1. Ride a tram round the Ringstrasse
Celebrating its 150th birthday in 2015, the Ringstrasse – a circular boulevard stretching 5.3 kilometres – is home to many of Vienna’s most imposing buildings. Get your bearings by taking a 30-minute tram ride round the route and catch glimpses of some of the city’s lovely parks, nestled amongst buildings such as the Parliament, City Hall, State Opera, Museum of Fine Arts and the Hofburg Palace – all built in oddly contrasting styles.
2. Listen to music at the State Opera House
Vienna constantly reminds you of its illustrious musical heritage – just look at the gilded memorial to Johann Strauss in the Stadtpark or the (less dignified) Mozart-related tourist shops in the old town. And a concert at the impressive State Opera House has to be a highlight of any visit. Even if you can’t get a seat for one of the performances – which are held on 300 days of the year – standing-room tickets are available every day for a fraction of the price. With operas and ballets shown live on a giant screen outside the Opera House in April, May, June and September, you don’t even need to go inside to enjoy the music.
Opening Hours: Tours offered at 9am Tickets: €7.50 per adult, €3.50 per child Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna
3. Indulge yourself in one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses
Places "where time and space are consumed but only the coffee is found on the bill": that’s how Vienna’s elegant coffee houses are described by Unesco’s National Agency for Intangible Cultural Heritage. You can sit in one of these grand cafés all day long, reading the papers or discussing the issues of the moment, just as Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky and many others did in the past. There’s a huge variety of coffees to choose from and, for a more indulgent experience, tuck into some Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel with lashings of whipped cream – your taste buds will thank you but your waistline probably won’t!
4. Climb Stephansdom tower (St. Stephen’s Cathedral)
You can’t really miss Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). This magnificent Gothic structure at the heart of the city stands out with its 136 metre-high tower and colourful roof tiles. Climb the 343 steps to the top of the south tower (a great way to work off some of those cakes) and take in the panoramic view of the city. You’ll also get a great close-up of the amazing roof with its mosaics of the double-headed imperial eagle and Vienna’s coat of arms. Back at ground level, have a look around the cathedral and check out the Gothic stone pulpit, decorated with toads and lizards fighting each other in the battle between good and evil.
Opening Hours: 7am-10pm Tickets: €5.50 per adult, €2 per child Address: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Vienna
5. Visit the Hofburg Imperial Palace
There are symbols of the imperial might of the Habsburg dynasty all over Vienna, and nowhere more so than at the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the centre of the Habsburg empire until 1918. These days it’s the official seat of the President of Austria, but the Hofburg spans a vast array of buildings, including imperial apartments, museums, the national library, an art deco glass house with hundreds of exotic butterflies, and the chapel, where you can listen to the famous Vienna Boys’ Choir.
Opening Hours: 10am-5.30pm Tickets: €10.50 per adult Address: Michaelerkuppel, 1010 Vienna
6. Watch morning practice at the Spanish Riding School
Also to be found at the Hofburg is the Spanish Riding School, where the famous Lipizzaners, Europe’s oldest horse breed, go through their paces. The precision of these beautiful white stallions as they do ‘ballet’ in harmony with the music is a sight to behold, and you have to marvel at the skill of the riders as they lead the horses through their routine in the baroque hall, which dates back to 1729. Tickets for the gala performances are expensive and sometimes hard to come by, so a better option is to watch the horses go through their morning practice for a fraction of the price. Oh and by the way, it’s called the Spanish Riding School because the Lipizzaners were bred from Spanish horses. Fun fact!
Opening Hours: Shows are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 11am Tickets: €20-€100 per ticket, depending on where you choose to sit Address: Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Vienna
7. Wonder at the curiosity of the Hundertwasserhaus
When the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed this apartment block, he billed it as a "house in harmony with nature". Judge for yourself as you look at the eccentric, brightly coloured building with its mismatched windows and more than 200 trees and shrubs on its balconies and terraces. The building was opened in 1986, and the residents were given the right to decorate the exterior around their windows in any way they liked, giving it its quirky patchwork appearance. Although you’re unable to go into the building (it’s a private residence after all), you can learn more about it at the nearby Kunst Haus Wien with its permanent exhibition on the work of Hundertwasser.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily Tickets: €12 per adult Address: Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Vienna
8. Get down and dirty on the trail of ‘The Third Man’
Who’s he? Seedy smuggler Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles in the classic 1949 film The Third Man. The screenplay for the film was written by Graham Greene and it’s set on the dark side of post-war Vienna, when it was occupied by the Allies. There are several Third Man tours, but the most atmospheric one takes you down into Vienna’s sewers to see where some of the most legendary scenes were filmed. If you’re at all claustrophobic though, you might want to stick to one of street-level tours or try visiting the fascinating Third Man Museum.
Opening Hours: 2am-6pm on Saturday Tickets: €8.90 per adult, €6.90 for concessions Address: Preßgasse 25, 1040 Vienna
9. Amuse yourself at the Prater
The Prater public park (home to one of the oldest amusement parks in Europe) is just a short distance from the centre of Vienna. With around 250 attractions and rides – including the Giant Ferris Wheel, which dates back to 1897 and was featured in The Third Man – there’s plenty here to amuse kids of all ages. But the Prater is more than an amusement park. Once the imperial hunting ground, the Prater is a vast green space where the locals go for recreation. With its lawns, woodland and water areas, you can come here to jog, hire a bike, swim, skateboard, play tennis and even watch horse racing.
Opening Hours: 24 hours Tickets: Free to enter, rides are €4 per person per ride Address: 1020 Vienna, Austria
10. Go for a cruise on the Danube
Take a day trip cruising on the Danube through the beautiful Wachau Valley, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Sip a coffee or maybe an Austrian wheat beer as your boat slips past picture-perfect castles and villages surrounded by vineyards. Don’t miss a visit to Melk Abbey with its stunning baroque interior and impressive views of the Danube. And if you haven’t yet sampled any Wiener schnitzel, the pleasant abbey restaurant is as good a place as any to try it, along with other Austrian specialities such as the local wine.
Opening Hours: Hop On Hop Off Boat tours take place throughout the day, 9am-5pm Tickets: €22 per person Address: Boats depart outside of Café & Restaurant Motto am Fluss, Franz-Josefs-Kai 2, 1010
11. Discover Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Austrian emperor, is also well worth a visit thanks to its extensive gardens and zoo. On the Grand Tour of the Palace you’ll be taken round 40 of the state rooms and apartments, before venturing out to the English-style horticultural gardens behind the Baroque palace.
Opening Hours: 8.30am-5pm from November-March, open til 6.30pm from July-August, 8.30am-5.30pm April-June, October Tickets: Tours start at €14.20 per person Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna
12. Find Klimt in Belvedere Palace
The splendid Belvedere Palace is home to some of the best of Austrian art, including Egon Schieles paintings and a wonderful collection of Gustav Klimt works, including The Kiss. As always, the gardens are definitely worth walking round (particularly in spring) and the cafe does an excellent selection of homemade cakes.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily Tickets: €20 per adult, free for children Address: Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna
13. Marvel at the antiquities in Kunsthistorisches Museum
The History of Art Museum is just as stunning on the outside as it is on the inside. Step through the imperial world of the Habsburgs, gaze into the maze of the Arab World then go into Europe’s oldest gold mine.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm, open until 9pm on Thursdays. Closed on Mondays Tickets: €15 per adult, €11 per child Address: Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010 Vienna
14. Spend a day in the MuseumsQuartier
If you’re rarely seen without a copy of Nylon and the Leopold Museum was #1 on your list of places to visit in Vienna, make yourself at home in the MuseumsQuartier. This is 60,000² of art, museums and architecture – it’s the eighth largest cultural district in the world. Pack your biggest sunglasses, comfortable walking shoes and put the Architecture Centre, Kunsthalle and Museum of Modern Art at the top of your list.
Address: Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna
15. Find Vienna’s Rathaus (Town Hall)
If you’ve travelled in Germany before, you’ll find similarities between their town halls and Vienna’s Neo-Gothic Rathaus. This is also where you can find the largest Christmas markets over December – feast on pretzels jewelled with sea salt, hams from all over Austria and local craft wheat beer too.
Address: Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Vienna
How to get to Vienna
Fly direct to Vienna in less than 3 hours from London or Manchester. If you’re not near London or Manchester, there are also connecting flights from Liverpool, Bournemouth, Exeter, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol.
Where to stay on a city break in Vienna
If you’re looking for a hostel:
Plump for one of the dorm rooms in Ruthensteiner Hostel, Vienna. Their cute beer garden is the perfect place to relax come summer.
If you’re looking for a hotel:
Viennart is a chic hotel that’s popular with couples and groups of friends travelling to Vienna to be in the centre of the MuseumsQuartier. Their staff will be able to help you out with tickets and passes too.