Vienna is located directly in heart of Europe, and it is a popular country for travellers thanks to its compact size and landmarks arranged in a manner that makes it easy to explore in half a day. Here’s how to best spend a few hours in Austria’s capital while on a layover.
Those with a limited amount of time to spare, it’s best to make the most of that time by doing something quintessentially Viennese: visit one of their beloved coffee houses. It is widely considered that the tradition of Viennese coffee houses originated back in the 1600s when the city was invaded by the Turkish, who left behind bags of coffee beans after their defeat. They are now considered coveted institutions, and in October 2011 were listed as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ in the Austrian inventory of the ‘National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage’, a part of UNESCO. Spend at least an hour and a half in a traditional coffee house and be sure to kill two cultural birds with one stone by ordering yourself a slice of sachertorte or apple strudel (Austria’s national sweet dishes).
For the remaining hour, be sure to head back to the airport or bus station via Hofburg Palace, the heart of the city’s imperial history. From the adjoining palace library (now the Austrian National Library), get a glimpse of many of the city’s most famous sites like the parliament building, the Museum’s quarter, the Rathaus and the Art History Museum. However, save exploring these monuments in closer detail for next time.
Hofburg Palace, Michaelerkuppel, Vienna, Austria, +43 1 533 75 70
Given its small size and close proximity of many of its landmarks, most can pack in a surprising amount in Vienna in six hours. Those catching the train from the airport, change at Landstrasse and take the U4 line to Karlsplatz and the heart of the city. From here, wander around the Karls Church, one of Vienna’s most magnificent Baroque landmarks, and take a peek at the grand golden globe of the Secession Building, a historical art gallery up by a group of artists and visionaries in Vienna in the 1800s.
Afterwards, wander up the main high street to the Stephansdome, the city’s largest and most grand cathedral, and either admire the colourful tiles of the mosaic roof from the outside or head up to the top and admire the city from a bird’s eye view.
Before heading back to the airport, grab a bite to eat at Café Pruckl and try some traditional Austrian cuisine in an iconic setting. Specialities such as wiener schnitzel and tafelspitz are on the menu and be sure to save room for coffee and a slice of cake for afterward.
Those determined enough can see a vast amount of the city in 12 hours. Starting off at Stadtpark (on the U4 U-Bahn line), rent a city bike, and ride around the surrounding sites. The Opera House, Stephansdome, Karls Church, Hofburg Palace and many of the city’s museums are all close to one another and can be seen within a few hours. Stop off at the Museums Quarter and pick from one of the many incredible galleries such as the Leopold to the MUMOK.
After touring the museums and cultural areas, head to the Bitzinger Wuerstlstand, a well-established hot dog stand serving all the regular varieties of sausage, bratwurst, and currywurst as well as a handful of Viennese specialties. Prepare for the possibility of a long line, however, as this is one of the most popular sausage stands in town.
Next, head over to the Prater Amusement Park (get off at Praterstern on the U2 of the UBahn), a garish yet unmissable attraction in the city’s 2nd District and a great place to catch fantastic views of the city at sunset. Thrill seekers should take a spin on the Prater Turm, one of the world’s highest swing carousels; meanwhile, those who aren’t feeling as brave should play it safe of the Wiener Riesenrad, the city’s iconic pillar box red Ferris wheel.
After that fun, head over to nearby Skopik and Lohn, one of the city’s newly opened restaurants, and sample a variety of traditional Austrian food with a contemporary twist. Finish the day off by having a beer or a glass of wine at Café Alt Wien, a traditional Austrian joint with vintage décor.