15 Exciting things to do in Vienna

From imperial palaces to a historic theme park, here are the best sights to see in Vienna

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  • 26 November 2021
  • • 10 min read

There are so many things to do in Vienna that set the city apart from the rest of Europe. As the continent’s Capital of Culture, you’ll find endless fascinating museums, impressive architecture and hints of Austria’s imperial past that’ll blow you away. When you’re not experiencing these must-do attractions, sipping on coffee, or hunting down the tastiest Vienna sausage in the city, then the stunning surrounding countryside will keep you busy for hours. Read on to find out the top things to do in Vienna that will make you fall in love with the beautiful Austrian capital. 

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1. Schönbrunn Palace

Experience Austria’s Imperial heritage with a visit to one of the most historic buildings in Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace is one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former summer residence of the Habsburg monarchy. The building is the epitome of Viennese magnificence - its striking yellow exterior and perfectly-pruned gardens are attractions in themselves, but if you’re lucky enough to set foot within its many walls then what awaits you is even more beautiful. 

Schönbrunn Palace offers visitors a range of ways in which to experience the place. Take the Imperial Tour to take a look inside the Great Gallery and Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife ‘Sissy’s apartment. Otherwise, the Grand Tour will give you access to over 40 of the palace’s incredibly grand rooms, allowing you to discover more of its rich history. 

Explore the botanical gardens, get lost in the maze, visit the animals at the world’s oldest zoo inside Schönbrunn Palace Park and explore one of the best attractions in Vienna on a trip to this magnificent summer palace. 

2. Hofburg

The Hofburg is one of the largest palace complexes in the world and one of the most exciting things to do in Vienna. Made up of a staggering 18 groups of buildings connected by over 2,600 rooms, it’s an example of over 700 years of architectural styles and history having been altered and added to by almost every Austrian ruler who resided there since 1275. It was the official residence of the Habsburg dynasty for centuries, now it’s the seat of the Austrian President.

Again, you have the option between a few different tours as seeing all parts of the palace in one day would be nearly impossible. The sites include the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection as well as a number of other attractions including the Spanish Riding School and the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

3. Belvedere Palace

Housed inside two beautiful Baroque palaces - Upper and Lower Palace - within the Belvedere Gardens, is the most famous museum in Vienna and one of the oldest museums in the world. Belvedere Palace’s Belvedere Museum is one of the top things to add to your Vienna bucket list, particularly if you're interested in any form of classical art. The World Heritage Site is home to artwork dating all the way back from the middle ages to the present day, including many examples of great Austrian art such as the largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings in the world.

You can go on a self-guided tour of the galleries and palace rooms, or book a guided tour for a more in-depth look at the history of the artwork and buildings themselves, as well as the palace gardens.

4. Viennese Coffee Houses

Coffee culture in Vienna is taken incredibly seriously, so much so that the most traditional coffee houses have them served by waiters in waistcoats in extravagant settings. Order your coffee in Viennese style by asking for a mélange which is an espresso with hot milk and foam on top.

The oldest coffee house in Vienna is called Cafe Frauenhuber, another top attraction in the city as it’s famous for having hosted Mozart and Beethoven on countless occasions as they played table music for the guests here between 1782 and 1791. However, you’ll find over 1000 other coffee houses serving delicious cups of the good stuff all over the city, from these traditional, opulent dining rooms to modern cafes served by expert baristas.

5. Eat cake

Where there’s coffee in Vienna, there’s cake. Extravagant cakes in bakery windows are a common sight, but one tasty slice you really must give a try is the iconic sachertorte: Austria’s most famous dessert made of two layers of chocolate sponge sandwiching a layer of apricot jam and covered in more melted chocolate. The cake was invented by 16-year-old apprentice Franz Sacher in 1832 when his head chef fell ill on the day of a very important dinner for Prince Wenzel von Metternich and other important guests. Sacher's last-minute creation went down so well that the entire country now celebrates it on the 5th of December - National Sachertorte Day - each year.

6. Sigmund Freud Museum

One of the most famous people to have lived in Vienna was the founder of psychoanalysis, the notorious Sigmund Freud. The Freud Museum is now one of the top things to do in Vienna, located inside the very place that Freud and his daughter, Anna, lived during his final years in the city. In this museum, you will see the famous couch where Freud’s patients would lie and talk while he would sit across from them and come up with his renowned theories. Discover more about the life of the neurologist, his world-famous research and controversial theories, and explore his personal collections of books and antiques. 

7. St Stephen’s Cathedral

Another of Vienna’s many famous landmarks is the towering St Stephen’s Cathedral, with its gothic spire standing 107.2 metres tall in the heart of the city. One of the best things to do in Vienna is head to the top of its tower for some breathtaking views of the surrounding greenery and rooftops - including the cathedral’s very own beautiful, mosaic roof - you just have to make it up the 343 steps to see it.

8. MuseumsQuartier

MuseumsQuarter is a must-visit for art, history and culture lovers during a trip to Vienna. The complex of 60 cultural institutions is one of the largest in the world, and the museums and galleries are so incredibly diverse in what they offer. It was built in the early 18th century as the imperial horse stables and morphed into what it is today as it expanded with the modern times. Even if you’re not interested in visiting one of its museums (although, why wouldn’t you be?), there is a consistent buzz around the area as people meet for coffee in the courtyards and make the most of its cafes. Fine art, contemporary design, fashion, theatre, music, literature, dance, street art, photography… The list of things you’ll discover in MuseumsQuartier goes on. 

9. Kunsthistorisches Museum

Translated to English as the Museum of Art History, this is the largest art museum in Vienna and the rest of Austria. It was opened in 1891 by Emperor Franz Joseph I as a place to exhibit the Habsburg’s vast collection of art they acquired through the centuries. As one of Vienna’s top museums, it’s not just the displays that make it worth the visit, but the architecture itself is simply stunning, decorated with extravagant marble pillars and stucco ornaments with the grand staircase a main feature. Visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum any day of the week - Thursdays stay open a little later in the evening - and soak up the incredible collection of classical artwork from artists around the world.

10. Try a Vienna sausage

When in the home of the wiener, trying the street food in its home town is a must. Vienna sausages can be found all over the city, sold by street vendors in ‘würstelstands’. You’ll smell the hot dog stalls before you see them, so follow your nose and order yours in a roll with mustard for a local Viennese experience whether you’re stumbling home after a night out, grabbing a quick snack on the go or stopping for a bite and catch-up with friends.

11. Explore the surrounding hills

Located out southwest of Vienna is part of the country’s protected green belt, meaning countryside walks and stunning views are just a stone’s throw away from the city centre. If you’re in Vienna for more than a few days, a day trip to Vienna Woods Biosphere Reserve will give you a refreshing burst of fresh country air. Pull on a pair of comfy shoes and take a long walk up to the highest point in Vienna, Hermannskogel Hill, for views to die for. Starting in Sievering, on this particular 6-mile circular hike, you’ll also pass a number of local Austrian restaurants serving authentic dishes like schnitzel and a well-deserved pint of ice cold beer. 

12. Rathaus

Vienna City Hall or ‘Rathaus’ is a prominent feature in the city’s skyline, its 19th century neo-Gothic tower reaching 103m in height. The Rathaus holds the government offices and is home to a number of other institutions such as the city library and over 1500 rooms - being right by the Hofburg, it’s an attraction that’s difficult to miss. If you don’t take a guided tour of the building itself, pass through Rathausplatz square where various events are hosted throughout the year, including a popular Christmas market and ice skating rink in winter. 

13. Vienna State Opera

Another major point of interest in Vienna is their world-class operas. The stage of the best known names in operatics and production of the highest quality, the performances shown at Vienna State Opera each day are unrivalled. Book tickets to see a show (the prices range from €15 all the way up to above €200) or take a 40-minute guided tour behind the scenes to see and hear about all the moving parts that make this opera so well renowned. The breathtaking architecture and stage itself is definitely worth seeing in real life, even if opera isn’t usually your thing.

14. Vienna Natural History Museum

All points of life, beginning with earth’s creation to dinosaurs to modern day humans, are covered at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Set inside no less than another historical palace complex, there are over 30 million artefacts to discover within the walls of this fascinating museum from fossils, minerals and meteorites to a dazzling digital planetarium. Prepare to spend a good few hours walking through all the different exhibits and unearthing some mind boggling facts about our planet, and life on it, since time began. 

15. Prater Amusement Park

To the northeast of the main city centre, you’ll find Prater Amusement Park - one of the oldest theme parks in the world and home to a top thing to do in Vienna: the Ferris Wheel. Its look is a vast contrast to the more regal symbols of Vienna, but this wheel is now a major landmark in the city, originally build to mark the 50th jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. There are around 250 attractions at Prater from roller coasters and simulators to stalls where you can win prizes, as well as a whole host of food trucks, cafes and restaurants to refuel. When you feel you need to let off a little steam during your Vienna city break, Prater is just the place for it.

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