As the capital city of Austria, Vienna is the perfect place to start exploring the rest of the country. I’ve had the luck to visit twice in the last couple of years and would love to share with you some of my recommendations on things to see and do, as well as great places to shop and eat while you’re just one day in Vienna.
Disclaimer: This post is a combination of our experiences in Vienna during our personal visit in 2014 and Nienke’s recent visit (May 2016) to the city as part of the #AustrianTime Blogger Campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Austrian National Tourist Office. All photos (unless otherwise mentioned) and opinions are, as always, our own.
Morning in Vienna
Get Cultural at the MuseumsQuartier
A great place to start exploring Vienna is the MuseumsQuartier, located centrally in the 7th district of the city. Everything that’s creative comes together here: performing arts, architecture, music, fashion, thatre, dance, literature, photography and much, much more. Besides the more than 60 cultural facilities you can visit here, there are many cultural events organised all year round in the courtyards.
Some recommended spots: The MUMOK (modern art), Architecturzentrum Wien (architecture), Halle E+G (theatre, dance and music) and the ZOOM Kindermuseum (for kids). There are also many restaurants in the MuseumsQuarier and when it’s sunny, it’s a great place to just hang out.
Enjoy a Coffee Like in the Old Days
If there is one tradition that is typical for the Viennese, it’s their coffee tradition. The first coffeehouse supposedly opened in 1635 and it soon became the central meeting point of writers, musicians and artists. Since 2011, the Viennese coffee house culture has been declared official heritage by UNESCO. Enjoy a nice cup in one of them, or enjoy a sweet treat like typical Austrian apfelstrudel or Sachertorte. Yum!
Gaze up at Kunst Haus Wien
Love architecture? Then you don’t want to miss the incredible looking ‘Hundertwasserhaus’ (Kunst Haus Wien). Make sure to go in, if only for the courtyard and relax a bit on the terrace with a drink and a light snack, such as a ‘flammkuchen’ (see below)
Under the Sea, On Top of the World!
Finished with the museums and looking for something different? Then perhaps the ‘Haus des Meeres’ (House of the Sea) is something for you. This indoor zoo is home to Austria’s largest aquarium and it houses both tropical freshwater as saltwater fish.. and sharks! You can take a guided tour or just explore on your own. Don’t miss the ‘House of the Tropics’ and spot some monkeys.
Saddle up for a Spectacular Show
Looking for more action? The Spanish Riding School of Vienna won’t disappoint. This is the traditional riding school for beautiful white Lipizzan horses, which perform in the Winter Riding School in the Hofburg. You can watch a training session or, even better, watch a public performances of the incredible dressage.
A Cheeky Drink
If you’re close to the riding school, there is a great option for you to have a cheeky glas of wine at the “Loos American Bar”, a must-visit for architecture lovers. Austrian architect Adolf Loos toured the USA in 1893 and got inspired to recreate the look and feel of a bar here back in Vienna. The bar is smaller than 30 square meter (323 square feet) and there are just a few seats, make sure to have a peek inside and see how he made the interior look grand nevertheless!
When the weather is great, you probably want to stay outside. On weekends, the place to be is the Naschmarkt in that case! There is a vintage market and the famous fresh market. Stroll past all the stalls and taste away! We enjoyed a lovely lunch here at one of the mini-restaurants in the middle of the market.
Close to the Naschmarkt, there is also the great square in front of the “Karlskirche” (St. Charles Church), where in Summer you’ll find many outdoor events to enjoy as well!
Afternoon in Vienna
Missed the Naschmarkt or didn’t get lunch there? Then I recommend a quick break at the lovely “Cafe 7 Stern”. Besides great, fresh and organic food, they are also a cultural center and host many workshops, live music and other creative events throughout the year. When the weather is good, you can sit on their lovely terrace outside.
See the City with Different Eyes
If you’re looking for a special guided tour around the city, I can recommend taking the Polawalk polaroid tour! It’s a creative and original way to explore Vienna, and I guarantee you see it with whole other eyes! Check the review for all the details, there are a couple of different themed routes to choose from, so I’m sure there is something you like!
Just Keep Walkin’
If you’re a lover of architecture, you could walk for days to see all the amazing buildings in Vienna, really. (or you could hire a bike and cover more ground). The easiest path to follow it the Ringstrasse (Vienna Ring Road), home to many iconic and renowned buildings and sites. Don’t miss the State Opera, the Parliament buildings and the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK).
A building you definitely want to visit as well is the Postsparkasse (Austrian Postal Savings Bank) by architect Otto Wagner. Make sure to go inside and simply be amazed!
And finally, another great place to walk around is the WU (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien) science university campus, where many famous architects left their mark. See a Zaha Hadid building below, for example.
Some Shopping in Between
While you’re walking away, why not do some shopping in between? One of my favourite shops (they also have them in Germany) is “Kauf dich Glücklich” (‘Shop Yourself Happy’) and it’s always worth a quick stop. In Vienna, you can find one close to the MuseumQuartier.
Scream it out at Prater Park
If amusement parks are your thing, then Prater Park can’t be missed. Right next to the largest public park in Vienna, you can find hundreds off thrill rides and other entertainment. Entrance is free, you pay per attraction. If you are not a fan of rollercoasters and the like, then you perhaps want to check out the ‘Wiener Riesenrad’ Ferris wheel. It was build in 1897(!) and gives you incredible views over the city. We really enjoyed going in, there is also a small museum that comes with the ride, so you get a bit of history of the ferris wheel too.
Grab a Curry Wurst on the way out!
Evening in Vienna
If you’re in Vienna in Summertime, then start the evening with some late afternoon sun at the riverbank. There is an urban beach, music everywhere and lots of places on both sides of the river where you can relax with a beer or rädler.
Drinks in a Courtyard
From the riverbank, take the metro to the MuseumsQuartier for some drinks at the inner Courtyard of “Glacis Beisl”. I would personally stick to drinks here, as I didn’t particularly like the food here (they do serve Austrian classics) and I thought the staff was a bit rude, but for a drink after a hard day of sightseeing, it’s perfect.
Dinner on the Water
On of my favourite places to have dinner in Vienna is restaurant “Motto am Fluss”, located right on the river. The restaurant has a great atmosphere, as well as very attentive staff and amazing food. Definitely a winner for me!
From Great Hights
To end the night, what is better than a great view over the city? We went to the rooftop bar of the Sofitel Hotel, called “Le Loft”, which has an amazing ceiling (and also a restaurant with incredible view). Everything is very fancy here of course, so if you’re looking for something more casual, check out the rooftop bar of the 25h Hotel next to the MuseumsQuartier. A great place to have some drinks!
Photo Credit: Josh Morin of StoryTravelers
The 25h Hotel
For all locations mentioned in this article, check our map to plan your trip:
Wondering where to stay in Vienna?
We had good experiences in the 25 Hours Hotel and the Magdas Hotel (review live on 14 July!)
What more to do in Vienna?
Of course, we only scratched the surface of things to do in Vienna with our article. So we recommend reading these great articles by our fellow travel bloggers for some more great tips!
Your Weekend Guide to Vienna [Triphackr]
Eten in Wenen [We Are Travellers] in Dutch
A Quick Guide to the Vienna Coffee Houses [World of Wanderlust]
Where travellers should actually go in Vienna, Austria [Globe Guide]
Activity Ideas for a Weekend in Vienna [Beyond Blighty]
A different side of Vienna [Velvet Escape]
Vienna Travel Tips [Ott’s World]