If you’re only passing through Vienna for a day, here some suggestions for places to visit and things to do.
- See also: What to do with kids
Use the map below to help with planning (and don’t forget to consume at least one coffee while there as a mark of respect to Vienna’s most treasured pastime).
So, what should you do in Vienna in a single day? Let’s conjure up a brief itinerary for each of three common choices:
- Looking for top art
- Immersing yourself in Austrian history
- Just enjoying the city and its historical buildings
Whatever you do in a day, try and fit in one of these typical Viennese experiences. In particular, consider the local food-related options for your breakfast, lunch or dinner:
- Go for coffee and cake in a traditional coffee house. We’ll call this your priority and also suggest you choose the local Melange coffee option and a Sachertorte cake (if you only have time for one café).
- For your meal, go for Wiener Schnitzel (pork fried in a breadcrumb coating) with Kaiserschmarren (shredded pancake) as dessert. Traditional Viennese foods tend not to be vegetarian, though you should find vegetarian and vegan options in most restaurants now.
- In summer, go for an ice cream at one of the (largely Italian) ice cream parlours . In winter, pick up some roast chestnuts at the many maroni stands that pop up throughout the city.
Art in a day
(The Kunsthistorisches Museum)
Vienna has numerous art museums, but I’d recommend you visit two out of the following three on a day trip should you wish to see the best works the city has to offer:
1. The Kunsthistorisches Museum
The KHM (as it’s known) scores with the magnificence of both the building and the collection. It houses what you might call traditional historical art, with an extensive collection of paintings by the likes of Raffael, Rubens and Rembrandt. Not to mention the world’s largest Bruegel collection.
Aside from paintings, there’s the marvellous Kunstkammer chamber of wonders with the world-famous golden Saliera. And themed collections for Ancient Egypt, Greece/Rome, and coins.
2. The Albertina
The Albertina usually has impressive temporary exhibitions of both historical and contemporary art but features two constant highlights:
- The staterooms, offering glimpses into 19th-century aristocratic life
- The permanent exhibition (drawing on the Batliner collection)
The permanent exhibits cover French impressionism through to the modern day, typically featuring such names as Monet, Matisse, Munch, Miró, and Magritte.
3. Upper Belvedere
Vienna’s most famous piece of art is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, which you’ll find at Upper Belvedere Palace. The galleries there include a strong collection of works from Vienna modernism with the likes of Klimt, Schiele, Makart, and Kokoschka.
Although easily reachable on public transport, Belvedere is outside the city centre, whereas the Albertina and KHM are within walking distance of each other.
Optional extra or alternative: For more contemporary inspiration, visit the Museumsquartier with its cluster of modern art museums. The Leopold Museum, for example, also houses an extensive collection of works by Klimt and his colleagues.
History in a day
(The Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg)
Vienna is one historical exhibit after the other. But you can’t get away from the fact that it’s all about the Habsburg dynasty for most people. So you need to hit up these two locations…one in the morning, one in the afternoon:
1. Schönbrunn Palace
The (free) audio guide gives you plenty of insights into Habsburg history and brings you to rooms where a young Marie Antoinette once roamed, Mozart performed as a toddler, Empress Elisabeth bathed, Emperor Franz Joseph worked, etc. etc.
2. The Hofburg Palace
- The Imperial apartments, with a strong focus on Emperor Franz Joseph and his famous wife, Elisabeth
- The Silberkammer, with the extensive collection of Habsburg silver, household items, porcelain, and more
- The Sisi Museum, which takes you through the life and possessions of Empress Elisabeth
Optional extra or alternative: For a look at the city’s modern history, the Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg complex houses the House of Austrian History.
I’m also very partial to the Museum of Military History; although off the beaten track, it offers such fascinating exhibits as the car Franz Ferdinand was in when assassinated in Sarajevo (precipitating WWI).
City life and architecture in a day
(The Mozart memorial in the Burggarten park. On its left is the rear of the Neue Burg on Heldenplatz square)
Frankly, you could do a lot worse than just drift through the old town for the day, dropping into the street cafés in summer or coffee houses in winter.
For links, info and visitor tips for all the sights mentioned below, go here.
So…start off at Heldenplatz square, stroll through the Hofburg to Michaelerplatz square, then down Kohlmarkt and up the Graben past Peterskirche church to Stephansdom cathedral (both of which you can pop into). Then wander down Kärntner Straße to the State Opera House.
From the opera, walk clockwise along the Ringstrassen boulevard all the way to Schottentor. This takes you past the Burggarten with its Mozart memorial, the Kunsthistorisches and Natural History museums (veer off between them to find the Museumsquartier modern art and cultural centre), Parliament, the Volksgarten park, the Rathaus, the Burgtheater, and the University.
From Schottentor, return to the Graben via Schottengasse, the Freyung and Am Hof. As you meander your way through the centre, be sure to pop down side streets for little architectural joys and historical nooks and crannies.
Optional extra or alternative: three special locations away from the centre you might (also) want to see are:
- The giant Ferris wheel, iconic film location (think The Third Man) and a city trademark. This opens until late so you can do it as the last thing in your day
- The Hundertwasserhaus, the colourful architectural wonder created by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. On a lot of tourist lists, but it’s a little out of the way and not as spectacular as in the pictures, since time has dulled the colours somewhat. Expect coachloads of onlookers, so you might prefer to pop to the Kunst Haus Wien (also a Hundertwasser design, but you can go inside – only the exhibition areas require a ticket)
- The Naschmarkt, a long open-air market full of little bars and restaurants, but mainly stall after stall of (often) exotic produce
And if you wish to follow in the footsteps of one of Vienna’s famous sons or daughters (from Schubert to Sisi), try these guides.