Although we have lived in Vienna for as long as we can remember (more than 30 years to be exact), the city’s imperial flair still astounds us every time. If you are planning a city trip to Vienna, then you can look forward to some gigantic and extremely magnificent buildings. No joke: there are so many sights in Vienna that still amaze, even us. In this blog article we will share with you which tourist attractions you absolutely can not miss. And, as locals, we will share some of our best tips for sightseeing Vienna so that you can make the most of your visit.
- 1. Schönbrunn Palace: The most famous Palace in Vienna
- 2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) and the Historic Centre of Vienna
- 3. The Ringstraße: Main Street of Vienna
- 4. The Albertina: One of the most famous Art Museums
- 5. Belvedere Palace: Imperial Attraction near the City Centre
- 6. St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)
- 7. The Giant Ferris Wheel in Vienna (Riesenrad)
- 8. Our local Tip: Justizpalast (Palace of Justice)
- 9. Extra Tips: Vienna City Card & Vienna Pass
1. Schönbrunn Palace: The most famous Palace in Vienna
You simply cannot leave Vienna without having seen the grand Schönbrunn Palace. We are not just saying this because we live nearby and the Schönbrunn Gardens is our favourite place for a run. This majestic palace, which was once home to the Empress Elisabeth, is now one of the top attractions in all of Vienna.
The interior of the castle is like a museum, show casing how the aristocrats used to live. The rooms have been beautifully restored to their former glory and it feels like you have been transported back in time. To visit the interior, you can buy tickets at the entrance and you also have the option of taking an audio guide, which is available in many languages. Allow about 1.5 hours for a full tour of the interior.
If you are tight for time, then you can still admire the exterior beauty of the palace with a nice stroll around the magnificent Palace Gardens, which is so big, it’s considered more of a park. There is a short and very nice walk up to the Gloriette, which was the former imperial viewing terrace, situated up on the hill. This stunning open view with Schönbrunn Palace in the foreground and Vienna City in the background, is one you absolutely cannot miss.
Note: The opening hours of the Castle Grounds varies according to season. In winter, the park closes rather early, around 5pm. It’s often quite calm in the evenings, just before sunset. Although the sun does not set behind the city, the view is still very beautiful at this time.
Getting to the Schönbrunn Palace
Take the U4 Underground Line to the station “Schloss Schönbrunn”.
2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) and the Historic Centre of Vienna
In the middle of the city centre (in the 1st district), you will find the most famous Church and the most important landmark of Vienna: St. Stephan’s Cathedral (better known as Stephansdom). Even we still find it impressive how the Stephansdom towers above, amidst the rest of the city and its low housed buildings.
The Church itself is free to enter. The crowd is relatively large, but usually there are no queues or ‘waiting’ time. If you want to enjoy a view of Vienna, then we can highly recommend you climb up the South Tower. There are 343 steps to overcome, but it’s well worth the effort. Alternatively, you can take the elevator to the North Tower. From there you have another unique view of the city.
If you are interested in a more extensive visit to the Stephansdom, then you can book a combined ticket. It includes a tour of the Cathedral with an audio guide, the Catacombs, the South Tower, the North Tower and the Cathedral Treasury.
From Stephansplatz, which is basically the middle of the city centre, you have many opportunities to further explore the city. We recommend you to walk along the Graben (the famous shopping street). Then walk through the Kohlmarkt towards Michaelerplatz and the Hofburg. There are a lot of tourists along the way, but this section is also one of Vienna’s most beautiful areas.
A little tip: in the middle of the Kohlmarkt is the very famous Café Demel – if you fancy a piece of cake and a coffee, this would make for the perfect sightseeing break.
Getting to St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Take the U1 or the U3 Line to the station “Stephansplatz”.
3. The Ringstraße: Main Street of Vienna
You literally cannot miss the Ringstraße when visiting Vienna, as the most famous street of Vienna – called “The Ring” by locals – runs around the 1st district (ie. the city centre) in a loop.
Buildings along the Ringstraße
The Ringstraße is home to many famous buildings and attractions, including: the Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper), the Hofburg Palace, the Natural History and Art History Museum, the Parliament House, the Town Hall (Rathaus) the Burgtheater (Theatre) and the University of Vienna (main building). It’s best to start your tour at the Wien Staatsoper (Opera House) and continue clockwise from there.
Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)
The Wiener Staatsoper is one of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna. Most visitors look at the Opera House only from the outside, but you can also attend one of the many shows they regularly host. If you don’t mind standing in line for a long time, then you can score yourself some very cheap last-minute tickets about 80 minutes before the start of the show.
Further tips on how to save money in Vienna can be found in this blog article: Vienna On A Budget
Our photography tip: There is a nice balcony terrace in front of the Albertina Museum where you have the Staatsoper in view. Even we like to come here and take some nice photos.
Hofburg and Burggarten
If you continue along the Ringstraße in a clockwise direction, you will come to the Burggarten in just a few minutes. This spot makes for a nice break and you can refuel your energy with some coffee and cake in the Palmenhaus Cafe.
Directly behind it is the Hofburg, a huge palace complex, which houses the National Library and the seat of the Federal President, as well as many other things. There are a variety of museums here, in which you could literally spend hours and hours. If you are tight for time, then at least walk over to the Heldenplatz (Heroes Square) in the direction of the Michaelertor.
Natural and Art History Museum
After visiting the Hofburg, you can change the street and visit the imperial beauty of Maria Theresien-Platz. There are two very magnificent buildings here: the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum. Even if you don’t venture inside the two museums, a short stopover is worthwhile just to take in the grand architecture.
Not far from the two museums is the Parliament House, which is currently being renovated (Winter 2017/2018). Unfortunately, you can not visit the interior of the Parliament House at the moment, but the building is still worth seeing from the outside.
Rathaus (Town Hall) and Burgtheater
Two other interesting buildings are the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Burgtheater (Theatre), which are directly opposite each other. There are many public events, which take place in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) throughout the year:
Film Festival: One of the most famous events is the free film festival at the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square) during July and August. Music films, Ballets and Operas are played daily on a large screen. The film festival is a highly recommended open-air event, which is also popular for locals.
Christmas Market: In the run-up to Christmas, a huge Christmas Market will take place on the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square). Personally, we find the market too crowded and prefer the Christmas Markets in Schönbrunn or Spittelberg, for example.
University of Vienna
The University of Vienna has its main building situated along the Ring, and we consider it to be a very worthwhile stopover. It’s not often, you get to see such a majestic University building and we’re not just saying that because we studied there. The building is open to the public, so anyone can visit.
The Large Reading Room (Großer Lesesaal) is very well worth a visit – you will probably see many students studying here. If you want to enter or walk around this Large Reading Room, then it’s customary for everyone to leave their jackets and bags in a locker, and only bring what you need – this applies to the students also.
Tip: While you can in fact walk the entire ring, we recommend that you just walk from the State Opera House to the University, as this stretch already takes you past the most impressive and main sights.
From the Ringstraße to St. Stephen’s Cathedral
One more tip: you can combine a stroll along the Ringstraße with a visit to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. If you turn from the University into the street called Schottengasse, then you are just a short walk from the historic centre of Vienna. On the way to Stephansplatz, you can make a short stop at the Ferstel-Passage, which is a very nice passage with some shops and in general, very worth seeing if you’re in the area.
4. The Albertina: One of the most famous Art Museums
If you like museum visits, then you will definitely like the Albertina. It is one of the Vienna’s most famous Art Museums and is also well visited by locals. There is a permanent exhibition that showcases works from the last 130 years of Art History. In addition, they always have some interesting temporary exhibitions on display.
Although the Albertina is not located directly on the Ringstraße, it is just a short walk away from the Hofburg and the Staatsoper (Opera House).
5. Belvedere Palace: Imperial Attraction near the City Centre
We have to admit that, as locals, we are guilty of almost never having visited the Belvedere Palace itself. A pity, because the magnificent Palace is really worth seeing, as we realised on our last walk.
The Belvedere Palace also houses an Art Museum that attracts a huge number of tourists. It is home to the world’s largest collection of artworks by Gustav Klimt and was also a main feature in the storyline of the 2015 movie “Women of Gold”, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Even if you only have time to walk through the Palace Gardens, the Belvedere is well worth a visit.
Getting to the Belvedere Palace
You can either take the Straßenbahn/Tram D to the station “Schloss Belvedere” or the U1 Underground Train Line and get off at the station “Taubstummengasse” – from there, it’s about 15 minutes by foot.
6. St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)
Not far from the Belvedere Palace is one of the most beautiful Churches in Vienna: St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche). It is the second most well-known Church in Vienna after the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Here you can take a lift to admire the ceiling frescoes of the dome (Note: there is an entrance fee). But even just from the outside, we find the Karlskirche really beautiful to look at.
Many pubic events often take place on the Karlsplatz, the square in front of the Karlskirche Church. In winter, the Christmas Market is definitely worth a visit. In summer, the Popfest for example, attracts thousands of young people.
Getting to Karlskirche
Take the U-Bahn underground train, either the U1/U4/U2 lines, to the station “Karlsplatz”. From there, follow the exit sign for ”Resselpark”.
7. The Giant Ferris Wheel in Vienna (Riesenrad)
Outside the city centre, the Wiener Prater is probably the next biggest attraction for visitors after the Schönbrunn Palace. The Prater is actually a huge recreational area, but the name is also synonymously used for an amusement park – and no amusement park would be complete without a large Ferris Wheel. The Giant Ferris Wheel (Wiener Riesenrad), stands out with its eye-catching red gondolas.
We can definitely recommend a Giant Ferris Wheel ride during sunset. Costing just 10 Euros for adults and 4.5 Euros for children, this experience is not as expensive as you would expect. A ride usually takes about 15 minutes – depending on how many people get on and off the gondolas.
You can view/book your tickets in advance here: Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel Ride
Getting to the Prater and Giant Ferris Wheel
Take the U2 Underground Train Line to the station “Praterstern”.
8. Our local Tip: Justizpalast (Palace of Justice)
Very few people who come to Vienna know about this place, but in our opinion the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) is one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. Among other things, this is where the Supreme Court sits, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll meet tourists here, but rather the people who work there.
The building is open to the public (after a quick security check). The magnificent and extremely photogenic lobby is especially worth seeing. Another worthwhile detour is the Justiz Cafe, located on the roof of the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice). Despite the fact that the Justiz Cafe is actually more of a canteen for the staff who work here, the food is very delicious. Bonus: the view is definitely a highlight. Although you are not very high up, you still get a beautiful glimpse over Vienna.
One more note: In recent times, we’ve heard a few stories about security prohibiting people taking photos of the lobby. So far, we have always been lucky because nobody has questioned us. But just keep that in mind.
Getting to the Palace of Justice
Take the U3 Line to the station “Volkstheater”.
9. Extra Tips: Vienna City Card & Vienna Pass
There are two discount cards for sightseeing in Vienna, each one is unique and depends on how you would like to explore the city:
Vienna City Card
If you want to do several activities in Vienna, then the Vienna City Card might be suitable for you. This card is available for 24, 48 and 72 hours. With the Vienna City Card you can use the public transport for free (but does not apply to the airport route) and it also give you some extra benefits such as: discounted entrance fee to certain museums and attractions, as well as in selected restaurants and shops.
The perks of the Vienna City Card will usually save you a few Euros, and when you weigh up the costs and benefits, it’s very practical. For example: a 24 hours Vienna City Card will cost you 13.90 Euros. In comparison: A 24-ticket for the Wiener Linien (Vienna Public Transport Lines for all Trams, U-Bahn and Buses) costs around 8 Euros. Our conclusion: You can’t go wrong with the Vienna City Card.
You can view/buy your Vienna City Card in advance here: Vienna City Card
If you really want to complete the full sightseeing program, then the Vienna Pass is for you. With the Vienna Pass, you get free admission to all the main sights in Vienna. However: The Vienna Pass does NOT include any Public Transport ticket/pass for Wiener Linien. You have to buy this separately, which adds on costs. Our conclusion: A very good idea, but we strongly recommend that you think about whether or not you really need it and if it’s worth it for you, because it is not very cheap.
You can view/buy the Vienna Pass in advance here: Vienna Pass
More practical Articles for visiting Vienna:
- Vienna Travel Guide: Things to do and see
- The most beautiful traditional Coffeehouses in Vienna
- Vienna on a Budget: Our Tips
Transparency: Affiliate Links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book something through these links, we will receive a small commission. Don’t worry, this will not change the price for you at all. In fact, simply by using these links, you would be supporting our work. How cool is that? A million thanks from the both of us!
Of course, this is simply just a few of the many sights here in Vienna. There is so much to see! Is there anywhere you have been to or heard of, that should also be considered a must-see sight in Vienna? We look forward to reading them in the comments below!