Vienna, the capital city of Austria, is known for its regal palaces and high-class culture. But don’t let the fancy buildings scare you away: Vienna’s top sights can be seen for cheap – and without a pricey tour.
Here’s our guide to seeing Austria by visiting 17 of the best spots in the city.
One of my favorite views of Vienna was from the top of an unlikely rooftop platform.
Visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is free to enter and look around inside. It’s a beautiful cathedral, but an even more spectacular view awaits you above. Purchase the ticket (roughly $14 USD) to tour the catacombs below and go up the tower to do the rooftop view. We went up the elevator to the tower first, and what a view it was! After your panoramic view of Vienna from up high, go all the way down with a guided tour (typically on the hour) of the catacombs. I had never been down in catacombs before, so this was a wild tour of what lies beneath the cathedral. I was shocked by the number of skeletons we saw!
Do the tour of the Vienna Opera House (Wiener Straatstoper). Adult guided tour tickets are 9 euro, but my brother and I both brought our ISIC student cards and got tickets for 4 euro each. The line to buy tickets for this guided tour can get long, but it’s worth the wait. The guide will take you through the gorgeous hallways, rooms, and staircases of the Opera House. Take some time to sit and take in the main hall, the last stop on the tour.
Thrifty Tip: Interested in seeing an opera during your stay in Vienna? Stop by the Opera House and ask what the going rate is for their day-of shows. Opera houses will often discount day-of tickets to fill seats. Or select standing room only for even cheaper tickets!
For more gorgeous views, walk around the Museum Quarter (Museumsquartier) in Vienna. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do any of the museums during our visit. But each was so gorgeous on the outside, I’m certain there are gems inside as well.
Two must-see palaces to visit in Vienna are the Hofburg Palace and the Schonbrunn Palace. Schloss Hofburg is located in the city center, while Schloss Schonbrunn is a bit further out of the city center. We decided to do both, but you could pick one for an interior tour and skip the other – both have similar information about the Hapsburg family and similar baroque interiors. Again, carrying an ISIC card if you are a student of any age is a great way to save on ticket costs. We spent a little extra to upgrade our tickets at the Hofburg Palace to tour the Sisi Museum, which I highly recommend. The Sisi Museum tells the fascinating story of Empress Elizabeth’s strange and tragic life. It was probably my favorite part of our audioguide tour of the Hofburg.
If you have the time to get out of the city center, Schonbrunn Palace (Schloss Schonbrunn) is a must. Rent the audio guide, because the stories of the Hapsburgs are fascinating. In addition to the palace itself, there is also a massive garden, grounds, and the gloriette – a building erected high on a hill above a garden to provide spectacular views – on top of the hill. After touring the palace, hike up the hill in the palace grounds for a spectacular view of the palace and city.
If you have kids with you on your trip to Vienna, keep them entertained with the zoo, maze, and playground area on the palace grounds. I’d recommend purchasing the Classic Pass at 24 euros. While a little steep for a ticket, it includes access to the Privy Garden, Orangery Garden, mazes, and gloriette.
If you’re not palace-d out yet, check out the Belvedere Palace. This is yet another gorgeous baroque-style palace, home to art dating back to the Middle Ages. I’m a huge fan of Gustav Klimt’s work, which is on display here.
In the heart of the city center is the Austrian National Library. If you’re a Beauty and the Beast fan, this is a must-see! The castle in that famous Disney movie was based on this gorgeous library.
Classic Cafes & Austrian Eats
Sipping an espresso and enjoying a sweet treat at a local cafe should be at the top of your list when in Vienna.
My favorite was Cafe Central. There can be a wait to get a table at this world famous cafe, but I promise it’s well worth the wait. Cafe Central has a stunningly gorgeous interior, made even sweeter by its desserts. Order an espresso or a glass of champagne to accompany your food. Do some window shopping at the bakery cases at the front of the cafe and make your selection. We picked the apple strudel and chocolate peanut butter mousse for our Cafe Central experience. It was the perfect spot for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. The spread below plus two cups of tea brought our total to around $30 USD.
Another must-visit cafe is Cafe Sperl. This one tends to be a little less busy than Cafe Central, but with a similar charm and interior decor.
Thrifty Tip: For many of our meals, we shopped at the local grocery store and made our meals in our Airbnb. Vienna isn’t cheap, so this can be a great option if you don’t want to eat out for every meal during your stay. We bought groceries to make all breakfasts and some dinners at our Airbnb during our three-day stay, and our grocery bill came in under $20 for two people. Make sure you book an Airbnb that gives you full access to a kitchen and fridge, and you’re set to save on dining expenses.
But there are some great restaurants in Vienna. Here are my some of my favorites:
- Get dinner at Zwolf Apostelkeller. Order the Kaiserschmarrn for dessert.
- Get the world famous schnitzel at Figlmueler. You’ll need reservations for this spot, and it’s fancy. But wow, is it worth it!
- Grab a hotdog at Bitzinger. Delicious!
We explored Vienna with a bike tour during one of our days in Vienna. We found and booked this bike tour for roughly $30 USD per person via GetYourGuide, a great resource for city tours no matter what city you’re in. This bike tour was led by a friendly and knowledgeable local. She shared some fascinating information about Vienna’s culture and showed us some of the coolest, off the beaten path pockets of the city.
My favorite stop by far was the Hundertwasser apartments. This super funky apartment building was constructed by the famous Austrian-born artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose flair for the unique is legendary. Right next to this famous apartment building is a Hundertwasser-style mini-mall, with handicraft boutiques and a cafe.
We came across a fun spot for a drink during our bike tour. Known as Tel Aviv Beach, there are bars on the river that has brought in real sand and beach chairs to simulate a beach day in the middle of the city! Another great “beach bar” on the river is Strandbar.
Looking for another cool place to grab a drink? Check out The Sign. Their cocktails aren’t cheap, but they’re fun.
Our final stop on our bike tour was Prater Park. Prater is a world-famous amusement park that is home to the oldest Ferris wheel in the world: the Wiener Riesenrad. This park is absolutely massive but totally free to walk (or bike) through. You just pay per ride, so definitely walk through to check it out. Instead of riding the Ferris wheel, we bought a 5 euro ticket to ride the high swings and got a much better view of the city. This is a great place to stop if you’ve got kids in tow that are ready for something other than palaces and museums.
Where to Stay and How to Get Around
We chose to stay at an Airbnb during our time in Vienna. The apartment we booked was in the heart of the city just blocks from the Opera House. It came fully equipped with a kitchen, and we adored the windows overlooking the gorgeous Vienna buildings nearby. This awesome spot that slept two was just $36 a night – a steal! Booking a top-rated yet inexpensive Airbnb in Vienna is the best way to save on costs during your stay.
Thrifty Tip: New To Airbnb? Sign up using our link and you will receive $40 towards your first stay (we will get $20 as well).
For getting around in Vienna, we opted to walk to nearby attractions and using the metro train system for further distances. The public transportation system in Vienna (like in many European countries) operates on the honor system. But you’ll definitely want to validate your ticket (typically by punching the ticket at the metro entrance) and hold on to it, just in case a transit officer asks to see your ticket at the end of your ride.
Bikes are available for rent at self-service stations throughout Vienna. Biking around the Ringstrasse (a loop around the heart of the city) can be a fun way to explore Vienna. We rode the Ringstrasse on our bike tour and loved the views.
If you’re planning to do a ton of sightseeing and cramming your days with activity, the Vienna PASS may be a good option for you. Starting at 59 euro a day (price discounts for 2- and 3-day passes), this pass covers many of the top Vienna attractions I recommend above. However, we took our time with our sightseeing and preferred to just use our ISIC student cards to get a discount on individual attraction tickets. If you’re considering getting a Vienna PASS, I’d recommend first planning out your daily itinerary and adding up the ticket prices to see if buying the Vienna PASS saves you money or will cost more.
Vienna is a gorgeous city with so much to see and do. Put these must-sees on your Vienna sightseeing list and enjoy the baroque buildings, classy cafes, and quirky attractions that Vienna has to offer.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.