Vienna is a city with a history as rich as its architecture is opulent. A metropolis defined by towering steeples, sprawling palaces, and museums filled with a wealth of treasures… it certainly tops my list of European cities as it relates to the preservation and showcasing of art and culture. As with most other destinations, day days isn’t nearly enough to experience everything Vienna’s 414.6 km² has to offer, however if two days is all you’ve got, here are 8 things you shouldn’t miss.
In a city filled with stunning historical architecture, ranging from baroque to gothic, it’s rare to find a building constructed in the 20th century that could catch the eye and become an attraction in and of itself (without being a towering skyscraper, that is). However, the brash, quirky, kaleidoscopic showpiece that is the Hundertwasser residential building is just that – one of Vienna’s most visited buildings. Designed by painter/architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the unconventional expressionist landmark was meant to be a demonstration of how architecture can create harmony between man and nature. It comprises 53 apartments, 4 offices, 16 private terraces, 3 communal terraces and 250 trees and bushes, and it’s a great stop for photos.
- Location: Kegelgasse 36-38, 1030 Wien, Austria
- Hours: 24/7 but pop by anytime during the daylight hours to appreciate its eccentric beauty.
- Cost: Free
2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The sheer size of St. Stephen’s Cathedral will stop you in your tracks the moment you come upon it. Also known as Stephansdom, this 12th century church is the religious epicentre of Vienna. It stands at 448 ft and stretches on for 351 ft with its south spire rising 136.44 ft into the air1 The dark and imposing structure is topped off with an almost festive, multicoloured roof comprising 230,000 tiles that create beautiful mosaic patterns. Inside these sacred walls is an interior design just as intricate as its exterior. Eighteen alters line the perimeter and a beautifully crafted stone pulpit serves as a main focal point. Other attractions within the cathedral, include the catacombs, which you can tour, as well as the spectacular panoramic view of the city from the rooftop. Honestly, after just one minute inside St. Stephen’s it was clear to me why over 6 million people visit this site every year!
- Location: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Wien, Austria
- Hours: 9:00 – 11:30 am & 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm (Mon to Sat) | 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm (Sun)
- Cost: Entry to the church is FREE
- Elevator to Rooftop: 6 €
- Tour of the Catacombs: 6 €
- Monday to Saturday from 10.00 am to 11.30 am and 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm
- Sundays and public holidays from 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm
The Heldenplatz or “Heroes Square” has an intriguing history dating back to the 19th century. It has served as a venue for many noteworthy occasions – most notoriously, Adolf Hitler’s announcement of the Austrian Anschluss – Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany on March 15, 1938. A sea of several hundred thousand people congregated at the square to listen to him speak from the balcony of the Habsburg palace and this dramatic scene has been captured and immortalised in several iconic photographs. Today, the Heldenplatz serves as a popular tourist destination surrounded by several buildings also worth a visit – the Hofburg Palace, the gorgeous Outer Castle Gates and the Volksgarten Park.
- Location: Innere Stadt Borough, Vienna
- Hours: 24/7
- Cost: Free
I’ve visited a few palaces in my day, but none as captivating as the Belvedere. At the Belvedere, it’s not about the architecture or decor – as beautiful as they may be. Instead, the focus is 100% what hangs on the walls. Initially built to serve as a summer residence (yes, a “summer home”) for Prince Eugene of Savoy, the sprawling complex now serves as a museum for some of the greatest artworks ever created. The Upper Belvedere houses priceless works by renowned artists, such as Monet, Van Gogh and Austria’s very own Klimt! Trust me when I say you don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate this rare opportunity. If you’re into contemporary art, you can also visit the Lower Belvedere which houses more modern pieces.
- Location: Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Wien, Austria
- Hours: 9am – 6pm (Sat – Thurs) | 9am – 9pm (Fri)
- Cost: There are various options so you can choose the one most ideal for you:
- Upper Belvedere: 17.50 €
- Lower Belvedere: 14 €
- Klimt Ticket – Upper & Lower: €22 (ticket valid up to 30 days after first visit)
5. Vienna Central Cemetery
I had no clue Austria was the birthplace of some of the greatest musicians ever to walk the earth. And if I hadn’t had a travel buddy who was a classically trained pianist with a genuine love for classical music, I probably never would have known. Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Brahms (to name a few) are all celebrated Viennese composers who have left an indelible mark on the world. These names are known even to musical neophytes like myself so it was incredibly humbling to discover that they are all buried (or, in the case of Mozart, memorialised) in the musical quarter of the sprawling Vienna Central Cemetery. The immaculate grounds of this 590 acre cemetery is covered with elaborate headstones, cenotaphs and tombs, but the main attraction within this compound is an immaculate garden where the great musicians have been laid to rest side by side.
- Location: Simmeringer Hauptstraße 234, 1110 Wien, Austria
- Hours: 7am – 7pm (Fri – Wed)| 7am – 8pm (Thurs)
- Cost: Free
So! Much!! Food!!! The Naschmarkt is practically mandatory as far as things to do in Vienna are concerned. You absolutely MUST visit this staple that has been in existence since the 16th century. And when you do, make sure you go there on an empty stomach (or, as we say in T&T, “with yuh belly in yuh hand”). This semi open air market runs from Karlsplatz to Kettenbrückengasse and its a hub of activity where over 100 fruit, vegetable and meat vendors coexist alongside adorable restaurants, bars and cafes. Crates of fresh fruit call out to you in unison with affordable menus featuring cuisines of all kinds, from traditional Viennese to Asian fusion. You’ll love the hustle and bustle of this market coupled with the delicious aromas wafting from every single stall and entryway.
- Location: 1060 Vienna, Austria
- Hours: 6am – 9pm (Mon – Sat), restaurants stay open later | Closed on Sundays
- Cost: Free but you can have a good meal from as low as 9 €
7. Schönbrunn Palace
Believe it or not, the 1,441 rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace merely served as a “summer residence” for Austria’s Habsburg rulers. An ode to the opulence, pomp and circumstance that defined an era, the palace grounds comprises sprawling gardens, an intricate maze, 32 sculptures, a zoo, and of course the Gloriette that provides one of the best views of the city. The highlight of the experience however is a tour that takes you through 40 lavishly decorated state rooms. You’ll stand in the same rooms where the infamous Queen Marie Antoinette would have played as a child, where Napoleon slept when he gained control of Vienna, where Mozart entertained the royal family as a 6-year-old prodigy, and where Franz Joseph took his last breath.
- Location: Schönbrunner Schloßstraße 47, 1130 Wien, Austria
- Hours: 8am – 5pm (Sun – Sat)
- Cost: There are several audio guided tours to choose from:
- Sisi Ticket: 29,00 € (no queues with access to the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments and Silver Collection)
- Grand Tour: 17,50 € (audio guided tour of 40 state rooms)
- Imperial Tour: 14,20 € (audio guided tour of 22 state rooms)
8. Diversity Pedestrian Lights
Love is love is love and Vienna’s Diversity Pedestrian Lights are one of the most beautiful tributes to this fact. Scattered about the city at 47 different crossing zones are traffic lights featuring pictographs of gay, lesbian and straight couples. Each pair is either holding hands or embracing, and each pictograph is topped off with an adorable heart. This project was launched in Vienna in 2015 as the city was about to host on a series of diversity themed events geared toward increasing tolerance and acceptance. The decision was made to keep the installations after the events ended because…why not?! Spotting these lights throughout the city became a game for me and if I had more time I honestly would have set out on a hunt to pinpoint the location of each and every one of them!
- Location: 47 crossing zones located in the city center
- Hours: 24/7
- Cost: Free