It’s a lofty claim, but there aren’t many cities in Europe more fun to explore than Vienna. The grand buildings of the city transport you to a different time, its many parks bring joy to your face, and the city’s enviable pastry and cake scene add inches to your hips, but in such an enjoyable way. And when it comes to romantic sidewalk cafes, there are too many to count.
A “first time” in any city can always be a bit nerve racking, so this guide offers everything you need, to figure out how to get from the airport into town, which area of the city to stay in and a few places to stuff your face, or fill up on coffee.
Unlike some European capitols, Vienna Airport is nice and close to the city, and a journey of any kind shouldn’t take more than a half hour. The best options between Vienna Airport and the city centre are the S7 train, the CAT express train, Vienna Airport Lines busses, or of course your preferred rideshare service, like Uber.
Train: The CAT Train (City-Airport-Train) is the fastest option from Vienna Airport into the city, with 16 min direct service. The train costs €21 round trip, or €12 one way. You can even check in your luggage at the CAT counter in the city on your way back to the airport. Just follow the green CAT signs. If you don’t mind a few extra minutes journey for a third of the price, the S7 train is €4 and operates on the same tracks, taking about 25 mins to Vienna Mitte (central station).
Rideshare: Uber and Bolt (formerly Taxify) both work well in Vienna and are generally pretty cheap. If you’re traveling in a group, or to a non central location in Vienna, one of these may be the easier, yet slightly more expensive option for getting from Vienna Airport to the city of Vienna. For groups, the city has excellent Mercedes Sprinter Vans, which allow 5 people or more to ride together with ease.
Vienna Bus Lines: A bus company called Vienna Airport Lines runs yet another good option from the Vienna Airport to the city, or vice versa, with the benefit of quite a few drop off and pick up points. It’s the mid priced option with €8 one way tickets or €13 return. It’s not a bad option at all.
Especially on your first trip, there’s so much to see in the Inner Stadt, which makes it a logical place for most people to stay. The Inner Stadt is surrounded by parks, castles and everything else which will blow your mind on the first visit, and it makes just about everything in Vienna within walking distance.
Airbnb in Vienna is a great option for affordable accommodation, but with the famous Viennese pastry and breakfast scene, it’s tough to pass up on a great hotel. You can’t go wrong with The Guesthouse, Do & Co, Park Hyatt, Hotel Sans Souci, Ritz Carlton or Hotel Sacher on the high end. For cheerful and more economical hotel options in Vienna: Hotel Beethoven, Hotel Harmonie and Hotel Altdstadt are all great choices.
If you want to stay a bit more out of the way in a local neighbourhood, areas such as Laimgrube and Neubau offer a more low key take, with some of the better non touristy restaurants, cafes and shops in the city, as does Leopoldstadt.
If your menus are automatically presented in English, it’s a sign you may be in a place that Viennese people don’t frequent. If there’s a line out the door, you can bet the same. But when it comes to great cakes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Vienna is world famous for its ability to satisfy any sweet fix, most notably with its light sponge cakes, wafers and esteemed cafes. It’s where Sigmund Freud came up with all of his big ideas, for what that’s worth.
There’s a few distinct styles for breakfast here, and there’s no wrong answer, but you will need to choose. You have the ornate high ceiling cafes with wood, gold and marble, and brasseries of similar description full of tourists, and then you have the cafe scene for people who are brunch lovers and fans of the style of coffee that’s more single origin beans roasted in house, than “gimme a coffee”.
Lunch & Dinner
Once you’ve had your fill of Schnitzel, Vienna has a brilliant selection of restaurants and cafes from all regions of the world. But until you reach that fill, there are a few places you’ve absolutely gotta try, because you just don’t find Schnitzel this good almost anywhere else in the world…
Our Top Picks: Mochi, Daniele, Mama Liu & Sons, Motto, Neni Am Nashmarkt, Pizza Randale, Ulrich and O boufes all offer super high quality experiences with a great Viennese feel. If you like Japanese, Mochi is a delicious concerto of sharing plates. If Italian is the order of the day, Daniele does really outstanding homemade pasta, and Pizza Randale is a treat for its namesake. For a low key but super delicious meal on a pretty night, Ulrich is a great place to sit outside in a buzzing neighbourhood.
Vienna is a city best explored on foot. It’s safe, and just about every corner brings a building, castle or park that you can’t help but marvel at. Considering that the city was nearly flattened in World War II, it’s even more remarkable that it has a feel perhaps even more romantic and enjoyable than Paris, with so many districts to explore. Whenever possible, walk, or take an e-scooter rather than driving. For a first trip, you just can’t leave without seeing…
Belvedere Palace – The Belvedere is a great choice because it’s kind of like a two for one. You get incredible gardens with views over the city, an absolutely iconic baroque palace and also one of the finest collections of Klimt paintings as well as Monet and more.
Naschmarkt – In between all the artsy stuff, you probably deserve a nice cold beer or some delicious cheap eats. Right? Naschmarkt is a really fun feast for all senses, with food stalls, flower shops and more. Be sure to hit up Neni at Naschmarkt for exquisite Tel Aviv food that bests just about any other Middle Eastern food you’ve tried. It fills up fast.
The Albertina – Vienna and art kinda go together hand in hand. The Albertina is a truly world class gallery in a beautiful setting with an outstanding collection of Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, Magritte, Degas, Richter, Lichtenstein, Chagall, Modigliani, Klimt and Munch that is perhaps only surpassed in one or two other museums around the world.
Stadtpark – On a warm summer day, Stadtpark in Vienna feels like a dream. You can walk along the river and then find a place on the beautiful lawn to enjoy a picnic before wandering further. You’ll find a lovely cafe along the river and plenty of benches to rest.
MuseumQuartier – This is a bit of a catch all, but you’ll be grateful if you’re on limited time. This is where most of the museums can be found, and is replete with beautiful parks, gardens and places to relax. If you want to see classic Viennese buildings while popping in and out of the galleries, make your way to the MuseumQuartier and tick all the boxes in one sitting.
There are so many more things to see and do in Vienna, including world class vineyards just miles away, so however much time you were planning on spending, consider adding another day or two, because this is a city you really won’t tire of anytime soon!
If you want all the big stores you can find in most cities around the world, with all the people of the world shopping in them, Kärntnerstrasse is where you can find it all. It’s the Broadway of Soho in NYC, or the Oxford Circus of London all in one, and although it’s crazy busy, the side streets lead to some great areas.
But if you’re more of the boutique, vintage and unique local shop type, heading to Laimgrube, Neubau or Leopoldstadt are where you wanna be. Neaubaugasse, Praterstrabe and Westbahnstabe are all perfect streets to wander in their respective neighbourhoods with plenty of unique gear you won’t find elsewhere. And as you may have hoped, there’s plenty of places to grab a beer or a coffee in between too.
Vienna is pretty progressive when it comes to taking your money. In other words, you can use card at pretty much any restaurant, cafe or shop, and if you have a contactless credit card, those work like a charm virtually anywhere.
There are a few smaller businesses which may insist on cold hard Euro cash, so it doesn’t hurt to keep a few small bills on you. As a savvy traveller, you know that the best way to get foreign currency is never going to be at an airport currency stand or anywhere that offers exchange. Make one ATM withdrawal, and use this guide as your friend.
Vienna Is So Much Fun
Vienna is one of my favourite cities in Europe with great bike lanes, wide avenues and architecture that’s virtually unmatched in any other European city. It’s elegant, clean and ever changing with new trends in food and culture. With any hope, this guide will help you navigate your way to loving it even more. Cheers!