Vienna is a city full of decadence, opulence, stunning architecture and loads of history. Filled with dozens of museums, libraries, palaces, churches and more restaurants and cafés than I could ever imagine, I soon found out that two days in Vienna just isn’t enough and I certainly didn’t see everything I had hoped to see. The city itself is quite large for a European city (there are a total of 23 districts) and with a lot of the attractions spaced far apart from one another, I highly suggest at least three full days to really get a taste of what this great city has to offer. Most of the major attractions are located in District 1, or the Innere Stadt, which is the old city centre area. I stayed in the Favoriten District, which wasn’t exactly the closest to the old city centre, but it was just a short ten minute walk to the train station. A little bit of walking never hurt anybody, so I grabbed a map and headed out to explore Vienna. It was a great way to learn the streets and see the other areas just outside of the main tourist area.
I spent my first and last day of my trip in Vienna, so it didn’t make sense to me to spend the money on the Vienna Pass, but with that being said, if I were to return to Vienna and have two days to spend back to back, then yes, I’d definitely see the value on getting one for sure, as it gets you into a lot of the major attractions for free and you get to skip the lines, which is always good in my books!
Because my two days in Vienna were spaced out, I attempted to hit the ground running the first afternoon and see and do as much as possible, but because I didn’t arrive into the city until mid-afternoon, I knew most of my sightseeing would be done on my last day.
That being said, here is my list of how I spent two days in the grand city of Vienna.
This grand 18th-century Roman Catholic church stands tall at the south side of Karlplatz in Vienna. With a beautiful lush green park opposite the church, it’s the perfect area to stop with a snack and sit down to relax and enjoy people watching, or a street performance. Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church, identifies as Baroque style architecture, but there are definitely some Romanesque and Greek influences to the building’s design, especially with the massive columns. The stunning details all around Karlskirche, including a beautiful pool casting incredible reflections, make it a must see attraction in the city.
Located in the heart of the Innere Stadt in Stephansplatz, sits the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or Stephansdom. This church is the symbol of Vienna and dates as far back as the 13th-century. The church was reconstructed in the 17th and 18th centuries to adhere to the powerful Habsburg monarchy. The Gothic architecture makes Stephansdom one of the most stunning buildings in Vienna, if not Austria as a whole. Stephansdom has a total of four towers and the tallest of these is the south tower, which stands 136.44 metres in height. Incredible views across Vienna can be reached via 343 steps, so eat your Wheaties. When I was there, the south tower with the steps was closed for the day, but I was able to take the elevator up the north tower, which to me, still provided some gorgeous sunset views of Vienna and of the intricately laid 230,000 colourful tiles on the rooftop.
Nestled almost secretly within Petersplatz right off the busy Graben pedestrian street, sits the small Baroque Peterskirche, or St. Peter’s Church. The impressive copper dome is one of the more striking features of Peterskirche and the interior boasts a very colourful and mesmerizing painted frescoes depicting the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. History suggests that the first church located here was from the 4th-century and the recent Peterskirche that stands there today was built back in the early 18th-century.
Located in the heart of the city lies the bustling shopping street Graben. This fully pedestrianized street is chalk full of high end shops, traditional coffee shops and even jewellers and a traditional perfumery. In the centre of the square, you’ll find the Baroque Plague Column, which was erected at the end of 1679 by Emperor Leopold I to signify the plague that pretty well decimated the city back then. The column you see today, made of beautiful marble, was completed in 1694. The Graben area is a visual delight for architecture lovers and is the perfect spot to stroll around and shop until you drop. Other popular streets located nearby are Stephansplatz, Kohlmarkt, Naglergasse, Tuchlauben and Petersplatz.
Despite Freyung being called a “square”, it is actually in a triangular shape. At one corner of Freyung, sits the Schottenkirche (Scottish Church), which has an interesting story behind it. The term “Frey” in old German means free and there is an old story behind why this was used for the square name in front of the church. People who fled to the premises of the Schottenkirche (Scottish Church) were not allowed to be arrested by the city guard and so they were “liberated”. In the centre of the square you’ll also find daily markets with merchants selling souvenirs and woven baskets. There are also a bunch of food stalls, tables and chairs for pedestrians to stop, have a drink and people watch. The picturesque square is a lot quieter than the more popular ones throughout Vienna, so if you do visit, you may only be among locals there.
Hofburg – Imperial Palace
The Hofburg Complex is one of the biggest and most known palace complexes in the world, with construction dating as far back as the 13th-century up until the 20th-century. Today, the palace complex is home to many museums, the famous Spanish Riding School, the seat of the Austrian Federal President and also a Congress Centre. No photos are permitted inside of the Palace, so just a heads up to all you shutterbugs out there. The exterior is beautiful and in the heart of Vienna’s First District, or Innere Stadt.
The Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, or Austrian National Library, was one of the places I was dying to visit. The interior of the library is covered in a dark paneled wood, which made it seem more like a museum than a library. It looked like a scene from The Beauty and The Beast. The opulent Prunksaal, or Hall of Honour is part of the Hofburg Palace and is absolutely showstopping; your mouth is sure to drop open upon entering. Founded by the Habsburg’s, of course, the library was initially called the Imperial Court Library back in 1368. The current name of the library was given back in the 1920’s. One of the major tasks that is done by the National Library, is archiving all of the publications that appear in Austria. The library also collects all published works of any Austrian author that has appeared abroad. In total, the library boasts a collection of a staggering seven million objects.
The Albertina Museum is located within Vienna’s Innere Stadt and is one of the most impressive museums in Europe, if not the entire world. Founded in 1776, the museum houses over 65,000 drawing and prints, Monet and Picasso paintings, the Habsburg State Rooms, photography exhibits, architecture photos and so much more. Like most buildings in Vienna during the war of World War II in 1945, it was heavily damaged by Allied bombings and then fully restored in the years after the war.
Eat a Traditional Viennese Meal
No trip to Vienna is complete without dining on some traditional grub. Austrian food is delicious, hearty and definitely not fat-free, but who cares when you’re on holiday, right? 😉 Austrian dishes are traditionally based around a meat, poultry, vegetable and dairy product. My personal favourite is the good ‘ol fashioned Wiener Schnitzel. A traditional styled Wiener Schnitzel should classically be veal, breaded and fried. There is usually potatoes served alongside the meat, or a potato salad. There is almost always a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the crispy bread meat, which honestly just takes the whole dish to a whole other level. Some of my favourite places to get a meal in Vienna were at Bitzinger’s Augustinerkeller, which is located directly under the Albertina and had some of the best schnitzel ever, 1516 Brewing Company for some killer beers and a really cool vibe and Golser Bier & Wein Bar for great beer and an epic Viennese charcuterie board.
Visit a Traditional Viennese Coffee House
Nobody, I repeat nobody does coffee and cake quite like the Viennese. Walking into a traditional Viennese coffee house is like stepping back in time. As soon as you step inside, the scent of coffee fills your nostrils and you suddenly feel like nothing else matters, but getting your hands on a cup of delicious caffeine. The beautiful pastries sit in a glass case, displayed as if they were fine pieces of colourful jewellery. I had such a hard time choosing which cake to try because they all looked so GOOD! The Viennese coffee house menu is detailed and expansive. There are so many different coffee styles to choose from. My personal favourite was an Einspänner Coffee; a Viennese specialty nonetheless. It is a strong black coffee, which is served in a dainty cup and topped with unsweetened whipped cream. The Viennese coffee house has played a massive role in shaping Viennese culture over hundreds of years and still does even to the present day. Writers, poets, musicians and journalists all throughout history have frequented the Viennese coffee house and have treated it as if it were their own living room. The famous writer and poet Peter Altenberg even had his mail delivered to Café Central, which was his favourite haunt. People come from all over the world and fill cafés throughout Vienna to experience the elegant and opulent atmosphere. I mean, your coffee is served to you on a silver platter all the time and to be honest, I had a hard time transitioning to not getting served like that upon coming home. 🙂 Some of the most famous cafés in Vienna are Café Prückel, Café Central, Demel Café, Aida, Café Schwarzenberg, Café Sacher, Café Sperl and dozens more. It’s near impossible to try them all, but it can be fun to try. Wear your stretchy pants!
One of the most prestigious buildings along the Ringstrasse (the main road around the Innere Stadt) is the Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall. The front square of the Neues Rathaus transforms into Vienna’s largest outdoor venue with movie screenings during the summer months, a large outdoor skating rink during the winter months and a slew of events throughout the year. Don’t forget to look up while walking through the arcade and courtyard for an incredible and cool photo-op. The Neues Rathaus was built between 1872-1883 and boasts an elaborate Neo-Gothic style. The windows along the building are adorned with bright red flowers for a beautiful touch, which reminded me of the Neues Rathaus in Munich, Germany. Unfortunately while I was there, they were putting on a closed-off event, so there were barricades all around the building, so the only shots I could get were of the side of the building.
The massive Belvedere Palace is a state of the art museum and garden complex dating back to the early 18th-century. There are two Baroque style buildings on the premises; Upper and Lower Belvedere. The grounds consist of a slight gradient, impressive gardens, pools and Baroque fountains and sculptures throughout the property. Belvedere Palace was built as a summer home for Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was a military commander that helped fend off the Turks in 1683. Within the Belvedere Palace, you’ll find a chapel housing art by Edvard Munch, Renoir and Monet. There is also a Gustav Klimt Collection with works dating as far back as 1901. I ended up getting to the Palace just before closing time, so I only had a hot minute to take some night shots around the Upper Belvedere area, which was still very pretty to see as it was all lit up beautifully.
Get Lost In The Streets
Sometimes the best way to discover a city is to put away the guide and maps and just let your feet take you wherever. The architecture in Vienna is oozing with charm, prestige and decadence and I’m sure that no matter what street you choose to wander down, you’re bound to come across some really unique street art, a colourful building, or a gorgeous park to chill out and relax in.
Although my time in Vienna was short and sweet, I could easily go back for a few more days to see the sites that I just didn’t have enough hours to see. Some other sites that I’d like to see would be: Schönbrunn Palace, The Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum), Hundertwasserhaus, The Austrian Parliament Building, the Naschmarkt and revisit some of the places I went to already, but during the daylight hours. Oh, and I’d also try to hit up as many other Viennese coffee houses as humanly possible…you know, for market research. 😉
Vienna, being as beautiful and captivating as it is, the only downfall to the city in my eyes during my trip, was the amount of tourists crowding the streets at all hours of the day and evening and the hustle and bustle of tour groups everywhere. Vienna to me is still a big major European city, and a lovely one at that, but that could be why it felt so packed to me all the time – after all, it is a major hub for European travellers.
Have any of you been to Vienna? If you have, what were some of your favourite sites that you visited? Did you enjoy your time in the city? Oh, and if you visited any Viennese coffee houses, what did you order? 🙂 Tell me in the comments below! xo