Things to Do in Vienna: Bunny’s 20 Tips for First Timers
Vienna is officially awesome. It is no coincidence that Vienna tops international surveys of the most livable cities in the world year after year. It might not be the world’s most exciting city, but it is certainly beautiful, safe, clean, green, well-functioning and very, very pleasant indeed.
Bunny was lucky to have called Vienna home for many years before she moved to the Caribbean. Looking back at her time and experiences in Vienna, she decided to compile a list of 20 awesome things to do in Vienna for those who are visiting for the first time.
Read below for Bunny’s tips of things to do in Vienna (in no particular order):
1. Go Up the Danube Tower
For great 360 degree views of Vienna and its surrounding hills, visit Austria’s tallest landmark, the Danube Tower.
The viewing terrace is 150 metres high and the views over the city and the Danube are unparalleled. It also boasts quite a good restaurant, in case you fancy a bite. The surrounding Danube Park makes for a pleasant stroll afterwards.
2. Admire Books at the National Library
Bunny loves libraries and they don’t come much more stunning than Vienna’s Austrian National Library. Hosted in the Hofburg, the library has an imperial setting, extraordinary interior and 20-metre high ceiling with beautiful frescos.
There are more than 200,000 gorgeous, leather-bound books here, including an extensive collection of Martin Luther’s musings from the 15th century, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. Bunny also loved the collection of exquisite Baroque globes.
3. Meet the Golden Girl at Sisi Museum
Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi as she is known, is Vienna’s beloved girl. She is simply everywhere.
Sisi was a nervous child bride who turned into a much-loved 19th century beauty icon with an eating disorder. She struggled with the royal life and its strict rules, had a rebellious streak and ultimately met a tragic end. (Does that perhaps remind you of some other Royal?)
The Sisi Museum is dedicated to her life, displaying her personal objects, elaborate dresses as well as intimate details of her life and shocking murder. The museum is a must for anyone wanting to understand the Austrians’ obsession with Sisi.
4. Be Spooked at the Torture Museum
Life is no picnic. It’s good to be reminded of this every now and then. There is no better place to face the grim past (and present) than the Torture Museum in Vienna.
The Torture Museum is hosted in an old bunker which perfectly fits the atmosphere. It encompasses the dark side of human history, with vivid and powerful, sometimes disturbing, exhibits about the use of torture in Austrian and European history. Bunny bets you will gain a new appreciation for your current situation after having visited this museum.
5. Go Ice-Skating at the Rathaus
This one is for wintertime, obviously. Every year, usually between late December to late February, the park in front of Vienna’s Rathaus (city hall) transforms into a massive ice skating rink - Wiener Eistraum.
These ice skating terraces cover an area of 8000m2 and offer great fun for children and adults (and bunnies) alike. There is music, snack stands and hot drinks (including alcoholic ones). Plus, the Rathaus and the surrounding trees are beautifully illuminated to create a perfect winter wonderland.
6. Get Acquainted with Gustav Klimt
If Sisi is Vienna’s golden girl, Gustav Klimt must be the male equivalent. It is impossible to escape this symbolist painter’s art when visiting the city. Posters, coffee mugs, post cards and other tourist mementos abound.
Vienna’s contemporary art gallery Secession, co-founded by Klimt and the famous Secession group of artists, contains one of his most famous works: a monumental wall painting Beethoven Frieze. The Art Nouveau building itself is also worth checking out, with its distinctive golden dome visible from afar.
7. Be Royal at Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace is a bit like Vienna’s Versailles. This Rococo palace with exquisite gardens used to serve as an imperial summer residence during the Habsburg reign. Today, it is a major tourist attraction. You can gawk at the imperial rooms here as well as wander the beautiful grounds with its abundance of lovely flowers, statues and ponds.
The Vienna Zoo is also located in the Schönbrunn gardens, but Bunny wouldn’t recommend that. Animals don’t belong behind bars, she says.
8. Have Dinner While Riding the Giant Ferris Wheel
How about a candlelit three-course meal inside a cabin of Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel at Prater (amusement park)?
Bunny can thoroughly recommend the experience. The romantic atmosphere inside the ferris wheel, with white tablecloths, candles, flowers and unique city views, is exciting. The food in these kinds of settings can often be a bit gimmicky but the Bunnies’ vegetarian dinner was actually very tasty. The experience itself was top notch and very special.
9. Climb the Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of Vienna’s most iconic buildings. Bunny particularly loves the tower room which offers unbeatable views over central Vienna and beyond.
Sure, it is a bit of a climb up (and then down) the narrow staircase, 343 steps to be exact, but the views will be worth it. Apart from all the major landmarks of Vienna, you will also get to closely observe the thousands of glazed tiles that give the cathedral’s roof its distinctive look.
Bunny recommends a visit just before sunset so you can linger watching the sun go down and then the city lights slowly start to light up around you.
10. Admire Art in Albertina
Albertina is for art lovers. This museum is located in another beautiful Habsburg palace, housing a world-renowned collection of art. Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Picasso… They are all here. Not to mention Klimt, naturlicht.
Given the permanent and thoughtful changing collections, there is always something for everyone in the beautiful staterooms of Albertina.
11. Enjoy the Christmas Markets
Pre-Christmas time is simply magical in Vienna. Bunny loves hopping around Vienna’s Christmas markets, sipping warm, spiked punch, taking photos and nibbling on gingerbread cookies. The smell of roasted chestnuts and beeswax candles fill the air over the city and festive stalls seem erected at every corner.
The Viennese really know how to do Christmas, Bunny says. And the imperial setting adds another lovely layer to the fairy-tale atmosphere of the Christmas markets.
Check out Bunny’s separate blog post for more detailed info about Christmas Markets in Vienna.
12. Go Sofa Sailing on the Danube
In summertime, the Danube serves as all of Vienna’s playground. You can laze by the river, go for a river cruise, party at artificial beaches, swim or have picnics, try a nudist area or dine at many restaurants along the river. However, among all the choices, Bunny’s favourite activity at the Danube is sofa-sailing.
This is just as fun as it sounds. You can take a comfortable, electric sofa boat for a ride on the Old Danube river without any sailing skills. A simple joystick lets you decide your speed and direction as you whizz along the river. Bring friends and a picnic lunch and have a blast, Bunny says.
13. Visit the Opera
The Vienna State Opera is one of the best known opera houses in the world. You can access it by buying a ticket either to see an opera production (confession: Bunny has actually never done this!) or to participate in an organised tour. In summertime, you can also catch operas live projected on a big screen outside the building.
If opera is not your thing, keep an eye on other concerts and events hosted inside the Opera House. Bunny fondly remembers Melody Gardot’s performance during the Vienna Jazz Festival in the Opera House some years ago.
14. Take a Selfie at the Hundertwasser House
Hundertwasser House is one of Bunny’s favourite buildings in Vienna. It is wonderfully weird architecture, offering a nice juxtaposition to all the imperial grandeur one finds in Vienna.
The building was designed by eccentric (what else) Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and it is actually part of a social housing development. It must be seen in person to really appreciate the quirkiness of the design. And if you find yourself liking the style, there is a Museum Hundertwasser nearby to further educate yourself on the architect’s work.
15. Engage in Coffee Culture
Vienna’s historic coffee houses are world famous. Bunny is not a huge fan. She cannot stand the Sacher Torte (Vienna’s signature cake) and she thinks that Cafe Central is seriously overrated. Sigmund Freud may have hung out there, but it doesn’t mean you have to.
That said, Vienna is full of cute, cozy cafes that you should absolutely visit. Opt for something more modern, such as Simply Raw Bakery at Am Hof or one of the cute cafes inside the Ferstel Passage.
16. Sneak a Peek at the Palace of Justice
Vienna’s Palace of Justice is not exactly on the tourist radar (yet) but it is a wonderful piece of architecture that you can visit free of charge. The majestic building is currently the seat of Austria’s Supreme Court.
There is a cafe on the top floor, with nice views over Vienna. You can sneak into the building by visiting the cafe and, on your way up, take in the impressive central hall with its gorgeous staircase, arcades and sculptures. This is a perfect Instagram spot, Bunny says.
17. Dance at a Viennese Ball
There are few things more Austrian than a formal Viennese Ball. Hundreds of balls take place in the city every year during the winter season.
Bunny has been lucky to attend a Viennese Ball at the Hofburg, the palatial complex that used to host the Austrian Emperors, and she still cherishes the memories. The ambience and elegance of a Viennese Ball is quite magical, even if you are not a romantic or a waltzing queen (Bunny is neither).
Luckily, provided you can snatch a ticket and abide by the strict dress code, you too can attend one of these formal events.
18. Enjoy the Belvedere Palace
Vienna’s Belvedere Palace used to be another royal summer residence, but it now serves as a museum and an art gallery. Bunny loves the extensive gardens which she used as her running venue when she lived nearby.
And yes, you guessed it: Belvedere Palace is another place where you can view Gustav Klimt’s works. In fact, Belvedere has the largest collection of Klimt’s paintings anywhere in the world, including the famous The Kiss.
19. Visit the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is Bunny’s favourite museum in Vienna. It is hosted in a beautiful building of imperial grandeur, opposite the Museum of Fine Arts. The collection of stuffed animals, birds, insects, skeletons, meteorites, minerals, stones, you name it, is impressive. There is even a pretty cool space section. And yes, of course there are dinosaurs!
You can spend hours in this museum without getting bored, Bunny says. She just wishes there were more displays in English…
20. Stroll Vineyards with City Views
Vienna is one of the few cities in the world that actually has vineyards within its city limits. There are plenty of hiking opportunities (even a special wine hiking day every autumn) and lovely little wine taverns to visit in and around the city.
Kahlenberg in the Vienna woods is the place to go if you want to enjoy vineyards with sweeping city views. You can either hike up following an established hiking trail or take the bus 38A (Bunny won’t judge you), the views and the wine will be there waiting for you.