The compact centre makes it easy to walk between the sights in Vienna, but which route should you take? Here my suggestion for your walking tour, with insider tips along the way, links to detailed descriptions of sights, and information on guided alternatives.
- Route starts at the opera house and ends at the cathedral
- Includes the top sights in the centre
- Takes about 90 minutes without too many pauses
- See also:
- Book a guided walking tour*
This is part 1, which takes you from the opera house to the edge of the central Hofburg complex. Part 2 covers the Hofburg, Part 3 a section of the Ring, and Part 4 takes you back through the old town to the cathedral.
Walking route for the centre
(The west side of the opera house with its arched colonnade)
We shall begin at the main entrance to the Staatsoper opera house, since you can reach this easily from just about anywhere. Either on foot from the centre or via trams to Oper/Karlsplatz (lines 1, 2, D, 62 and 71) or subway to Karlsplatz (U1, U2 and U4).
(Incidentally, if you’d prefer to tour the city from the comfort of a seat, then the opera house is a main stop for Vienna’s hop on hop off buses.)
The opera house
(The back of the opera house)
Opened in 1869, the Staatsoper counts as one of the world’s top opera venues (and provides a home to the state ballet).
Performances change each night thanks to an experienced ensemble and an orchestra drawn from the expert ranks of the Wiener Philharmoniker.
Despite the uniformly historical look, what you see of the building is only partly original: the rest is an accurate reconstruction after WWII bombing damage.
Casual visitors can view little of the interior. However, the opera house kindly hosts guided tours so you can walk around the insides without attending an actual performance.
As you face the main entrance of the Staatsoper, walk along to the left and take the road on your right (down the lovely colonnade that funnels you past the standing ticket office and the stage door).
This is Operngasse and leads into the centre.
Tip: the Staatsoper sells standing tickets that let you enjoy world-class performances for the price of coffee and cake.
As you emerge from the colonnade, look across to the other side of the road; you see a wall fountain and, above it, an equestrian statue with the Albertina palais and art museum behind:
Cross over the road to walk past the Albertina on your left, but not before you take everything in.
The Albertina itself dates back to the 1740s. Once a home to various archdukes, it now houses an extraordinary collection of art.
A visit includes a permanent exhibition featuring the likes of Picasso, a self-guided stateroom tour, and a changing repertoire of special exhibitions that cover everything from Renaissance art to contemporary sculpture.
Tip: go up to the platform in front of the Albertina for excellent photos of the Staatsoper and across to the Burggarten park and Neue Burg (which you'll see later on the walking tour)
(View of the opera house from the Albertina platform)
The 1899 equestrian statue is Archduke Albrecht (1817-1895), one-time owner of the Albertina and Habsburg military personality.
The 1869 roadside Albrechtsbrunnen wall fountain has a river theme, with the personification of the Danube at its centre, his arm around Vindobona representing Vienna. The other figures all represent tributaries of the Danube.
(Bitzinger sausage stand)
Two contrasting culinary treats sit nearby:
- The Bitzinger booth in front of the fountain might be Vienna’s most famous sausage stand and often has queues (Mick Jagger popped in on a recent Rolling Stones tour). The rooftop hare hints at the nearby Albertina’s most famous artwork: Albrecht Dürer’s 1502 Young Hare
- One of Vienna’s traditional coffee houses lives opposite the Albertina. Café Mozart has a long history that includes becoming a favoured haunt of the cast and crew of The Third Man
An entranceway just behind the Bitzinger booth and opposite the Albertina offers another chance to experience some modern and contemporary art: the Heidi Horten Collection at Hanuschgasse 3 (home to special exhibitions drawing on that prestigious archive).
(Part of the monument against war and fascism)
As you continue walking down past the Albertina, look back to see the museum steps with their artful stair painting and across to the monument against war and fascism by Alfred Hrdlicka (erected in 1988, which feels a little belated given the topic).
You should now be following the pavement and road a little to the left down Augustinerstraße.
Your route now takes you down the side of the 14th-century Augustinerkirche, former long-serving court church to the Habsburgs.
The location presided, for example, over weddings for Emperor Franz Joseph (to the famous Sisi), Empress Maria Theresa, Napoleon Bonaparte, and King Louis XVI of France (the latter two in the absence of the grooms).
Just after the junction with Dorotheergasse, look for a plaque on the outside wall of the Augustinerkirche bearing the name Jan Sobiesky. The Polish king attended mass in the church on September 13th, 1683, fresh from defeating the Ottoman forces and lifting the siege of Vienna.
You now reach Josefsplatz square, which marks the effective boundary of the great Hofburg complex, one-time home to the Habsburgs.
The church entrance is on your left: nip inside to see the remarkable 1805 Canova memorial for Archduchess Marie Christine , who died in 1798.
Consider Josefplatz your first real taste of historical Vienna, since just about every building on it still looks much like it did decades or centuries ago.
As you continue down the road you pass two palais buildings on your right: Palais Pálffy (reconstructed after WWII) and the 18th-century Palais Pallavicini.
The scantily clad statues outside Pallavicini led to some excitement at the time.
More recently, that same portal appeared regularly in The Third Man as the home to Harry Lime, whose “fatal” road accident took place outside.
(The entrance caryatids to Palais Pallavicini)
The square itself has the unassuming church entrance on one side, then the less unassuming entrance to the State Hall of the National Library in the middle.
I would urge you to take a break and have a look at this so-called Prunksaal.
This is one of those libraries you see on Instagram and Twitter: a towering haven of Baroque architecture, ceiling frescoes and books that might be leather-bound grimoires full of dark magic.
The final side of the square is the exterior of the Redoutensäle.
Habsburg monarchs put these rooms to good use for concerts, banquets, balls and various events intended to entertain and/or impress in equal measure. These are now administrative areas and (commercial) event locations.
And in the centre of the square another equestrian statue: this time from 1807 and featuring Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790).
The Joseph statue mimics the one of Marcus Aurelius that once stood on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. The reliefs on the surrounding pillars represent accomplishments from Joseph’s reign and similar.
Walk on past the square while keeping the road to your left and head toward the archways.
Before you reach the exit from the square, though, glance down the road leading away to the right (Bräunerstraße): Tanzschule Elmayer is one of Vienna’s more notable ballroom dancing schools.
(You pass Bräunerstraße on your right)
The archways will take you to and past the Renaissance Stallburg stables used by the stallions of the Spanish Riding school. Here we move on to the second part of your tour: the Hofburg and Habsburgs.