Famous for its classical music and opera, Vienna is home to spectacular architecture and rich cultural offerings with an undeniable charm. Brimming with ornate palaces, traditional coffee houses, art galleries and museums, the city is the jewel in Austria’s crown.
This former seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire boasts spectacular buildings in various architectural styles, ranging from Baroque to Art Deco and the colourful, modern Hundertwasserhaus. Experience the beauty of the city with Culture Trip’s guide to the must-visit attractions in Vienna.
Home to the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings, the Belvedere Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of two Baroque buildings. French-style formal gardens with numerous fountains create beautiful scenes, and a visit to the top offers great views of the city. Inside, visitors are welcomed into striking marble halls lined with eye-catching art.
One of Vienna’s most respected concert halls, the Golden Hall invites guests to a two-hour concert by local and international opera singers. Here, you’ll be able to listen to the likes of Mozart and Strauss performed by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra in a 19th-century Neoclassical building.
No visit to Vienna would be complete without a trip to the city’s historic coffee houses. Coffee-house culture has been a part of Vienna since the 17th century when the first houses offered newspapers and card games, a tradition that is still practised today. By the 19th and 20th centuries, cafés became the go-to place for many artists and intellectuals, including Sigmund Freud and Marlene Dietrich. Today, Vienna’s coffee-house culture has been recognised by UNESCO in the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage.
St Stephen’s Cathedral lies in the heart of Vienna on the historic cobbled streets of the 1st district. This Gothic-style cathedral, with its spire and zigzag-patterned roof, is a symbol of the city dating back to the 12th century. A tour of the cathedral gives visitors the chance to ascend its towers for views over Vienna. You will also be able to see cathedral treasure and catacombs crammed with assorted bones alongside urns filled with the internal organs of the former Hapsburg royalty.
The Schönbrunn Palace and grounds offer many possibilities for visitors. Take in the Baroque elegance of the palace imperial apartments and staterooms used by Hapsburg royalty. Afterwards, stroll through the perfectly manicured gardens, breathing in the scent of roses, before ascending to the Gloriette for spectacular views over Vienna. Children may enjoy a trip to the historic Schönbrunn Zoo, operating since 1752, with resident pandas, lions, penguins and sea lions. On hot days, the Schönbrunn’s 50-metre (164-foot) outdoor pool is a great place to cool off.
The Prater is perhaps best known for its iconic Ferris wheel, which has featured in films such as Before Sunrise (1995), The Third Man (1949) and James Bond’s The Living Daylights (1987). Built in 1897, the historic Riesenrad offers sweeping views over Vienna. If the funfair rides and attractions of the Prater amusement park do not appeal, nearby are acres of woods and meadows with many hiking trails, bike paths, cafés, sporting facilities and playgrounds. The five-kilometre (three-mile) tree-lined Hauptallee route through the Prater is particularly popular with joggers and cyclists.
A stunning array of priceless artworks are on display in Vienna’s main art gallery, the Kunsthistorisches Museum. While the museum features the most extensive collection of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, artworks by Vermeer, Caravaggio and Titian also line the walls for art lovers. The former collection of the Habsburg monarchy also includes Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities.
Dazzling white Lipizzaner horses are famous around the world for their balletic performances to classical music. Dressage performances take place in Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, located in the glamorous setting of the Hofburg, the former principal imperial palace of the Hapsburgs. In the morning, watch as the horses exercise to build up their strength to perform pirouettes and jumps at the afternoon performances.
Moving dinosaurs, hundreds of stuffed animals and birds and rooms of gems await at Vienna’s Natural History Museum. Set in a stunning building designed and built at the same time as the Kunsthistorisches Museum opposite, the exhibition rooms are enhanced by hundreds of paintings and statuary. A 29,500-year-old figurine, Venus of Willendorf, of a woman found in lower Austria in 1908 is arguably the most famous item on display.
For a complete change of scenery from Habsburg grandeur, visit Vienna’s Hundertwasserhaus near the Danube Canal in the 3rd district. Designed by the eccentric and visionary Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, this colourful, undulating social housing development has a forest of trees planted on its roof and barely a straight line in sight. Nearby is the Museum Hundertwasser, where you can find out more about Hundertwasser’s work, philosophy and beliefs, from art and architecture to environmentalism.
For expansive views in the heart of one of Vienna’s most popular green spaces, visit the Danube Tower (Donauturm), a 1960s landmark. At 150 metres (492 feet), the viewing area offers 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding countryside and many of the city’s landmarks. In Donau Park close to Uno City on the banks of the Danube, the tower is perfectly located for those wishing to swim, stand-up paddleboard or boat on the river after lunch, or head to Danube Island to hike or cycle.
Stroll around in Vienna’s 9th district until you reach Berggasse 19, the former house and office of Sigmund Freud. Giving a glimpse into the Austrian neurologist’s life, the museum houses original furnishings throughout the various rooms. Existing exhibits showcase Freud’s work, including signed copies and first editions.
The Austrian National Library in the Hofburg is the largest Baroque library in Europe. Its state hall measures 80 metres (262 feet) long, and its 20-metre (66-foot) ceiling is crowned by a dome decorated with stunning ceiling frescoes by court painter Daniel Gran. More than 200,000 volumes are on display here, including the most extensive collection of Martin Luther’s writings dating back to the Reformation. Another highlight is a collection of globes, including two exquisite Venetian Baroque globes – one depicting the earth and the other, the sky.
A visit to Vienna’s famous Naschmarkt is a must for both food lovers and those interested in Secessionist architecture. The outdoor market features a lively collection of over 100 stalls selling an array of spices, meats, dried and fresh fruits, cheese and many other delicacies. Dating back to the 16th century, the market is surrounded by gorgeous buildings of the Secessionist movement, including Otto Wagner’s Majolica and gold-leaf houses.
Housed in a World War II flak tower in the hip Mariahilf district, Vienna’s Haus des Meeres aquarium offers you the chance to see the city from its viewing platform. A staggering 10,000 sea and land animals are housed within 11 stories of the building, with examples of coral reef, Amazon rainforest and tropical habitats. As the largest aquarium in Austria, it’s home to monkeys, birds, crocodiles and more, as well as sharks swimming in a 300,000-litre (79,252-gallon) pool.
A visit to the Leopold Museum in the MuseumsQuartier is a must for anyone interested in the radical expressionist painter Egon Schiele. A protégé of fellow Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s work is noted for its eroticism and disturbing intensity. The largest collection of his work is displayed here, alongside many other examples of 20th-century Austrian art, including works by Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Richard Gerstl.
For a stunning collection of Modernist art in a former Habsburg palace, visit the Albertina Museum to view the world-renowned Batliner Collection, which features artists such as Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin, as well as Picasso’s early Cubist works. Located in the beating heart of the 1st district, the Albertina is home to one of the world’s most impressive graphic art collections and has 20 staterooms spread across two floors.
On a beautiful day, it’s well worth stopping for a break at Vienna’s beautiful Burggarten, an Art Nouveau conservatory and former private garden of the Habsburg family. Adorned with statues, beautiful flower beds and mature trees, the garden is perfect for a stroll. The elegant Palmenhaus lies within the garden and is the ideal place to sit for a drink or a bite to eat, either among the palms inside or outside on the sunny terrace.
Vienna and opera go together like Sacher Torte and whipped cream. Opera lovers can visit one of the finest concert halls in the world by taking a trip to the Vienna State Opera, where standing tickets to top-class performances are available for as little as €10 (£8.50). Built in the 19th century, the neo-Renaissance building has played host to directors such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Tours of the opera house run throughout the day, providing visitors with an insight into one of the most important buildings in Vienna.
With a rainforest and an aquarium, the Schönbrunn Zoo is the world’s oldest zoo. Founded in the 18th century, it lies on the grounds of an imperial palace that once belonged to Roman emperor, Francis I. Inside the Baroque-style buildings, you’ll find over 700 species of animals, including pandas, koalas and elephants.