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Things to Do in Vienna – First Timer’s Guide

  • Discover Vienna – a captivating city home to historical landmarks, world-famous masterpieces and the Spanish Riding School
  • Must-see architecture and landmarks including Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace and the Vienna State Opera
  • Delight in local food and drink, experience historic coffee shops and buy cheese, sauerkraut and exotic fruit at Vienna’s markets

Visit Vienna while on holiday in Austria or on a Danube river cruise and you’ll discover a captivating city where there’s so much to see and do. From historical landmarks and world-famous masterpieces to classical recitals and charming coffee houses, your first trip to Vienna won’t be your last.

Things to do in Vienna – must-see architecture and sights

When compiling a list of things to do in Vienna, a visit to St Stephen’s Cathedral should be near the top. The church is the city’s most iconic monument, a Gothic and Romanesque building that is easily recognisable by its colourful mosaic tile roof and dominating tower. Inside, there are 18 impressive altars in the main part of the church, with more in the ornate side chapels. Take a cathedral tour and you can explore some of St Stephen’s underground catacombs and wonder at the biggest and heaviest bell in Austria, the Pummerin.

things to do in vienna st stephen cathedral

St Stephen’s Cathedral

Spend time at the Spanish Riding School

The beautiful baroque Hofburg Palace is a short 10-minute walk away from St Stephen’s Cathedral, and another must-see sight. The extensive palatial complex dates back to the 13th century and is home to a collection of museums, a unique treasury of silverware and the Austrian Crown Jewels. The world-famous Spanish Riding School, which celebrates the classical art of equestrian dressage, can be found here too. An hour-long guided tour of the school includes a fascinating visit to the stables of the Lipizzaner horses. If you have the chance, get tickets to watch a demonstration of the Ballet of the White Stallions – the performance is accompanied by classical Viennese music.

There are fine examples of architecture everywhere you look when deciding what to see in Vienna, and one building that is historically and significantly important is the neo-Gothic Town Hall, or Rathaus. With five splendid towers – the centre one is topped by a Rathausman statue – the interior is every bit as impressive. Free tours are available three times a week.

things to do in vienna michaelerplatz and hofburg palace

Michaelerplatz and Hofburg Palace

Explore the 1,441-room Schönbrunn Palace

Austrian river cruises mooring in the cultural capital often recommend a trip to Schönbrunn Palace, and it’s certainly one of the best things to do in Vienna. Baroque in style, the 1,441-room palace was the summer residence of the Habsburg royalty and a tour of the imperial apartments and magnificent staterooms is not to be missed. Book tickets online in advance to avoid queues of up to four hours on the day.

Belvedere Palace, a baroque UNESCO World Heritage Site that is regarded as the most aesthetically pleasing in Europe, is another historic complex worth exploring. Comprising of two castles – the Upper and Lower Belvedere – and delightful gardens featuring symmetrical flower parterres and a collection of over 100 Japanese bonsai, you could easily spend a good part of a day here.

This will certainly be the case if you appreciate art, as the Upper Belvedere is the permanent home of 24 works by Gustav Klimt, including The Kiss and Judith. The Albertina Museum in Vienna also houses a world-acclaimed collection of masterpieces with paintings by Albrecht Dürer, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. As the Albertina stays open until 9pm on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, it’s one of the many pleasant things to do in Vienna at night.

Another evening option is attending a performance at the Vienna State Opera. One of the finest opera houses in the world, the neo-Renaissance building is spectacular both inside and out. Watching a performance will be a memorable highlight of a first trip to Vienna, especially if you manage to catch an opera by the city’s much-loved composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Daily 40-minute behind-the-scenes tours also provide a compelling insight into the amazing repertoire theatre.

things to do in vienna schonbrunn palace

Schönbrunn Palace

Things to do in Vienna – food and drink

When you’re not sightseeing on your first trip to Vienna, make sure you indulge in a few authentic Austrian experiences, starting off with a trip to Café Sacher Wien in Hotel Sacher for a slice of Sacher cake. The chocolate sponge is thinly coated with apricot jam, covered in chocolate icing and served with whipped cream. It is so loved by locals that Austrians celebrate National Sacher Torte Day on 5 December each year.

Vienna’s first coffee house opened in 1683 and over the centuries the city has established a coffee house culture unlike any other destination in the world. Today, residents and visitors alike linger in elegant cafés enjoying an espresso or cappuccino, soaking up the charming ambience, catching up with friends or leisurely reading a newspaper.

Café Central, established in 1876, is one of city’s most attractive coffee houses and has a cathedral-like domed ceiling. A favourite with revolutionary Leon Trotsky and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, it’s a good spot to unwind and tuck into another of Austria’s traditional desserts, a warm apple strudel.

There’s a vibrant wine culture too, and Vienna is the only European capital where you’ll find vineyards within the city limits – around 700 hectares of them. Easily accessible by tram, tours of the urban vineyards are highly recommended. As white grapes are predominantly grown, don’t miss the chance to sip a glass of chilled Chardonnay or Riesling.

things to do in vienna sachertrte austrian chocolate cake


Things to do in Vienna – markets, shopping and film locations

Wine and other edible goods fill the market stalls at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s oldest and most popular outdoor market that’s open every day except Sunday. Great for people-watching, as well as buying cheese, sauerkraut and exotic fruit, pick up some picnic treats and souvenirs to take home, though remember that few vendors will accept card payments. The fashionable district of Neubau, a 20-minute walk away, is the place to head for independent boutiques and bohemian handmade crafts.

One of the quirkier things to do in Vienna – and a must if you’re a fan of the 1949 classic The Third Man – is to go on a city tour retracing the footsteps of Harry Lime, the movie’s main character played by Orson Wells. Visiting many of the original filming locations, participants will descend into Vienna’s underworld and learn about a conspiracy theory or two. A ride on the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel is a fun film-buff thing to do too.

Discover delightful Vienna

Vienna is an all-year-round destination, a highlight on escorted Austrian holidays, river cruises in Europe and Christmas market cruises. Vienna city breaks 2019 are an option too, and in 2020, celebrations will take place to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven who, like Mozart, lived and worked in the capital. Book your trip today!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.