in the Stadtpark (City Park), this fine breakfast spot has a light-filled interior as well as an outdoor seating area. The menu features many small dishes, so that you can order several items. It’s a great place to enjoy an unhurried breakfast.

Palmenhaus. The Palm House is an Art Nouveaux style greenhouse located in the Hofburg Palace Gardens (Burggarten). It was constructed in the early 20th century for the imperial family. Today, it’s a restaurant and a great place for Brunch, or just coffee. This airy light-filled space is centrally located, but somehow hidden. 

Gloriette. There’s no better place to have brunch (Saturday & Sunday only) than on the grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn. The Sissi buffet brunch is located in the Gloriette, perched on a hill overlooking the palace. Make sure to make a reservation. 

Keep Reading About Vienna

Austria Trip Planning Essentials

Use our Austria Travel Guide and Austria blog archive to plan a unique and memorable trip to Austria. 

When to Visit Austria 

We recommend visiting Austria between June and October for hiking and between December and March for skiing and winter adventuring.

Summer Travel | Summer in Austria

Autumn Travel | Autumn in Austria

Winter Travel | Salzburg in December, Vienna in December, Vienna in January, Skiing in Schladming

Getting around Austria

Austria has an excellent public transit system. We’ve used it extensively to travel throughout the country. We highly recommend using transit if you’re visiting cities (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Graz, etc…), and/or doing hut-to-hut hikes. 

Some areas like Mayrhofen, Schladming and Lech am Arlberg have wonderful seasonal transit systems in place (e.g. summer hiking buses). However, if you’re not visiting during the high season, bus frequencies are significantly reduced and it’s far easier to get around with your own vehicle. 

If you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations across Austria, we recommend renting a car. 

Use these road trip itineraries for trip planning inspiration:

Car Rental 

We recommend using the car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.

Check car rental rates here

If you’re driving into Austria from a neighboring country, don’t forget to purchase a vignette at/near the border. 

Hiking in Austria

Where to Hike in Austria

Read Austrian Alps Hiking Destinations for an overview of where to hike in Austria, with tips on specific trails and where to stay. Also check out Best Day Hikes in Austria and these region-specific hiking guides:

Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria 

Austria is a premier hut-to-hut and long-distance hiking destination. The quality of the mountain huts are superb. We particularly love the high-alpine trails, which are called Höhenwege in German. We’ve summarized our favorite multi-day hikes in Trekking Austria. If you’re new to hut hiking, read this in-depth guide to Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria.

What to See & Do in Austria

Austrian Hotels

Vienna Travel Guide, Austria

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati