Arriving into Vienna (translated to Wien in German, one of the most commonly used languages in Austria) on the train from Salzburg, I immediately noticed the difference from the picturesque mountains of Salzburg to the metropolitan city of Vienna. In fact, at first I didn’t think I was going to like Vienna but it grew on me each day. Vienna is known for its opera, Habsburgs history and good coffee, wine and schnitzel, all of which we experienced over three days in Vienna. Did you know that Austria is also where Hitler was born?
How to get there
After three nights in Salzburg, we caught the WestBahn train to Vienna for €26.50 each. It takes about 2.5 hours.
Where to stay
We chose to stay along the Danube River near Schottenring station. You can walk to most points of interest from there in 25 minutes other than the Schönbrunn Palace. For three nights we paid around €270 and that included a €29 cleaning fee.
Things to see and do
The top five things to do in Vienna in our opinion are:
- Walking tour to uncover the history tucked away behind the modern buildings and shops
- Get a taste of the opera with up to €4 standing tickets at the Vienna State Opera House
- Visit the Schönbrunn Palace to see where the Habsburgs lived and entertained
- Take a walk through the State Hall library located in the Hofburg Palace
- Ride the new and old theme park rides at Prater, one of the oldest theme parks in the world
Where to eat and drink
Eat at Bier and Bierli for traditional Austrian food surrounded by over 20,000 beer cans from around the world. Enjoy a cocktail from the rooftop bar Der Dachboden for spectacular views of the city. Continue the party in the Bermuda Triangle particularly First Floor for a cocktail, Casablanca for live music and the Slammer Bar for cheap drinks.
- Most shops are closed on Sunday as Austria is mostly a Roman Catholic country
- Book restaurants in advance to avoid disappointment
- Book Schönbrunn Palace in advance and arrive early
- Book the Grand Tour (as a minimum) at the Schönbrunn Palace to see 40 rooms over one hour
- Arrive at the opera 90 minutes in advance for the €4 standing tickets
Day 1 – Dinner at Bier and Bierli and the 25 Hours Hotel where everyone is mad
From Vienna Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) to Schottenring station it only took us about 15 minutes and cost €2.20 each. As we waited outside our accommodation we knew our host was on the way as another lady kindly gestured towards us to acknowledge us whilst anxiously appearing to be waiting for someone.
More recently we have chosen to stay in apartments instead of hotels. This place particularly felt like a home to locals as a resident puffed on a cigarette out front, even more so as our host led us through the foyer and courtyard towards our ground floor apartment. The apartment was spacious and clean and really great value. The only reason I’ve not named and recommended it is because the advertisement is slightly misleading in that we expected a waterfront view. Instead the building is a short walk from the waterfront and the only view is out into the courtyard.
Our host gave us lots of useful information on things to see and do, where to eat and drink and how to get around. First we walked to the local Billa to stock up on supplies but unfortunately our host told us to go there thinking it was Saturday when it was actually Sunday (for which she apologised profusely). Billa was closed! Oh well, great opportunity for a nap before exploring Vienna at night.
To make sure we were avoiding the tourist traps, we did our own research on places to eat and drink. We came across the website likealocalguide.com and thanks to their insider tips we found Bier and Bierli and Der Dachboden rooftop bar. The food at Bier and Bierli is delicious. We’d had enough schnitzel and goulash so instead went for the Viennese fried chicken and steak with potatoes. The walls are lined with over 20,000 beers cans from around the world and you can’t help but try and find beer cans from your home country.
From Bier and Bierli, we walked around 15 minutes to the Der Dachboden rooftop bar. It’s located at the top of the 25 Hours Hotel and as you get closer you can see the neon lights that read ‘twenty five hours hotel / come as you are; we are all mad here’. I already liked this place but was a little nervous as we took the elevator to the top floor of what appeared to be a very dark building. Der Dachboden is decorated and furnished in a unique way including drums as lights above the bar and colourful lanterns dotted around the place. Enjoying a cocktail on the balcony looking out at the different buildings lit up across the city was simply the perfect way to end our first day in Vienna.
Day 2 – Free walking tour and Prater, one of the oldest theme parks in the world
After a cheap and cheerful breakfast at home, we made our way into the city centre for the free walking tour we booked with Original Europe Tours. It starts near St Stephen’s Cathedral at 11am and takes around 2 hours. We were early so managed to fit in a coffee at a nearby cafe before finding our group leader.
To begin with I felt like all I could see was modern shop after modern shop. Even H&M had taken over the well-known clothing store Braun & Co in a beautiful historical building. Where did all the history go? But it’s there and a walking tour is the perfect was to discover it amongst everything else. So where do I start? Firstly St Stephen’s Cathedral was the tallest building in Europe until the 17th century. Its architecture is Gothic style and limestone, therefore needing to be renovated 365 days a year as it quickly turns black. Only four weeks ago bones were discovered on the site from the 17th century because it used to be a graveyard that was moved outside of the city.
As we continued on our guide explained the statue of Emperor Leopold, built to symbolise thanks to the plague being conquered. Around the corner she pointed out the Massimo Dutti store and explained that Hitler used to work there on the third floor. He was a technical drawer for an architect until he was fired for not being smart enough and a note on his file referred to him as ‘somewhat crazy’. Hitler tried to get into the fine arts school but after being unsuccessful made his way to Germany where his political ideas were more welcomed. But as we explored the Hofburg Palace, the imperial winter residence for the Habsburgs dynasty rulers, our guide pointed out the balcony where Hitler stood in 1938 after returning to Austria and delivered a speech to thousands and thousands of people, some of which our guide said, supported Hitler’s views. It’s a lot to take in being so close to these buildings that are part of the not so distant history of Hitler.
The Hofburg Palace is interesting to explore, even more so with a guide to point out where the old drawbridge used to be, show us a picture of how the Palace used to look and to give recommendations on other areas of the Palace to see including the crown jewels and State Hall library. The walking tour finished above the monument against war and fascism behind Vienna’s Opera House which was built to commemorate the dark years when Austria came under Nazi rule (1938 to 1945). Sadly hundreds of people were buried alive here when the cellar they were using as shelter was demolished. It was a sad but interesting way to end the tour and we thanked our guide with a €10 tip each.
For lunch we walked to the Naschmarkt to see what we could find. It’s a food market with lots of eat-in and take-away options offering cuisines from all over the world. It was lightly raining so not buzzing and full of people but we found a restaurant offering people watching possibilities and took a seat outside where we enjoyed a(nother) schnitzel and glass of wine. Having researched the State Hall library online coupled with the positive recommendation from our walking tour guide, we returned there after lunch. It is the biggest Baroque library in Europe and one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Even more impressive than the Trinity College library in Dublin. Cost is €7 per person.
It was time to go home and relax with snacks and drinks after a full day of sightseeing. I had every intention of not going anywhere in the evening other than to get dinner but Harry decided that tonight would be the best time to go to Prater, one of the oldest theme parks in the world. So we did (you’re welcome Harry). It’s only a few stops away on the Metro from Schottenring station and of course when we arrived it was raining and completely dead. I’d go so far as saying it was nightmare material with its giant clown ride and not seeing another person for at least two minutes. Anyway at least we got ourselves some pizza for dinner, planned out which rides we wanted to go on tomorrow and did the Hotel Psycho ghost train. The cost was €5 each for this graphic and gruesome extra long ghost train experience just before bedtime.
Day 3 – Schönbrunn Palace, back to Prater for indoor skydiving and opera for €3 each
We almost weren’t going to bother with Schönbrunn Palace as the number one must see in Vienna because of having to compete with the other tourists. But after visiting, we recommend that you visit too. Book online at least 24 hours beforehand to secure your entry. We booked for 10am and it wasn’t as busy as expected but I wouldn’t book much later. As we exited the Palace around 11am it was packed and there were more large groups entering the Palace grounds.
Highlights of the Palace tour with English audio guide (and a sneaky listen to the English speaking tour guide with a group) were seeing the stunning Great Gallery, learning that Mozart performed here at six years old and that Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria during the Habsburg dynasty ruled until 1918 and passed away in 1922. Not that long ago in the scheme of things! And their descendants are of course, still alive. The Palace has 1441 rooms and I would recommend getting the Grand Tour ticket as a minimum to see 40 rooms compared to only 22 rooms on the Imperial Tour. It’s worth the extra €3!
Well, there was no getting away from going back to Prater. Theme parks are one of Harry’s favourite places. Funnily enough it was STILL raining. But at least there were a few more people around. We did the indoor rollercoaster which started with a surprise mirror maze (I hate those things) but overall it was so much fun! How they fit it all indoors I’ll never know. There were lots of rides closed but we still had a good time and stopped in at the Schweizerhaus for a beer.
The main reason we were back at Prater was actually for Harry’s appointment at the Windobona for his first ever indoor skydiving experience. Cost is about €50 for two short minutes in the air but there’s quite a bit of briefing, training and gearing up for the experience. The instructor showed us how it was done afterwards as he literally flew around the wind tunnel using small movements with his head and body to turn, fly up and down and rest in one spot as air at wind speeds of up to 280km/h whizzed by.
For dinner we had a quick chicken roll at home and shared a beer before making our way to the opera. We’d read online that you should be there at least 60 to 90 minutes in advance for the standing tickets and they weren’t wrong. We arrived about one hour beforehand and missed out on the €4 standing tickets which have a slightly better view. The truth is, the standing tickets do not have the best view way up at the top. If you’re not wedded to seeing the full performance, it’s a great opportunity to see inside the venue, experience part of the opera, get a few selfies and be on your way. On 12 September we saw Le Nozze di Figaro and if I had a seat I would have loved to stay until the end. Then I could focus all my energy on trying to understand what was going on instead of trying to comfortably stand for a long period of time, peer down at only half the stage in view and manoeuvre around the elbow in my side from the person next to me trying to claim their space. But for €3 you can’t go wrong.
It was our last night in Austria so with our early departure from the opera we went to the Bermuda Triangle. I bet you’re wondering what that is? It’s essentially an area of town with different bar options and we really mixed it up with cocktails at First Floor, live music at Casablanca and €3 large glasses of wine at Slammer Bar with bras hanging from the ceiling. There’s something for everyone!
Day 4 – Ring Tram
We had half a day left to enjoy Vienna before having to make our way to the airport. The weather was perfect! We heard the local cat wish us good morning and I jumped up to give it the cat food we had purchased from the supermarket the previous day. It was a bit scruffy and appeared to be stray so I kept patting to a minimum especially given that we were leaving. I hope it gets the love it deserves.
The Ring Tram starts from Schwedenplatz and costs €9 each for a 25 minute journey. The circular route it takes actually follows where the old city walls used to be, and as our walking tour guide told us, this circle is where you’ll find most of the important buildings in Vienna. There is an audio guide onboard explaining the beautiful buildings as we passed by, including the Rathaus. This is the town hall we spotted from the Der Dachboden rooftop bar on our very first night.
If you’re visiting Salzburg while in Austria, read about our 3 days in Salzburg including how to get there, where to stay, things to see and do, general tips and our travel itinerary and daily diary.