As a travel journalist, I’m often asked to name my favorite places. That’s a hard task to narrow down, as my list of favorite travel destinations is long.
But if you ask me about my favorite world city, that’s an easy answer. It would have to be Vienna, Austria.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT VIENNA, AUSTRIA
The Austrian capital makes the news every year when it’s named among the Best Places in the World to Live. (Depending on which list you’re looking at, it’s often the number one spot on the list.)
I’ve lived in Vienna, and I can tell you that living there is a pleasure. It’s safe, clean, and easy to get around with some of the best publication transportation I’ve ever seen.
There are excellent parks and many places to get away and enjoy nature, including the Vienna Woods. You can even go walking among the vineyards in the hills around the city.
But you don’t have to be a resident to experience the best of Vienna. Plan a trip and you’ll see what I mean.
I recommend you spend at least a week exploring Vienna and the surrounding area. But if that’s not possible, you can still see a lot during a weekend visit.
There’s so much to do in Vienna, but if it’s your first trip to the city, let me give you some tips on where to start.
WHERE TO STAY IN VIENNA
First things first. You’ll need to decide where to stay in Vienna.
The Austrian capital has many top hotels to choose from., but since you only have a weekend in Vienna, it’s best to stay in the First District, in the heart of the Old Town. That way, you can walk to many top attractions and get a feel for the heart of Vienna.
THE LEO GRAND
During my last visit, I stayed at The Leo Grand, a luxury lifestyle hotel that opened in 2022 in a prime location next to Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the First District.
Named after Emperor Leopold I, The Leo Grand is a stunning 5-star hotel that features the latest modern luxuries while embracing the city’s rich history. It has a Roman staircase and impressive Baroque façade, along with very stylish and comfortable rooms.
The hotel’s 76 beautifully renovated suites and rooms reflect the bold talents of creative director Gabriele Lenikus.
Whimsical patterns, soft colors and luxurious furnishings create an individualistic atmosphere that delights, along with modern touches like touch-of-a-button automated blinds that open to reveal nice views of the city. (I could see St. Stephens from my window.)
I had breakfast every morning in the restaurant, which is located on the building’s patio. The culinary experience was top-notch. Dishes reflect Asian fusion, along with Viennese and French influences.
SUGGESTED ITINERARY FOR A PERFECT WEEKEND IN VIENNA:
Trust me, this digital City Guide will be a valuable tool during your visit. It has city maps and audio guides about Vienna’s top sights, from Schönbrunn Palace to the Prater to the famous Ringstrasse Boulevard. The ivie app also gives you practical visitor tips, such as where to find toilets, city bikes and drinking fountains.
It integrates with the Vienna City Card, which I also recommend you purchase during your stay. The Vienna City Card benefits include travel on all public transportation (Vienna’s public transportation is excellent and easy to use), and discounts on museums and attractions. There are various Vienna City Cards to choose from. One even includes airport transfers.
Once you’ve got that squared away, you’re ready to explore Vienna.
DAY 1 IN VIENNA:
Start off by visiting Schönbrunn Palace, a stunning Baroque palace that was once the summer residence of the royal Habsburgs. You can take a tour of the palace and gardens, and then stop by the nearby Schönbrunn Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world.
If you don’t have time for a tour, then simply go for a walk in the palace gardens. It’s free to enter the gardens. I have spent many afternoons there just enjoying the scenery and people-watching.
During the holidays, there’s a lovely traditional Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace.
If you’re an art lover, you might want to head to Belvedere Palace to see the stunning Gustav Klimt exhibit. It includes some of Klimt’s most famous works, including The Kiss.
Located in the third district, Belvedere Palace has its own beautiful gardens. It was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
ST. STEPHEN’S CATHEDRAL
Next, take a stroll through the streets of Vienna’s Old Town, taking in the beautiful architecture and stopping at some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Vienna State Opera House.
St. Stephens Cathedral or Stephansdom as it is called in German is the true heart of Vienna. The cathedral and bustling Stephansplatz (town square) are such an emotional symbol of Vienna that I always like to head there first when I visit the city.
Then stop for a Wiener Melange and a piece of torte or strudel at one of Vienna’s coffeehouses. People say that coffeehouses are the living rooms of Vienna and it’s true. They are an authentic Viennese experience, offering a place to relax, chat with friends and enjoy a piece of one of the city’s famous pastries.
Some of my favorite coffeehouses in Vienna are Café Leopold, Café Landtmann, Kleines Cafe (if the weather is nice) and Café Diglas, but there are hundreds more to choose from.
VOLLPENSION COFFEEHOUSE IN VIENNA
Vollpension is a new collection of coffeehouses in Vienna that will make you feel like you’ve entered your grandmother’s home. The name refers to both the German words for full pension, which Austrians get upon retirement, as well as a kind of hotel where you receive meals or full board.
It fits the concept of these coffeehouses perfectly, as they are staffed by retired grandmas and grandpas. The idea is to bring generations together. The Vollpension coffeehouses serve goodies baked by retired Austrians using their own family recipes.
The cakes and pastries are delicious, as you can imagine, and you’ll even get a discount if you agree to put your mobile phone away during your visit.
The decor feels just like a grandparent’s living room, with comfy furniture, family photos and old-fashioned decor.
VISIT A VIENNA HEURIGE
For dinner, try some traditional Viennese cuisine at a cozy heurige, which is a local wine tavern. Vienna is said to be the only capital city that grows and produces wine within the city limits, and enjoying this wine at a heurige is a time-honored tradition.
I love spending time in Vienna’s heurigen. They are laid-back local establishments with cozy wood-paneled walls, simple wooden tables and a relaxed atmosphere.
You can try traditional heuriger cuisine, which is not fancy but includes tasty dishes of meats, cheese, bread and salads that you order from a counter. Then, you order wine from your waiter. Vienna is especially known for its Gemischter Satz and Grüner Veltliner.
One heurige in Vienna that I really like is Das Schrieberhaus, a family-run wine tavern located in the 19th District. (You can easily reach it by tram.) Yes, it’s a little touristy, but that’s because it’s such a nice place with a lovely garden, traditional music and good food — all the best parts of a Viennese wine garden.
DAY 2 IN VIENNA:
On your second day in Vienna, spend the morning at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses an impressive collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present day. Stop for coffee in their stunning cafe which looks like it belongs in a palace.
WALK THE RINGSTRASSE
In the afternoon, take a walk along the Ringstrasse (using your audio tour on ivie), the grand boulevard that encircles the city center. Stop at the Imperial Palace and the Parliament Building, two of Vienna’s most impressive buildings.
End your day with a visit to the Prater, a large public park that is home to the iconic Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel.
The Prater is located in Vienna’s Second District, which is known for its green space. You can go for a walk in the park, where you’ll see many locals out enjoying the day, or stop at the Prater Museum, which showcases the Prater’s role as a World Fair location in 1895. Most of all, take a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel at sunset for a breathtaking view of the city.
DAY 3 IN VIENNA:
On your final day in Vienna, head to the Museum Quarter, home to a number of world-class museums, including the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
DON’T MISS THE NASCHMARKT
In the afternoon, visit the Naschmarkt, a bustling outdoor market filled with food stalls, restaurants, and shops. Try some of the local specialties, such as schnitzel and strudel, and do some souvenir shopping.
SEE A CONCERT IN VIENNA
End your weekend in Vienna with a visit to one of the city’s many concert venues, where you can enjoy classical music by some of the world’s most renowned composers.
Vienna is the City of Music and many great composers have lived in the city. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Johann Strauss II and Ludwig van Beethoven are just a few of them. (You can even walk on the Beethovengang, a trail Beethoven once used to walk near the Vienna Woods. The path was named after Beethoven in 1864.)
Vienna is a city that has something for everyone. A weekend isn’t long, but it will give you just enough time to know you want to come back for more.