While looking for a good compliment to visiting Germany on our fall trip in 2017, I found myself circling back to Austria. There are a handful of tourist destinations in Austria: Innsbruck, Salzburg, and, of course, Vienna. But, have you ever searched for articles or posts discussing visiting Vienna? I did and was caught off guard by the negative reviews.
“Place is like a dirty ashtray.”
“Horses are everywhere, which means shit everywhere.”
“I’ve never met anyone with a desire to travel there, so it probably shouldn’t be on your travel list.”
I wavered for a bit and considered passing Vienna over and moving onto Budapest or Prague. But, after reading about how beautiful the culture is and how much history the city holds, we decided to add the charming city of Vienna to our trip.
Here is all the wonderful fun you can have in the City of Dreams:
I typically try to start all my trips with a local tour of city highlights and the main part of town. It is an easy way to get yourself geographically oriented to the city, a mindless way to get up to speed with the history, and a fantastic way to avoid succumbing to jet lag. This tour is two and half hours long, for the equivalent of 25 US dollars. You’ll learn about Austrian royalty, Empress Sisi and Marie Antoinette, as well as explore the historical quarter of the city.
The Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residences for the Habsburg’s. You’ll have to leave the center city if you want to visit this epic mansion. Thankfully, Vienna has a great tram system within the city and lots of train options if you wish to explore further. For about eight euros and 20 minutes on the train you can easily navigate your way to the Palace. If you’re in Vienna for a couple days, or even just 24 hours, I recommend making the trip out to Schönbrunn! When traveling in November-December you’ll be able to experience their Christmas Market, and, if you are visiting during the spring and summer you will be able to enjoy the gardens. Tickets are anywhere from 14 to 18 euros, with the option of adding on additional attractions such as the gardens or the Gloriette.
After Schönbrunn I recommend heading back into town to tour Hofburg Palace, the Habsburg’s main residences!
Whether before or after, the Hofburg pairs nicely with the Schönbrunn Palace. We purchased the general ticket for around 16 euros and used the free audio guide. The ticket includes the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments, and the Silver Collection, which took us just over an hour to experience. After you turn in your audio guide, be sure to head to the cafe and order the strudel!
Located at Stephansplatz is Vienna’s most significant landmark, St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is said to be the heart of the city, and, based off of its architecture, history, and views it offers of the city, it is clear to see why! Visitors can enter the Cathedral without cost, however tickets are required for a tour or access to the towers. For six euros you can choose a tour with a personal guide (provided in German and English) or an audio guide (offered in 23 languages). These tours run for 30-40 minutes and you can read more about them here. An all-inclusive ticket is also available which includes an audio guided tour, admission to a catacomb tour and entrance to the South and North tower. If you want a great view of the city and an incredible photo opportunity, climb the South Tower, Steffl, at nearly 450 feet.
If you want to skip a tour and simply climb the towers, the tower ticket is five euros and 343 steps away!
Originally we had hoped to see an opera during our time in Vienna. The opera is a large part of Viennese culture and there are shows running multiples nights of the week. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t line up well with any of the showtimes during our two nights in Vienna. But we didn’t let that stop us from visiting this beautiful gem! The opera house, Wiener Staatsoper, leads guided tours in many languages for just nine euros. There are multiple tours offered nearly every day, making it very easy to work this experience into your travels! The tour leads you all throughout the house in just 40 minutes, while sharing interesting facts about the building’s architecture, history, and how the opera house is run. I found this tour to be so fascinating and well worth the (little) time and money. So whether its for a show or simply the tour, I highly recommend stepping foot into this important part of Viennese culture.
St. Charles’ Church is located on the south side of the Karlsplatz and probably would have gone unnoticed by us, had it not been for the Christmas Market that attracted us to the square. Which, to let this church go unnoticed would have been our mistake – Karlskirche is well known as one of the city’s greatest building and baroque church. For adults, it is eight euros to enter, which includes the lift up into the panoramic dome. The lift will take you far up into the dome and then you have the option (more like a dare) to continue stepping up into the ceiling, even higher. This church is shockingly beautiful and well worth it to stop in!
And, I’ll confess,
I totally chickened out.
Perhaps one of the easiest activities you can do, is browse through Vienna’s Christmas markets. You wont have to look long or hard, in fact, I have no other tips or directions to offer to you, you’ll easily come across one! Two larger Christmas markets are the Vienna Christmas Dream market, in front of Town Hall and of course, the Christmas and New Year’s Market at Schönbrunn Palace. At the markets you’ll find food, mulled wine and exhibitors selling their art, handcrafts, and decorations. Grab some spiked punch, try a Vanillekipferl Biscuit and simply wander the square!
Vienna is a beautiful city and one of my favorite places I have traveled to. So if you also have been coming across iffy comments or negative reviews, I hope this post has turned some of that around for you! We traveled to Austria to complete the story of Germany, to learn more about their paired history, and to spend some time wandering streets that weren’t as crowded as Rome or Paris,
or as dirty as an ashtray.