Visiting Vienna – A City Guide
Vienna, the stately capital of Austria straddling the Danube in the heart of central Europe, is famous for its waltzes, coffeehouses and Habsburg grandeur. Yet beneath the imperial surface and Jugendstil (art nouveau) façades, you’ll find a buzzing modern city with a wealth of art and music, a vibrant nightlife and dining scene and tranquil green spaces.
Vienna: city layout
Vienna will forever be associated with Strauss's "Blue Danube" and the winding Donaukanal (Danube Canal) flows through the city centre. The canal and the imposing imperial Ringstraße separate the former old town, today the First District, from the surrounding Second to Ninth Districts.
The tower of the gothic Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) is a useful orientation point as you wander the narrow, cobbled alleys of the First District. The pedestrian zones of elegant Kärntner Strasse and Graben are the city’s upscale shopping hubs.
The inner districts are easy to navigate on foot, while Vienna’s excellent and occasionally ornate public transport system quickly gets you to outlying sights such as Schönbrunn Palace.
Top attractions in Vienna
The imprint of the Habsburg emperors is visible all over Vienna. The sprawling former residence, the Hofburg Palace, houses the Spanish Riding School with its famous Lipizzaner horses, the Imperial Apartments and the Sisi Museum, dedicated to tragic Empress Elisabeth.
Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburgs’ opulent Baroque summer residence, is a 15-minute U-Bahn (underground) ride from the city centre. Vienna’s zoo, the world’s oldest, is set amid Schönbrunn’s vast, manicured gardens. A ride on the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris Wheel), famously featured in the film “The Third Man”, offers a bird’s-eye view of the city, the Danube and the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods).
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Vienna
Vienna offers accommodations to suit every need and wallet. There are small, family-run guesthouses, hip boutique establishments, modern hotels catering to budget-conscious business travellers or families and world-renowned luxury hotels steeped in tradition.
Hotels in the First District or near the Ringstraße put you steps away from upscale shopping on Kärntner Straße, Graben and Kohlmarkt and close to numerous central restaurants, cafés and bars. Many landmarks are within walking distance either on or near the Ringstraße.
The inner districts bordering the Ringstraße, such as the Fourth and Fifth, are home to markets like the vibrant Naschmarkt, small shops and inexpensive neighbourhood cafés and restaurants. Vienna’s efficient public transport connects to all of these sights and areas.
Eating Out in Vienna
Vienna will tempt you with restaurants and cafés of all styles and prices. Traditional dishes tend to be meaty, but vegetarians will find plenty of options. You’ll also be able to sample many global cuisines.
The First District and the Ringstraße are home to Vienna’s most renowned restaurants, with name chefs serving gourmet takes on traditional cuisine in an upscale setting.
Dining in the outer districts are generally less expensive, with excellent Viennese cuisine served at neighbourhood Beisln, the local version of the bistro. There are clusters of hip cafés and restaurants on the Naschmarkt and around Margaretenplatz in the Fifth District.
Vienna’s lavish cakes and pastries are legendary, and no trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to a traditional coffeehouse to sample them – and to enjoy the languid pace of Viennese life.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Vienna
Vienna offers a wealth of choice for the serious shopper, from exclusive boutiques and stylish malls to boisterous markets and edgy, independent shops. Favourite souvenirs include Swarovski crystals, Augarten porcelain, Manner sweets and traditional clothing.
Shopping in the First District is centred on pedestrianised Kärntner Strasse and Graben, both populated by international flagship stores. Venture into the side streets and you’ll find exclusive boutiques, antiques stores, delicatessens and traditional Austrian clothing retailers.
Vienna’s busiest shopping street Mariahilfer Strasse has local and international clothes stores, electronics, furniture, food and more. The streets of the nearby Fourth to Seventh Districts are a treasure trove of edgy boutiques and innovative design stores.
The vibrant Naschmarkt, Vienna’s largest and most colourful market, is a foodie heaven with an array of global dishes and products to sample and buy. It expands on Saturdays to include a bustling, high-end flea market where century-old treasures can occasionally be found.
Top souvenir shops in Vienna
Culture & Nightlife in Vienna
Vienna is known as a city of music, and music is at the heart of its performing arts scene. It’s home to several of the world’s most renowned concert and opera venues, concentrated around the Ringstraße.
Vienna’s museums house some of the world’s most important art collections, including classical painting at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and modern art in the MuseumsQuartier. The city is also dotted with small independent galleries, especially in the First District and around Schleifmühlgasse in the Fourth District.
The First District is brimming with bars, many of them chic places where being seen is the highest priority. In summer, the banks of the Donaukanal come alive with open-air beach bars with a chilled-beat soundtrack. You’ll find an array of hip but relaxed bars and cafés in the Fourth and Fifth Districts..
Vienna’s best music venues
The Vienna tourist information website has an events programme.
Visiting Vienna with a Family
Vienna’s leisurely pace and array of parks and green spaces make it an ideal destination for a family vacation. You’ll find plenty of activities geared to kids, and many restaurants and cafés cater to children.
WienXtrakinderinfo in the MuseumsQuartier provides information on children’s activities. You can leave the kids at supervised exhibitions at Zoom Children’s Museum while you take in one of MQ’s four other museums, or let them burn off energy while you enjoy coffee under the trees in the main courtyard.
The Prater is a swathe of parkland with lots of playgrounds and space for kids to run wild. The Wurstelprater amusement park has rides for all ages as well as panoramic views from the Riesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel.
The manicured grounds of Schönbrunn Palace are home to Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world’s oldest zoo and one of the most animal-friendly. The palace park also has an adventure playground and a labyrinth.
Vienna’s top hands-on museums