The Vienna City Centre covers three square kilometres (1.16 square miles) of UNESCO World Heritage site. Old town Vienna is packed with history, palaces, classical music venues, coffeehouses and restaurants, and high-end shopping. Let me show you four smart routes to cover the best sites. I have also done a city center tour map below.
We call the center of Vienna ‘Innenstadt’. About 82,000 square metres (883,000 square feet) of it is pedestrian area. The city center is quite round in shape and girded by Ringstrasse. Prepare for Medieval, Baroque, Historistic, Art Nouveau, Modernist and contemporary finds.
If you circle the Vienna city centre along Ringstrasse you will sense its size and compactness. The boulevard is lined with dozens of grand public buildings, hotels, monuments and parks.
Being back on Ringstrasse makes me proud and exhilarated every time I’m revisit my homecity. It’s just so unique. You can find a detailed list of key buildings and sights, a map and how best to tour the boulevard in Ringstrasse Vienna.
Duration: 30 min (by tramway or bike)
Key Walk: Kärntner Strasse, Graben
Kärntner Strasse high street is the main entrance of old town Vienna. It’s a lovely pedestrian area and full of street artists in the summer. Start with the Vienna State Opera. At Palais Todesco opposite Wiener Staatsoper drop into gorgeous Gerstner cake shop. If you like luxury enter the lobby of legendary Hotel Sacher or feast on Sacher Torte in its café behind the opera.
It actually took me years to look up from the shop fronts, like probably many other locals. The street boasts the most amazing historic façades, such as no. 16, a former hotel. If you are a fan of glitz, stop at Swarovski’s flagship store at no. 24, and traditional chandelier maker Lobmeyr at no. 26. At no. 19, the glass elevator of Steffl department store provides great views of Kärntner Strasse. It takes you to Sky rooftop bar and terrace. That is where I shot some of my best pictures of the center of Vienna and Stephansdom.
Palais Eszterházy at no. 41 dates from the early 15th century. If you visit the Vienna Casino you can see the interiors but that is not a must.
Once you hit Stephansplatz sneak into Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). Its North Tower provides great views, and the vast catacombs a chill on your back. Turn left into Graben pedestrian boulevard, our top promenade lined with town palaces and designer stores. In Roman times, you would have walked on top of the city wall there. For me, the best way to enjoy Graben is relaxing in one of the outdoor cafés. That monument in the photo is the Pestilence Column in the middle of Graben. If you like baroque churches, drop into Church St. Peter, known for its Mozart Piano Sonatas.
You will also find a few traditional shops there. Many of them are former suppliers to the Imperial Court, for example Albin Denk (porcelain), Nägele und Strubell (beauty shop) and Altmann und Kühne (chocolate shop). Don’t miss fabulous deli store Meinl am Graben at the end.
Duration: 30 to 40 min; 1.5 hours inc. visit to Stephansdom; To extend your old town Vienna walk find inspiration and a map in Old Vienna Walk.
The vast Hofburg complex covers a large part of old town Vienna. The Habsburg Emperors are long gone but both Viennese and travellers treasure their cultural heritage: Vienna Balls and State ceremonies in Hofburg, parades at Heldenplatz and the Vienna Boys Choir singing at Hofburg Chapel. The Imperial Stables have turned into Museumsquartier which houses amazing Egon Schiele Museum, also known as Leopold Museum. Even after hundreds of years, the traditional Lipizzaner stallions are still performing at the Spanish Riding School Vienna. Read more what to see and do and find a map of Hofburg in Imperial Palace Vienna.
Duration: 30 min (outside); 2 to 3 hours (inc. indoor visits)
Medieval Vienna: University Quarter
This part of the the Vienna city centre is the oldest, the most secretive and the hardest to discover. It is named after the Old University and is located in the North East of Stephansdom. You will find everything from Medieval courtyards to baroque townhouses. Leave Stephansplatz through Rotenturmstrasse, which connects you with the Danube Canal.
Right of Rotenturmstrasse, head into Lugeck and Bäckerstrasse. Drop into the courtyards at no.2 and no. 16, typical of the historic center of Vienna. Visit brilliant baroque University Church, also known as Jesuit Church, then turn into Sonnenfelsgasse. At Schönlaterngasse drop into the courtyard of Heiligenkreuz Abbey, then head for Fleischmarkt and Griechengasse. This part of the center of Vienna is dense with beautiful hidden corners, history and legends. I toured it with Regina, who runs the Secret Vienna tour.
In my student days, ‘left of Rotenturmstrasse’ was the utter place to go out in the Vienna city centre. It still is. I loved the bar almost opposite of the old Jewish Synagogue in cobblestoned Seitenstettengasse. Church St. Ruprecht – the oldest in Vienna – made a great backdrop to romantic endeavours. Historic Judengasse lead to the best sausage stand for midnight feasts. This Old Town Tour through the center of Vienna covers the area brilliantly.
Duration: 1.5 hours
Vienna City Centre: Best Guided Tours
The best fun and informative tour through old town Vienna is the morning walking tour. If you prefer a small group and more meaty information consider joining the three hour First District Walking Tour. Alternatively, feel free to share this page and your personal preferences with a private guide.
During this tour you will sail you through the whole Vienna center in half a day. It is a good option if you need to be flexible with timings.
Old Town Vienna Map
Here are the four routes I have described above. Click on the left arrow in the header field to find the legends. Use the + and – a the bottom left to zoom in and out.
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