A Tour of the Best Architecture in Vienna

Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier is home to many beautiful buildings
Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier is home to many beautiful buildings | © Karina Azaretzky / Alamy Stock Photo
It would be easy to write pages and pages about Vienna’s architecture, which includes Baroque and Gothic designs, Art Nouveau houses, Modernist masterpieces and contemporary buildings, all of which make the city a joy to stroll through. Culture Trip’s selection of the best architecture in the city features buildings from the 12th century to today, but whatever architectural style is your favourite, chances are you’ll find some fascinating examples of it in Vienna.

Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa

Architectural Landmark
The futuristic Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa is a social housing estate in the 23rd district
The futuristic Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa is a social housing estate in the 23rd district | © Andrew Lloyd

This magnificent curved building stands, striking and unmissable, in the suburban 23rd district on the outskirts of Vienna. It’s a curiously futuristic, sprawling and intimidating structure, designed in the 1970s by progressive Austrian architect Harry Glück. This social housing complex was built with the radical idea of creating homes for the poor, with all the benefits that the wealthy favour. Inside this incredible structure (it’s akin to a small town) are all the necessary amenities, including shops and a doctors’ surgery, and there’s even a swimming pool on the roof. Many thousands of people reside in Alt-Erlaa, and it is seen as one of Vienna’s most successful social housing estates.

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Gasometers

Architectural Landmark
The gasometers of the former Vienna municipal gas works Gaswerk Simmering in  Vienna
The former Vienna municipal gasworks have been turned into houses by architects including Jean Nouvel | © P Tomlins / Alamy Stock Photo

These former gas tanks have been transformed into luxury housing by four internationally renowned architects – Coop Himmel, Manfred Wehdorn, Wilhelm Holzbauer and Jean Nouvel, the latter of whom created an indoor plaza in his space. Located in the Simmering area, the vast structures used to supply the local area with gas. Now protected historical landmarks, the spherical buildings have been turned into flats and “villages”. The Gasometers have also become a phenomenon in the architectural world, with numerous academics writing about the project.

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Stephanskirche

Cathedral
The Stephanskirche attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year
The Stephanskirche attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year | © Daniel Kerek / Alamy Stock Photo
The mesmerising, multicoloured mosaic roof tiles of this Gothic-style cathedral is remarkable to behold. Construction of the church likely begun in 1137 and it’s still an impressive architectural masterpiece; you could spend hours gazing at it and find something new each time. A fire during World War II caused extensive damage to the building, but mass restoration and rebuilding gave the cathedral a new lease of life. The Stephanskirche now draws nearly 3 million visitors through its doors every year, making it one of Vienna’s best-loved attractions.
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Postsparkasse

Architectural Landmark
The Postsparkasse’s Modernist facade is enhanced with decorative aluminium
The Postsparkasse’s Modernist facade is enhanced with decorative aluminium | © Bildarchiv Monheim GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

The Postsparkasse, one of Vienna’s Modernist masterpieces, is the brainchild of architect Otto Wagner, who created an edifice in the Art Nouveau style and also designed the interior architecture and furniture. It is currently the site of the Austrian Postal Savings Bank, and Wagner allegedly wanted the design of the building to give customers a sense of security. The facade is covered with granite and marble as well as aluminium, which was used as a decorative element.

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Hundertwasserhaus

Architectural Landmark
The Hundertwasserhaus during the day in Vienna, Austria
The psychedelic, vibrant Hundertwasserhaus brings some fun to the streets of Vienna | © Zoltán Csipke / Alamy Stock Photo

Often depicted on the front of tourist guide books to Vienna, this kaleidoscopic apartment building is a focal point of Viennese architecture and was designed as an antidote to Modernist architecture. The eccentrically decorated facade is otherworldly and almost seems to belong in an Expressionist painting. It’s the work of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who also undertook architectural projects and was an ecology visionary who integrated trees and nature in his buildings. What lies inside Hundertwasserhaus must, unfortunately, be left up to the imagination, as it is restricted to the public, although tourists can visit the adjacent Hundertwasser Village.

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Flak Towers

Aquarium, Architectural Landmark

The Flak Towers aren’t an example of the best architecture you can find in Vienna, but they’re certainly some of the most interesting. These three imposing structures were constructed by the Nazis during World War II to protect the city by taking out Allied aircraft, and were also used as bomb shelters. Since going out of use at the culmination of the conflict, Austria has gone some way towards transforming them into forces for good; a city aquarium can be found inside one and another has an outdoor climbing wall on one side, while a third is still used by the Austrian army. Threatening and domineering, they are severe and curious eyesores that puncture the beautiful city skyline, and remind passersby of Austria’s chequered recent history.

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Secession Building

Museum, Architectural Landmark
The Secession Building is a striking symbol of progress
The Secession Building is a striking symbol of progress | © Robert Zehetmayer / Alamy Stock Photo

This grand Art Nouveau exhibition hall pays homage to many of Austria’s most revered artistic triumphs. Built by Joseph Maria Olbrich in the late 1890s for the Secession association, it was a beautiful new building for a modern, new movement. Secession was founded by artist Gustav Klimt, who together with many others left the Künstlerhaus association, which was more conservative, to focus on contemporary art. Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) can still be found in the building, and the motto of Secession: “To each time its art. To art its freedom” is proudly displayed above the building’s entrance.

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MUMOK

Museum, Architectural Landmark
In the MuseumsQuartier you’ll find the cool, concrete-clad MUMOK
In the MuseumsQuartier you’ll find the cool, concrete-clad MUMOK | © Kate Hockenhull / Alamy Stock Photo

Concrete breeze blocks were the chosen material for this contemporary art museum, which gives it a bold, imposing exterior. MUMOK is part of the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, an ambitious architectural project that brings together some of the city’s most popular art galleries, and was designed by Ortner & Ortner. The museum’s collection features around 10,000 works of Modernist and contemporary art, some of which are on display in its large exhibition rooms. Don’t miss its courtyard, which functions as an excellent hangout spot in the summer.

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Palmenhaus

Architectural Landmark
The Palmenhaus looks almost otherworldly
The Palmenhaus looks almost otherworldly | © Edward Westmacott / Alamy Stock Photo

This grand glasshouse was the largest of its kind in Europe when it opened, and can be found in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace. Inside, it’s a verdant paradise, with horticulture from all around the world. Created in 1881 by Franz Xaver Segenschmid for Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Palmenhaus’s pavilions have multiple “climate zones” that regulate the temperature for the plants – a “cold house” for the north and a “tropical zone” in the south. The stunning, fairytale-like building is 111m (364ft) long and 25m (82ft) tall, and consists of over 40,000 glass panels – an impressive feat of construction.

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Werkbund Estate

Architectural Landmark

A visit to the wonderful housing estate Werkbund, in the capital’s Hietzing district, may well make you want to move to Vienna. The Modernist neighbourhood is the work of over 30 architects, including Adolf Loos, Richard Neutra, Clemens Holzmeister and Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, with Josef Frank, the influential designer known for his work with Sweden’s Svenskt Tenn, managing the project. Its aim was to create functional housing on a small scale and the resulting white houses, with their clean, linear design and clever spatial solutions, are still used for social housing. Today, the area remains a triumph of urban design.

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Cajsa Carlson contributed additional reporting to this article.

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These recommendations were updated on December 20, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.