Vienna is known for its elegant coffee houses, classical music, imperial architecture and traditional wine taverns, but these sophisticated aspects of the city can be hard to enjoy if you’re a student struggling to get by. Make the most of Vienna while still saving your pennies with these budget-friendly tips and free things to do in the city.
For the 10th time in a row, Vienna has been named the city with the highest quality of life this year. This is in part because Vienna can be an affordable city for everyone, even those studying and working on a tight budget. There are 19 universities within the city limits, and almost 10 percent of the population of Vienna are students. Culture Trip asked some students studying in Vienna how they go about enjoying all that the city has to offer without spending too much. From cheap food to vintage clothing haunts and affordable winery tours, this list will help you enjoy Vienna without breaking the bank.
Coffee is such a central part of Viennese culture that in 2011, UNESCO added the Viennese coffee house to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
As a student in Vienna, finding the ideal café to study in as an alternative to the library is a must. Thereza Herzhog, a communications student from Austria studying at the University of Vienna, says Café Eiles is her go-to. Right in the middle of the historic district of Josefstadt, this classic Viennese coffee shop has been around since the 1850s.
“I’ve had so many wonderful moments writing and reading in the little nooks on the right side of the café,” Herzhog says. The sprawling interior is decorated with chandeliers and cosy booths, perfect for settling down to study or work. Part of what makes Vienna’s coffeehouse culture so unique is the fact that spending a long time in the same seat reading is completely acceptable, and even encouraged, so grab a classic Wiener melange (a Viennese cappuccino), find a spot either inside or out, and you’ll have yourself a perfect afternoon that won’t break the bank.
Vienna is the capital with the third-largest share of green space in the world. Parks and forests make up 43 percent of the city, and on sunny days, they are always filled with people strolling, exercising or picnicking.
Wolf Zell, an Austrian social work student attending FH Vienna, explains that Vienna’s natural surroundings are one of the things he loves most about the capital. “The nice thing about Vienna is all the green space. It is precisely there that you can enjoy your time the most.” What’s more, most of Vienna’s many gardens are free to enter.
Vienna’s natural offering isn’t restricted to green space, either. One of Zell’s favourite things to do is to go for a swim off the Donauinsel (Danube Island) – an island right in the middle of Vienna. Drinking in public is allowed in the city, so grab a cheap beer from the supermarket and trade sweltering summer bars for an al fresco drink and some afternoon sun in one of Vienna’s many parks. Other recommended areas to hang out in the open air are the Donaukanal (Danube Canal), the Stadtpark (a large municipal park), the MuseumsQuartier art and culture district, Karlsplatz town square and Oberlaa park.
A central facet of Austrian culture revolves around wine and its production. In fact, Vienna has more vineyards than any other metropolis in the world. One of the best parts of Austria’s traditional wine culture are the heuriger, small restaurants owned by wineries where winemakers sell their house wines on-site at a fraction of the retail price.
While there are some heuriger in the city, they are more often on the outskirts of Vienna, surrounded by nature and fresh air. Tom Kessler, an Austrian masters student at FH Wieselburg, suggests going for a day trip to the vineyard-studded hills of Vienna to enjoy a glass of local wine. “You can get to so many vineyards with public transportation. You don’t even have to leave Vienna to enjoy nature,” he says. Kessler’s favourite heuriger is Sirbu on the Kahlenberg, because of “its wonderful view of Vienna and the comfortable atmosphere”.
Vienna’s vineyards are clustered around the outskirts of the city and dotted with heuriger. Not far from the centre of Vienna, the Kahlenberg is the ideal place to start an afternoon hike that ends with a Viennese glass of wine. Otherwise, Kessler suggests heading out to Klosterneuburg, the Weinstraße and the Höhenstraße, as they all offer “a beautiful view over Vienna and lots of great heuriger”.
Second-hand shopping in Vienna is a great way to stay stylish without spending your rent on clothes. And the vintage shopping scene in Vienna is wide-ranging, with everything from sprawling warehouses of second-hand clothing to intimate little boutiques with hand-picked vintage items on sale.
Kessler says, “As a student in Vienna, I generally buy second-hand clothing.” His favourite places to find bargains are the second-hand stores in the 7th district, because they’ve usually got hip styles in stock. “But Humana, for example, also has really great finds.”
Humana is a chain of second-hand stores that are based all around Austria, but Kessler suggests that the best branch is the one in Leopoldstadt, the second district of Vienna. “It’s called the hipster Humana for a reason,” he says.
This colourfully decorated restaurant, which serves Pakistani food, is a hotspot for students. Fill your plate with their delicious culinary creations from the all-you-can-eat buffet, which consists of a selection of rich curries, as well as rice, bread, salads and even dessert options. Customers pay by donation, so you can enjoy a tasty meal without burning a hole in your pocket.
The upper floor of the restaurant is decked out in graffiti, with bright posters and advertisements for upcoming events in Vienna. They have three floors of seating, giving guests plenty of room to enjoy one of the five different curries served daily. And the social hub is practically an institution for students in Vienna looking to save money but not skimp on quality.
If you need somewhere quiet to read and write, but don’t want to stay home and don’t fancy paying for a coffee, consider heading over to the library at the University of Vienna. Its long wooden tables, lit by soft yellow lighting and surrounded by shelves of books, will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
And you don’t need to be a university student to use the library, as it’s open to the public. The library closes at 10pm, but it’s best used while it’s light out, when sunlight streams through the glass roof. When you’re in need of a break, head out to the impressive courtyard of the university, which is decked out with lawn chairs in the summer.
Skip the Uber or taxi and jump on a bus, subway or tram for a more reasonably priced way to get around. For students, the ‘semester ticket’ is a must, as it allows the use of all public transport at a fraction of the regular price. For those visiting for a shorter time, Vienna has some of the cheapest public transportation in Europe. Depending on how much you plan to travel, passes for a single journey, a day or a week will get you everywhere you need to go.
And it’s possible to see many of the famous Ringstrasse sights from public transport, too. Sara Lerchster, a 24-year-old sociology student at the University of Vienna, suggests skipping the expensive sightseeing buses and just getting “a one-way ticket for a tram that goes along the Ringstrasse”. There are a number of trams that will take you past Karlsplatz, the Vienna State Opera, the major museums, the Hofburg, Parliament and City Hall – all for less than you’d spend on a beer. It’s worth downloading the app Quando; just enter your journey details and it’ll tell you which connections to take.
Vienna is packed with impressive historic architecture, so just wandering through the city is a sightseeing experience in itself. As Lerchster recommends, “A walk through the first district, looking at all the beautiful buildings, is always a good way to spend your Sunday.” After a tram ride along the Ringstrasse, jump off and take a stroll through the winding alleyways of the old town.
For any student in Vienna, seeing an opera at least once is a rite of passage. Luckily, the National Opera offers reduced-price tickets for students. Sales for student tickets open 30 minutes before the shows start and range from €9 to €30, depending on which seat you pick. Similar deals are available in some of Vienna’s theatres. The Volktheater, for example, offers a 40 percent discount to anyone under the age of 27.
The city also boasts some excellent museums, a number of which open for free on the first Sunday of every month. One of the best is Beethoven House, which showcases the work and life of composer and classical musician Ludwig van Beethoven. The musician called Vienna home from 1792 until his death in 1827. It’s also worth checking out the Haydnhaus, which was owned by composer Joseph Haydn. The building has been turned into a museum and hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions. It is located right in the middle of the 6th district and has a little garden attached, the perfect place for an afternoon coffee after exploring the museum for free.
Vienna has markets all around the city where you can pick up fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables and other food products from the region, and they’re lovely places to have a stroll on a relaxed afternoon.
They’re also perfect for bargains, says Nikolina Sladojevic, a political science student from Bosnia at the University of Vienna. “If you get to the markets right before they close, it’s possible to negotiate any price. Everything is 50 percent off.”
Sladojevic recommends the Hannover Market in the 20th district, though there are a few closer to the centre, such as the Karmelitermarkt in the 2nd district or the Brunnenmarkt in the 16th.
Vienna’s infrastructure is wonderful for cyclists, making it an ideal destination to save both time and money by cycling from place to place. With separate cycle paths next to busy roads, getting around the city on two wheels is both easy and safe. And, if you don’t have a bike, the public bike rental startup Citybike Wien can kit you out.
You can pick up a bike from one of the 120 stations around the city and use it for free for the first hour – enough time to get almost anywhere. The three-speed bikes have baskets on the front and are easy to use; just make an account at one of their stations, using either a debit card from an Austrian bank account or any credit card, and you’re good to go. Many students use these bikes for their daily commute, and it’s often faster to cycle around Vienna than take the subway. There are some pleasant areas to cycle through too; take your bike for a tour around the Praterstern square, or along the Danube Canal.