Vienna was another big one for me. It had been top on my list of places I “needed” to visit ever since I can remember (I was a very dramatic child who confused want with need; a quality I’m not sure I’ve entirely grown out of). Yet even though Vienna was a dream destination for me, I had such little expectations for it. I knew almost nothing about the culture, cuisine, or really any history that occurred after 1800. I entered Vienna nervous that I had spent years dreaming of a place that just wouldn’t live up...but again, I was wrong. I was in Vienna for about twenty-five minutes before I fell incandescently in love with it and my affection for the city only strengthened throughout my visit.
Vienna is known as The Imperial City, and with good reason. It’s effortlessly elegant, detail oriented, jam packed with history, and emulates a certain unexplainable calmness that I haven’t found in many places around the world. It’s also the cleanest city I’ve ever been to. Seriously, littering must be a crime punishable by death over there.
Even so, Vienna is not for everyone. The city does not have a big nightlife scene and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, your dining options are going to be very limited. The friends I toured Vienna with found it boring, stuffy, and overpriced, but that’s what is so unique about traveling. You can have a completely different experience doing the same things in the same city. In my opinion, Vienna in the summer is something you just can’t miss out on. Here’s how to spend your time in Vienna when the weather is at its best.
Where to stay
Looking to splurge while in Vienna? I’m a big fan of Marriott/Ritz Carlton accommodations, and this is one of the best in the city.
This is one of the nicest (and largest) budget hotels I’ve ever stayed in. For around 100 USD a night, we stayed in their “aparthotel” suite that included a foyer, three bedrooms, a living room, and two bathrooms, fitting a total of six guests. There also is a full gym, restaurant, and sauna on the property.
Check out the aparthotel suite we stayed in on Airbnb.
Okay, I’ll admit it - I’m a hostel virgin. Since I always find myself traveling in groups of three or more, it’s always been cheaper for us to rent an apartment than each paying for a spot in a hostel. That being said, I’ve heard great things about this hostel.
Another really cool option is to stay in the dormitory rooms at the luxury hotel, Grand Ferdinand. Although this is a five-star hotel, their hostel-type rooms are only 33 USD a night, per person, and your stay includes all the amenities of the hotel including their rooftop pool.
Where to eat
This is a great place to stop for lunch if you’re craving something a little healthier than the average Austrian cuisine. Try out a grilled goat cheese salad or avocado toast within the café’s hipster backdrop.
This place isn’t known for their great food, but as this was close to our hotel, we often found ourselves here enjoying a glass of wine or beer in their outdoor biergarten in the middle of Stradtpark.
This is a great place to relax and cool off with a locally brewed Austrian beer on their outdoor terrace. As for food, they serve an array of Austrian favorites mixed with southern american barbecue and soul food.
When looking to get the best schnitzel in Vienna, look no further than Figmueller. This place is famous for the traditional Austrian dish, serving it in a cozy setting with wood seating and exposed brick walls, only a few minutes walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Although famously known as a coffee house, Café Central is a great place for Austrian cuisine as well. Not only is this the most stunning restaurant you'll ever eat in, they have amazing dessert options to enjoy with a glass of their elderflower infused champagne.
What do to
How better to enjoy a temperate summer day than to head to the royal Hapsberg’s summer residence? While not as famous as Versailles, I think Schönbrunn Palace is just as impressive, the grounds including a full zoo, palm house, vineyard, and multiple restaurants in addition to the royal palace.
A self-proclaimed “foodie” friend of mine claims that the best thing she’s ever ate was a schnitzel sandwich bought at the Landtmann's Parkcafé in the gardens at Schönbrunn. I’m not exactly sure how much I trust that judgement, but it’s worth a try if you find yourself in Vienna.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
I stumbled upon this church in the middle of Vienna’s busy Innere Stadt. How does one stumble upon one of the most magnificent examples of medieval architecture in the world? Because no one is talking about it! In my opinion, St. Stephen’s Cathedral kicks Notre-Dame and the Vatican out of the park, yet has far less notoriety. Having been there since 1160, seeing this cathedral in person can make your entire visit to Vienna worth the journey. What’s even better? There are rarely any lines, free entry, and guided tours offered of the catacombs which hold the remains of Austria’s famous rulers.
The Spanish Riding School is a famous establishment in Vienna, having put on horse shows featuring a horse breed made popular by Habsburg nobility, the Lippizaner, since 1735. Even if you’re not interested in seeing a show, head down to check out the horse-drawn carriages lined outside the beautifully designed building for a great photo op or an evening "fiaker" ride.
After visiting the Spanish Riding School, check out Burggarten, a large green-space nearby where you can occasionally catch Lippizaner horses roaming through the gardens. There is also a butterfly house and a palm house-turned-restaurant right in the gardens.
Need a break from the heat? Stopping into the Leopold Museum is a great way to spend an afternoon in Vienna for expressionism art lovers, their collection including work by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Some other popular museum options include the Belvedere Palace Museum, The Hofburg, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.
Home of Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel, this is one of the main attractions in Vienna. With roller coasters, a free-fall tower, and arcade games, head to The Prater to spend a summer day releasing your inner child.
Go to a Coffee House
Visiting a coffee house in Vienna is, as Kristin Newman would say, “the thing to do in the place to do it.” My favorite places to enjoy a latte (and a glass of champagne) in the city are Cafe Central, Brasserie Palmenhaus Café, and Café Gerstner. While most coffee houses serve lunch and dinner, it's common to just enjoy a coffee and dessert.
Take a day trip!
Heading to Danube’s Wachau Valley for the day is a great way to get out of the city and see Austria's countryside. Here you can enjoy wine tours, the Melk Abbey, and shopping in between the many small towns found between Melk and Krems. For more information on this day trip, check out Rick Steve's (love of my life) article about Wachau Valley.
Things to know
1 euro = about $1.09 as of October 2019. Get an up-to-date conversion here.
In order to avoid expensive international surcharges and roaming fees, get an international sim card at A1 after arriving in Vienna. There are multiple stores around the city. However, if you're leaving Austria to move onto another European country, try using the Austrian carrier, 3.
If you're coming from another European country and looking for a phone plan there, check out Vodafone. Their plans still give you service in Austria, they just don't sell the sim cards in the country.
Types C and F
Vienna’s public transportation system, including the U-Bahn (Metro), S-Bahn (train), Straßenbahn (tram), and bus system, is still something I’m very confused about. It's not that it’s difficult to navigate, but that no one checks your ticket. Yup, you heard it here first, the Vienna metro system runs on the “honor code”. We spent five days in Vienna and were never once asked to show purchase of a ticket. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a free ride. A friend of mine did get stopped by S-Bahn staff and was fined for not having purchased a ticket.
Biking is another way many locals move around in Vienna. While walking, make sure to acknowledge that the sidewalks are split between a walking side and a bicycle side and be careful not to get in the way of passing riders.
Uber and taxi’s are also available in Vienna.
Need help navigating the public transportation? Use Qando Vienna.
What are your favorite things to do in Vienna? Let us know in the comments below!