Vienna Guide: Planning Your Trip

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TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Vienna looms large in the popular imagination as a European city that's steeped in history and elegance. When you picture the city, you might imagine well-dressed denizens drinking coffee in lavishly decorated cafés, or enjoying an evening at Vienna's world-famous opera. Its reputation for quaint—or even old-fashioned—style is a firm one. Yet the capital of Austria is more diverse and contemporary than you might imagine. Dynamic yet relaxed, the mid-sized city harbors trendy galleries, world-class wineries, a vibrant nightlife scene, and plenty of youthful energy.

Read on for our full tips on planning a vacation in Vienna, including information and advice on the best time of year to visit, the best things to see and do, where to eat, and how to get around.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The city is at its best in the summer, when long days, lively festivals, and a relaxed ambience reign. In the early winter, holiday markets and postcard-perfect scenery offer a cozy backdrop.

Language: German is Austria's official language, though English is commonly spoken in Vienna.

Currency: The Euro has been Austria's official currency since 2002.

Getting Around: As Central Vienna is fairly small, it's easy to get around on foot. The extensive tram system is also user-friendly and practical, though some visitors may want to use the affordable city bike scheme (note that sticking to bike paths is recommended).

Travel Tip: If you're visiting during high season, remember that early birds succeed in avoiding the biggest crowds. We suggest hitting up museums, palaces, and other popular attractions as soon as they open, and going on weekdays if possible.

Things to Do

If you've never been to Vienna, visiting the main museums and monuments in the Hofburg Palace Complex—including the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Silver Collection—is highly recommended. Also spend a few hours exploring the nearby MuseumsQuartier, where museums like Leopoldsmuseum and Kunsthalle Wien feature masterpieces from the likes of Gustav Klimt. After that, wander through the old-fashioned, grand streets of the city center and then perhaps take a walk along the Danube River. If you have room in your schedule, consider taking a river cruise to see some of the city's key sites from the picturesque vantage point of the water. Note that the Vienna Pass includes a river cruise in addition to entry to numerous other popular city attractions and monuments.

  • Stroll through Schoenbrunn Palace's breathtaking rooms and gardens and learn more about Vienna's Imperial history as well as the royal families that lived there.
  • Pay a visit to the Secession Haus to see Gustav Klimt's magnificent "Beethoven Frieze" mural and marvel at the building's distinctive golden facade.
  • Admire the harmonious Gothic architecture of St-Stephens Cathedral (Stephansdom) and take in panoramic views of the city from its southern tower, which rises to some 223 feet.

Explore more Viennese sights and attractions with our full-length articles on the best things to do in Vienna and the best day trips outside the city. The city is home to more than 100 museums, so check out our guide to Vienna's top museums to help narrow your choices.

What to Eat and Drink

Situated at the border between Western and Eastern Europe, Vienna offers a rich and diverse culinary culture. Local dishes are influenced by a number of traditional cuisines, including Germanic and Eastern European, and the city's unpretentious restaurant scene melds innovation with tradition. In the spring, local produce such as fresh asparagus is star of the show in the city's numerous, relaxed bistros and more formal tables. Specialties such as Wiener Schnitzel, Sachertorte chocolate cake, and Tafelspitz (boiled beef or veal with applesauce) have seen numerous creative spin-offs and adaptations, and vegetarian and vegan travelers can find plenty to eat in the capital.

The city's traditional coffeehouses aren't simply an excellent place to try a typical Viennese melange (similar to a cappuccino) or espresso. They're the center of a vibrant, casual food culture, and a place to meet friends over lunch or an early dinner. Meanwhile, open-air markets and beer gardens are popular places to enjoy a casual al fresco drink or meal.

This city is also home to one of Europe's most important wine-growing (and tasting) centers. Vienna's outskirts harbor dozens of authentic wineries that produce traditional (primarily white) wines such as Gruner Vetliner and Riesling. Starting from late spring, it's a beloved tradition to gather in the Heurigen (winery restaurants and outdoor terraces) to taste the local bounty. And in the fall, the city hosts a number of festive harvest celebrations that also place wine at the center of celebrations.

Where to Stay

When deciding where to stay in Vienna, you should take your budget and travel needs into consideration. The city offers a diverse range of accommodations at numerous price points, from large international hotel chains to small boutique hotels and apartment rental services. We recommend that you browse deals and book your accommodation several months in advance to lock in the best rates.

It can be substantially more expensive to choose a hotel in the city center, close to the most popular tourist attractions. To save money, consider booking a hotel or an apartment rental in a neighborhood a bit further outside the center (but do try to make sure you're close to a tram or U-Bahn station so you can easily get to the sights). In addition, visiting during the off-season (spring and fall) may mean you can find better deals on accommodation.

Read our recommendations on the best Vienna hotels. If you're looking for something a bit upmarket to celebrate a special occasion, see our guide to Vienna's most luxurious hotels.

Getting There

You can also easily reach Vienna by train from European capitals including Prague, Munich, and neighboring Bratislava. Driving is not generally necessary given the extensive European train network and abundance of cheap flights from other capitals on the continent. If you do decide to drive to or around the city, make sure to study Austrian and European traffic rules and rent a car with a reliable GPS navigation system. 

Vienna International Airport is Austria's largest airport, and is located in the town of Schwechat (around 11 miles southeast of the city center). It serves as a regional hub for major European airlines such as Austrian Air, Air France, and Lufthansa, as well as low-cost carriers such as Easyjet. This is a comfortable, manageable airport with ample shopping and dining facilities. Getting into the city center using dedicated airport trains is easy and relatively quick, taking between 30 to 45 minutes on average.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Consider buying a Vienna City Card, which gives you unlimited transportation on the city's tram, bus, and subway network and offers discounts on a variety of popular Vienna attractions. The Vienna Pass (mentioned above) is another popular money-saving option.
  • Low season in the Austrian capital (generally spring and fall) can be less expensive, thanks to lower airfares and hotel rates.
  • Enjoy annual events such as the Long Night of Museums, which sees the capital's major museums open to the public for free through most of the night in early October.
  • You can travel around the city by bike using Vienna's Citybike scheme. The first hour is entirely free.
  • In the warmer months, consider packing a delicious picnic of Viennese breads, pastries, fruit and other goodies, and taking it to one of the city's parks or gardens (such as the one at Schonbrunn Palace).
  • Enjoy a variety of inexpensive local foods and sit-down restaurants by paying a visit to the Naschmarkt, Vienna's largest and most popular outdoor market. 
  • Enjoy free concerts in the open air during the summer, as well as outdoor movies.
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