Vienna the capital of Austria was our first stop on the Epic trip to Central Europe. Vienna City has some of the magnificent palaces, churches and plenty of museums. While this post covers the top places to visit in 48 hours you definitely need a couple of days more if you are going to visit each and every major Vienna points of interest.
Vienna Airport to City Center
There are several options to reach Vienna from Airport
The S7 train on S Bahn which covers the route from the airport to the city center is a cheaper option but time-consuming for the more stops it makes. There are trains every 30 minutes. The other option pricey but the fastest way to travel to the city center is CAT (City Airport Train). The CATs also run every 30 minutes. There are also regional buses connecting Vienna Airport with the main bus stations of the Vienna City.
Where to Stay in Vienna?
We had booked the hotel “Novum Hotel Congress Wien am Hauptbahnhof” which is right across the street from the Vienna main railway station which made the commutating from airport to hotel and to the city center much easier and convenient. The room though small had a spacious bathroom equipped with basic toiletries and 24 hours hot water. The hotel also has 24 services at the reception.
Exploring the Vienna Attractions on Public Transport
The major Vienna attractions are spread across the city and cannot be covered on foot. That said the city has a very good public transport system which cmakes exploring every part of the city very convenient and easy. We wish we were aware of this before visiting Vienna. In a haste, we booked hop on Hop off bus tour which wasn’t a good idea. The city center attractions (around the Hofburg Palace) had to be explored on foot as the bus does not go everywhere. We needed transport only a couple times for which the public transport could have sufficed very well. And then the time constraint, the hop on hop off buses ended by 5.30 when we had to end our sightseeing and even couldn’t take the bus to return to our hotel.
Tip: If you had enjoyed riding the old trams in Lisbon then you should not miss a ride on the old trams of the Vienna City equipped with wooden seats and old ticket machines for one of its kind of experience.
Vienna Sightseeing Day 1
The Belvedere Palace complex built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy comprises of two Baroque buildings the Upper and Lower Belvedere set in a Baroque landscape garden.
The Upper Belvedere houses the permanent display of Austrian art masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the present including work of international artists such as Claude Monet of Giverny, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. The Lower Belvedere and the former Orangery is a venue for temporary exhibitions. You can book your tickets online here.
Karlskirche or the St Charles Church
Karlskirche is baroque church located near the prominent town square ‘Karlsplatz’. The church is dedicated to the 16th-century counter-reformer St Charles Borromeo. The church has an impressive baroque edifice topped by a copper cupola with the most interesting feature being the two columns modeled after the Trajan Column of Roman Forum in Rome.
A spiral relief on the life of St. Charles Borromeo adorn the columns. The interior is decorated with rich frescoes and paintings inside the dome and the side chapels. The church is also a popular venue for regular concerts. There is an entrance fee to access the church. You can check the entrance fee and open times here.
The Naschmarkt is a bustling 16th-century market in Vienna just 5 minutes walk from Karlskirche. The market popular with locals as well as tourists sell everything from fresh vegetables and fruits to spices, herbs, cheese, bread, meat, and clothes from over 100 stands. The market also has numerous small restaurants serving traditional Viennese food. Every Saturday a flea market takes place alongside the usual market. We, unfortunately, missed this wonderful market for we visited on Austrian National Day which falls on 26th October every year when most of the places including the Naschmarkt is closed. The market is also closed on Sundays.
We walked through the Karlplatz Station to the other side which opened up to the Vienna Opera.
Vienna Ringstrasse or Vienna Ring View
The Ring Road is a boulevard circling the historic Vienna Old Town and stands on the location of the former medieval city walls. Several prominent buildings featuring different architectural styles of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque stand along this road including the Vienna State Opera, Vienna City Hall, Burgtheater, and Parliament building. One can wander along the road or choose to ride the Ringstrasse tram that covers this route.
Vienna State Opera
The Renaissance style Vienna State Opera opened in 1869 is one of the first buildings to stand on the Vienna Ringstrasse and one of the busiest opera houses in the world with 350 performances of operas and ballets every season. The Vienna State Opera is also open to children with regular children performances organized in a special theatre on the roof. The visitors can take a guided tour of the building offered in German, English, and Spanish languages and walk through the history and facts of the Opera building.
Tip: When you are here you may want to taste the famous Vienna Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher which is 5 mins walk from Opera and is said to serve the original delicacy.
Walking further from here towards the old town the streets are lined with cafes and restaurants with most of them having outdoor seatings. You can take a break and try some delicious patisseries and desserts.
We came across this beautiful Baroque fountain in the old town called Donnerbrunnen located in the Neuer Markt Square.
Providentia, the allegory of foresight or good government stands in the middle of the fountain surrounded by four allegorical figures representing rivers while the base is decorated with four putti with water-spewing fish.
St Stephens Church
The St Stephens Church dominating the Stephansplatz is an imposing church featuring Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The facade is flanked by two towers which can be reached via 343 steps for a wonderful view of the city. The striking feature of the church is its roof decorated with colorful glazed tiles which depict the double-headed eagle symbolic of the Habsburg dynasty and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna.
The church interior is home to resting place of several important people like Prince Eugene of Savoy, Emperor Friedrich III in a glorious sarcophagus and Habsburg Duke Rudolph IV. One can also tour the catacombs in the basement of the cathedral which is said to hold the remains of 11000 people. The church is also one of the top concert venues in Vienna.
St Peters Church
The Baroque Roman Catholic parish church of Peterskirche or the St. Peter’s Church looks like its squeezed between the surrounding buildings. The Peterskirche is the oldest church building dating back to early middle ages.
The church has a large copper dome flanked by two bell towers and is said to be inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican City. The church with austere looking exterior has a rich interior with beautifully sculpted pews, frescoes, and the Baroque pulpit.
St Michael Church
The church shares its Neoclassical style facade with the surrounding building is not noticed immediately if not for its towering spire dominating the skyline. The Romanesque Church of St. Michael’s is one of the oldest churches and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The church is located in Michaelerplatz opposite the Hofburg Palace.
The interior is decorated with rich 15th-century frescoes and one of the major Baroque work the impressive stucco work with alabaster Rococo sculpture ‘Fall of the Angels’. The large crypt located underneath the church holds 4000 corpses including mummified corpses in a well-preserved state in coffins decorated with fineries, flowers, and paintings.
In between the church and the gate of the Hofburg Palace is a small excavation site where archeologists uncovered the remains of a Roman settlement which can be viewed from glass covering.
Cafe Demel located close to the Hofburg Palace is a popular pastry shop established in 1786. Before you start touring the imperial palace of Hofburg you can take a break and spend some time relishing some delicious pastries and cakes.
As we had visited on the Austrian National Day the Heldenplatz, the square opposite the Hofburg Palace was jam packed with locals, tourists and the soldiers with several activities going on. It was even difficult to walk through the crowd. We decided to have a look here later and first visit the Hofburg Palace museum which was luckily open.
The Hofburg Palace built in the 13th century is the former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty rulers and today serves as the seat of the President of Austria. The Hofburg Palace houses several outstanding museums which offer insight into the history and culture of the Habsburgs.
Explore the mysterious life of Empress Elisabeth through her personal possessions at display in Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments walks you through the lavish way of life of the Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth and the Silver Collection has a huge collection of silverware, centerpieces including valuable porcelain and crystal glasses offering insight into the dining culture of the Habsburgs.
The Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Imperial Silver Collection can be visited with a single ticket which includes an audio guide. Opening times for Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments and the Silver Collection.
September to June – Daily 9.00 am – 7.30 pm, last admission at 4.30 pm
July to August – Daily 9.00 am – 6.00 pm, last admission at 5.00 pm
Also must visit are the Spanish Riding School, the tour offers its visitors with a unique experience of watching the Lipizzan horses performing their daily exercises every morning in the beautiful Baroque riding hall and the Imperial Treasury displays an awe-inspiring collection of crown jewels and precious stones in the ‘Secular Collection’ and religious treasures in the ‘Ecclesiastical Collection’.
The Heldenplatz is a square in front of the Hofburg Palace and is dominated by two equestrian statues of Archduke Charles of Austria and Prince Eugene of Savoy. On one side of the Square is the Neue Burg an imposing colonnaded building in neo-baroque style home to 4 prominent museums – Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Imperial Hunting Museum and Armory), Ephesos-Museum (collection of antiquities), The Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente (Collection of Historic Musical Instruments) and the Weltmuseum (an Ethnology museum)
You can end your Day 1 with a classical concert at the Vienna State Opera.
Note that covering both Belvedere Palace and Hofburg Palace on a single day with this itinerary may not be possible, in that case, you may need to choose one of them. We were very much intrigued by the life of Sisi and hence Hofburg Palace had to be on our list of places to visit in Vienna.
Vienna Sightseeing Day 2
Cafe Central is a traditional Viennese cafe opened in 1876 serving Viennese specialties, traditional coffee, and patisseries in a grandiose interior. Start your day with a hot cup of coffee or some scrumptious cakes in Cafe Central.
The Burgtheater is the Austrian National Theatre and one of the most important German language theatres in the world. The guided tour of the Burgtheatre lets you experience the splendor of the grand staircases, grandiose interior decorated with rich ceiling paintings, fine sculptures of notable poets and the portraits of famous ensemble members in the ‘Gallery of Honor’.
Guided tours of the interior that last for about 50 minutes takes place at 3 pm every day. The tours are offered in German and English languages daily in July and August. From September to June the tours are offered in German and English only from Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. From Monday-Thursday tours are in German with summary in English.
Vienna City Hall
Vienna City Hall is a Neo-Gothic style building completed in 1883 and serves as the seat of local government and office of the mayor. The richly decorated facade reminds us of the magnificent town hall of Brussels. The building was designed by Friedrich von Schmidt, who has also been the architecture of Vaduz Cathedral in Liechtenstein. The Vienna City Hall is a popular venue for numerous events are held throughout the year including Advent Market selling traditional handicrafts and the skating rink from January to March. Guided tours of the City Hall are available on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1.00 pm.
The Votivkirche is a Gothic cathedral located on the Ringstraße some 10 minutes walk from the City Hall. The magnificent church with three gabled portals and two spires flanking the facade dominates the Vienna City skyline.
Austrian Parliament Building
The Austrian Parliament Building located on the Ringstraße boulevard is the seat of the two houses of the Austrian Parliament. Guided tours of the Austrian Parliament are offered in both English and German language.The grandiose Greek Revival style building is decorated with numerous statues of Greek Gods, paintings, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars, and Pompei-style stucco is designed in the style of ancient Greece. The main entrance at the portico at the least is modeled after the gate of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens.
One of the famous features of the parliament building is the imposing Pallas Athena Fountain located in front of the parliament main entrance. The fountain is decorated with allegorical representations of the four most important rivers Danube, Inn, Elbe, and Vltava of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the foot of Athena and little cupids riding dolphins.
The Museumsquartier is located across the street from the Heldenplatz and comprises of numerous important museums housed in Baroque as well as Modern buildings.
Apart from museums the Museumsquartier also has several restaurants and cafes which makes it a great meeting place. Museumsquartier also hosts several events and festivals.
The Hundertwasserhaus is an apartment house in Vienna designed by prominent painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser and draws visitors for its colorfully decorated facade and unusual architecture. Though one cannot visit the inside of Hundertwasser Haus you can definitely visit the Hundertwasser Village close by which has numerous bars and shops and designed on the same lines of Hundertwasserhaus. You can also visit KunstHausWien Museum which has a permanent exhibition for the works of Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The Schonbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Habsburg as the Hofsburg was the winter residence. The Baroque palace has 1441 rooms most of which can be explored on two different tours. Experience the splendor of Habsburg on the Imperial Tour that walks you through the 22 rooms where you can visit the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth and other Rococo staterooms in less than an hour. The Grand tour is an extension of the Imperial tours which walks through 40 rooms which along with the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth and other Rococo staterooms also includes a visit to the Feketin Room, Gobelin Salon which houses some exquisite Brussels tapestries, and the Vieux-Laque Room. You can prices and tickets here.
The Schonbrunn Palace garden is opened to the public since 1779 and is a UNESCO list of World Heritage Site along with the Schonbrunn Palace. The garden is decorated with several fountains, monuments, and statues with the most beautiful feature being the Great Parterre which comprises of 32 sculptures representing deities and virtues. The park is open from 6.30 am in the morning. Though the garden is free to access, the garden attractions like Zoo, the Palm House, Desert House, Orangery Garden all have a separate entrance fee.
The Prater is a large public park in Vienna which offers over 250 attractions for kids as well as adults. The popular Vienna landmark the Giant Ferris Wheel is also located in Prater. A ride on the Giant Ferris offers a breathtaking vista of the Danube and the Vienna City. Other attractions include Madame Tussauds, Prater Museum, the Planetarium, adventure activities like indoor skydiving, bungee jumping and much more.
Next to the amusement park is the “Green Prater” – an extensive green space with lush trees which makes for a pleasant place for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. The miniature train Liliputbahn covering more than three miles is a great way to explore this beautiful neighborhood.
Church of Assisi
The church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi is known by several names like St. Francis of Assisi Church or the Emperor’s Jubilee Church or the Mexico Church and is located in Leopoldstadt close to the Danube. The church with an imposing fairytale architecture is a Basilica-style Catholic church completed in 1910 on occasion of 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
The most beautiful part of the church is the Elisabethkapelle (Elizabeth Chapel) in Art Nouveau-style which has its interior decorated with gold mosaics and marble.
Originally built as the part of flood protection system for the city of Vienna the 21 kilometers long Danube island is a popular recreational area for leisurely and sports activities with beach, Water Playground and several restaurants, cafes and clubs.
Note: We recommend you head to the Schonbrunn Palace after lunch and later to Prater in the evening. So the tour of Burgtheater, City Hall, and the parliament or the museums in Museum Quarter may not be practical to fit in the first half of the day. So you will have to decide and plan which one of these you would want to include in the itinerary and fits best in the first half of the day.
The Sisi Ticket offers a packaged entry to the three imperial Vienna attractions – Vienna Hofburg (includes Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection), The Grand Tour of Schonbrunn Palace (includes fast-track admission to Schonbrunn Palace) and the Imperial Furniture Collection of Hofmobiliendepot. The tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue.
Vienna Pass and Vienna City Card
The Vienna Pass is a city sightseeing card which offers visitors free entry to over 60 top attractions including imperial palaces, art galleries, museums and monuments in Vienna with skip-the-line benefits. The Pass also includes a free guidebook and free Hop On Hop Off bus for the duration of your pass. The Vienna City Card includes free use of public transport, free 24 hours Hop On Hop Off bus, city guided tour and discounted entry to several prominent Vienna attractions.
Have you visited Vienna? What is your favorite Vienna point of interest? Is there something we missed and should be on top of the list of places to visit in Vienna?
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