Vienna, the capital of Austria, is a city that effortlessly combines history, art, and a modern European flair. It seamlessly blends its illustrious past with a vibrant present, offering an enriching experience at every turn. In fact, Vienna was named the most liveable city in the world 8 times in the past 10 years due to its " unsurpassed combination of stability, good infrastructure, strong education, and healthcare services, and plenty of culture and entertainment". (Euronews)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the tap water in Vienna originates mainly from the springs in the Alps, so you’re basically getting spring water in your tap?
Vienna has been a significant cultural and political centre since the Roman era, mainly under the influential Habsburg dynasty. It flourished under the rule of Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century, saw immense transformations with Emperor Franz, and gained international attention through the tragic yet captivating story of Empress Elisabeth "Sisi," Franz's wife. It is advisable to learn a bit about this history before visiting Vienna, as it has had a great influence on the city and its current attractions.
We travelled to Vienna from Budapest via train which took 2 hours and 40 minutes. This was not my first time in Austria as I’d been to Innsbruck many years ago. However, it was my first visit to Vienna. Here are the best family-friendly things to do in Vienna on your first trip there. We visited most of these sights on a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour with Big Bus Tours.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is Vienna's most visited attraction. Originally a hunting lodge, it was transformed into a grand palace that served as the summer residence for the Habsburg monarchs. We walked around the extensive gardens and did a guided tour of the lavish rooms. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside.
Fun Fact: The palace gardens are home to the world's oldest existing zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn.
Tip: Book your tickets online in advance on the official site as the slots get booked out, and plan to spend a few hours there.
The Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most iconic structures in Vienna. It was constructed in 1775 to celebrate the Habsburgs' victories and symbolize the might and power of their empire. The grand neoclassical building stands on a hill at the base of the Vienna Woods, overlooking the Schönbrunn Palace gardens, and offers a panoramic view of the city. A visit to The Gloriette is a must when visiting Schönbrunn Palace.
The principal imperial palace and winter palace of the Habsburg dynasty, Hofburg Palace is one of the biggest palace complexes in the world. Situated in the heart of the city, it was the seat of power for the Habsburg dynasty and is now home and office of the Austrian president. Museums, the imperial apartments, the Spanish Riding School (home of the famous Lipizzaner horses) and the National Library are just some of the attractions you can see here. The horse-drawn carriages riding through the complex add to its charm, even though they are a tad touristy.
The Austrian National Library in the Hofburg Palace complex, is the largest library in Austria, holding over 12 million items. It is often listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Its crown jewel, the State Hall, which was originally built in the 18th century is a baroque masterpiece showcasing stunning frescoes, intricate woodwork, and a vast collection of books, including many ancient manuscripts. It was definitely one of the most beautiful libraries we’ve ever visited.
Tip: An entrance fee of 10 Euros is payable to see the State Hall.
Belvedere Palace in Vienna is a historic Baroque masterpiece, comprising two stunning palaces: Upper and Lower Belvedere. The former home of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a 17th-century military commander and visionary who had a significant influence on Vienna's art and architecture, it is set amidst meticulously landscaped gardens. This UNESCO World Heritage site beautifully chronicles Austria's imperial past and houses an impressive art collection.
Wurstelprater, (often called Prater) is the world's oldest amusement park. Known for its iconic giant Ferris wheel, offering panoramic views of the city, this vibrant park has been entertaining kids and adults since the late 19th century. It is located in Prater, a former hunting ground for royalty, which now features a blend of green spaces, amusement attractions, and leisure activities. Madame Tussaud’s can also be found here.
City Park is an oasis in the city, established in the 19th century. Dotted with statues, its main feature is the gilded Johann Strauss II monument, set by a picturesque pond. With its manicured gardens, pretty bridges, and peaceful ambiance, it's a popular spot to relax for both locals and tourists.
Fun Fact: There are over 990 parks in Vienna
I have a thing for colourful houses so when I heard about Hundertwasser House I had to go there. A unique colourful building straight out of a fantasy book, it is one of Vienna’s most visited buildings – a quirky architectural wonder with its undulating floors, forested roof, and colourful façade.
Fun Fact: Hundertwasser House is a residential apartment with people living in it, so it’s not possible to go inside. However, you can visit the museum at the complex to learn more about the artist.
Naschmarkt is Vienna’s most famous and vibrant market, stretching over 1.5 kilometres. A bustling hub since the 16th century, it has a colourful array of foods, spices, and international delicacies. We walked through the market, marvelling at the culinary delights there and enjoyed some lunch too.
Vienna is world-renowned for its coffeehouse culture, which dates back centuries and has even been listed as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by UNESCO. Some of its most famous cafes are Café Central which opened in 1876 and was frequented by intellectuals and artists, and Café Sacher, the home of the legendary Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam.
Café Central happened to be close for renovations while we were there, and Café Sacher always had long lines outside, so we visited a lesser-known gem instead.
Café Frauenhuber is considered to be Vienna's oldest coffeehouse, dating back to the late 18th century. Near the city park, it has witnessed countless historic events and has been frequented by many famous personalities over the years. Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven performed in this café, making it a must-visit spot for music and history lovers. We enjoyed some delicious Viennese iced coffee there.
We also ate some delicious Sacher Torte at another restaurant.
The Vienna State Opera, inaugurated in 1869, is renowned for its exceptional acoustics, historic significance, and a diverse repertoire that attracts world-class performers and composers. If opera is not your thing, then you can just take a guided tour of the building to appreciate its magnificent design and learn about its rich history.
Fun Fact: The Opernball, or Vienna Opera Ball, is an annual extravaganza held at the Vienna State Opera, transforming the opera house into a grand ballroom for one night. One of the highlights of the Viennese social calendar, it attracts celebrities, politicians, and high society from around the world.
The former imperial stables, the MuseumsQuartier is one of the world's largest cultural complexes, blending historic architecture with contemporary design. Located close to the Hofburg Palace, it hosts leading museums, like the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation (MUMOK), vibrant cafes, and dynamic art installations.
Schwarzenbergplatz is a historic square in central Vienna, characterized by its grandeur and expansive layout. Dominated by the Schwarzenberg Monument, it commemorates Prince Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg's military achievements. The square also features an impressive fountain and a Soviet War Memorial.
The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is a great way to see the city's landmarks at your own pace while listening to the commentary. We explored Vienna with Big Bus Tours Vienna and saw most of these attractions – and a lot more – with the bus, hopping off at the attractions that piqued our interest. The commentary was insightful, informative and entertaining and we learnt a lot about Vienna while soaking in its splendour. Most of the buses even had free wi-fi so we could do further research on the attractions we saw.
The Danube River is an integral part of Vienna’s identity, history, and recreational life. However, unlike in Budapest where the river crosses the city centre and passes many of the city’s main attractions, the Danube in Vienna is on the industrial side of the city so a river cruise may not be as scenic. Therefore most city cruises include the Danube Canal, which is more central and showcases more landmarks.
Vienna and Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, are only 1 hour apart by train, making them the closest two capitals in Europe. Bratislava is located along the Danube River and is worth visiting for its picturesque Old Town steeped in history. Many visitors to Vienna opt to visit Bratislava on a day trip although we chose to spend two nights there. See the best things to do in Bratislava.
3 days is the most common duration for tourists and will allow you to see the major attractions.
4-7 days: A longer stay offers a more relaxed pace and the opportunity to experience Vienna's rich culture, explore its museums in detail, enjoy its parks, attend theatrical performances, and perhaps even take day trips to nearby areas. There are over 100 museums in Vienna, so you’re unlikely to get bored.
We stayed at the Andaz Vienna Am Belvedere by Hyatt. It was a beautiful hotel close to the main train station and other transport hubs and a short walk away from the Belvedere Palace, which was very convenient for us.
Alternatively, you can stay in the 1st District. This is the historical heart of Vienna, home to many of its most famous attractions.
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