The capital of Austria is a stunning city and one that I clearly love to explore since I’ve now been four times. While I definitely recommend more than one day in the city, sometimes you’re on a time crunch. I’ve had two incidents where I’ve only had 1 day in Vienna; once I used it as a base to break up a lengthy train ride from Budapest to Slovenia, and the second time it was a stop on our Christmas market river cruise. So if you only a short amount of time to spend in Austria’s capital, then here is how to best spend 1 day in Vienna.
How to Get Around Vienna
Before you figure out how to spend you 1 day in Vienna, you need to figure out how to get around. Parts of the city are very pedestrian friendly but you will need to use public transit for some spots. You can either use the metro system (it’s affordable and very easy, with many central stations). Or, if you’d like something easier and more relaxed, you can do one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours which hits all the main spots and gives you a bit of a history lesson along the way. Get your ticket here.
How to Spend 1 Day in Vienna: An Itinerary
Grab Breakfast at a Café
Vienna has a great café culture with many great options to choose from. Some of the most famous and well-known cafes are Cafe Pruckel, Cafe Central, or Kaffee Alt Wien. Even if you just go to grab a quick coffee, you should experience a Viennese cafe.
Schonbrunn Palace is a bit outside of the heart of the city, but it’s one of my favourite spots so I definitely think it’s worth visiting, even if you only have one day in Vienna. I recommend going here first, especially if you are here with a river cruise and need to be back to your ship in the evening. This palace also opens earlier than other attractions, 8am, making it a good place to start to get the most out of your day.
Schonbrunn Palace was originally a hunting lodge but then became a summer palace. It’s one of the most renowned cultural and historical monuments in Austria and is known for being the summer residence of the much loved Princess Sisi.
Walking the grounds and gardens of Schonbrunn Palace is free and an easy way to spend a couple of hours. The palace is also a museum that you can visit. I personally have never been inside as I love wandering the grounds, but if you are a museum buff then it might be worth your time.
*If you are visiting during the Christmas season, Schonbrunn Palace one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Vienna.
Stephansplatz and the City Centre
Stephansplatz is in the heart of the city and considered to be Vienna’s most important square and a popular touristic area. The obvious highlight here is St. Stephen’s Cathedral; a stunning gothic cathedral that is one of the country’s most iconic buildings. If you have a nice day, but sure to climb up the tower (343 steps or there is also an elevator) to get beautiful views over the city.
While St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the main draw, this area is full of gorgeous buildings and architecture. One big stand-out among the old buildings is the Haas Haus which is incredibly modern and a huge standout compared to the historic cathedral.
Music lovers may also want to visit Mozarthaus, which is just a few minutes’ walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This 17thcentury building was Mozart’s home from 1785-1787 and is now a museum dedicated to the famous composer.
Those interested in shopping in Vienna will be happy to find that this area is also the premier shopping district of Vienna. There are a large variety of shops and brands here including both local Austrian companies and international ones. Take a stroll down Graben Strasse and see what you can find.
Lunch at Naschmarkt
There is no shortage of restaurants around Vienna, but for lunch, I recommend heading to Vienna’s Naschmarkt. There are dozens of food stalls here selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to trail mixes to sausages and olives. You can buy a few things to take with you if it’s a nice day and you want to have a picnic, or sit down at one of the restaurants in the area and eat there. I recommend planning an early lunch, if possible, to try to avoid the crowds.
Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches) OR Belvedere Palace
The Art History Museum, known locally as Kunsthistorisches Museum, is Austria’s largest art history museum and one of the top attractions in Vienna. Housed in a stunning palatial building, Kunsthistorisches Museum is considered to be one of the top galleries in the world. A definite must for art enthusiasts.
If you aren’t a big art museum fan, then I would recommend instead heading to Belvedere Palace. Belvedere is also an art museum inside, but stunningly manicured gardens are the real highlight for me. Statues, pools, fountains, and lots of places to sit and relax make is a peaceful spot to enjoy Vienna’s beauty on a nice day. Plus, the gardens are free of charge.
Built in the 1300s, the Hofburg Palace was once the main imperial palace in Vienna and the seat of power for the Habsburg family. Today, it is the workplace for the president of Austria and home to three museums: the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Silver collection. If any of those sound particularly interesting to you then take the time to check them out, if not then wander along the Palace and the Heroes Square and just enjoy the beautiful architecture
The Rathaus is Vienna’s city hall and, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in Vienna. It is possible to take a guided tour inside (Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 1pm). But I just enjoy walking around the building and looking at all the detail of the gothic architecture.
*If you are visiting during the holiday season, there is a huge Christmas market in front of the Rathaus that is a definite must-see. It’s best in the evening when all lit up.
Try Traditional Viennese Food for Dinner
It’s not hard to find a place to have dinner in Vienna and, since it’s such a major city, you can find pretty much any type of cuisine you like. However, since you only have one day in Vienna, I suggest trying wiener schnitzel; a typical Austrian dish. It’s a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet usually served with lemon and a side salad. It’s delicious but, word of warning, portions are usually huge. For a great wienerschnitzel try Pfarrwirt, Figlmuller, or Am Nordpol 3 restaurants.
Catch a show at the Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera is a stunning historical building that, even if you decide not to catch a show, is at least worth visiting to see from the outside. It’s best known today for being linked to the Vienna Philharmonic but is also known for being one of the busiest opera houses in the world; it’s not surprising to see a different opera each week here. Tickets can be purchased in advance, however, if you are a tight budget and willing to take a risk, it is possible to get standing room only tickets. These tickets go on sale 80 minutes before show time and are sold on a first come first serve basis.
A Nightcap at the Sacher Café
Yes, it is very touristic, and a little more expensive. But, I also think a visit here is a must-do for your 1 day in Vienna, especially for the famous Sacher torte. Sacher Café is a gorgeous historic café located in the Sacher hotel. They have a variety of delicious pastries and treats but the sacher torte really is a must! Paired with a cup of Viennese coffee or a glass of wine… YUM.
Where to Stay in Vienna
If you have a night to spend in Vienna and are looking for a great place to stay, I recommend the following.
There is so much more to see and do, however, if you only have one day in Vienna than this itinerary will give you a great taste of what Vienna has to offer.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Austria
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.
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