What to see in Vienna - major attractions of Austria's capital
The capital of Austria is one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe. The city, which continuously occupies top positions in the rankings for world’s most liveable cities, is at the same modern and respectful of its unique historic and cultural heritage. Vienna is a Mecca for culture lovers. Classical music, theatre, opera and fine art thrive in Vienna and historical monuments are found on nearly every corner.
See below a selection of Vienna’s most emblematic tourist attractions, having in mind that a complete tour of Austrian capital is an affair for several days.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna landmark
Towering over Vienna’s old town, the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or Stephansdom, is the undeniable symbol of the city. The imposing Gothic structure mesmerises the visitors by both its interior – with uniquely decorated altars and chapels and exterior – with the characteristic tiled roof and four distinct towers. The tallest of the towers has a viewing room which offers a beautiful panorama of Vienna. The view point is reached on foot, by the 343 staircase. Guided tours to the cathedral and its catacombs are available.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located in the very centre of Vienna centre is a popular point of reference and often a starting point for exploring the city.
Hofburg – the Imperial Palace
In a walking distance, just a few blocks away from Stephansdom is the Hofburg Palace. Home to the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Habsburg dynasty, Hofburg Palace’s oldest sections date back to the 13th century. The successive expansions carried through several centuries resulted in a truly magnificent structure. Apart from the grandiose architecture, in Hofburg you will be able to admire outstanding art collection.
Nowadays, Hofburg is the official seat of the Austrian President.
Belvedere Palace – gardens and museum
The Belvedere complex, located consists of two Baroque palaces, stables and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Do not miss out on the Belvedere Museum which boasts a splendid collection of paintings, amongst them Gustav Klimt’s masterpieces ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. The museum is located in the Upper Belvedere Palace.
Kunsthistorisches Museum – Vienna Museum of Fine Arts
The largest and most renowned Austrian museum is located in the very city centre (at Maria-Theresien Platz) and housed in a beautiful, purpose-built palace, commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph. The collection includes masterpieces by Rubens, Vermeer, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Durer. Find more information about Kunsthistorischen Museum collection, opening times and tickets.
Natural History Museum Vienna
Across the Maria-Theresien Platz is located another popular stop for tourists in Vienna, the Natural History Museum. With a permanent collection of over 20 million items, the first part of which was established 250 years ago it is one of the most renowned museums of the kind worldwide. The Dinosaur Hall housing the skeleton of a Diplodocus is one of the museum’s major attractions. Check Vienna Natural History Museum website for more information.
The Albertina Museum, in Vienna’s very city centre is one of city’s top attractions for tourists on a cultural trip. Established in 1776, by the Duke Albert of Saxony-Teschen, the collection is made of over a million prints and 60 000 drawings, including works by Rubens, Klimt, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir and Chagall.
The museum is housed in a palace once used as a residence by the Habsburg dynasty. The Habsburg staterooms are open for visitors.
Located approximately 4 miles southwest of Vienna city centre (and easily accessible by public transportation) the Schonbrunn Palace is a must for any visitor to the Austrian capital. Built by the Habsburg dynasty with the idea to overshadow the French Versailles, the palace, as well as its splendid, landscapes gardens are a perfect example of the lavish Baroque decorative art.
The Schonbrunn complex (palace and gardens) are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Schonbrunn Palace (or Schloss Schönbrunn) can be reached from Vienna city centre by trams 10 and 58, by bus 10A or by the U4 subway line. Organized trips to Schonbrunn, including a guided trip of the palace are widely available from different parts of the city. Avoid driving to Schonbrunn, if possible, as the access roads get easily congested and parking is difficult.
Learn more about Schonbrunn Palace’s history:
Should your time allow it, visit also the Schonbrunn Zoo. Although considered the oldest of the world’s oldest zoological gardens still in existence, the Schonbrunn Zoo is known for the modern facilities it provides for over 500 species featured here. The zoo is famous for its advanced breading methods directed towards species in extinction, such as, for example, pandas.
Vienna parks – Prater and the giant Ferris wheel
The capital of Austria is a very green city; there is a number of public parks in the very city centre to enjoy for locals and visitors alike. Curiously enough, a few of Vienna’s cemeteries, with the peaceful scenery they provide, are sought after as a perfect location for a stroll. The multi-faith Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) is one of them.
The Setagaya Park, or the Japanese Garde, is as the name suggests, inspired on the Japanese culture and traditional landscaping. This park, however, is close for visiting during the winter months.
Stadpark is the original municipal park of Vienna. With the illuminated central lake, meandrous paths and shaded alleys the park is a great place to relax, especially during hot summer days. Open air classical music concerts are held daily in Stadpark during warm weather season.
The most famous Vienna’s park is, however, the Prater, located northeast of the city centre. The park is known for the Riesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel, one of the oldest structures of this type in the world.
The ride on the Ferris wheel allows to see Vienna from above. It is also a great opportunity to take pictures, as the wheel stops frequently.
A number of other attractions and rides are available at the fun fair in the Prater park, where you will also find sports facilities.
Vienna coffee culture
Unlike it happens in many other countries worldwide, where a quick espresso or a latte ‘on the go’ is the way to have coffee, the Viennese have elevated the act of drinking coffee to an art, which requires a quality product (coffee grains), a ritual of preparing and decorum. Vienna brags to have world’s best coffee and the most famous Viennese cafés are places of sophistication and elegance.
Amongst the most reputable coffee houses in Vienna are Café Central and Café Weimar, both with over a 100 years of history, as well as the slightly ‘more recent’, Café Hawelka, which dates back to 1939.
There is a number of ways to have coffee in Vienna. Amongst the most popular variations are: kurzer or espresso – a traditional espresso, melange – steamed coffee with frothed milk, similar to cappuccino, einspanner – strong black coffee (double espresso) topped with whipped cream and kleiner brauner – black coffee (steamed) with a bit of milk.
The coffee in Vienna, in whatever form it arrives, is often accompanied by a desert. Sachertorte, a moist, layered chocolate cake is, by far, the most famous Austrian delicacy. The original Sacher cake recipe is guarded by the owners of the Sacher Hotel.