Vienna for First-time Visitors: the Ultimate Travel Guide

Vienna for First-time Visitors: the Ultimate Travel Guide

Are you planning an itinerary to visit Vienna for the first time? Good choice, Vienna is an incredible city and the perfect place to visit over a long weekend. It really deserves to be right up there with Paris, London and Rome; the capital and largest city of Austria, its rich history dates back to Roman times when the city’s primary function was to protect the Roman Empire from attacks, and it then became the capital city of the powerful Austrian empire in the 19th century.

As a city full of history, there is plenty to see in Vienna. This city retains a rich cultural legacy, has carefully preserved traditions and also, not to forget, Vienna’s famous and unique cafe scene. You will visit a city with magnificent charms, vibrant culture and be exposed to artistic masterpieces, amazing architecture, splendid attractions and, of course, classical music. If you are lucky you will meet the spirit of some of the world’s best artists, such as Mozart and Beethoven.

I don’t know how much time you have for your Vienna itinerary, but I can tell you this city is going to charm you so much that you will probably want to stay for a longer time. There is plenty of things to do in Vienna for first-time visitors, so to help you make the most of it we’ve compiled a few helpful hints & tips for you!

This guide will fill you in on places to see in Vienna, budget places to eat, and tips to explore the city like a local.


Marvel at Vienna's Architecture

As mentioned above, Vienna is full of architectural highlights, if you visit Vienna for the first time I highly recommend you to visit the following places:


1. Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)

Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

This cultural world heritage site, located only a few kilometers west of the city center, used to be the main Habsburgs summer residence from the 18th century to 1918. This spectacular palace was completed in 1780 during Maria Theresa’s reign. The palace was built in a beautiful park-like setting and is one of Vienna’s main attractions.

The spectacular park around Schönbrunn Palace covers an area of 500 acres and was laid out in the 18th century in Baroque style. I recommend you to go with the Schöbrunn Palace Guided Tour, in order to explore the whole palace and to get to know more about the history.

Another reason why Schönbrunn Palace is so attractive is because, apart from the amazing palace, the area houses a variety of other attractions such as the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) which you can visit right away after your guided tour at the beautiful palace.


See also: Free tours in Vienna, Austria


2. Hundertwasser House


Source: Flickr - Martin Abegglen [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Along with the royal architectural masterpieces that Vienna is renowned for, one of Austria’s architectural highlights, the Hundertwasser house designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, draws visitors from all around the world. It is an apartment house that is designed in different colors and shapes and it also includes an amazing museum, which is definitely worth a visit.


3. Michaelerplatz

Michaelerplatz in Vienna, Austria

Source: Flickr - Sandor Somkuti [CC BY-SA 2.0]


When you visit Vienna for the first time you definitely can’t miss the Michaelerplatz. This place is not just another architectural masterpiece, it is the main square in front of the famous Hofburg Palace and has important historical value. This palace is of typical baroque architecture and was the winter residence of the Habsburg family. There are several impressive historic buildings located around the square, such as St. Michael’s Gate to the Hofburg Palace and St. Michael’s Church.


4. Rathausplatz (City Hall Square)

Rathausplatz in Vienna

Source: Wikimedia Commons - Mattias Hill [CC BY-SA 4.0]


From Michaelerplatz you can walk to the famous Rathausplatz. This square is the main location for local events and activities, both in summer and winter. In summer, you will find food and film festivals, and in winter times you will have the Christmas market in December, followed by a giant ice skating rink in January. You can be sure when you visit the Rathausplatz that some events will be in full swing. The town hall, Rathaus, also hosts the world-famous Life ball every year.


5. Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

Built in the 18th century, the Belvedere Palace is a Baroque jewel and magnificent historic building that served as a royal residence for the Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today it houses the Belvedere Museum, which contains sculptures, ceiling paintings and the largest collection of Gustav Klimt's masterpieces, including the famous "The Kiss". The palace complex has a stunning park scenery with water pools, flower gardens, and cascade fountains.


6. Prater Theme Park

Prater Park

You definitely cannot miss the Prater Theme Park and the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel when visiting Vienna. Prater, or the “Wurstelprater” as it is also known, is the oldest amusement park in the world and offers attractions like roller coasters, bumper cars, prize-winning games, and fun houses, and yes, I can guarantee it is a lot of fun. The main season for Prater Theme Park is from the 15th of March to the 31st of October. Usually, the attractions are open from 10 am to 01:00 am, depending on the weather.


Discover Vienna's Street Art

Vienna street art

Vienna is always seen as the imperial city with its historical monuments and its classical music, but the urban art scene is rarely mentioned. Big names in the scene like ROA, Blu, and Shepard Fairey have already left their creative, artistic mark on Vienna.

This free walking tour will lead you to the most active street art spots in Vienna. The tour is guided by locals who are involved in the urban and street art community and want to share interesting stories about the art and their creators. Some works carry political, social and artistic references, while others are more personal.


Budget places to eat in Vienna

As we all know, European cities can be quite expensive when it comes to food. In Vienna, you can actually find a wide range of different places to eat on a Budget. All around the city you will find coffee houses, markets and street vendors who offer quality food at a sustainable price. In the city center it is quite difficult to find budget places to eat, as in many European cities, but the further you get from the touristy centre, or closer to university areas, you will find good budget food all over the place. Here are 4 budget places to eat in Vienna:


1. Naschmarkt

If you want an overload of your senses and cheap eats, then definitely visit the Naschmarkt; this huge market in Vienna is where you find local Austrian food as well as exotic cuisine. You will find restaurants and several street vendors who offer delicious food for a good price. Food at Naschmarkt is not only budget-friendly but delicious too! Local tip: check out restaurant NENI.

2. Esterhazykeller

If you are looking to eat typical Austrian food you can’t go wrong with this charming place. This restaurant was established by Joseph Haydn in 1683 where he named it after the Hungarian noble family Esterházy, and today it is the oldest “Heuriger local” in Austria.

The restaurant serves typical Austrian food, such as the famous “WIENER SCHNITZEL”, but also vegetarian options are available. Meals start around €6, and you can order a famous WIENER SCHNITZEL for around €11. Wine from the Esterházy vineyard is on the menu, along with delicious apple strudel and other sweets which are under €5.

3. Vienna and Sausages

If you like sausages, this is for you. You can find them all over Vienna but I recommend you visit the “Würstelstand Hoher Markt”, this is a classic Vienna sausage stand serving one of the best Bratwursts (fried sausage) in the city. Also, you can have a Käsekrainer (sausage with cheese inside) or Currywurst (sausage with curry powder), take a bun and enjoy the delicious taste of true Austrian street food on the historic Hoher Markt square.

4. Wiener Deewan

Our last option for you to eat on a budget in Vienna is this Pakistani restaurant, one of the legends of Vienna cheap food scene and especially known by the university students in Vienna. Why? They have an amazing buffet and you can pay what you want. The place is well known for its amazing food and international atmosphere.

How to get around Vienna

Vienna is a very easy city to get around by using public transport. The city’s transport system is excellent. Buses, trams, and subways run frequently, and there’s bus service throughout the night. My favorite mode of transport is the Vienna Metro, especially if you are visiting Vienna for the first time, I would recommend this option.

The Metro connects all the main areas of Vienna, arrives every couple of minutes and the system is very easy to understand. You can buy tickets in machines, including one way, or 24, 48, 72 hours tickets. You can also buy the so-called Vienna City Card at the airport, which includes discounts for museums and other attractions.

Apart from that, you can use buses, trams and train lines, the system is more complicated as there is a variety of them. In general, it can be said that the transport system in Vienna is excellent, clean, safe and understandable, but for your first-time visit to Vienna, use the metro.


How to get to Vienna from the airport

The location of Vienna can’t be better, the city is located in the middle of Europe and it’s very easy to get to it from nearby countries, as well as to move around using the well-developed transport system. Vienna’s international airport is located only 16 km outside the city center. And there are various options to get from the airport to the city center, here you have some of them:

  • Train S7: My local insider tip, this is the cheapest and most convenient option to get from the airport to the city center. This train takes you directly from the airport to the main city station “Wien Mitte”, with only a few stops on the way you will get there in about 40 minutes. This train operates every day from 5.18 am to 0.18 am, and from the city center to the airport from 4.36 am to 11.36 pm. You can get the tickets at the ÖBB machine and the price should not be more than 4€ in one direction. Make sure to validate your ticket before you enter the train.

  • City Airport Train (CAT): My second option is the Vienna City Airport Train, it’s a little bit more expensive than the train but definitely worth it. This train will take you to the same station “Wien Mitte” as the other train, but it only takes 16 minutes, non-stop. This train operates daily from the airport to the city center from 6.09 am to 11.39 pm and from the city center to the airport from 5.37 am to 11.07 pm. The train leaves every 30 minutes and the price of a single ticket is 11€ and 19€ return.

Of course, apart from these two options, you can take a taxi or a bus, but these two are definitely the most convenient and cheapest options.


The best time to visit Vienna

Regardless of when you visit Vienna, you won't be disappointed: Vienna is beautiful the whole year-round. If you want to avoid crowds, try not to travel in August - the peak tourist month, or around Christmas time, because Vienna is very famous for its Christmas Markets. However, if you love Christmas markets you have to go at least once, they are amazing and the variety of markets is incredible. Summertime in Vienna is amazing too, you can swim in the Danube and you will have attractions and food festivals all over the city. Really, there is no best time to visit Vienna, this city will always charm you.

If you want to learn more about the city and receive excellent local tips, don't hesitate to book a free tour of Vienna with our lovely local guides. They will tell you all the things you won’t find in an average history book!


By Sarah K.
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