The Ultimate Vienna Travel Guide
The Ultimate Vienna Travel Guide
In March 2018 I’ve visited Vienna with one of my best friends. It was the perfect girls’ weekend getaway. We had planned to stay there for 3 days to have enough time to explore the city but the weather made us change our plans. The day of our trip arrived and there was a big snowstorm in Switzerland (we were flying out from Geneve), so almost all flights were cancelled or delayed – big delays! We were lucky enough to have our flight only delayed (and not cancelled) but we lost one day at the airport. So we’ve had to make something almost impossible: visit Vienna in 36 hours. Guess what? We did it and we had the best time there.
One year and a half later, in December 2019, I’ve decided to go back to Vienna for a long weekend not only to see some of the historical sites that I had missed in my first visit, but also to go to the famous Christmas Markets. Have I already told you that I’m completely in love with Christmas Markets and every year I try to go to a new one? It was totally worth it and Vienna is now at my top list for Christmas Wonderland.
Vienna has always played an important role in European History and actually you feel that history lives in every corner of the city. There are so many palaces, monuments, museums, parks and historical buildings that it’s really hard to choose the ones to see when you have limited time. I’ll share my selection for my two short getaways there.
In my second trip to Vienna I also took one day to go to Bratislava, which is only one hour by train from the Austrian capital and it is also a beautiful city, but I will share more about that in another blog post.
Parliament & City Hall
The Parliament, a beautiful building in Greek-Roman style, is the heart of political Austrian activity. It is located next to Rathausplatz where you can admire another impressive building, Vienna City Hall, the seat of local government of Vienna constructed in a Neo-Gothic style.
In December the Rathausplatz transforms into the magical scenario of the most known and biggest Christmas Market in Vienna and usually ranked in the top ones across Europe, the Viennese Dream Christmas Market. You can find from ferris wheels, to ice rink for skating and reindeers.
Volksgarten and Hofburg Palace
Volksgarten is a beautiful park located beside the Heldenplatz. Walk around the gardens in a Saturday morning and admire a peaceful environment just next to the city centre. In the middle of this park look for Theseus temple. When I visited Vienna in March it had recently snowed so the garden was covered by a white blanket and it looked incredibly beautiful.
This garden gives direct access to Hofburg Palace, the biggest palace in Vienna that houses a mixture of museums and ministries, a chapel and a library. You can visit the Imperial apartments, Sissi Museum and the Imperial Silver Collection.
It is also worth to go to the State Hall, the heart of the Austrian National Library. It is considered one of the most beautiful and historic libraries in the world and it is the biggest baroque library in Europe. Try to visit on Sunday because it is free.
Wiener Staatsoper is the famous Vienna Opera and it is one of my favourite places in this glamorous city. I took a guided tour in the afternoon that takes approximately 1 hour allowing to explore behind the scenes of the world’s largest repertoire theatre, learning about the history of this iconic building and how the opera shows are run.
If you want to see a show, make sure you buy the tickets in advance as they can be easily sold out. Another option is to buy standing room tickets that are sold 80 minutes prior to the show at the standing room box office only. Those tickets also have the advantage of being much cheaper than the regular ones.
City Center and St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Vienna is a beautiful city with historical buildings in every corner. Make sure you have enough time to walk around and just admire the city atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else. Have a viennois coffee and one of the famous Viennese pastries or cakes, many of which date back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
At the heart of Vienna visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Gothic style, one of the symbols of the city, that welcomes more than 1 million guests every year. Don’t miss the Cathedral Towers that dominate Vienna’s skyline and from where you have beautiful city views.
Another impressive church is Karlskirche, St. Charle’s Church, considered the finest Baroque church in Vienna. The surroundings of this building are also worth a visit with a park and a lake.
This palace was built in the 19th century and it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage. You can easily spend half of a day there walking by the gardens or visiting the different buildings comprising this site: Upper Belvedere that houses the Imperial Picture Gallery, Lower Belvedere and Orangery that hosts temporary exhibitions, and the Palace Stables. When I was there it was all covered in white and it looked like a dreamland.
Maria Theresien Platz and Kunsthistorisches Museum
Another must visit area in Vienna is Maria-Theresien-Platz where Museumsquartier is located. You can visit there the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches) and the Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches).
I only had time to go to Kunsthistorisches Museum, crowned with an octagonal dome, and I was impressed by its gorgeous architecture and the art exhibitions. I highly recommend to take some time at the restaurant, it is maybe one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen.
In December there is also a great Christmas market in this area.
Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens
I didn’t have time to visit Schönbrunn in my first trip to Vienna but this palace, together with the Zoological Garden, are amongst the most popular attractions in Austria. In my second trip I didn’t miss it and it was probably my favourite site in Vienna.
Schönbrunn is the biggest palace in the country. It was built in the 17th century and it was used as the imperial Summer residence in Vienna. The park and the gardens near the palace are also extremely beautiful and they deserve some time to explore them. I recommend to buy tickets to visit the interior of the palace and then walk around the park and the gardens, which visit are free.
When I went to Schönbrunn in December there was also a Christmas Market at the entrance area of the palace, bringing an additional sparkle of magic to Schönbrunn. There is nothing in the world comparable to the holiday season and this Christmas Market in Vienna was my favourite in the city. I stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying the ambiance, listening to Christmas carols and tasting typical sweets and mulled wine.
Vienna is surrounded by an aura of History and exquisite elegance but it has also a glimpse of unconventional architecture.
Head to Hundertwasserhaus, outside of the historical center, to admire a complex of colorful and disruptive buildings designed by the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This artist wanted to develop an architectural style closer to the nature with bright colors and quirky shapes.