So there are the most popular sights in Vienna and all of them are worth your time. But some folk ask me for my personal recommendations, given I spend hundreds of hours wandering the streets to bring you this website. So here are my top ten places to visit in Vienna…
A lot depends on your interests, of course. Mine is mostly history of one kind or another. And coffee. In no particular order…
1. Bah humbug…just wander around the centre
If that sounds a bit meh, then I don’t apologise.
Look, Vienna is a historical city and, despite the vast number of bombs dropped on it in WWII, the historical centre remains largely as it once was.
So it’s full of palaces, monuments, churches, and buildings with the kind of costly decorative facades that would pay for your builder’s pension.
Just let your feet take you around the pedestrianised areas in the city centre and enjoy the view. Start at Heldenplatz, for example, and walk through the Hofburg Palace complex, then along the Graben to Stephansdom cathedral.
Drop into little alleyways and parallel streets to escape any crowds and experience those extra architectural delights that most people hurrying from A to B won’t see.
2. Café Central or…
As you wander, be sure to drop in somewhere for coffee and cake. That’s pretty much top of my recommended experiences, but the question is where do you drop into?
Café Central is the one everyone recommends, so you might expect it to be full of visitors.
And it is.
But that doesn’t stop it being a quite mindblowing coffeehouse thanks to the interior decor. Just be sure to reserve a table or visit first thing in the morning.
If you’re looking for something a little more local or off the beaten track, try some of these coffeehouses (particularly Café Sperl).
3. The Hundertwasser Museum (not house)
Most people have heard of Hundertwasserhaus, the apartment block designed by the artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. And it’s a fine place to visit, with its curves and murals and spirals and trees poking out at odd angles.
But there are rather too many souvenir outlets there for me. So I’d rather go to the Hundertwasser Museum. The building is all Hundertwasser, but with fewer onlookers. And inside is a marvellous collection of his art. So much colour and joy in one place.
4. OK, yes, Schönbrunn Palace
Visit in the early morning, when the park gates are open but the ticket office isn’t. Then pop round the back, walk up to behind the Neptune Fountain and look down at the landscaped gardens and palace when empty of visitors.
What a glorious sight.
5. The Kunstkammer
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is full of artistic treasures. All your Rembrandts and Roman gold.
But the real magic is in the Kunstkammer section, home to a Cabinet of Curiosities collected by various Habsburgs over the centuries.
There’s stuff in there that takes your breath away; glorious bronze statues by Giambologna, biblical scenes carved into wood the size of a key fob, 16th-century mechanical ships, jewelled rhino horn goblets, golden salt and pepper pots worth millions, and so much more.
6. The Rose Garden in the Volksgarten
So I like roses. Who doesn’t?
Now how about row after row of different varieties all put together to create a blast of colour to a backdrop of 19th-century imperial opulence?
That’s the rose garden in the Volksgarten park. Again, be sure to go early when nobody is around (and go in summer, when the roses are out, otherwise there’s little point, really).
7. The MAK Museum
Vienna has a lot of top-quality museums. But I have a particular soft spot for the MAK Museum. You can feel the love for what they do in this showcase of applied art and design.
The temporary exhibitions are always fabulous. I’ve come away enthused and rejuvenated every time (and I’m a miserable 50 year-old with the attention span of a gnat).
8. A little spot on Heldenplatz
It’s hard to get away from the modern world, but here’s something worth a try…
Go to Heldenplatz and stand just off the road that passes through it, in front of the Neue Burg building, and do a 360° turn.
You might have to adjust your position a little and keep your eyes up to avoid any cars. But you should see a panorama largely unchanged since the late 19th century.
I get a kick out of that every time.
Of course, a construction crane or scaffolding might spoil the view. And the temporary parliament buildings in the square are a squat blemish. But you can still use your imagination.
With any luck, a horse-drawn carriage will pass by to add a little aural authenticity to proceedings.
9. The Military History Museum
I do like seeing items that offer a direct connection to the past. And the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum is full of such exhibits.
If we look back at history, there are one or two events we can describe as truly world-changing. One of them is the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, an event that precipitated WWI.
The car he was in at the time is in this museum. And the clothes he wore, too…still stained.
That’s the kind of momentous history I’m talking about.
10. Mozart’s apartment
Which brings me to Mozart’s Apartment for the exact same reason. There are celebrities and there is Mozart. Perhaps the most famous composer of all time.
So can you imagine standing in the very same room he stood in, looking out onto the very same view he once looked out onto? Yep.
Vienna is full of such experiences (cough, Beethoven, cough), but this is perhaps the most impressive of them.
Yes, that’s one more tip than promised, but, if you can, go to Vienna during the Christmas season. There’s a special atmosphere to the place, full of lights and wisps of steam from mugs of punch. Try the Belvedere Christmas Market after dusk for a wonderful photo opportunity.