Capital of the Republic of Austria and one of the most visited cities in Europe, Vienna (Wien) owes much of its charm and rich history to its splendid location on the banks of the Danube. For centuries, the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe, it was the natural nucleus of the once sprawling Habsburg Empire, and to this day remains the most important commercial and cultural center of Austria.
Vienna continues to attract visitors with its many possibilities for historical visits, its legendary art collections, its sparkling palaces and its exceptional musical heritage which continues in concert halls and one of the largest opera houses in the world.
With an undoubtedly cosmopolitan atmosphere, Vienna retains a distinctive charm and flair, accentuated by its beautiful old architecture, its famous horse cabins (Fiaker), as well as its magnificent cafes with their Viennese cakes and pastries.
Whether you are looking for places to visit in Vienna for a day or things to do in several days, you will have many choices in this elegant city. If time permits, consider taking day trips to explore the beautiful surroundings and nearby towns. And don’t forget to refer to our exhaustive list of the main tourist attractions and things to do in Vienna often.
1. The Hofburg
For more than six centuries, the seat of the Habsburgs – and the official residence of all Austrian sovereigns since 1275 – the Hofburg is perhaps the most historic palace in Vienna. Official seat of the Austrian President, this sprawling complex consists of many buildings reflecting different periods, including architectural flourishes of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo movements.
All told, this vast complex covers 59 acres with 18 groups of buildings, including 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms. Its main attractions are the imperial apartments, the Sissi museum and the silver collection, while other notable sites of the complex include the imperial chapel (Burgkapelle) and the treasure of the Hofburg with its large collection of imperial insignia and relics of the Holy Roman Empire. Informative guided tours are available in English.
You can stop at the Hofburg and other important tourist attractions in the city on the hop-on hop-off bus tour of Vienna. It is by far the best option for new visitors who want to see the main sights and get to know Vienna.
2. Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens
The spectacular 18th century Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn) is worth a visit not only for its magnificent architecture, but also for its magnificent park setting.
One of Vienna’s main tourist attractions, this magnificent Baroque palace contains over 1,441 rooms and apartments, including those that were once used by Empress Maria Theresa. Highlights of the tour include a chance to see the imperial apartments, including the walnut bedroom of Emperor Francis Joseph and his bedroom, which still has the soldier’s small bed in which he died.
Among the rooms of Empress Maria Theresa, highlights include its richly furnished and decorated garden apartments, as well as its breakfast room with floral works of art created by her daughters.
Another must-see here is the Schönbrunn Park and Gardens, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park, with its panoramic views and sumptuous Baroque gardens, is one of the many free things to do in Vienna, although you will have to pay to enter the labyrinth and some of the adjacent buildings, such as the 1883 palm grove. you are traveling with children, visit the Children’s Museum for a chance to see them dressed up as prince or princess.
A good way to get to the palace and avoid waiting at the entrance is skip-the-line: guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace and tour of the historic city of Vienna starting with hotel pickup central or at the opera. After a commented walk along the famous Ringstrasse, in front of major attractions such as the Hofburg Palace, the City Hall and the Vienna State Opera, you will visit Schönbrunn Palace without having to queue. The tour continues to the Belvedere Palace, where you can see the kiss of Gustav Klimt and other famous Austrian works of art with a reduced-price entry
3. The Spanish Riding School
Dating back to the time of Emperor Maximilian II, the superb Spanish riding school (Spanische Hofreitschule) was created after the sovereign had the famous Lipizzaner horses presented to his courtesans in 1562. Today is one of the main attractions in Vienna and one of the leading riding schools in the world, enthralling the public with fabulous demonstrations of equestrian skills at the Baroque winter riding school within the palace grounds the Hofburg, where it has been since 1735.
Tickets for these popular shows sell out quickly, so be sure to book as far in advance as possible. If available, purchase a package that includes a behind the scenes tour and the opportunity to visit the stables, as well as a morning workout. An on-site cafe allows you to linger a little longer, you will certainly want to.
4. Belvedere Palace
Among the most popular attractions in Vienna, the Belvedere Palace is truly two splendid Baroque buildings: the Lower Belvedere (Unteres) and the Upper Belvedere (Oberes). The highlights of the upper palace include the hall on the ground floor with its statues and the ceremonial staircase with its rich stucco relief and frescoes.
The Marble Hall, a superb two-story room with many period sculptures, paintings and frescoes on the ceiling, is also worth a visit. The lower palace also houses a marble hall, famous for its oval plaster medallions and its rich fresco on the ceiling, as well as a marble gallery built to house a collection of historic statues.
Other notable buildings include the Winter Palace (a Baroque building that once housed the Treasury of the Court), the Orangery, the Palace Stables (which houses the Medieval Treasury), and the Belvedere Gardens and fountains connecting the two palaces.
The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere is an art museum in the Belvedere Palace, known for its extensive collections, including a rich range of sculptures and panel paintings from the 12th to the 16th centuries. But he is perhaps best known for the kiss of Austrian symbolist artist Gustav Klimt, a masterpiece of modern art.
5. Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn)
The origins of the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) can be traced to the menagerie of Emperor Francis I, founded in 1752 and the oldest active zoo in the world. With many of its original Baroque buildings still intact, it is one of the nicest zoos in Europe to visit, especially if you spend some time cooling off in the Imperial Breakfast Pavilion at 18th century which today houses a large café.
A highlight of the zoo’s more than 750 species are its giant pandas, including cubs, as well as the many fascinating creatures housed in the interactive Rainforest House and aquarium. If you are traveling to Vienna with children, be sure to check the zoo’s official website for details on feeding times, always a fun family experience. It is also worth checking the availability of thematic and behind the scenes guided tours.
If after visiting the zoo you still have time on your Vienna travel itinerary for more creatures, check out Haus des Meeres, a large public aquarium located in a World War II fire tower and butterfly house ( Schmetterlinghaus), located next to the Opera and a nice place to relax after all these visits.
6. The Prater and the Giant Ferris Wheel
Visiting the Prater, a large natural park between the Danube and the Danube Canal, is a bit like entering another world. Covering an area of 3,200 acres, this expansive park – once a royal hunting ground – has long been one of Vienna’s most popular recreational areas.
There is something for everyone, thrills in the Wurstel region, with its old-fashioned rides, restaurants and dances, passing by the dinosaur-themed park for children. A highlight for tourists is to take a ride on the famous giant wheel, a Viennese landmark that has offered a magnificent view of the city since 1896 (if you can afford it, opt for the super luxurious cabin, suitable for parties up to 12 people).
Other highlights of the park include the Prater Ziehrer monument, a larger than life statue of composer CM Ziehrer built in 1960; the Prater Museum with its exhibitions documenting the history of the park; a planetarium; and the Liliputbahn miniature steam railway crossing a four-kilometer line near the main avenue. Elsewhere in this vast park, there is enough room for horse riding, swimming in the stadium pool, football, cycling, tennis and boules.
The Danube Park (Donaupark), an open space of 250 acres which also houses a fun miniature railway, an artificial lake (Lake Iris) and a theater, is also worth a visit. Visiting Prater Park at night is also fun.
7. The Vienna State Opera House
One of the largest and most splendid theaters in the world, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) has hosted many of the world’s most distinguished composers, conductors, soloists and dancers. Opera and ballet performances are held at least 300 times a year, fueled by an obsession with music that dates back to 1625 when the first Viennese court opera was performed. The current massive opera house was built in 1869 and is notable for its early Renaissance French style, while the interior highlights include a grand staircase leading to the first floor, the Schwind Foyer (named after his paintings of famous scenes from ‘opera) and the exquisite Tea Room with its precious tapestries. Capable of accommodating 2,211 spectators and 110 musicians, the Opera also houses the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. (Guided tours in English are available.)
If music is your thing, you can also visit the Wiener Musikverein, a concert hall that houses the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (tickets can be booked online in advance). And the House of Music (Haus der Musik) offers visitors a fascinating insight into sound and music through exhibitions and interactive demonstrations.
8. Vienna City Hall (Rathaus)
The Vienna City Hall (Weiner Rathaus) is an impressive neo-Gothic building that serves as the administrative center of the city. Remarkable for its size – it occupies almost 14,000 square meters of the old parade ground – this beautiful building was completed in 1883 and is remarkable for the famous Rathausmann at the top of its 98-meter high tower, a figure of iron bearing a banner presented to the city as a gift from his master locksmith. The arcaded courtyard in the center of the building is the largest of the seven courtyards and is used for popular summer concerts.
Highlights of a guided tour of the building include the Schmidt Halle, the grand entrance into which cars would once drive to drop passengers off, and the two large staircases leading to the Assembly Hall. The other sites included in the visit are the heraldic rooms, the city’s Senate room (remarkable for its coffered ceiling decorated with gold leaf and its huge Art Nouveau candelabra), and the mayor’s reception room
9. Burgtheater: Austria’s National Theater
The Burgtheater, the superb national theater in Vienna, has long been famous for its productions of plays and shows in German. Many famous names have acted on its four stages since its foundation by Emperor Joseph II in 1776 under the name of Court Theater. After being devastated by bombing and fire in 1945, the theater finally reopened in 1955 and has since acquired the most significant stature in the country.
In addition to its size and the caliber of its performances, the exterior of the building is impressive with its numerous decorative figures, scenes and busts. Equally impressive is its interior composed of a rich decoration in French Baroque style and a staircase with frescoes by Gustav and Ernst Klimt. Behind the scenes, guided tours are available in English and well worth the cost.