16 Things To Do on a Vienna Weekend Break
With its spellbinding grand architecture, refined coffee shops, and history of great composers and thinkers, Vienna is full of old-world charm. But it’s also a place where you can uncover contemporary art, choose from a cosmopolitan array of cuisines, and make use of excellent transport links. Here are our deal experts' favourite things to see and do on a Vienna city break.
The Hofburg, one of the biggest palace complexes in the world, was the former residence of Austria's Habsburg emperors, and has parts dating from between the 13th and 20th centuries. Today, you can look around parts of the palace including the Imperial Apartments, the Imperial Treasury, and the Austrian National Library's State Hall, while the complex also houses the Natural History Museum Vienna, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the world-famous Spanish Riding School, and a stunning glass butterfly house.
Spending time in a Viennese coffeehouse is a must. You’ll feel like sitting for hours over coffee and apple strudel at Café Central, which opened in 1876, and has been visited by many famous (and infamous) people, including Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, and Adolf Hitler. The interior is stunning and refined, so dress appropriately. The coffee house culture is one of the reasons Vienna is also a great stop for solo travellers.
Vienna State Opera
The Wiener Staatsoper is one of the great opera houses of the world. The Neo-renaissance venue opened in 1869, and counts the composer Gustav Mahler among its former directors. Today, it hosts more than 60 different operas and ballets each year.
Known locally as the Wurstelprater, this amusement park opened in 1766 and is today full of delights including carousels, bumper cars, halls of mirrors, ghost trains, rollercoasters, and much more. There’s also the famous giant Ferris wheel, the Wiener Riesenrad, which was built in 1896 and has since appeared in films including "The Third Man" and "The Living Daylights". The wheel is almost 65 metres high, and provides extensive views across the city. For more leisurely pursuits, hire a bike and go riding in the neighbouring Prater park, which is six million square metres.
St Stephen's Cathedral
Vienna's Gothic Stephansdom is one of the most important symbols of the city. Inside, you can see the Cathedral Treasury — which contains many Christian relics — plus the tombs of a number of important people, including Emperor Friedrich III. Its tallest tower is more than 130 metres high; you can climb 343 steps to the tower room for views across the city. Guided tours of the cathedral and catacombs are available.
One of Vienna's most famous dishes is the Wiener schnitzel. It's usually made from veal, but the delicious pork variety served at Figlmüller is one of our favourites. The restaurant, close to St Stephen's Cathedral, has been nicknamed the "home of the schnitzel", and has been serving it since 1905. It's best to book in advance, although there's a newer second branch in town if you can't get a table. And the dish is widely available throughout the city, so you'll have plenty of chances if you're not near one of these.
The Belvedere, in the south of Vienna, consists of two 18th-century Baroque palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere. They comprise a leading art museum with an impressive permanent collection of works from the Middle Ages until the present day, as well as regular exhibitions. There are also extensive gardens including the Palace Gardens, a sculpture garden, and a botanical garden.
This area in the west of the city centre, just south of the Austrian Parliament building, is home to more than 60 institutions dedicated to subjects including fine art, architecture, music, fashion, theatre, and dance. Among them are the Architekturzentrum Wien architecture museum and the Mumok modern art museum. Planning ahead here pays. Museum opening days are a bit all over the place, so we'd definitely advise checking what's open when as you plan your trip.
Sample this iconic cake, which features chocolate and apricot among its ingredients, where it was born, at Café Sacher. Sacher torte was created in 1832 for Prince Metternich of Austria for a special occasion, and it's still made to the original recipe and served with the obligatory dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Be prepared to queue or go in the evening after dinner. If you’re looking for the perfect chocolatey gift, there’s also a Sacher shop in Vienna where you can pick up a torte to take home. There are plenty of other places serving the famous torte, and it's no small joy to work your way around town comparing them all.
One of Vienna's lesser-known art galleries, Secession was founded by a group of Austrian artists, including Gustav Klimt, who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists because of its focus on traditional artistic styles, in the late 19th century. With its distinctive gilded dome, the Secession Building, south of the city centre, today hosts regular contemporary art exhibitions, while boasts on permanent display Klimt's Beethoven Frieze.
Johann Strauss Apartment
You might miss the former home of Johann Strauss II, who composed "The Blue Danube", if you’re strolling along Praterstrasse, but it's worth popping in to see the place where he lived in the late 1860s and early 1870s. The small museum is a gem, housing pictures, manuscripts, and other original items that belonged to Strauss. It's close to the Prater, so it's easy to drop by if you're on your way to the park.
Take the Metro to the southwest of the city to this magnificent building, which was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. The stunning 1441-room palace was the work of Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach in the late 17th century, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The grounds are more than a square kilometre in size, and include fountains, a botanical garden, a maze, and the Gloriette, a grand hilltop building offering views over the palace and its gardens.
Vienna is famous for its Christmas markets. They include Christkindlmarkt, which takes place in front of the Rathaus, the spectacular neo-Gothic City Hall. There are stalls selling clothes and fashion accessories, wooden toys, scented candles, chocolates, roast chestnuts, and much more. You can also go ice skating, and drink gluhwein (spiced mulled wine) and orange punch (with brandy and rum). Other festive markets include the Maria-Theresien-Platz Christmas Village, by the Museum of Natural History, and the Schönbrunn Palace Christmas Market, which attracts around 60 exhibitors from Austria and neighbouring countries.
When it's cold outside, head to Café Landtmann, across the street from the Rathauspark, and sit yourself down on an imperial-era chair, or in a snug booth, and take in the atmosphere. Alternatively, you can sit out on the terrace in summer. This coffeehouse, which opened in 1873, offers sumptuous creations, many of them loaded with whipped cream — the Maria Theresia, which features a double espresso, Cointreau liqueur, and orange zests, is just one of them.
Head to the northern edge of Vienna to Grinzing, a charming wine village that's home to many Heuriger taverns, where you can listen to traditional Schrammelmusik folk music. There’s a Gothic church that dates from 1426 and is adorned with a copper cupola, plus many old houses dating from the 12th to 18th centuries. You can also visit Grinzing's cemetery, the final resting place of composer Gustav Mahler, as well as walk through vineyards that inspired regular visitors to the village including Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Danube boat trips
Vienna is on the Danube, so why not take a boat trip along the mighty river? There are many itineraries available, including all-day excursions through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Wachau Valley, passing vineyards, castles, and villages, and calling at Melk, home of a magnificent Benedictine abbey high up on an outcrop. You can also take a 90-minute ferry journey down the river from Vienna to the Slovakian capital Bratislava.
Read about our other favourite city break destinations:
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Eat and then some in Bologna.
Say "bonjour" to the best of Paris.
Explore Belgium's Brussels and Bruges.
Make the most of a Madrid short break.
Read about Berlin's many musea and attractions.
Visit Copenhagen and its famous Little Mermaid statue.
See our top tips for a weekend in Amsterdam.
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Find out what we recommend for a trip to Riga.
Search for city break deals or browse our collection of river cruises and see Vienna for yourself.
Giorgio Petti and Nick Elvin contributed to this post.