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Looking for tips on what to do in Vienna?
As part of our city guides series we interviewed Doris Neubauerwho grew up in the countryside about 40 minutes away from the “big city”, and when she was 18 moved to Vienna to study and lived there for about 14 years.
Doris share’s with us her insider travel tips and knowledge on what to do in Vienna for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore. Take it away Doris…
There are many reasons why to visit Vienna.
For some it´s one of the historically important old cities in Europe, for others the core of the classical music scene, for others a place famous for its architecture such as Jugendstil, for others a must-go in terms of theatre and culture.
And all of them are right.
But Vienna is more, the clean, functioning, a little bit slow and old city has a unique charm. Within and behind the old walls, there is a young heart pulsating, vibrating and showing it’s creativity. And if you listen and watch carefully, you can experience it yourself.
For me, the best thing to do in Vienna is sit in one of the typical Viennese coffeeshops such as Hawelka, Sperl or Rüdigerhof, order a coffee like Melange or Cappuccino – no, not the Italian one – and watch the people.
I am sure you get a feeling of the city and its inhabitants by spending an afternoon like this imagining that philosophers, students, politicians have been sitting exactly where you are sitting now centuries ago and that the most important movements and decisions were given birth to in coffee shops.
You cannot and should not avoid the 1st district with all the historical buildings along the Ring or around the St. Stephens square.
But you should also go further. To the Naschmarkt area, not only looking at the market stands but also a bit up to all the beautiful Jugendstil buildings of the right and left. On both sides of the Naschmarkt, both in the 6th and in the 4th and 5th district, you can find nice restaurants to eat and sometimes tiny, interesting boutiques.
I also like the 2nd district, the former Jewish district with its reminders of this very important group in Vienna.
If you love the countryside or greener areas, don’t miss going up on one of the hills such as Kahlenberg or Cobenzl and to explore a bit of the Wienerwald (Viennese forest) – passing by you can go the Heurigendorf Grinzing, which is more a touristy spot now but still quite lovely. Just don´t eat or drink anything there as it is more expensive than in other places.
If you really want to go to a Heuriger, the typical wine-tavern with home made food and home made wine, you should definitely try to go to the countryside (Lower Austria) or in the outer districts such as the 23rd or 21st district of Vienna.
There are restaurants for everyone, every taste and every special need in Vienna.
A good source for food is the website “Wien wie es isst” where you can search for anything you want – food wise. Unfortunately, the website is only in German.
Another good source of what LOCALS love and where they go is Spottedbylocals: Here you can find tips and must-goes recommended by inhabitants of Vienna.
Some sweet desert such as Apfelstrudel, Topfenstrudel or some of the cakes in a Viennese café. But please, don´t take the highly overrated Sacher Torte, almost every desert is better than this dry chocolate cake which is only pricey because of the name.
For people who are not vegetarians like me, there is another typical Viennese dish – especially after a long night: The “Eitrige”, a hot sausage with cheese you get on the many stands everywhere in the city.
Spottedbylocals is a good source for bars and clubs.
A good location to spend a night in town always is the area around the 7th and 8th district, as lots of bars but also nightclubs are located here. Or to say it with the words of a friend: From the pre-drinking to dancing the night away, here you can find everything. And everything is within walking distance.
For the preparty, I can recommend either the quite new “Dachboden” at the 25hrs Hotel or the more traditional Café Europa, also the quite interesting Donau or Café Leopold are good for pre-glow as well as the later part of the night.
If you are more the hostel-type, I heard good things about Wombats Hostels.
If you want to save money AND meet locals, I can recommend CouchSurfing – you stay with locals on their couch, in their homes, and most of the time, the experience is less touristy than in a hostel or hotel.
Moreover, the community in Vienna is pretty active and there are lots of things going on every single day.
You should never visit Vienna without going to the Naschmarkt, the oldest market area in Vienna, where you can find everything from organic bread to Asian food supplies to Turkish delights.
If you want to go for vegetable-fruit-or spices-shopping, that is the right place. Smaller versions of these traditional Viennese markets are Rochus Markt, Freyung or Karmelitermarkt. (you can find more about the markets and actually everything about Vienna at http://www.wien.gv.at/english/
And on Saturdays, there is a huge fleamarket on the Naschmarkt area as well.
The big shopping street is Mariahilfer Straße, and of course you can also go high-end-shopping for Gucci & Co. in Kärntner Straße and around St. Stephens Church.
But if you are interested in more unique clothes, you should go a little further within the 7th district.
Just behind the big commercial shopping street Mariahilfer Straße, you can find small boutiques as well as Austrian and international designers in Lindengasse, Siebensterngasse, Kirchengasse and this neighbourhood.
A good source for shops is Die Stadtspionin, only in German though.
A good source for events in the city are the official website of the city http://www.wien.gv.at/english/.
Some of the major events or festivals are the Vienna City Marathon, the party against HIV/ AIDS Life Ball, the famous Opernball, the biggest European open-air festival Donauinselfest, the theatre festival Wiener Festwochen and Viennale, the movie-festival – but there is something going on all the time.
When visiting a city, I LOVE to walk – it is a big part of the experience, of the adventure for me: getting lost in the city.
In Vienna, everything (touristy) is within walking distance. And if you are tired of walking around, you can take the underground or the buses or trams.
You can find your way either by asking around or by planing in advance via http://www.wien.gv.at/englis. Unfortunately, the better version is the German one where you can also find out your exact route and which public transport you should take to getting there: http://www.wien.gv.at/
Arriving in Vienna, you have WiFi access for free at the airport – but don´t take it for granted.
In the city itself you don´t find WiFi spots that easy. Yes, there are plenty of Cafés and Restaurants with WiFi, but the public buildings are still no equipped with free internet.
There is hardly a “best Time of Year” to visit Vienna.
Personally, I am enchanted by the winter time right before Christmas as there are lots of traditional (and touristy) Christmas markets everywhere in the city, everything illuminated and has a special old charm.
But then, I also adore spring and autumn when the first sun rays are out and – as if everyone was hiding during the sometimes harsh winters – now, there are people everywhere. It feels like an awakening of the city, especially here in Vienna.
Especially by travellers from the US or Asia, Vienna is mostly mistaken for being one of the Cities of Eastern Europe.
Well, I have to tell you, it is not. It is exactly in the heart of Europe and easily, directly accessible via train by other “old” cities such as Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Munich.
As a traveller, I would never rent a car going to or from Vienna to any of these cities – even though it might be easy, it definitely is expensive and not worth the trouble.
If you want to get there by air plane, the airport for the cheap airline Ryanair actually is not in Vienna but in Bratislava (even if you book “Vienna” for example, the airport is Bratislava).
That´s not a problem, as there are buses waiting for you at the airport in Bratislava to take you to my city. I still prefer Air Berlin, which takes off from the airport in Vienna.
Getting there by the way, you can either take the – expensive – CAT (city airport train) or the – cheaper – bus from the city centre or train from Landstraße-Hauptstraße (U4/ U3 station).
I would recommend nothing less than Am Himmel – which means “in paradise” or “in heaven” in English. I actually do not know if this place is part of the guidebooks, but even if it is, I recommend going there – especially if the weather is nice.
I hosted a lot of couchsurfers and got plenty of visitors from foreign countries, and usually, as a tourist you hardly go there as it is not as easily accessible as other places.
Am Himmel is an outdoor area where you not only have a great view at Vienna, you feel like on the countryside even though it´s in the city. I said it´s not as accessible as other places, but it still is accessible without car: Just take the bus 38A from the U4 stop in Heiligenstadt to Cobenzl.
Then you have to walk a bit up the hill and at the crossing of Himmelstraße / Höhenstraße there´s the entrance to the restaurant Oktogon Am Himmel. I usually get lost there, but in the end, I always find my way.
A little bit passed the restaurant Oktogon, you can find a celtic tree horoscop or Lebensbaumkreis as it is called in German.
While resting and preparing a picnic, you can search for YOUR tree which symbolizes your life, tells you more about your personality … and by the way, I am a fig.
I have to quote a friend answering this question: “Vienna, you can love or hate it. It depends if the sun is shining or not.“
Today, the sun was shining, reflecting images in the golden ornaments of the old buildings, and I loved Vienna sitting in the Stadtpark, watching students having a picnic in the grass, busy suit-wearers talking on the phone and old ladies walking their dogs chatting about the latest disaster with their neighbours.
And all this took place in the green heart of this city of old buildings and piles of history, which sometimes seems to never change but in the end really does.
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BIO – Coming from a small Austrian village, Doris feels most at home on the road. Her list of things to be seen and experienced is endless. And when her feet get too itchy again, she packs her backpack and moves on to the next adventure.
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