Old City Vienna: 10 Reasons YOU Should Visit
There are so many great things to do in Vienna that even after spending several weeks there over the past few years I haven’t but barely begun to scratch the surface. Not even counting the potential for short trips to the outskirts of the city, one could easily spend a week wandering just the Old City and never be at a loss for something to do.
1. The Altstadt Architecture
The buildings of Vienna’s Old Town come from a wide variety of styles – Baroque Churches and Art Nouveau U-Bahn Stations (and all that just at Karlsplatz!) or Expressionist Apartments a bit further away. The simple act of walking through Vienna’s old center is a feast for the eyes and the lens, and I often find my plans for the day falling apart in Vienna because I need to wait right here for just the right light.
2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Aside from the obvious eponymous affinity, Stephansplatz is a happening place for people watching in the center of Vienna’s Old Town. Not only is the cathedral itself impressive both inside and out (make sure to check out the roof tiles as well) but just across Stephen’s Square at the intersection of Seilergasse and Graben is a little wurst stand with warm food and cold beer and chest-high tables perfect for taking it all in.
3. A Proud Performing Arts Tradition
Not to be outdone by architecture and religion, the performing arts are strong in Vienna as well. The Hofburg Theater (pictured above) produces plays in German; but between the Vienna State Opera, English Theater, and Konzerthaus even English-only travelers should be able to find something of interest. At the Vienna Philharmonic, the annual New Year’s Concert is a world-famous event broadcast to around 50 million people.
4. Vienna’s Cafe Culture
Coffee houses in Vienna are so great that UNESCO inscribed the whole lot of them as Intangible Cultural Heritage! As the story goes, during their defeat at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 the routed Turks left behind all their superb coffee. One industrious hero of the Siege begged the Hapsburg for a license to serve it all to thirsty Viennese, and so a trend was born. I’m a Melange kind of guy, personally, but it would be worth your time to stop into enough historic cafes to try all the different types of coffee on offer in the city.
5. And the Desserts!
If your stereotypes of Austrian food are confined to Wiener Schnitzel or Selchfleisch and Sauerkraut you’re missing out on one of the most delicious aspects of the country: Dessert! Though the Apfelstrudel (that’s ‘apple strudel, if that wasn’t obvious’) is perhaps the most common choice, the sweet dumplings should definitely be on your menu as well. The apricot dumplings (pictured above, from the Cafe Wortner) were on an entirely different level of deliciousness. I tended to eat pretty light meals in Vienna rather than the heavy traditional fare, but I more than made up for this with the number of post-coffee deserts I consumed.
6. Outdoor Markets
I you do somehow get tired of sitting in cafes nursing a melange and a plate of something delicious, the city’s outdoor markets make for a good plates to walk around a while before settling into a glass of wine and something delicious. Throughout the year the Naschmarket is a good spot for outdoor drinking and dining or, you know, actually buying groceries to cook something for yourself. From late November through Christmas, at least 11 Christmas markets spring up around town offering Gluhwein or Hot Chocolate to keep you warm as you wander and take photos. I’ve not visited these yet, but would really like to revisit Vienna during winter just to explore the city with a snowy touch and a holiday vibe.
7. Exploring the Vienna Sewer System
If you aren’t exactly in the Christmas spirit in Vienna, how about something a little darker? Billed as part of a ‘The Third Man’ movie tour itinerary (which, don’t worry, I’d never heard of either), the Vienna Sewer Authority organizes group trips down into the underbelly of the city and back up in time for afternoon coffee. It isn’t the most exciting trip you can take in Europe, but a Vienna Sewer tour is certainly a novel experience in an otherwise genteel kind of town.
8. Drindls and Leiderhosen
Feeling a little more traditional than a romp through the Viennese sewers? My most recent trip to Vienna happened to coincide with Oktoberfest (which is also celebrated here, but is in no way comparable to the celebration in Munich), so perhaps I saw a lot more traditional clothing than is normal because of that. Even if you don’t see drindls (for girls) and leiderhosen (for the men) on the streets though, you’ll still find shops that prominently display this traditional Austrian clothing. A proper Drindl from high-end shops can easily sell for $1000 or more – I wouldn’t suggest wearing that one out to Theresienwiese!
9. Fantastic and Offbeat Museums
There are at least 30 museums in the Inner City alone, ranging from one of the world’s largest collections of prints (at the Albertina Museum, pictured above) to the Esperanto Museum that examines the relationship between humans and languages or the Globe Museums full of, you guessed it, everybody’s favorite spherical cartographical instruments. No matter where your interests lie, whether food or film or finance, you can probably find a museum to enjoy in Old City Vienna.
10. The feeling of Gemütlichkeit
“Gemütlichkeit: a cozy sense of well-being in a comfortable environment, e.g. relaxing alone or with friends, perhaps over a drink or two, after a hard day’s work.”
If you’re not feeling cozy and comfortable in Vienna by the time you’re all set to leave, you’ve been doing something wrong. Full of quiet and entrancing museums, quaint coffeehouses, and quite a lot of cultural attractions; there isn’t a lot NOT to like about Vienna!
I’ve visited Vienna several times, both as an independent traveler and as a photographer working with GetYourGuide. Vienna’s Old Town is extremely easy to explore on your own. If you plan to hit a lot of museums or the more popular cafes, the 72hr Vienna Card might save you some money on entrance fees and public transit. If you don’t want to deal with the details yourself, check out GetyourGuide’s tours in Vienna.