Vienna, the charming capital of Austria, should not be skipped on your worldly travels. Vienna is known for many things, but above all else, its beauty and impressive architecture stand out from its time of historical imperialism. Even with only 24 hours in Vienna, there’s still plenty of time to tour the most iconic landmarks of the imperial city.
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A brief history of Vienna
Vienna was home to one of the most formative dynasties in the entire world. The city’s origins date back all the way to Rome when the military encampment, Vindobona, was stationed in the modern-day center of Vienna. Then, the Habsburg dynasty, one of the greatest dynasties to ever exist in Europe, reigned from the 11th to the 18th century.
The dynasty held power during the Renaissance in Vienna, which made it the birthplace of many classical art movements. The dynasty continued until WWI when Emperor Charles I abdicated the throne. Even today, Vienna is viewed as a bridge from the old world to the modern one and the great connector of both East and Western Europe.
Between its Baroque architecture, outstanding museums, and impressive opera houses, there’s no shortage of fun activities in Vienna. For intrepid travelers only spending 24 hours in Vienna, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of Vienna’s greatest hits, so you won’t miss out on some of the most amazing sights in all of Europe.
How to travel around Vienna
Even with only 24 hours in Vienna, the city’s efficient design means it’s not difficult to navigate. Not to mention, Vienna has a world-class transportation system known as the Wiener Linien, with five underground lines, 29 trams, and 90 bus lines.
Tons of safe bike lanes make Vienna a very walkable and bike-friendly city and tourists can easily rent a CityBike to visit all of the city’s top hits. To maximize your 24 hours in Vienna, consider purchasing a ticket for the Hop-On Hop-Off to make traveling around the city a cinch. Pro-travelers may also invest in a City-Card for discounts on popular attractions and public transit.
If you plan ahead and travel well, you’ll have no problem seeing all of Vienna’s greatest attractions in one single day.
How to plan your 24 hours in Vienna
These activities are presented to be easily accessible to one another, however, you should take your time and fully enjoy the moment when you’re in Vienna. If you’re having fun, it may be hard to fit in all of Vienna’s amazing attractions in 24 hours. The following is a handpicked list suggesting some of Vienna’s most popular sites, so choose which ones stand out to you the most, and get your day going!
Morning activities with 24 hours in Vienna
Grab some Viennese coffee at Café Central
Start off your day in Vienna the right way with a visit to a delicious cafe in Vienna. Looking for a luxurious option? Opt for one of the most famous cafes, Café Central, for its grand indoor decor. Be sure to do yourself a favor and order one of Vienna’s delicious breakfast plates, the Frühstück. It’s a small breakfast consisting of an egg, a Semmel roll with ham, and a side of jam.
It’ll be easy to lose track of time in Café Central, as it’s very common in Vienna to sit in a cafe for hours on end and watch the world go by. However, if you only have 24 hours in Vienna, get moving and head over to one of Vienna’s most beautiful sites, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Right around the corner from Café Central lies a gothic masterpiece, St. Stephen’s Cathedral – a national emblem of Austria, attracting up to five million visitors each year. St. Stephen’s is the final resting place of a few different leaders, including Emperor Frederick III, who lies in the red marble tomb.
The Cathedral also hosts over 11,000 skeletons from the mid-18th century Bubonic plague in its catacombs. Although the general area of St. Stephen’s won’t cost you a penny to enter (making it one of the best free things to do in Vienna!), this St. Stephen’s ticket includes an audio guide and entrance to St. Stephen’s, the Dom Museum Wien, the South and North Towers, and the catacombs.
Wander Hofburg Palace
A 15-minute walk from St. Stephen’s is where you’ll find the imperial seat of the Habsburg Dynasty, The Hofburg Palace. Vienna is well known for its opulent palaces, and Hofburg does not disappoint. Serving as the prime residence for Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz II, this luxurious palace is home to 18 buildings and 2600 rooms. Every ruler since 1275 has added rooms and additions to the Hofburg Palace.
Looking for more free things to do in Vienna? You’re in luck. Right outside of The Hofburg Palace is Heldenplatz, a public space meant to show the dominance of the Habsburg dynasty. Many significant historical events took place in this square, including a ceremonial announcement from Adolf Hitler during WWII.
Check out Vienna’s Museumsquartier
On the other side of the Hofburg Palace is Vienna’s Museumsquartier. Vienna’s influence on European history makes it the home of some very impressive museums. A little culture and knowledge never hurt anybody, so check out this list of the top museums in Vienna.
You cannot visit Vienna without taking in the beauty of the large public square, Maria-Theresien-Platz. Another hot spot for travelers that’s one of the best free things to do in Vienna, this square was built in honor of Maria Theresa, the Habsburg Empress. One of the most famous Habsburgs, Maria bore 16 children and was known for reforming the school system.
Her 19-meter-high statue stands in the center of the square with two museums on either side, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). It can be quite hard to tell the two buildings apart since they’re practically identical.
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
This skip-the-line ticket grants you access to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and some of its temporary exhibitions. The elegance and splendor of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien do not disappoint. Visitors will enjoy perusing the art collection of the Habsburg family dynasty, including pieces from Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance period. If you have some time to spare, then head to the Museum’s next-door neighbor, the Naturhistorisches Museum, one of the top museums in Vienna.
Munch on some Wiener Schnitzel
Before you continue your afternoon excursions, stop and get some famous Wiener Schnitzel for lunch. What could be deemed as one of the more unusual things to do in Vienna, your trip would simply be incomplete without trying this local delicacy.
Traditionally, Wiener Schnitzel is made with veal, and we recommend one of the most authentic restaurants making the dish, Schnitzelwirt. Located about a 10-minute walk from the Museumsquartier, this is a low-key, old-fashioned spot with German-speaking staff. The owners claim their schnitzel is ‘a schnitzel to fear,’ so make sure you don’t miss out on this authentic Viennese experience.
Admire the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens
About a half an hour tram ride from Schnitzelwirt is the opulent Schönbrunn Palace. The palace’s glittering indoor and outdoor exterior shows it is the true encapsulation of imperial heritage. The palace was originally designed as an imperial hunting lodge for Crown Prince Joseph by the Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. It later became the summer residence of Maria Theresa. The entrance to the Palace Park is open to the public and is one of the most amazing free things to do in Vienna.
If you’d like to enter the Palace, this skip-the-line ticket grants you access to the Schönbrunn, including some private sections of the gardens. You can easily spend the whole afternoon at Schönbrunn Palace, so carve out a few hours to see this beautiful Vienna landmark.
Explore the Tiergarten Schönbrunn
If you can make the time, consider visiting the world’s oldest zoo, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, founded in 1752 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I. The zoo is located in Schönbrunn park and is currently home to over 700 different animal species.
The zoo homes giant pandas, polar bears, elephants, and even lions! One of the more exciting and fun activities in Vienna, be sure to grab the kiddos and spend a few hours learning about wildlife conservation.
Eat like a local at the Naschmarkt
After wandering the luscious Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, it might be time for a mid-afternoon snack. Take a 20-minute tram ride to Vienna’s incredible Naschmarkt. Full to the brim of international gourmet food, fresh produce, and Vienna schnitzel, you won’t leave this market hungry.
This market is just as popular with the locals as it is with tourists. It has the best of everything, from weekly necessities to artisanal chocolate. The market’s classed as one of the more unusual things to do in Vienna, so be sure to stock up on local delicacies and sample some of Austria’s best wine and cheese.
Check out the Belvedere Palace
Before going into your perfect evening in Vienna, try to carve out some time to witness the stunning Belvedere Palace, which is about a 20-minute train ride from the Naschmarkt. In the 18th century, Prince Eugene of Savoy commissioned world-renowned architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt to build a Baroque palace as a Summer residence. The Lower Belvedere was completed in 1716, and the Upper Belvedere, which sits on higher ground, was completed in 1724. After Prince Eugene’s death, Empress Maria Theresa exhibited the imperial collections in the Upper Belvedere, making it one of the first public museums in the world.
Today, many of the rooms are still home to beautiful art pieces, including Gustav Klimt’s famous work, The Kiss. Grab this skip-the-line ticket to the Upper Belvedere to see fantastic works by Gustav Klimt and Van Gogh.
The Museum of Contemporary Art: Belvedere 21
If you prefer modern art, head to one of the top museums in Vienna, Belvedere 21, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Hosted on the Belvedere Palace’s grounds, this museum perfectly represents Vienna after World War II.
The modernist building designed by Karl Schwanzer hosts an eccentric mix of experimental art, in addition to a beautiful outdoor Sculpture Garden. Many visitors also enjoy the museum’s stylist 1950’s cinema, Blickle Kino, which is perfect for film lovers. This skip-the-line ticket gives you fast access to this funky, one-of-a-kind museum.
If you can’t manage to squeeze in time for the Belvedere’s special art exhibitions, aim to at least walk by the palace for some incredible pictures. The Belvedere is a stunning sight to behold, particularly as twilight falls.
Witness a World-Class Opera Performance
To end your 24 hours in Vienna, finish strong by securing a ticket to an opera performance. Vienna is known for its classical art movements and was the home of both Beethoven and Mozart for periods of their life. Many theaters and opera houses boast incredible performances here in Vienna, so don’t miss out on this iconic Viennese activity.
Vienna Operahouse (Weense Staatsopera)
The Vienna State Opera is one of the most magnificent and busiest opera houses in the world. Each season features over 350 performances of both concerts and ballets. However, if sitting through an opera performance isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you can still take a guided tour of the breathtaking architecture. Be sure to pay homage to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at his statue in the nearby Burggarten park.
For those who prefer dinner and a show, right around the corner from the State Opera house is the Kursalon. This music center hosts concerts featuring music from two classical greats: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss. Check out the tickets below to enjoy a delicious three or four-course meal and a classical concert at The Kursalon. It’s perfect for a romantic, intimate evening listening to some of the best musicians and singers of our time.
Did you know that Vienna is the birthplace of the Viennese waltz? This performance at the beautiful Palais Eschenbach transports its audience to another time when classical music and elegant waltzes reigned. Enjoy!
Visit The Vienna Wurstelprater
If you still have energy after your jam-packed day in Vienna, consider rounding out the night at one of Vienna’s most iconic landmarks. In the Wurstelprater amusement park, the 19th-century Risenrad, or Ferris Wheel, is Walter Bassett’s only remaining work.
Just a 15-minute tram ride from the Wiener Staatsoper, the Wurstelprater is an incredible amusement park filled with roller coasters and classic Viennese charm. One of the most jaw-dropping and fun activities in Vienna, a ride on the Ferris Wheel is a perfect ending to your 24 hours in Vienna.
Extra tips for 24 hours in Vienna
The Vienna Pass gives you admission to over 70 different Viennese attractions along with an unlimited ticket on the Hop-on Hop-off bus. Gain admission to the Imperial Palace and the Natural History Museum, along with skip-the-line access to the world’s oldest zoo and the Albertina Museum.
The Vienna Flexi Pass is perfect for super planners who know exactly what they want to do in Vienna. The Flexi Pass allows you to choose up to five different attractions from a list of forty. It’s also valid for 60 days from its first use, so if you can’t get through everything in one day, you can always return! Also, the Vienna Flexi Pass is free for children younger than six years old as long as an adult accompanies them.
The Vienna Tourist Pass offers skip-the-line access and a guided tour to Schönbrunn Palace. It also grants admission to the Upper Belvedere Palace, where visitors can wander the marble hall and gaze at Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Plus, the pass also lets tourists take advantage of the Hop-on Hop-off bus, so you don’t have to worry about navigating the transit system.
Other amazing attractions in Vienna:
If you have extra time or would like to extend your visit to Vienna, there are a few more attractions you might enjoy on your trip:
Go shopping along the Graben, Vienna
Right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the central marketplace, Graben, Vienna. This historical street dates back to Roman times, but today, this upscale marketplace hosts a mix of local and international designers. The perfect spot to grab all your souvenirs, you can easily spend an entire afternoon emptying your wallet here.
Take pictures at the Hundertwasser House
The Hundertwasser House is only a 15-minute walk from the City Center and is one of the best free things to do in Vienna. This colorful and zany home stands out amongst Vienna’s famous Baroque architecture. Designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, these homes are bright, dreamy, and perfect for vacation pictures. However, the house does host current residents, so try not to be disruptive and quietly admire the architecture.
Enjoy the Museum of Illusions
The Museum of Illusions is another eccentric attraction in Vienna that’s perfect for a group of friends or a big family. One of the most unusual things to do in Vienna, this museum is filled with optical illusions that will make your head spin. Challenge your balance in The Vortex Tunnel and be amazed in the Anti-Gravity Room. Pair this ticket with a combined experience at the Chocolate Museum Vienna for some excellent Viennese chocolate.
Have fun at the Familypark
If you’re looking for a kid-friendly attraction or hoping to embrace your inner child, then grab a skip-the-line ticket to the fantastic Familypark. The Familypark is perfect for tourists who plan to hire a car since the amusement park is about an hour outside of Vienna in Burgenland. Adrenaline junkies must absolutely check out the Götterblitz roller coaster for insane speeds and views of Lake Neusiedl. You can also combine your ticket to Tiergarten Schönbrunn to access Familypark.
Take a day trip out of Vienna
If you have a few extra days to spare, consider a day trip outside of Vienna, where there are plenty of other charming Austrian cities to explore. For example, fans of the Sound of Music may enjoy touring Salzburg to see the Von Trapp family home.
As you plan your once-in-a-lifetime visit to Vienna, check out all of the amazing attractions and landmarks Vienna has to offer.