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A bookcase full of old books in the Vienna library

3 Days in Vienna: The Best Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

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Vienna is a marvellous city steeped in culture and is perfect for a European city break and long weekend. From beautiful architecture, to enchanting history, to famous artwork, there is a lot to see in Vienna but this 3 days in Vienna itinerary aims to show you how you can see all the best bits!

I hope this 3 days in Vienna itinerary gives you some great ideas of what to see during your short stay in this fabulous city. Along the way, look out for some insider tips I’ve included that detail useful and important information! 

Let’s go…

3 Days in Vienna – Day 1

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 the Vienna City Card (Wien-Karte) 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! Check prices for the Vienna City Card 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. Read more about the CAT train here. However, you can use your ticket on a regional train to get you from the airport to the 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.

Anyway, for the best 3 days in Vienna, nothing beats starting off your visit slowly and just taking in the sights and getting used to your new surroundings, which is why your first day will be spent settling in, seeing a few small sights and wandering along the canals…

Sightseeing Spot #1: St Stephen’s Cathedral

St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

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 first-time 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. When visiting in March 2015, it was free entry into the main part of the Cathedral so that we could take some photos.

Getting there: Hop off the U-Bahn at Stephansplatz and take a quick 2 minute stroll to the Cathedral.  

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 fancy a show whilst you’re in town.

Dinner Spot: Gasthaus Reinthaler

At this point, you’re probably 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 tranquility within this beautiful city and helps to make your first day a relaxing one before your action-packed second day.

Walk by the Vienna canal

3 Days in Vienna – Day 2

In order to make the most of your second day in Vienna, 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 of 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!

Sightseeing Spot #2: Kunsthistoriches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Lunch Spot: Cafe Hofburg

Once you’ve seen all there is to see in the musuem, I’d recommend stopping off at 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 a refreshing tea or coffee before continuing on with your day. When in Vienna, you should definitely 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!

Sightseeing Spot #3: Nationalbibliothek

After treating the foodie side of you, take a short walk across to the Austrian National Library (Nationalbibliothek) which costs €7 to enter (prices correct as of September 2o18). 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 wall upon wall 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 see 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 in the library for about an hour before heading to Hofburg Palace, which is (conveniently) just around the corner.

Sightseeing #4: Hofburg Palace

Gold Hofburg Palace Vienna

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 really helps to demonstrate this.

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 travelled 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.

Hofburg Palace Crown Jewels, Vienna

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.

Hofburg Palace jewels, Vienna

As can be expected from Royal dwellings, it’s a huge palace 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 more of this awesome 3 days in Vienna itinerary!

Sightseeing Spot #5: Karlskirche

Karlskirche, Vienna

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 in this Vienna itinerary?

Karlsplatz, Vienna

Dinner Spot: Bier und Bierli

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 Austrian food. There are plenty of other restaurants nearby as well in case something else takes your fancy. 

Sightseeing Spot #6: Prater Theme Park

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!

City view from Reisenrad Wheel, Vienna

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!

City view from the Reisenrad Wheel, Vienna

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. Your third day in Vienna will be slightly more slower paced, don’t you worry!

3 Days in Vienna – Day 3

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 Vienna itinerary.

Sightseeing Spot #7: Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

First up, is Belvedere Palace, which 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 kept captivated by multiple floors of extraordinary artwork as well as Klimt’s famous painting: ‘The Kiss’ (photos of it are unfortunately not permitted).

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

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 (including the gardens).

Sightseeing Spot #8: Schonbruun Palace & Gardens

Schloss Schonbrunn, Vienna

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 Vienna City Card, then you will receive some money off your entrance fee at Schonbrunn Palace.

Schloss Schonbrunn, Vienna

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.

Sightseeing Spot #9: Weiner Staatsoper

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 3 day 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, this guide on how to get standing room tickets should help!

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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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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