For many, the mere mention of Vienna still conjures up romantic and vivid imagery of Habsburg palaces, High Baroque churches, aristocratic mansions, trotting white horses, and famous coffeehouses. Contemporary Vienna is as flamboyant and remarkable as was Maria Theresa’s Baroque wonderland and its imperial monuments and regal grandeur make it a fascinating place to visit. While 2 days in Vienna is not enough to see everything the city has to offer, it still gives you plenty of time to experience the city’s essential attractions and a little bit more. Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Vienna in two days 🙂
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Table of Contents
How to Get Around During Your 2 Days in Vienna
For this ‘2 days in Vienna’ itinerary, I primarily recommend exploring the city on foot. There is no better way to see the city than to walk around Vienna at your own pace. Many of the major attractions are conveniently huddled together in close proximity and attractive streets are peppered with inviting plazas, gardens, and cafés offering plenty of places to stop.
Walking in Vienna is not without its hazards though. Traffic seldom stops at pedestrian crossings, so be alert when crossing the road. When walking, pay close attention not to walk along bike paths and tram lines, as this is prohibited and dangerous.
However, in order to save time or if the legwork gets too much, you should make use of the extremely efficient city transport system, known as the Wiener Linien. Vienna’s public transport network consists of trams (Strassenbahn), buses (Autobus), underground (U-Bahn) and trains (S-Bahn) and Almost every part of Vienna is accessible by public transport. Most of the main sights in Vienna’s historic center are located on the popular Ring Tram route. The U-Bahn is generally the quickest way to get around. It operates seven days a week from around 05:30 to 00:30. A 24-hour service runs on weekends and public holidays.
There are a number of ticket options ranging from a single ticket (2.40 EUR) to 24-hour (8 EUR) and 48-hour (14.10 EUR) tickets. Buying a ticket in advance is the easiest option. Tickets are sold at newsagents (Tabak Trafiken) and at the ticket machines at U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations. You can even purchase a mobile ticket using the Wiener Linien app. Children under six travel free on public transit, and children under 14 travel free on Sunday and public holidays providing they can show proof of age.
Tickets are valid for all public transportation—buses, trams, and the subway. You’ll need to punch your ticket before entering the boarding area at U-Bahn stops, but for buses and trams, you punch it on board. If you’re caught without a ticket you’ll pay a hefty fine. You can plan your trip using public transport here.
If you’re visiting Vienna in the warmer months, exploring the city on a bicycle is a good option. The city has introduced a system of free bike rental called Citybike. Bicycles can be rented or returned from any of the 120 or so Citybike stations over the city. To use a Citybike, you need to register first with a debit or credit card (at any Citybike Wien station or online), for a one-off fee of 1 EUR; when the bike is returned, the charge is calculated automatically and debited from your account.
It is unlikely that you will have to use a taxi during your stay in Vienna but if the need arises it is easier to get a taxi at one of the taxi ranks rather than hailing it in the street. Alternatively, taxis can also be booked on the phone – there are three numbers: 313000, 40100, and 60160.
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Is the Vienna City Card/Vienna Pass Worth It For 2 Days?
When spending two days in Vienna, it might be a good idea to invest in a sightseeing pass/card given the city’s plethora of cultural attractions and sights. The Vienna Pass is the kind of tourist card you are probably used to where you pay a flat fee and gain free access to a large number of attractions. The 2 days Vienna Pass costs a hefty 99 EUR but if you plan on seeing a lot of paid cultural attractions, it is a great choice. The only downside of the Vienna Pass is that it doesn’t cover public transport.
The Vienna City Card differs from the Vienna Pass as it doesn’t include free entrances to sites and museums, but rather offers discounts, usually in the range of 1-5€. One of the main benefits of the Vienna City Card is that the discounts don’t only apply to sights and museums, but also to selected restaurants, shops, and leisure activities. It also allows unlimited free travel on the city’s metro, tram, and bus lines.
To find out which is the better alternative for you, read our in-depth comparison between the Vienna Pass vs Vienna City Card.
Your 2 Days in Vienna Itinerary
For this two day itinerary of Vienna, I have included a majority of the must-see sights in the city. It, of course, isn’t possible to explore all the main sights in a city as culturally rich as Vienna in just two days. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Vienna for two days. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
I understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Vienna over the course of two days:
Day 1 in Vienna
1. Breakfast at Café Landtmann
2. City Hall
3. Imperial Court Theater
4. Austrian Parliament Building
5. The Hofburg
6. Traditional Austrian Lunch
7. Anker Clock
8. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
9. Stock im Eisen
10. Plague Column
11. Belvedere Palace
Day 1 in Vienna
Day One of this ‘2 days in Vienna’ itinerary will mostly focus on the must-see sights in central Vienna and the inner city. It involves two of Vienna’s most famous palaces, the Hofburg and the Belvedere.
1. Breakfast at Café Landtmann
There’s no better way to kick-off your 48 hours in Vienna than treating yourself to breakfast at a traditional Viennese coffeehouse. Viennese coffeehouses have served as an important social institution since the late 19th century and form an intricate part of the city’s DNA. In fact, in 2011, Viennese coffee houses were put on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Upon payment of the small price of a cup of coffee, every guest can sit inside for hours on end, discuss, write, play cards, and above all, can go through an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines.
Even today, there is still something unique about Viennese coffeehouses that makes them worth visiting. The high ceilings, marble table-tops, velvety upholstery, the bentwood coat stands, and the notoriously brusque waiters all add to the charm. Having grown up in a culture where fast food is the norm, it took me a few visits to get used to the slow service. They’ve now grown on me and I love hanging out at these establishments.
Café Landtmann is one of the most elegant and venerable coffeehouses in Vienna, boasting a rich tradition dating back to 1873. Landtmann bustles with activity day and night and its interior is elegantly decorated with velvet upholstery, crystal light fixtures, and mirrors with inlaid wood. Landtmann has long drawn a mix of politicians, artists, journalists, and actors and is also famous for being Sigmund Freud’s favorite hangout.
Landtmann offers a variety of Viennese coffees, a vast selection of pastries and desserts, and Viennese and provincial dishes. It’s a delightful spot for breakfast. Two of the most popular coffee options are Kleiner/Großer Brauner and Melange. A Brauner is basically black coffee with a little bit of milk (available as either a single or double). A popular variation of this is the Verlängerter which is a bit milder. A Melange consists of frothed milk and steamed milk. Often it is dusted with a bit of cocoa powder.
Café Landtmann is open daily from 07:30-20:00. Make a reservation online to avoid queues.
Legend has it that coffee was first introduced to Vienna by a certain Georg Franz Kolschitzky, an Austrian spy who regularly penetrated the Turkish camp during the siege of 1683. When the siege was finally lifted, Kolschitzky was asked what he wanted in return for his services. He requested to be given the “camel fodder” – in actual fact sacks of coffee beans – left behind by the hastily departed Turks, and went on to open the first coffeehouse in Vienna the same year.
2. City Hall
The cathedralesque City Hall (Rathaus) is one of the most distinctive and imposing buildings in Vienna. Built from 1872 to 1883, this is, in fact, the New City Hall, replacing the Old City Hall. It is Neo-Gothic in style and serves as a powerful symbol of the city’s late 19th-century political clout. I think it kind of looks like a Gothic fantasy castle with its many spires and turrets.
The City Hall’s facade holds a lavish display of standard-bearers brandishing the coats of arms of the city of Vienna and the monarchy. The building’s huge central tower is over 100 meters high and is topped by the 3-meter statue of a medieval knight in armor with a lance, known affectionately as the Rathausmann. Also worth noting is the lofty loggia with its intricate tracery and curved balconies.
A big square sits in front of the building and is normally bustling with activity. In winter, the square becomes the venue of Vienna’s most famous Christmas market, and after the New Year, it is transformed into a huge ice skating rink.
Although you can get a look at the ornate interior of City Hall by signing up for a guided tour, I wouldn’t recommend it for this itinerary due to time constraints.
3. Imperial Court Theater
Just opposite the City Hall lies the Imperial Court Theater (Burgtheater), the most prestigious stage in the German-speaking world. Affectionately called “The Burg”, it was constructed between 1874 and 1888 in the Italian Renaissance style. The central facade of the Imperial Theater is most impressive and shows a seated Apollo, with the muses Melpomene (Muse of Tragedy) and Thalia (muse of Comedy) on either side presiding over a frieze of Bacchus and Ariadne. Busts of famous writers such as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller can be seen on the Corinthian pilasters and columns. The balustrade is fancifully decorated with figures of putti, each of them playing a different musical instrument.
Some of the world’s most famous operas, including Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, were premiered at the Imperial Court Theater. The interior of the theater features two imposing staircases and some sumptuous ceiling paintings by Franz Matsch and Gustav Klimt.
4. Austrian Parliament Building
The sprawling Austrian Parliament Building (Parlamentsgebäude) was erected in 1883 in Neoclassical fashion. Reminiscent of a Greek temple with eight monumental Corinthian columns, it was designed in Greek style to celebrate the cradle of democracy. Two broad ramps leading to the main entrance are lined by statues of Greek philosophers, writers, politicians, and thinkers. The building’s lovely main pediment frieze shows Emperor Franz-Josef I granting the people of the Habsburg Empire an undemocratic constitution.
It was here, on 11 November 1918, after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, that the parliamentary deputies proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Austria. From street level, it’s not so easy to see past the massive Corinthian portico and its accompanying wings and pavilions. If you stand back, though, the sprawling main body of the building becomes visible. It is home to the lower house or Nationalrat (National Council), and upper house or Bundesrat (Federal Council), of the Austrian parliament.
Best of all is the Athenebrunnen, a humongous statue of Athene, the Greek goddess of wisdom, sporting a natty gilded plume in her helmet which stands in front of the central portico. Athene is shown presiding over a fountain served by four writhing mermen, representing the Danube, Inn, Elbe and Moldau, the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
5. The Hofburg
No visit to Vienna would be complete without paying a visit to the Hofburg (Court Palace), a hotchpotch of a place whose name is synonymous with the Habsburgs, the dynasty that, at one time, ruled a vast multinational empire, stretching the length and breadth of Europe. The Habsburgs ruled from this lavish complex of buildings until 1918 which are now home to a smorgasbord of attractions, including the Imperial Apartments, two imperial treasuries, six museums, the National Library, and the famous Spanish Riding School.
There is so much to see and do in the Hofburg that there’s no way you can take it all in one day. That is why I only recommend seeing the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer), with its superb collection of crown jewels, and the richly decorated Baroque library (Prunksaal), both of which are the real reasons to visit the Hofburg in my opinion. The Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartements) are also worth a quick look. Although the Hofburg has several entrances, try to enter through the majestic semicircular Michaeler Gate. It is the main entrance into the complex, and its imposing dome with golden decorations looms over Michaelerplatz.
Once you pass through the spectacular portal gate of the Michaelertor—you can’t miss the four gigantic statues of Hercules and his labors—you climb the marble Emperor’s Staircase (Kaiserstiege) to begin a tour of the Imperial Apartments. The 18 conventionally luxurious rooms are where the emperors lived, along with their wives and children. The apartments are richly decorated, the highlight being the Imperial Silver and Porcelain collections. Don’t expect too much though, since virtually every room is decorated in the same style – creamy-white walls and ceilings with parquet flooring, gilded details, and red furnishing, which seems a bit frumpy.
Six rooms are devoted to the tragic empress Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria, lovingly known to Austrians as “Sisi”. The rooms display many of her treasured possessions, including her jewels, the gown she wore the night before her marriage, her wooden gymnastics equipment, and the opulent court salon railroad car she used. Sisi enjoys an almost cult-like following in Austria ever since a 1950s trilogy of romantic films, starring Austro-French actress Romy Schneider as the empress.
Of all the things to see in the Hofburg, the Imperial Treasury is by far the most rewarding. Some of the finest medieval craftsmanship and jewelry in Europe can be found here, including the imperial regalia and relics of the Holy Roman Empire. The Habsburgs’ own crown jewels, the loot of a once-great empire, including countless reliquaries and robes, goldwork, and silverware can also be found here. Don’t miss treasures like the Holy Lance, reputedly the lance that pierced Jesus’s side, the Saber of Charlemagne, the Golden Fleece, and the Imperial Crown, a sacred symbol of sovereignty once stolen on Hitler’s orders.
Finally, make your way to the National Library. It is one of the grandest Baroque libraries in the world, the focal point of which is the glorious Grand Hall. With invaluable leather-bound manuscripts in walnut wood bookcases lining the walls from floor to ceiling, the library probably contains more book treasures than any comparable collection outside the Vatican. Another highlight is the statue of Charles VI standing guard under the central dome, which itself has a magnificent fresco depicting the emperor’s apotheosis.
The Imperial Apartments and Sisi Museum are open daily from 10:00-17:00 (15 EUR). The Imperial Treasury is open on all days except Tuesday from 09:00-17:30 (12 EUR). The National Library is open every day except Monday from 10:00-18:00 (8 EUR).
6. Traditional Austrian Lunch
For a well deserved traditional Austrian lunch, head to Restaurant Ofenloch, one of the finest restaurants in town. Oozing with style and finesse, this first-class restaurant is a great place to sample classic Viennese and Austrian cuisine.
Try traditional Austrian dishes such as Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal with a side of parsley potatoes or a potato cucumber salad), Tafelspitz (a quintessentially delectable Viennese dish of boiled beef, potatoes, and horseradish sauce) or the popular Rindsgulasch (a rich beef stew flavored with paprika and caraway). Wash it down with some refreshing Austrian beer or an equally delightful Austrian white wine.
7. Anker Clock
The glorious Anker Clock (Ankeruhr) is one of my favorite things to see in Vienna. The clock spans two wings of an insurance company building in the Hoher Markt Square. Commissioned by the Anker Insurance Company, it was installed between 1911 and 1914 by Franz von Matsch.
Every hour a set of gilded cut-out figures, including the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Duke Leopold VI, Maria Theresa, and Joseph Haydn, among others, step forward and shuffle across the dial of the clock. Noon is the best time to visit as the entire set of twelve figures slowly stagger across to a ten-minute medley of mournful organ music. A plaque next to the clock reveals the identities of these rotating figures, who are all key players in Vienna’s history.
8. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) is undoubtedly Vienna’s most beloved landmark which also ranks as Austria’s finest Gothic edifice. The foundations of the original Romanesque church date back to 1147, but the earliest surviving features today are the 13th-century Giant’s Door (Riesentor) and the Heathen Towers (Heidentürme) on the west side. The cathedral suffered severe damage from World War II bombings, but its rebuilding served as a symbol of hope as Austria emerged from the ashes of the conflict.
The cathedral’s steeply pitched yellow, blue, and green rooftop has been fancifully decorated with almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles forming giant chevrons since 1490 and is said to be modeled on a Saracen carpet. Having seen many glorious churches across Europe, I have to say that St. Stephen’s Cathedral easily ranks as one of the very best. Many notable events have occurred at the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, including Mozart’s marriage and funeral. Napoleon even posted his farewell edict on the door in 1805.
The nave of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is enormous and stands out due to its Gothic vaulted ceiling. The star feature of the interior, however, is undoubtedly the early 16th-century carved stone pulpit, with portraits of the four fathers of the Christian Church. Look out for the masterly filigree work above and below the staircase. It is beautifully adorned with figures of lizards, salamanders, and toads pursuing one another up the banister, symbolizing the fight of good against evil.
St. Stephen’s chief treasure is the Wiener Neustädter Altar, a richly painted and gilded altar in the left chapel of the choir depicting the Virgin Mary between St. Catherine and St. Barbara. Other highlights of the interior include the centuries-old sculpted tomb of Emperor Frederick III. Consisting of pinkish Salzburg marble from the 17th century, the carved tomb depicts hideous hobgoblins trying to wake the emperor from his eternal sleep. You can also check out the catacombs which are lined with cages filled with bronze caskets containing the remains of the later Habsburgs.
If you’re up for the challenge, you can even scale the cathedral’s south tower which soars to a height of 137 meters. Ironically nicknamed “Steffl” (Little Stephen) by the Viennese, you can scale the 343 steps leading to a viewing platform offering far-reaching views of Vienna.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is open Monday-Saturday: 09:00-11:30 and 13:00-16:00, Sunday: 13:00-16:30. The entrance to the cathedral is free but if you want to see the catacombs (only on a guided tour), the fee is 6.50 EUR.
The Stephansdom’s “Pummerin” (Boomer) bell, located in the North Tower’s cupola, is Austria’s largest and heaviest. It weighs nearly 20 tons, and was cast from 100 cannon balls seized during the Turks’ failed siege of Vienna in 1683. It is used just once annually—to ring in the New Year. Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he realized he could no longer hear the sound.
9. Stock im Eisen
At the corner of Graben and Kärntner Straße, at the southernmost corner of Stephansplatz, is one of the weirdest attractions in Vienna. It entails a sheet of curved Plexiglas bolted to the corner of an unobtrusive building. Behind it are the preserved remains of a dusty tree trunk that is covered with an almost uninterrupted casing of angular, hand-forged nails. The Stock im Eisen was first mentioned in historical documents in 1533, but scientific examination has revealed that the tree was felled around 1440.
Various theories exist as to why the nails are embedded in the log but most sources claim that in the 16th-century blacksmiths would drive a nail for luck each time they left Vienna to ensure a safe passage home.
10. Plague Column
Vienna’s Baroque-style Plague Column (Pestsäule) is one of the most distinctive landmarks in the inner city. It was crafted by the most skilled sculptors of the era on the orders of Emperor Leopold I between 1682 and 1693 as thanks to God for delivering the city from a particularly destructive plague that may have killed as many as 150,000 people in Vienna. It consists of a towering, amorphous mass of swirling clouds, gilded crowns, and shields.
The Plague Column is decorated with numerous statues of angels. Most vivid is the image showing a saintly figure and an angel thrusting a flaming torch in the guts of a hag representing the plague, while the Emperor prays above. The Plague Column inspired similar monuments throughout the Empire on the initiative of the Jesuits and these were erected as much to celebrate deliverance from the Protestant “plague”, and the Turkish siege.
11. Belvedere Palace
Your final stop of sightseeing for the day is the magnificent Belvedere Palace. One of the most exemplary examples of Baroque architecture in the world, the Belvedere actually consists of two imposing palaces that are separated by a 17th-century French-style garden parterre replete with fountains, waterfalls, and statuary. More so than the Hofburg and the far more famous Schönbrunn Palace, I reckon the Belvedere Palace is the most impressive palace in Vienna, at least from the outside.
Superbly designed in the early 18th century by Lukas von Hildebrandt, the palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugène of Savoy, Austria’s greatest military leader, whose campaigns against the Turks enabled Vienna to expand beyond the walls of the Old Town.
Though the Lower Belvedere is impressive in its own right, it is the much larger Upper Belvedere, used for state receptions, banquets, and balls, that steals the show. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the palace’s elaborate facade. Its domed copper roofs resemble the shape of Turkish tents as a symbolic reflection of Prince Eugen’s victory. It is home to the finest Rococo interior in the city and its ceilings are aswirl with ornately molded stucco. Don’t miss the exquisite Sala Terrena hall which features four giant Herculean figures supporting the ceiling vault.
The Belvedere Palace also used to be the residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination triggered the start of World War I. In May 1955, the Allied powers signed the peace treaty recognizing Austria as a sovereign state in Upper Belvedere. The treaty is on display in a large salon decorated in red marble.
The Upper Belvedere’s other claim to fame is being home to the Austrian Gallery, with art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. Medieval and Baroque art is found at street level, with Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Viennese Biedermeier on the top floor. While these artworks are stellar in their own right, the Austrian art from the 19th and 20th centuries is the real crowd-puller.
The Upper Belvedere is the best place to see the collection of works by Gustav Klimt and features his world-famous painting The Kiss, displayed behind a protective glass shield, and depicting Klimt himself embracing his long-term mistress, Emilie Flöge. Other artworks that shouldn’t be missed at the Upper Belvedere are Egon Schiele’s Death and the Maiden, Oskar Kokoschka’s Still Life with Dead Lamb, Claude Monet’s The Chef, and Richard Gerstl’s mesmerizing Laughing Self-Portrait. Make use of your time wisely as there is a lot to take in here.
Make your way down the Belvedere’s formal gardens which are laid out on a wide slope, punctuated with box hedges, fountains, waterfalls, and statuary. The garden has three levels, separated by two large cascades. Don’t miss the huge statues of sphinxes in the upper half of the garden and the wonderful statues of eight muses on the lower level.
The Lower Belvedere was formerly home to the Museum of Austrian Baroque Art but now displays temporary exhibitions only. Notable attractions include the “Golden Cabinet”, whose walls are entirely covered by huge gilt-framed mirrors and the “Hall of Grotesques”, which features a grotesque decor of birds, beasts, and fanciful floral murals.
The Belvedere Palace Complex is open daily from 10:00-18:00. A visit to the Upper Belvedere is only possible with a time-slot ticket meaning that you need to book a fixed entrance time. It is better to book tickets online in order to avoid queues. A ticket to the Upper Belvedere costs 16 EUR while a ticket to the Lower Belvedere costs 14 EUR. The combined ticket for both palaces costs 24 EUR. The Belvedere Palace Gardens are open daily from 06:30 or 07:00 in the morning until 18:00 and 21:00 depending on the season.
Cap off your first day of sightseeing in Vienna by treating yourself to dinner at Craftmühle, a chic and grungy craft beer joint that is one of the very best craft beer bars in Vienna. This is the perfect place to visit if you’re in the mood for some greasy burgers or something juicy off the grill and a couple of IPA’s. In addition to the 12 beers they offer on tap, Craftmühle also offers a wide range of bottled beer.
Day 2 in Vienna
Today’s itinerary will focus on some of the other major must-see sights in central Vienna including the world-renowned Art History Museum and the Prater.
1. Breakfast at Café Sperl
Commence your second day of sightseeing in Vienna by heading to yet another one of the city’s famous coffeehouses, Café Sperl, one of my absolute favorite places in the city. Slightly different in character than the aforementioned Café Landtmann, Café Sperl has a seductive bohemian vibe in its own right and has been attracting a faithful clientele for well over a century, many of whom come to try the billiard tables and dartboards on the premises.
The breakfast spread is amazing, definitely try the Sperl Torte (a heavenly mix of milk chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, almond) while enjoying one of the 34 different types of coffee to choose from. Café Sperl is open from 07:00-22:00 (Monday-Saturday) and 10:00-20:00 (Sundays & public holidays). It is closed on Sundays in July & August.
2. Art History Museum
In a city filled with some great museums, Vienna’s Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) stands unequivocally above the rest. This museum is truly world-class and is my all-time favorite attraction in Vienna. Being an avid art lover I have spent countless hours inside its hallowed walls. The rich collection owes its existence to the wealth and artistic pretensions of successive Habsburg rulers and contains treasures from classical Rome to Egypt and the Renaissance.
Housed in a sprawling Neoclassical edifice as regal as the art it contains, the vast collection of the Art History Museum is spread over three floors. The scale of the museum can be particularly daunting for first-time visitors and it is vital to go in with a plan of what to see, especially if time is limited. Otherwise, museum fatigue will get the better of you.
One of the great joys of stepping foot inside the Art History Museum is seeing the main foyer and staircase, both of which are sumptuously decorated, from the monochrome marble floor to the richly stuccoed dome. Don’t overlook Canova’s mighty statue of Theseus Defeating the Centaur, which greets you on the main staircase as well as the amazing intercolumnar murals on the first-floor balcony. The large ceiling painting celebrates “The Triumph of the Renaissance”.
A large chunk of the art collection of the Art History Museum is composed of 16th- and 17th-century masters and as such it’s a good idea to focus on these if you don’t have much time. The museum is most famous for containing the largest collection of paintings under one roof by 16th-century master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Besides Bruegel, the museum is also loaded with Venetian works by the likes of Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian, and a good selection of Velázquez portraits. In addition, there are plenty of paintings by Rembrandt, Cranach, Rubens, and Dürer.
Some of the most enchanting of all Bruegel’s works focus on the peasant genre showcasing the cycle of seasons. The most famous of these is the beguiling Hunters in the Snow, in which Bruegel perfectly captures a wintry monochrome landscape. Room 10 is a Brueghel shrine—on its walls hang Children’s Games, the Tower of Babel, the Peasant Wedding, the Nest-Robber.
The Dutch & Flemish wing also includes Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion Triptych, Holbein’s Portrait of Jane Seymour, Queen of England, and Vermeer’s nonpareil allegory of the Art of Painting. Don’t forget to check out the work of Van Dyck, especially his The Vision of the Blessed Hermann Joseph and Peter Paul Rubens’s Self-Portrait and Woman with a Cape. Rembrandt’s collection includes three remarkable self-portraits as well as a moving portrait of his mother and one of his sons, Titus. There are also hundreds of other well lauded old-master paintings here and even a succinct description would go on for pages.
Before you leave the museum, take a look at the Albrecht Dürer collection. Known for his innovative art and his painstakingly detailed workmanship, the German Renaissance painter and engraver is well represented here though masterpieces like Blue Madonna and some beautiful landscapes such as Martyrdom of 10,000 Christians.
Also, if you have time, take a look at the Egyptian collection. Beginning with predynastic and Old Kingdom treasures, this remarkably extensive stock of monuments includes stone sarcophagi, gilded mummy masks, jewelry boxes, papyrus, pots, sphinx busts, and pharaoh statues. The rooms here are tastefully decorated with typical Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphs
The Art History Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday: 10:00-18:00 (Thursdays till 21:00). The price of admission is 16 EUR.
3. Naschmarkt & Lunch
After a grueling tour of the Art History Museum, you should treat yourself to a fantastic lunch at Naschmarkt. In addition to being a great lunch spot, the Naschmarkt is Vienna’s largest and most famous outdoor produce market. It’s certainly one of the best open-air markets that I’ve come across in Europe.
It occupies what was originally the riverbed of a branch of the Danube River, which was diverted and paved over during the massive public works projects of the 19th century. Undoubtedly the liveliest market in the city, you’ll find packed rows of polished and stacked fruits and vegetables competing for visual appeal among the hundreds of stalls.
Life here starts at 06:00 when vendors selling flowers, meat, and fish open their stalls. On the weekends’ farmers from outside the city offer their produce and on Saturdays, a bustling flea market takes place at the tail end of the market where you can find everything from antiques to second-hand clothing.
Being such a large market, you’ll have no shortage of food options. Naschmarkt offers dozens upon dozens of eateries or snack stands where you can fill up. There are many Turkish food stands, Asian noodle shops, Japanese sushi stalls to choose from. You can even order typical Viennese dishes, especially beer, white wine, and sausages, at several stalls. Austrian sausages are usually served on a roll with mustard. Try the käsekrainer, a fat frankfurter with tasty bits of cheese.
4. Wagner Apartments
One of the great pleasures of wandering the streets of Vienna is seeking out the city’s rich turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau architecture. This youthful (or Jugendstil) version of Art Nouveau features a sinuous and stylized form of architecture and decorative arts, known as Secession. Jugendstil motifs are generally geometric in style and involve decorations based on plant forms such as sunflowers, as well as female figures, heads, and masks.
One of the best places to see wonderful examples of Jugendstil architecture in Vienna is the apartment houses that line the Wienzeile, overlooking the Naschmarkt. Two of these, the adjacent private apartment blocks of Linke Wienzeile 38 and 40, stand out in particular and are two of the best examples of Jugendstil architecture in the city. Designed in 1899 by Secessionist pioneer Otto Wagner, these buildings are an absolute treat to photograph.
The right-hand building (no. 38) is richly embossed with gold palm fronds and medallions and even features an elaborate top-floor loggia replete with Art Nouveau urns and a couple of figures. The building on the left (no. 40) is even more flamboyant, its pollution-resistant cladding of red majolica tiles spawned the nickname, “Majolica House”. Its facade contains subtle flower patterns in pink, blue, and green.
5. Secession Building
The unmistakable Secession Building represents the pinnacle of the Secession Movement in Vienna. The Secession Movement began at the turn of the 19th century, in 1897, when 20 dissatisfied Viennese artists, headed by Gustav Klimt, “seceded” from the conservative and strict artists’ society associated with the Academy of Fine Arts. The Secession Movement advocated the radically new kind of art known as Jugendstil, which found its inspiration in both the organic, fluid designs of Art Nouveau and employed more geometric designs.
The building is virtually windowless and almost looks like a squat cube. The building’s most noticeable feature is its massive filigree dome of gilded bronze laurel leaves. This now-famous feature had its share of detractors at the time of the building’s opening in 1898 and led it to be nicknamed “the Gilded Cabbage”.
On closer inspection, you can see the building’s decorative details. My favorites are the main entrance is adorned with a trio of gorgons, a pair of salamanders, and copious gilded foliage. Don’t miss the bronze statue of an overweight Mark Anthony, the Roman emperor is shown on a chariot being drawn by lions guarding the building. Above the entrance of the pavilion is the motto of the Secessionist Movement “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit” – “To every age its art, to art its freedom”.
The interior of the Secession Building continues to host contemporary art installations. The main reason to step inside the building, however, is to admire Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a 34m-long visual interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and, in particular, his musical setting of German poet Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Drawing inspiration from Greek mythology, the frieze is utterly captivating, rich in symbolism, and adorned with jewel-like details.
The Secession Building is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-18:00. The entrance costs 9.50 EUR.
6. Vienna Opera House
The Vienna Opera House (Staatsoper) is not only one of Europe’s leading opera houses but is also one of the most majestic buildings in the city. It was the first public building to be completed on the Ringstrasse boulevard – opening in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Designed in Italian Renaissance style, the Opera House has a suitably grandiose exterior, with a fine loggia beneath. The building suffered extensive damage during the last days of World War II — only the outer walls, the front facade, and the main staircase survived. It reopened in 1955 with a production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, marking Austria’s independence from occupation. Naturally, renovation meant that the interior couldn’t avoid a postwar look.
Ascending the grand marble staircase leading up to the auditorium is an unforgettable experience as you get to witness the sumptuous frescoes, mirrors, and chandeliers.
Other highlights of the interior of the Vienna Opera House include the Schwind Foyer, which is decorated with lovely oil paintings and busts of famous composers, and the gilded Tea Salon. The auditorium is relatively unembellished but still carries an elegant individuality.
To see the interior of the Vienna Opera House, you can either take a guided tour (approx. 40 minutes) that is offered daily or by attending a performance. The guided tour costs 9 EUR. Check the website for details about tour times.
7. Karlsplatz Pavilions
Otto Wagner, the prominent Austrian architect and leading member of the Vienna Secession movement, is responsible for several notable landmarks over the city. Wagner was also responsible for designing and engineering many aspects of the Vienna City Train, the horsedrawn and then steam-powered predecessor of today’s underground, in the late 19th century. Of all these structures, the matching pair of underground railway exit pavilions are certainly the best.
The pavilions on Karlsplatz are made of a green, wrought-iron framework and marble slabs, and the roof over the arched gate is decorated with golden ornaments and sunflower motifs. They are a perfect example of classical Jugendstil, combining simplicity and elegance. Both pavilions lost their function as the Vienna U-Bahn came into use. Today, one pavilion houses a café, while the other has an exhibition on Otto Wagner.
The Karlsplatz Pavilions are open Tuesday-Sunday: 10:00-13:00, 14:00-18:00 (April-October). The entrance costs 5 EUR. Free entrance on the first Sunday of each month.
8. Church of St. Charles
The Church of St. Charles (Karlskirche) is undoubtedly one of the best things to see in Vienna. Built between 1716 and 1739 as thanks for deliverance from the 1713 plague, the church marks the highpoint of Baroque architecture in Vienna. The church is dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, the 16th-century Italian bishop who was famous for his ministrations of Milanese plague victims.
The architecture of the church is staggering and borrows elements from the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, such as the gigantic dome and portico, while there are Oriental traces in the minaret-like columns. As stunning as the church appears in the day, it takes on an unbelievably beautiful aura at night when it’s bathed in light and reflected in the pond sitting in front of it.
The church’s green copper dome rises to a height of 72 meters making it a dramatic landmark on the Viennese skyline. The marble-white facade of the church is enhanced by the presence of the two columns that are topped by giant gilded Habsburg eagles and the imperial crown. Inspired by the ancient Roman column of Trajan, these columns are decorated with scenes of the life of St. Charles Borromeo. The left column shows the quality of steadfastness while the right one shows courage. As you make your way inside, take a look at the pediment reliefs which show the suffering of the Viennese during the 1713 plague.
The interior of the Church of St. Charles is decorated in the standard Baroque manner. The High Altar is one of the standouts and features a stucco relief showing St. Charles Borromeo being taken into heaven on a cloud chock-full of angels. Also noteworthy are the fine vault frescoes with scenes from the life of St. Charles Borromeo.
You can also take the elevator up into the elliptical cupola to get a closer look at the fresco on the dome showing the Virgin Mary imploring the Holy Trinity to bring an end to the plague. From here, you can climb the top steps to enjoy a great vista of the heart of Vienna.
The Church of St. Charles is open Monday-Saturday: 09:00-18:00, Sundays, and public holidays: 12:00-19:00. The entrance costs 8 EUR.
9. City Park
If you’re tired of pounding the pavement during your time in Vienna and want to take a breather, a visit to the City Park (Stadtpark) is the perfect remedy. The park was established in the mid-19th century and was the first city municipal park to be laid out outside the former fortifications.
It’s refreshing to take a stroll on the paths winding through the verdant squares of grass, shaded areas, and well-manicured flower gardens. If you just feel like sitting to engage in people-watching, there are plenty of benches in the park. The City Park is most famous for its eye-catching Strauss Monument, a statue of the “Waltz King”, Johann Strauss Junior. Gilded from head to toe, the composer stands framed by a stone arch of naked, swirling naiads.
The City Park is open daily 24/7. Free entrance.
10. Hundertwasser House
In a city that is brimming with Baroque palaces, Renaissance courtyards, and countless Jugendstil structures, the outlandish Hundertwasser House (Hundertwasserhaus) seems a bit of an anomaly. This wacky fairytale-like house with onion spires, oriel windows, green roof, and a multicolored facade is one of the city’s most visited landmarks. Universally panned after its construction, the Hundertwasser House is now a much-loved part of the Viennese cityscape.
The colorful public housing unit is the brainchild of the flamboyant Austrian painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser’s buildings stand out for their bright colors contrasted by black and gold and their highly experimental and Gaudi-like shapes that employ a variety of unusual materials, combining the artist’s vision of structures that blend with the natural environment. An unrepentant hippy, his goal was to find harmony between nature and man.
Hundertwasser designed the building in 1986 as a playful take on the usually lackluster style of social housing. The facade of the house is scattered with splotches of red, yellow, white, and blue. Two of the most prominent features of the Hundertwasser House are the irregularly shaped, lustrous pillars and the two glistening onion domes on top of the building.
Today, almost 200 people live in the 50 odd apartments. Each differently colored section marks one apartment and the size of every apartment is visible as it is marked by an uneven line of ceramic tiles. What’s interesting is that all the individual apartments have access to a little piece of nature in the form of roof gardens and balconies that are scattered all over the building.
If you visit, just keep in mind that the apartments are private residences and can’t be visited.
Your final stop of sightseeing for the day is the Prater, Vienna’s answer to Coney Island. The Prater is basically a large, flat tract of land, taking up nearly half the island of Leopoldstadt, and includes vast areas of mixed woodland, sports stadiums, a miniature railway, booths, sideshows, beer gardens, a trade-fair center, a planetarium, an amusement park and, most famously of all, Vienna’s giant Ferris wheel. It is by far the most popular weekend destination for many Viennese.
Traditionally a hunting preserve and riding ground for the aristocracy, the Prater was opened to the public in 1766 by Josef II. Today, although the Prater is a popular spot for walking, jogging, and biking, most people visit the Prater for the Volksprater Funfair. Home to an amusement park since the 19th century, the vast funfair has all the typical attractions—roller coasters, dodgem cars, merry-go-rounds, tunnels of love, and game arcades. The Volksprater Funfair is perfect if you have kids in tow or are young at heart.
Though the Volksprater Funfair is worthy of a visit, the main reason to visit the Prater, especially for people like me, is to see the iconic Ferris wheel (Riesenrad), which is the most famous landmark in Vienna after St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Built in 1897 for Emperor Franz-Josef I’s golden jubilee, the Ferris wheel was designed by the British military engineer Walter Basset. Its cute little red gondolas were destroyed during World War II, and only half were replaced in deference to the wheel’s old age.
The giant Ferris Wheel became famous partly due to it being immortalized in Graham Greene’s film noir classic The Third Man. It’s the location in front of which Orson Welles does his famous “cuckoo clock” speech just after he takes a ride on the Ferris wheel. Since then, the huge Ferris wheel has achieved celluloid fame in the James Bond flick The Living Daylights, and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.
Taking a ride on the Riesenrad is one of those things you simply have to do when visiting Vienna. The huge wheel circulates very slowly at a speed of about 75 cm per second, reaching a maximum height of 64 meters, allowing riders spectacular views over the Prater.
The Prater isn’t a fenced-in park, but not all things here are open throughout the year. The season lasts from mid-March to the end of October (daily from 10:00-23:00), but the giant Ferris wheel operates daily all year round. Admission to the park is free, but you’ll pay for games and rides. A ticket for the giant Ferris wheel costs 12 EUR (opening times vary so check the website before you go).
Fun Fact: Vienna & The Third Man
Nothing has done more to create the myth of postwar Vienna than Carol Reed’s classic 1949 film noir The Third Man. Just as Salzburg is inextricably linked to The Sound of Music, Vienna will forever be linked to The Third Man. The only difference is that in Vienna’s case, the locals actually like the film whereas nobody in Austria gives a second thought about The Sound of Music. The Third Man is a personal favorite of mine and its bleak, black-and-white, expressionist cinematography, haunting theme and seedy bombed-out locations perfectly captured the fatigued, defeated atmosphere of the city at the beginning of the Cold War. Vienna was then divided into four sectors, each commanded by one of the victorious armies—American, Russian, French, and British. Reed’s film version of the Graham Greene novel features Vienna as a leading player and many of the sites where the film was shot are easily visited. It was the first British film to be shot entirely on location. When it was first released, the postwar Viennese were appalled and horrified at the depiction of their beloved city as a “rat-infested rubble heap.” Over decades, they have come to love the film, and since the early 1980s, The Third Man has been shown every Friday and Saturday at the Burgkino cinema. The film’s enduring popularity has spawned a mini tourist industry all of its own. There are regular The Third Man tours and there’s even a The Third Man museum, completely dedicated to the film!
Cap off your 2 days in Vienna by heading to Yori, an excellent Korean restaurant. Vienna has a wide array of superb ethnic restaurants and Yori is no exception. Head here to try Korean classics like kimchi. Bulgogi, bibimbap, galbi, and jeongol. You won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay in Vienna
Since most of Vienna’s attractions are located in the city center area, it is best to select a hotel close to the center. Even if you stay further out, it’s a good idea to stay anywhere on the metro line (i.e. 5-minute walk from the nearest metro station), which is part of Vienna’s excellent public transit system. With more than 500 hotels to choose from, there is something to suit every taste and budget in Vienna, from impeccable five-star hotels to avant-garde to low-cost chains.
Hostel: Wombats Naschmarkt, a popular hostel in walking distance from the city center.
Budget: Motel One Wien Hauptbahnhof, unpretentious choice within 2 minutes of the Central railway station.
Mid-range: Mercure Secession Vienna, a reasonably-priced 4-star hotel in the city center.
Splurge: Hotel Sans Souci Wien, one of the city’s most prestigious hotels, the glamorous Sans Souci features trendy rooms and deluxe furnishings.
Extending Your Stay
Even though two days in Vienna is a decent amount of time to see some of Vienna’s must-see attractions, you could easily spend 2-3 more days exploring more interesting sights and top-notch museums. Alternatively, you could also undertake a day trip from Vienna as there are several great possibilities in the vicinity.
Now, what do you think? What would you recommend to see in two days in Vienna? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!