Schonbrunn Park — Photo courtesy of Vladislav Zolotov / Getty Images
Vienna — or Wien (pronounced “Veen”) in German — is the capital of Austria and a must on any European itinerary. The city, located east of the Alps along the Danube River, is known for being enlightened and elegant. It is easy to get around by walking or public transport. There is so much to see, so many cultural treasures in one place, that it can be challenging to decide how to spend one’s time. Here are 10 exciting and fulfilling cultural experiences in Vienna, enough to get anyone started and ready for more.
Visit a storied coffeehouse
Café Landtmann — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper
Time spent in a Viennese coffeehouse is about much more than getting a caffeine fix. The culture of these establishments extends even beyond eating and drinking. The experience is called “gemütlichkeit” in German, conveying an environment of hospitality, friendliness and warmth. This is why coffee society has been an important part of Viennese life for centuries. Here, visitors can have a conversation, read the newspaper or taste another iconic aspect of Vienna: pastries. Some of the most storied coffeehouses are Café Landtmann, Café Central, and Café Frauenhuber.
Meet new friends at a wine tavern
Heuriger Kierlinger in Nussdorf — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Mafalda Rakos
Another of the most classic gathering spaces is the Viennese Heuriger, or wine tavern. These taverns were originally established so that vintners could directly sell their latest vintage to thirsty customers. This was best enjoyed alongside some local snacks and with jovial live music. These are still a fixture in Vienna today. Some are open seasonally, others more consistently year-round. Classic spots include Heuriger Wieninger, Edlmoser Weingut & Heuriger, and Mayer Am Pfarrplatz, which is quite famous because Ludwig van Beethoven lived next door.
Stop to smell the roses in a city park
Roses in Vienna’s Volksgarten — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper
There is perhaps no other city that offers such a soothing and appealing park culture as Vienna. Save time in your trip for meandering walks, flower-smelling and bench inhabiting. The people of Vienna enjoy these parks, which are meticulously maintained and frequented by locals. One of the unique aspects of Viennese life is the impeccable drinking water that flows to the city from the mountain springs in the Austrian Alps. Fountains and water taps can be found in the city parks, so bring a bottle and fill it up for free to sip while relaxing on a bench. Also, watch for pop-up festivals and markets. Don’t miss the roses in Volksgarten or the summer and holiday markets in Rathausplatz public square.
See a world-class opera
Vienna State Opera — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper
The Vienna State Opera is considered to be one of the finest musical experiences in the world, a setting that attracts top international stars. Beyond the musical performances, the architecture of the opera house is highly impressive as well. Opening its doors in 1869, the Vienna State Opera represented one of the flagship establishments on the then-newly created Ringstrasse, a grand boulevard lined by some of the city’s most magnificent buildings, museums and palaces. A bucket list ticket for fans around the world, the Vienna State Opera features in-seat screens that display subtitles in multiple languages in real-time at the push of a button.
Experience the masterpieces
Albertina Modern — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Paul Bauer
When it comes to fine art in Vienna, the world’s masters await! Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” at Österreichische Galerie Belvedere and Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow,” now hanging in Kunsthistorisches Museum, are highly worthwhile finds on a Viennese treasure hunt. Add to the list the comprehensive Egon Schiele collection at the Leopold Museum, The Albertina and Albertina Modern and mumok, and you’re only getting started.
Follow the footsteps of musical masters
Kunsthistorisches Museum: Collection of Historic Musical Instruments — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Paul Bauer
Vienna is regarded as the city of music, and even those not fully in tune with the classics will know two of the most famous composers to work in the city: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Visitors to Vienna can walk where these celebrated composers once walked and see what they saw during their time here. Mozarthaus, at Domgasse 5, where the composer lived from 1784 until 1787, is his only Viennese address that’s still standing today and where historians believe he spent the happiest days of his life. Beethoven’s apartment at Probusgasse 6 is now a museum, a short walk from Mayer Am Pfarrplatz, the famous wine tavern. This is where he wrote “Heiligenstädter Testament,” a letter in which he shared his heightened concerns about his deafness.
Step into an imperial palace
Hofburg Imperial Palace — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper
The Habsburg monarchy ruled Austria from 1282 until 1918, evidenced by the presence of the exquisite imperial palaces in Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence, and The Hofburg, the centrally located primary residence. The Hofburg complex is now open to the public and is the site of several art museums, the Spanish Riding School, imperial apartments and collections, and a display of arms and armor. At the baroque Schönbrunn Palace, explore the building, grounds and gardens. Plan ahead, because this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is one of Austria’s most popular tourist attractions.
Explore stunning architecture
Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Julius Hirtzberger
Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria’s museum of architecture, is the only one of its kind in the country, located appropriately in the MuseumsQuartier, near Leopold Museum and mumok. The permanent exhibition centers on Austrian architecture during the 20th and 21st centuries, and there is a consistent stream of rotating presentations, events and lectures. One visit will tell you, however, that the museum is just one slice of the architectural bounty of Vienna. While there’s no shortage of baroque and rococo examples, the city is also home to an array of other architectural styles, including gothic, modern and art nouveau.
Taste authentic Austrian cuisine
Wiener schnitzel at a beisl — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Mafalda Rakos
For a cozy and classic meal, visit a Viennese bistro or “beisl.” It’s the place to find traditional Austrian food with a sense of warm hospitality. Schnitzel, goulash and pancake-like palatschinken are classics. Delicacies made of offal are both traditional and revitalized under the new guard of Viennese chefs. But make no mistake, Vienna is a very cosmopolitan city with abundant gourmet options, including Michelin-star restaurants and dozens more with other foodie accolades. Famous Viennese desserts include Sachertorte chocolate cake and apfelstrudel (apple strudel). These are only a few examples of the most notable and authentic dishes.
Visit some of the world’s only urban vineyards
Buschenschank Windischbauer in Nussberg — Photo courtesy of © WienTourismus/Mafalda Rakos
Vienna is the world’s only urban capital to support a thriving wine-growing district. We aren’t talking about a few vineyards to satisfy tourists — there are more than 1,400 acres of vineyards and well more than 100 wineries within the appellation of Wien. For local flavor, try a Wiener Gemischter Satz, a field blend of several staple varieties, recognized under the Austrian origin labeling controls. Examples include Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Weissburgunder and Chardonnay. Visitors can find these wines in wine taverns or seasonal buschenschanks at the vineyards, where guests can have a bite to eat and enjoy a glass of wine and gorgeous view right at the source.