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Café Central in Vienna
Photograph: Herbert Lehmann / Café Central

The 18 best things to do in Vienna

Vienna may trade on its imperial past but scratch the surface and you’ll find there’s a lot more here than first meets the eye

Written by
Natalie Marchant
Emma Hughes

Perhaps you know Vienna for its renowned Kaffeehaus culture (the city is said to have the best cafés in Europe), or you’re there to sample hearty Austrian fare at one of its best restaurants. Or maybe you’re ready to spend the week sauntering around the many museums on offer. 

The city is fast establishing itself as one of the world’s best travel destinations, and it has been regularly crowned one of the world’s most liveable cities. So if you’re headed to the Austrian capital for a city break, do it right. From fine art to fine wine, here are the very best things to do in Vienna this year.


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Best things to do in Vienna

Gaze at Klimt’s famous painting ‘The Kiss’
Photograph: Google Art Project

1. Gaze at Klimt’s famous painting ‘The Kiss’

What is it? ‘The Kiss’ is the final painting of Gustav Klimt’s Golden Period and forms the centrepiece of the world’s most significant collection of the artist’s works, housed in Vienna’s beautiful 300-year-old Upper Belvedere Palace. Depicting two lovers locked in an embrace in a meadow of flowers, it stands out thanks to Klimt’s use of gold leaf and a background suffused with gold, silver and platinum flakes. Some think it is representative of the artist himself with lifelong partner Emilie Flöge. 

Why go? One of the world’s most instantly recognisable paintings, ‘The Kiss’ marked a significant watering down of the erotic intensity Klimt’s earlier works had been criticised for. Thousands flock here each year to see this revolutionary work. Make sure you also admire some of the other art on show and take a stroll through the gardens of the Baroque palace complex.

Walk the Ringstrasse

2. Walk the Ringstrasse

What is it? Wrapped around Vienna’s historic city centre, the Ringstrasse – or the Ring as it’s more commonly known – is the result of a Habsburg-era initiative that sought to connect the suburbs to the imperial centre. Work began on the grand boulevard with a decree by Franz Joseph I in 1857, and today it still serves as the main orientational aid for any Vienna visitor.

Why go? Built to show off the best of the Habsburg empire, a stroll around the Ring is the easiest way to admire some of the city’s grandest buildings. Travelling the relatively short distance between Karlsplatz and Schottentor alone allows you to take in the State Opera House, the Burggarten, the Hofburg, the National Library, the Art History, Natural History and World museums, Parliament, the Volksgarten, the Burgtheater, the Town Hall and the University. Phew.

Explore the MuseumsQuartier
Photograph: Radu Bercan //

3. Explore the MuseumsQuartier

What is it? The MuseumsQuartier Wien, or MQ as it’s more commonly known, offers everything from the world’s finest Egon Schiele collection to an array of trendy bars, cafés and restaurants to a sculpture park-slash-mini golf course. The MQ Libelle rooftop terrace provides some of the finest views of the city centre. 

Why go? The Leopold Museum, home to 42 Schiele paintings and various works by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and members of the Wien Werkstätte movement, is one of Vienna’s finest art museums, while the MUMOK boasts the city’s premier contemporary art collection, including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Even if art’s not your thing, it’s worth heading to the courtyard to hang out with locals on one of the eye-catching geometric blocks or enjoy one of the outdoor cafés.

Check out the Sigmund Freud Museum
Photograph: Florian Lierzer / Sigmund Freud Foundation

4. Check out the Sigmund Freud Museum

What is it? Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, lived and worked at Berggasse 19 until 1938 when the Nazis’ persecution of the city’s Jews forced him and his family to flee to England. Having undergone a significant expansion and renovation, you can now visit all of the family’s private rooms and both Sigmund and Anna Freud’s practices, alongside exhibitions on the family’s life, psychoanalysis and the history of the building itself. 

Why go? As well as being a fascinating window into life during Vienna’s intellectual golden age, and its subsequent downfall, the Sigmund Freud Museum hosts events and has a tremendous gift shop.

Try Vienna’s signature cake
Photograph: K. u K. Hofzuckerbäcker DEMEL

5. Try Vienna’s signature cake

What is it? Vienna’s signature cake the Sachertorte, a luxurious combo of dense chocolate sponge, dark chocolate ganache and finely-spread apricot jam, traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream, is more than just a dessert – its recipe is a closely guarded secret. Sure, you’ll find versions of this sweet treat in cafés across the city, but there’s a fierce rivalry between the Hotel Sacher and Demel over claims to the original recipe. They’ve even gone to court over it…

Why go? Which Sachertorte is best? There’s only one way to find out – and that’s by sampling both. Let the cake wars commence.

Stroll through Hofburg Palace
Photograph: Studeny Nadine

6. Stroll through Hofburg Palace

What is it? Back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the ornate Hofburg Palace was its beating heart. Today it’s the official residence of the country’s president and is home to many of Vienna’s top museums, attractions and galleries (and some famous dancing horses, too).

Why go? A walk through the Hofburg offers a potted history of Austria itself. See the Roman ruins, learn all about the life and macabre death of Empress Elisabeth – the ‘Princess Diana’ of the Habsburg Empire who was recently immortalised in Netflix drama ‘The Empress’ – at the Sisi Museum, admire the Baroque splendour of the newly-refurbished Prunksaal (State Hall) at the Austrian National Library and see where Adolf Hitler held his Anschluss speech. Head to the Spanish Riding School to watch the Lipizzaner horses perform their nifty dressage work.

Hang out in the Neubau district
Photograph: Courtesy Christof Wagner

7. Hang out in the Neubau district

What is it? This used to be Vienna’s edgiest up-and-coming neighbourhood, but now it’s settled into a comfortable kind of cool – think London’s Clerkenwell crossed with the best bits of Berlin. The rents are still reasonable here in the 7th district, which means it’s home to several one-of-a-kind boutiques, bars and restaurants.

Why go? Well, the food’s fantastic, for starters. There’s Erich, a subterranean taqueria with one of the city’s best drinks lists and its sister restaurant Ulrich, which does a banging brunch. Meanwhile, TIAN Bistro am Spittalberg is one of the city’s foremost vegetarian and vegan establishments. If you fancy a cocktail, pop up the road to Moby Dick, which prides itself on innovative cocktails and food pairings.

Take in the view from Vienna’s rooftop bars
Photograph: Abacapress/Didier Delmas

8. Take in the view from Vienna’s rooftop bars

What is it? Vienna has seen something of a boom in rooftop bars and terraces in recent years, catering for a wide range of budgets, tastes and views. From the brightly-coloured and opulent interiors of Das LOFT to the al fresco panoramas from the top of a WWII flak tower of 360º OCEAN SKY at Haus des Meeres, there really is a view for everyone. 

Why go? Visitors to Vienna have long been told to always look up to admire the architecture, but the influx of rooftop venues has flipped that on its head. Nowhere is this more true than at the Lamée Rooftop bar where you gaze side-on at the Stephansdom cathedral’s single tower, which feels so close you can nearly touch it. If you fancy something a little more relaxed, the living room-like interior of the Dachboden bar of the 25hours Hotel may be more your thing. 

Mooch around the Albertina Modern
Photograph: Rupert Steiner

9. Mooch around the Albertina Modern

What is it? The Albertina Modern – an offshoot of the long-established Albertina museum – is Vienna’s newest major art museum and holds two of the most important collections of post-1945 Austrian art, the Essl and Jablonka collections, alongside works by other famous international artists. 

Why go? Counting more than 60,000 works by over 5,000 artists on its books, the Albertina Modern is committed to presenting Austrian art on equal footing with works by important international artists such as Andy Warhol. Since its opening in the historic Künstlerhaus in 2020, it has exhibited works by renowned artists such as Egon Schiele, Ai Weiwei and Jackson Pollock. 

Dine in the world’s grandest greenhouse
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Dine in the world’s grandest greenhouse

What is it? Beautifully located in the pretty Burggarten park by the Hofburg, the Palmenhaus might be the world’s grandest greenhouse. Home to towering tropical trees and plants from around the world, the Palmenhaus doubles as a restaurant and bar, serving modern Austrian specialties with locally-sourced ingredients, as well as lighter bites and cocktails. If nothing else, be sure to try the cheeseboard with a glass of local wine. 

Why go? It’s super-central, so wherever you’re staying, this is a fabulous spot for a memorable first-night dinner or drinks. Plus, it’s sehr photogenic both inside and out, and a great place for people-watching.

Ride the Wiener Riesenrad
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Ride the Wiener Riesenrad

What is it? Standing proudly at the entrance to Prater amusement park, the 126-year-old Riesenrad Ferris wheel is to Vienna what the London Eye is to London. Constructed in 1897, the landmark starred in the 1940s thriller ‘The Third Man’, and a ride in one of its 15 stately gondolas feels like stepping back in time.

Why go? There’s no better way to see Vienna than from the top of this 200ft-high landmark, although for €89 (£79, $94) the more adventurous can take a full spin in the open air while harnessed to the glass-bottomed carriage Platform 9. After a ride on the Riesenrad, stroll through the antiquated, not to mention in places rather macabre, historic funfair.

Have a coffee at Café Central
Photograph: Herbert Lehmann / Café Central

12. Have a coffee at Café Central

What is it? Vienna’s most venerable café commands a queue to rival any London hotspot. Opened in 1876, this typical Viennese Kaffeehaus has always been a favourite with brainy locals; Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky and Stefan Zweig are all known to have taken their coffee here. Its cathedral-like domed ceilings and accomplished patisserie selection are just as much of a draw now as they were then.

Why go? Waiting in line may be a bore, but once you’re inside, the glittering décor and world-class cakes and pastries make it all worthwhile. Feeling peckish? Tuck into a hearty potato soup, apricot jam pancakes or a warm Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce.

Sample local wines at the Vienna vineyards
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Sample local wines at the Vienna vineyards

What is it? Vienna is one of the few cities in the world to grow enough wine within its boundaries to warrant a visit to its vineyards. Light, fresh and fruity, Austrian wines are reliably delicious. Head up to the hills and you can both sample their delights while also admiring stunning panoramas of the city. 

Why go? The 38A bus runs to the top of Kahlenberg and through much of the city’s main wine-making districts, where you can stop off at Viennese wine taverns known as Heuriger. In the summer, stroll back down the Wanderweg 1 walking route – along the way, you can sample wines from local producers in their own vineyards, all while admiring the view.

Visit the Jewish Museum
Photograph: Jüdisches Museum Wien

14. Visit the Jewish Museum

What is it? It’s never been more important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. The world’s oldest Jewish museum was founded in Vienna in 1895 but was closed and plundered by the Nazis in 1938; many valuable objects are still missing. The present-day Jewish Museum was founded in 1988 and moved to Dorotheergasse in 1993. A second site above the remains of the medieval synagogue in Judenplatz was opened in 2000. The two locations tell the story of the city’s Jews from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Why go? As well as preserving the memory of the 50,000 Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust, the museum showcases the extraordinary contributions made to every aspect of Viennese life by Jewish citizens throughout the ages. A must-visit. 

Sip on craft beer at Mel’s Diner
Photograph: Unsplash/Bence Boros

15. Sip on craft beer at Mel’s Diner

What is it? You’re never far away from a Vienna-style lager here – even the sausage stands sell them – but a good craft beer can still be harder to come by. Mel’s Diner is a modern-style tap room tucked away in a quieter part of the city centre and offers an extensive range of ales and beers, both bottled and on tap. 

Why go? Mel’s impressive 40-plus page menu lists dozens of ales, beers and ciders both from Austria and further afield, alongside more unusual offerings such as Slovak craft tea liqueur Tatratea. If you can’t make your mind up, try the tasting rack of six on-tap beers or ciders for €10. The food menu of handcrafted burgers and hearty salads isn’t half bad either.

Go for an outdoor dip
Photograph: Badeschiff Wien

16. Go for an outdoor dip

What is it? Vienna is impressively equipped with pools – the Art Deco Amalienbad is definitely worth a visit – but nothing beats an open-air dip in the river. Just seven stops from central Stephansplatz, the lakeside Alte Donau (Old Danube) area is where locals flock during the warmer months. There, you’ll find idyllic bathing beaches, good fish restaurants, and places to hire boats and SUPs.

Why go? Vienna’s waterways really come alive in the summer. But if you don’t fancy going chlorine-free, try the Badeschiff Vienna, a super-cool pool on a boat with a DJ and cracking food and drink, courtesy of the Speisen Ohne Grenzen menu produced by refugees. These are largely summer activities, of course, although the Badeschiff now offers winter swimming at your own risk.

Eat your way around Naschmarkt
Photograph: WienTourismus / Peter Rigaud

17. Eat your way around Naschmarkt

What is it? Constructed in the 16th century, this open-air market feels like a cross between London’s old Covent Garden and Dinerama. Taste your way around Vienna’s diverse culinary history as you work through everything from barrels of sauerkraut to shawarma and Tel Aviv-style sabich at Neni Am Naschmarkt.

Why go? Whatever flavours your taste buds are calling for, you’ll find it here. It’s also a great place to stock up on edible souvenirs, like cheese, wine and sausages – but be sure to have some cash on you.

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