Vienna is a marvellous city steeped in culture – from beautiful architecture to enchanting history to famous artwork. There is a lot to see in Vienna but it is possible to see the main sights in 3 days.
However, if you want to explore all of the main sights plus some lesser known ones, then you may need longer to serve each magical place justice. When we visited, we spent 3 days exploring this city and we did manage to fit a lot into our trip to help make it a memorable one.
I will share with you a 3 day itinerary to help give you some ideas of what to see during your short stay in this fabulous city.
Below is a quick overview map to show you what sights are included in the itinerary and there is more detail below for those of you who want to find out more.
Along the way, look out for some insider tips I’ve included that detail useful and important information! Enjoy!
Your first day will most likely be spent arriving into Vienna, unpacking and checking into your hotel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also see some sights on your first day!
Vienna is such an easy city to get around by public transport. I’d recommend buying a Wien-Karte travel card at the airport, which gives you 24, 48 or 72 hours worth of transport across buses, trains and the U-Bahn (subway). It also gives you exclusive discounts off of entry to some of the most popular sights in the city! Find out more about the Wien-Karte here.
Insider tip: if you’re hoping to catch the City Airport Train from the airport then you’d need to purchase separate tickets as that train isn’t included in the travel pass. More on the CAT train here. However, you can use your ticket on a regional train to get you from airport to city centre – it just takes a little longer as it has more stops. We got the regional train and it took about 45 mins to get us from A to B.
So, although you want to get out and about on your first day, nothing beats starting off your visit slowly and just taking in the sights and getting used to your new surroundings.
Why not take a quick trip to St Stephen’s Cathedral via the U-Bahn? A visit to St Stephen’s Cathedral is a must for any visitor as it really is an iconic symbol of Vienna and is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria.
The Cathedral can be photographed and appreciated in less than an hour, so it’s a good place to start off at a relaxing pace.
Getting there: Hop off the U-Bahn at Stephansplatz and take a quick 2 minute stroll to the Cathedral.
When visiting in March 2015, it was free entry into the main part of the Cathedral so that we could take some photos. Insider tip: there are many people outside the Cathedral selling tickets to the Opera for discounted rates, so this is a good place to snap up a bargain if you did fancy a show whilst you’re in town.
At this point, you could be getting a little hungry and wanting to experience some traditional Austrian food. I’d recommend taking a romantic walk along the canal before heading to Gasthaus Reinthaler restaurant. This restaurant offers a much more traditional approach to Viennese food as well as really friendly staff who can help you pick something delicious from their menu. A walk by the canal followed by delicious food offers some peace and tranquillity within this beautiful city and helps to make your first day a relaxing one before your action-packed second day.
In order to make the most of your second day, you should beat the crowds by starting early. Today will be mostly spent in the Museumsquartier allowing you to find out about the historic side to Vienna including learning more about the Habsburg Royal family.
Getting there: Hop onto the U-Bahn and jump off at the Museumsquartier stop and you’ll find all of the main sights here within a few minutes walk of each other. Nice and simple!
I’d suggest starting at Kunsthistoriches Museum as it is a very large museum, and easily takes a few hours to explore properly. If you’re starting early in the morning, then you can take your time photographing the outside of the building before exploring the exhibits inside whilst avoiding the crowds. Insider tip: the museum opens at 10am but is closed on Mondays.
There are an incredible amount of exhibits here and they are remarkable. From interesting sculptures to Egyptian exhibits and incredible artwork, this is a truly captivating museum.
Once you’ve seen all there is to see here, I’d recommend stopping off at the Cafe Hofburg for tea or coffee and exquisite cake. This is quite a posh little cafe but the staff are super friendly – so there’s no need to worry about being turned away if you have traveller skin and hair! Just enjoy a relaxing sit down, delicious cake and refreshing tea or coffee before continuing with your day. When in Vienna, you should definitely opt to try Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake that the Austrians have become renowned for. And if travelling later in the year, you should consider Austrian Christmas cookies!
Anyway, after treating the foodie side of you, take a short walk across to the Austrian National Library (Nationalbibliothek) which costs about €6 to enter. If you are a lover of books like I am, then I can assure you that this will be money well spent. You will be faced with walls and walls of antique leather bound books, as well as glass cases of truly remarkable ancient books and documents.
You will even spot an old map towards the back of the library – why not spend a few minutes locating countries you’ve visited before and seeing what they used to be called…you may be surprised by a few of the names!
To fully appreciate the books and documents here as well as how beautiful the building itself is, I’d recommend staying here for about an hour before heading to Hofburg Palace, which is just around the corner.
Hofburg Palace was once home to the Habsburg family during winter, and one of the first things you will notice about their old home is how elegant and classy everything is. They say Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) was a total trendsetter in her day regarding her fashions, and her home fits this bill entirely as well.
The Palace is of typical Baroque architecture and all original furnishings inside have been well looked after to help you imagine how grand everything was during their reign.
Did you know? Sisi was not meant to be Empress! She traveled to the Imperial court with her elder sister Helene when she was 15. It was actually Helene who was intended as Emperor Franz Joseph’s betrothed! But he couldn’t help but be captivated by Sisi’s free-spirited beauty.
Aside from the beautiful architecture, furnishings and clothes you will see exhibited throughout their home turned museum, you will also stumble across some of the most dazzling jewellery, crown jewels and crystals you will ever see.
As can be expected from Royal dwellings, it is of a very large size with rooms galore, so I would recommend setting aside 3-4 hours to see everything. For us, we spent most of our afternoon here after lunch before walking to see Karlskirche, having some dinner and then spending the evening at Prater theme park. If you’d like to follow in our footsteps, read on for what to do after seeing Hofburg Palace.
Karlskirche is only a 15 minute walk from the Palace allowing you to see a little more of Vienna’s beauty along the way. In our case we witnessed a peaceful protest happening on the way, which was quite interesting to see!
Karlskirche is a typical Baroque church with contrasting white and green domes – it’s an iconic image and certainly worth getting a shot or two from outside. We decided not to go into the church as we were limited for time, but if you’re here for longer than 3 days you could pop inside or perhaps you’d prefer to swap Karlskirche for something else on this itinerary?
After everything you’ve done today, dinner is definitely on the cards! Bier und Bierli is not too far from Karlskirche and is a really good choice for yet more traditional Viennese food. There are plenty of other restaurants nearby as well in case something else takes your fancy.
Now, how about having some silly fun in the evening and a ride on an ancient ferris wheel to see some stunning sights of the city lit up at night? If that sounds good, an evening spent at Prater theme park it is!
Getting there: You’ll need to head on over to the Prater theme park via U-Bahn as it’s slightly further out of the city. Hop off at Praterstern B station and then you’ll just have a couple of minutes to walk.
Prater is a fairly large theme park / fun fair with common attractions like roller coasters, bumper cars, prize winning games and fun houses but it is also home to the Wiener Riesenrad ferris wheel, which offers delightful views across the city. As we were heading up later in the evening, we thought this added even more charm to the view as we could see the city lights for miles!
Insider tip: head to the Vienna Tourist Office and pick up a Prater coupon book before going to the park. You can get a couple of Euros off of many of the rides, which will add up if you plan on spending many hours here and going on lots of fairground rides.
Phew! What a jam-packed second day – the day after will be slightly more slower paced, don’t you worry!
In our case, we visited both Belvedere Palace and Schonbrunn Palace on the same day split across morning and afternoon. However, if we were to do the trip again we would likely pick one or the other so I’ve tried to make it like that in this itinerary.
First up, is Belvedere Palace. Belvedere is a stunning Palace with beautiful, large gardens.
However, looks can be deceiving from the outside – this is not your typical palace where you may expect to find jewels and furnished rooms inside. Instead, you will be captivated by multiple floors of extraordinary artwork as well as Klimt’s famous ‘The Kiss’.
If you’re interested in art as well as history, then this is the place to come in Vienna. However, be prepared to spend a few hours here. As with any Palace, there are many rooms and floors to explore and you will be captivated by the artwork and want some time to admire everything you see.
If art isn’t quite your cup of tea, then I would highly recommend visiting Schonbrunn Palace & Gardens instead.
You can explore the insides of this sweeping palace, but I’d say it’s the gardens you will have come to see.
The gardens are vast with lookout points across the city as well as its own zoo complete with mazes and pandas as part of your entrance fee.
Insider tip: if you followed my advice earlier and bought the Wien-Karte, then you will receive some money off your entrance fee here.
As we visited on a dry day, we wanted to spend as much time as possible outside so we bought the cheaper ticket for the Imperial Tour of Schonbrunn inside so that we could spend the rest of the day wandering through the gardens, walking up to the viewpoint and exploring the zoo. (We were most excited to see the pandas and polar bear)!
However, if you’d like to see more of the Palace inside then you can see an extra 20 rooms with the Grand Tour ticket for not too much extra money. Either way, there are several tour options available to suit everyone’s interests and budget.
I’ve been told by many reliable sources that a trip to Vienna should always include watching a performance at the Vienna State Opera house (Weiner Staatsoper). Today, the Vienna State Opera (home to Vienna’s world class Philharmonic Orchestra) is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. Not only that, but the building itself is of outstanding beauty (both inside and out).
If you are musically inclined, why not end your visit to Vienna with an evening at the opera? It is possible to get tickets to shows on the day but if you’re after a particular show then booking in advance is crucial. And if you’re hoping to attend the opera but have a bit of a tight budget, then Jordan from Inspired By Maps has put together this guide on how to get standing room tickets!
Well, there you have it – my not so official guide to spending an exquisite 3 days in Vienna. What did you think? Would you visit anywhere else in Vienna? Share your own thoughts, comments and experiences of Vienna below…
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