Planning a trip to Vienna? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
Between the Alps and the Carpathians, on the largest river in Europe, the Austrian capital has an impressive heritage that spans all ages. In Vienna you can trace the story of the Habsburgs who ruled the Holy Roman Empire, savour the famous Viennese pastries in cafes that were frequented by some of the nineteenth century’s greatest writers, and share the excitement of a new generation that is committed to the artistic avant-garde. Not to mention Vienna’s waltzes, operas, numerous palaces and the heritage of painters who contributed to Vienna’s reputation as a city where culture can be discovered everywhere, around every corner, in every park, street and church.
For your first day, begin in the first district, the historic centre of the city which lies west of the Danube. You can not miss the Stephansdom - St. Stephen's Cathedral – with its spire that rises to a height of 137 metres. Inside, in addition to admiring its remarkable Gothic architecture, you can visit the tombs of the Habsburgs, which will allow you to establish a first contact with this family whose history is inseparable from that of the city.
Not far from the cathedral, via the Graben with its luxury shopping, make your way to Demel, perhaps the most famous pastry shop in the city. It dates from the eighteenth century and used to supply the imperial family. Enjoy the delicious pastries, but don’t forget to admire the beautiful building as well. On your way out, you will notice that you are right in front of the Hofburg, the winter palace of the Habsburgs. But plan on having a good lunch before visiting because there are many things to see and you will certainly spend a good part of the afternoon there. Spend the rest of the morning strolling around the city centre, discovering the many churches and palaces dotted around this area.
In the afternoon, it's time to tackle the famous Imperial Palace, which is now the residence of the President of the Republic of Austria. With 2,600 rooms, you will need some stamina to see everything in this vast palace. Inside, you will find the Sissi Museum dedicated to the beloved Austrian Empress, the Imperial Apartments and the Habsburgs’ treasure. On the way out, if you have time, you could visit the Museum of Art History or the Museum of Vienna.
As a perfect end to this day of exploring the splendours of imperial Vienna, why not go to the opera? The Staatsoper, or State Opera, is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. It is a good idea to check ticket prices and seat placement on the internet before booking.
During your first day, you discovered the winter palace of the imperial family. For the second day, it’s time to visit the Summer Palace, the fabulous Schönbrunn Palace. Located to the west of the city centre, in the 13th arrondissement, it is often compared to the Palace of Versailles, in France. It was designed at a time when French culture was very much in fashion among the royal European courts, during the seventeenth century. You can visit some of the imperial rooms with their magnificent furnishings, in this palace surrounded by glorious parkland that is also open to the public. You will also find the oldest zoo in the world here. In short, you can easily spend an entire day exploring this gem of Austrian heritage and culture.
Return to the city in the late afternoon to sit at one of the many traditional cafes and order one of the local specialties, such as apple strudel, or Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake with jam. In the evening, perhaps you will be tempted by a concert, after all, Vienna is the world capital of classical music. Be aware, however, that the quality can vary, so choose a well known venue such as the Konzerthaus or the Musikverein, one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.
For the third day of your visit, it is time to leave the Habsburgs behind a little, even if there are a thousand imperial Viennese treasures to see. It is time to see some world-class museums, including the Albertina, which lies next to the Hofburg, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna’s Museum of Fine Arts which is located on the Ring, the boulevard that encircles the first district.
Depending on your preference, you could spend the day exploring these two excellent museums, or choose to spend your time at whichever museum interests you more. The Albertina includes one of the richest collections of prints and drawings arts in the world, with nearly one million prints and over 65,000 drawings, including works by Dürer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo Vinci. At the Kunsthistorisches, you can discover works dating from antiquity to the seventeenth century, and the most comprehensive collection of paintings by Brueghel the Elder in the world, including his masterpiece, the famous Tower of Babel.
In the afternoon, depending on the time you have left, you can stroll around the Museumsquartier, a cultural area full of cafes, bars and museums that reflects the revival of Vienna since the fall of the iron curtain in 1990. During the summer, cafes with packed outdoor tables provide a vibrant and buzzing atmosphere.
In order not to get stuck in the city’s past, experience some of the contemporary cultural vitality of Vienna on your last evening. You’ll find that the Viennese youth flock to the banks of the Danube Canal above all, especially to Flex, one of the city’s most famous nightclubs. A little further west, near the Gürthel, you can find WUK, a well-known venue on the Ragga-Dancehall music scene.
Between the splendour of the past and a great contemporary cultural vitality reminiscent of Berlin, Vienna is a curious city, full of discoveries. Three days are hardly enough to scratch the surface as the city is bursting with culture, but at least you will have seen the essentials, and are sure to want to return in the near future.