Vienna – the Austrian capital, home to many extraordinary talents such as Wolfgang Mozart, Franz Schubert, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Herr Sigmund Freud, etc. is a natural treasure trove of culture, art, food and aristocracy. You can spend days, weeks even, looking in every nook and corner admiring a work of art; but what if you only have a weekend? What to do in Vienna in 2 or 3 days’ worth of time?
Where to Stay in Vienna?
I stayed at the Vienna Hostel Ruthensteiner and personally, that would be my recommendation to anybody comfortable with staying at a hostel. Really cute little place out in the 14th district; great, friendly people, amazing breakfast. They also have a lovely little backyard garden where peeps hang out, play music and games, etc. I just loved the overall vibe of the place – even the people who work at the place, come hang out with guests and it’s just a great place to meet other people.
If you have money to spend and would like to stay at some fancier places, some friends of mine recommend:
The Guesthouse located on the same square as the Albertina, The State Opera and Sacher Wien, the Guesthouse is a popular choice among upscale travelers. Converted from a youth hostel with rooms starting from ~$250, The Guesthouse is one of the most expensive hotels in Vienna.
Hotel Sacher Wien at $350+ a room, you better get everything that the Sacher promises – luxurious, royal and old-school. Situated right next to the State Opera, the Sacher is amongst the most sought after hotels in Vienna.
Tourist Tip: the Sacher is home to the Sacher Cafe – creator of the much sought after Sacher Torte. It’s really nothing but a delicious piece of iced-chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam. My honest opinion? It’s a little over-hyped and perhaps may have lost its charm a bit over years. The queue to get a seat and generally obnoxious attitude of the staff doesn’t help much either.
If you must indulge your sweet tooth, might I suggest a worthy alternative? Just around the corner from the Sacher, you will find Cafe Mozart. Every bit an equal in quality and taste, the experience feels more authentic and the staff infinitely friendlier. Try it out & thank me later 😉
25Hours Hotel this boutique hotel is interestingly themed after a circus and offers good value at about $75 a room. Located right across the Parliament building, it also boasts of one of the best views/vantage points from its rooftop bar.
What to do in Vienna?
Walk Through Vienna’s Old Town
Vienna’s town center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and taking a walk across it on a nice sunny afternoon is the best way to gawk at many of its cultural & architectural wonders! Vienna is a compact, well-planned city. The Ringstraße (the Ring Road), also known as the “Lord of the Ring Roads” more or less surrounds the town center. The Ring Road is an open gallery to take in the city’s amazing Baroque architecture. Buildings like the Vienna State Opera, Parliament, Academy of Fine Arts, the Albertina Museum are all just in and around.
I used the self guided, Old Vienna Walking Tour as a point of reference. If you follow it to the dot, expect to take between 4-5 hours to finish, but I encourage you to get lost, take detours and discover your own little secrets.
Insider Tip: there’s a small but smashing hot-dog stand right outside Albertina Museum. I never quite remembered the name, but it’s considered one of the best hot-dogs in all of Vienna; give it a shot 😉
Take a Stroll Around Naschmarkt
The Naschmarkt has been a feature of Vienna’s landscape since the 16th century. Fresh fruit and vegetables from all over the world congregates here everyday. They mingle with local produce and exotic herbs, cheese, baked goods, meats, seafood to make up a wonderful culinary experience. It’s a gorgeous place to test and experiment with your taste buds. Also a great place to pick up gifts and souvenirs for back home that go beyond the usual postcards and fridge magnets. Saturday is a particularly good day, since they have the weekly farmer’s market and all.
Bike Around the City
Vienna is often rated as one of the safest cities in Europe for bikers, and I can personally vouch for this. It is so far, the only city, where I’ve actually biked for an entire day. Designated bike lanes (which people actually follow), strict signal control and a general tendency to follow rules to the letter (possibly borrowed from the Germans) makes biking around the city a pleasant experience.
If you are not much of a walker or have even lesser time on hand, it is a worthy replacement for walking around the city. If you’d prefer a guided tour, my personal recommendation is the Vienna Bike Tour by Vienna Explorer. At about €35 (bike included), the 3 hour tour takes you around all the important landmarks in the city. My guide had that somewhat typically Viennese self-deprecating humor and lots of little tidbits about important personalities like Beethoven to share.
Fool Around at the Prater Park
If you skip the guided bike tour and decide to take off on your own, you want to check out the Wiener Prater, Vienna’s 6.2 sq. km amusement park. The Prater Ferris Wheel is of course iconic of Vienna – subject of countless postcards. Far more fun though to just hang around in the grounds outside, particularly if it’s summer/spring; drink beers and just overall become a part of the ambiance. Around here, you will also find many of Vienna’s biggest clubs and bars – so a definite point of interest for the party-mongers too 😉
Gawk at the Absurdity of the Hundertwasser House
The Hundertwasser House is symbolic of its architect – Friedensreich Hundertwasser. With not a single flat or symmetrical surface along its facade, the house may be best described as ‘bizarre’. Even then, it is a superb architectural wonder and one of Vienna’s claims to fame. You could relax at the coffee house just across the building and watch tourists gawking at the colorful mess; or you could browse through the museum/tourist shop and catch up on the colorful history of its eccentric creator.
Marvel at the Baroque Grandness of Belvedere & Schönbrunn Palace
Vienna’s grandiose is evident in the beauty of its precious Baroque beauties – the Belvedere Palace (located near the city center) and the Schönbrunn Palace (a little outside). Both are worth a visit, or at least a stroll around the gardens. The gardens in both palaces are open to public free of charge; some of Schönbrunn’s special gardens may require a ticket. In the summer, either is a good spot to soak in the sun. For the winter, I hear the Christmas markets at the Belvedere are the best in town.
Experience the Classical Era at Vienna’s State Opera
You don’t really have to understand it to enjoy it – that’s what I will say about opera! As art forms go, this one’s right up there in the aristocracy & elitist departments. Nonetheless, there’s so much to admire and love about the opera. Moreover, it’d be criminal to talk about what to do in Vienna without a mention of its world famous opera performances.
That must mean it’s going to bankrupt you right? That’s the best part – not necessarily! I mean, if you can afford it – nothing beats the private boxes; but if you are cheap and/or poor with a taste for the elite (like me), do not fret! You can get standing room tickets for the opera for as little as €3. These are available at a separate box office at the Opera building; look for a signboard titled “Stehplatz-Kasse/Standing Area”. These usually go on sale about an hour and a half before the performance, but it is recommended to arrive a good couple of hours prior [Read: How to Get Vienna Opera Standing Room Tickets]
So that just about winds up my recommendations for what to do in Vienna in 2 or 3 days. If you have an extra day, I’d also recommend a trip around the wine country that surrounds Vienna, particularly in the summer.
Hope you have plenty to think about on your upcoming Viennese adventure! If you were wondering what to do in Vienna over a quick weekend trip and tried out some of the things I recommended, please leave a comment below with your thoughts or write me a note elsewhere! Better still, if you have things to add to this list, I’d love to hear!