Vienna was a place I visited out of convenience. My second backpacking trip in Europe began in Prague, circled down through Munich & Austria, and ended in Budapest. Prague & Budapest were my main destinations but I stopped at other cities along the way because European train schedules made it convenient. Why do I say this? Because I wasn’t particularly excited about Vienna. From what I read about Vienna, it sounded like a yuppie, rich city with shopping, palaces, and grand churches. What would I, a lowly backpacker, be able to do in Vienna?
I arrived in Vienna with very low expectations. My first afternoon in the hostel was spent sipping beer and researching local tours and things to do. I was pleasantly surprised – Vienna offered so much more than I was expecting and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there! This list is all my 16 favorite things to do in Vienna!
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1. Eat cake while sipping coffee & bubbles
I’m convinced that Vienna is the city of cake, coffee, and bubbly. I never ate a traditional lunch in Vienna – why waste calories when there are so many wonderful cafes & pastries throughout the city?
My opinion: when you’re in Vienna, you need to eat cake for lunch at least once. These places are the two most famous in Vienna!
Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel
Chocolate cake, jam, and a chocolate glaze make up the most famous cake in Austria. Interestingly, it was invented by a teenager who was forced to bake for the royal court when the head chef fell ill. Later his son moved to Demel, perfected the recipe, and, voila -we have a legal battle over who can say they have the original Sachertorte.
You can find the “original” Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel!
Demel – for Sachertorte & More
You can try Demel’s version of the Sachertorte, but I recommend you try something else – their cake selection is marvelous. This isn’t a casual establishment, so try and dress a little nicer than jeans & a t-shirt!
2. Ride the Wiener Prater Ferris Wheel
If you want to explore the rest of the theme park, go right ahead. I wasn’t super interested so I just checked out the famous Ferris wheel. My recommendation: go at sunset. You will get marvelous views of the park, the Ferris wheel, and Vienna.
3. Eat Apfelstrudel!
Vienna is basically the city of cakes & other sweets. Another delightful Austrian sweet is apfelstrudel – or Apple Streudel in English. More than Austrian, it’s Viennese! I enjoyed it warm with a sweet vanilla glaze. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it ?
4. See a classical music performance
Vienna is a hot-spot for classical music lovers. I don’t consider myself a classical enthusiast, but I frequently listen to Mozart when I need to focus but want background music.
There are so many options for listening to classical music when in Vienna. When I was hanging around St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a guy (who seemed sketchy, admittedly) sold me tickets to a small classical performance a few days later. It ended up being really awesome. The venue was beautiful, complete with all the opulence you would expect from Vienna. There were orchestral pieces, opera, a ballerina, piano pieces – there was a wide range of music and I definitely enjoyed the experience.
There are a lot of vendors by the church. Hang out and see if one pops up in your price point!
5. Take a Wachau Wine Valley bicycle tour
I’ve done dozens of tours and this is HANDS DOWN my favorite tour, ever. It combines just about everything in my travel philosophy. Imagine being slightly wine tipsy while riding bikes through the countryside with like-minded travelers. It was awesome and I even made some friends that invited me to hang with them in Budapest!
6. Shop on Kärntnerstrasse
There are a lot of places to shop in Vienna but Kärntnerstrasse is probably the most famous street. Running from the Sacher Hotel to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, it’s a fantastic pedestrian zone where you can enjoy some of the opulence that Vienna has to offer. You can even check out the flagship Swarovski store!
7. Indulge in Käsekrainer
This is classic Viennese street food. Sausage, filled with cheese, often stuffed into a fresh baguette. Served with ketchup & mustard, this tasty treat is something you cannot miss.
8. Check out a performance at the Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School is home to the world-famous Lipizzaner Stallions. The arena isn’t the same kind of arena you’d see at a rodeo in the US! Opulent white columns, chandeliers with sparkling crystals, and dancing horses – what more can you want?
9. Tour Schönbrunn Palace
There are so many beautiful buildings to see in Vienna, but if you’re only interested in touring a few, make sure to put Schönbrunn Palace on your list. The palace is what I assumed most palaces would be like – decadent with white and gilded gold adornments everywhere. Photographs are not allowed inside, so take the tour and just enjoy it!
Be sure to buy your ticket ahead of time to avoid long lines!
10. Walk around the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens
You can easily spend a whole day on the palace grounds. After touring Schönbrunn Palace, take some time to explore the gardens. Taking up over 1 square km, the Gardens are actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
11. Check out the world’s OLDEST zoo!
Located just adjacent to the Schönbrunn Gardens, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn is the oldest zoo in the world – in fact, it’s older than the United States, with the first version of the zoo beginning in 1752.
It’s one of the few zoos in the world that has pandas, which is reason enough to visit.
12. Enjoy Vienna’s namesake meal, Wienerschnitzel
Wienerschnitzel literally means schnitzel of Vienna, so it’s another classic namesake dish you need to try when visiting. Wienerschnitzel is thinly sliced meat that is breaded, fried, and often served with cranberry sauce & potatoes.
Light, fluffy, and filling, it’s the perfect way to wind down an evening.
13. Check out the Belvedere
Much like Schönbrunn, the Belvedere Gardens are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two grand palaces (the upper & lower Belvedere) along with the Palace Stables make up the Belvedere. The different palaces house the most popular art museums in all of Austria – so if you love art & Baroque architecture, a day at the Belvedere cannot be missed.
14. Shop till you drop at the Naschmarkt
Open on Saturdays, you must check out this elevated flea market if you’re in Vienna over the weekend. There are stands selling food, drinks, and souvenirs fit for every taste. I visited at the beginning of November and was able to drink Glühwein – basically German spiced mulled wine. Delicious!
15. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the grand central icon of Vienna. Towering over the city, it’s something you cannot miss if you’re visiting Vienna. Marveling at the church isn’t enough – you absolutely must take a tour of the church and the catacombs underneath.
16. Visit the Hofburg Palace and the surrounding buildings
Just down the street from St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the Hofburg, one of the largest palace complexes in the world. You could spend days visiting the buildings at the Hofburg. Including the Imperial Apartments, the Spanish Riding School, the Hofburg Chapel, the Albertina, the Austrian National Library, and much more, the Hofburg has something for everyone. If you have limited time in Vienna, check out the link above to see what most interests you!
Vienna surprised me. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy my time here but I quickly discovered that there was so much to see and do. I visited for 4 days and I wasn’t able to do everything this wonderful city offers. Have you been? Do you have any additional recommendations? Comment below!