October 2023 When in Vienna, where to visit? And what are the cornerstones of Vienna sightseeing? To be honest, even the key places to visit can be overwhelming if you have limited time. On top, a few of them extend to various football fields in size. For example, the whole historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For an overview of the best things to see in Vienna and where to visit this list provides a framework. To kick start your travel preparations click on the links to drill into each topic. After that, if you want to flesh out your plans, you can complement the list with more Vienna attractions and selected local museums.
1. Vienna City Centre
Vienna Sightseeing. You will likely explore Vienna’s City Centre first. I could roam it endlessly. You may have to stick to a time budget to discover the best sights, though. Very simply, there are four smart routes that will cover 90 per cent of sightseeing in the ‘Innenstadt’ (Wien’s centre). I am outlining them in detail in Vienna City Centre, including a tour route map.
2. Vienna Sightseeing Along Ringstrasse
Vienna Sightseeing. Ringstrasse lines up dozens of elegant state buildings, museums, luxury hotels and national institutions, such as the State Opera with its opera ball, the Parliament, City Hall, and the University of Vienna.
Because of its attractions and since it girds the old town, Ringstrasse makes a great starting point for central places to visit. To move around the boulevard, you can either take the tram, the bike or walk at least part of it.
Access a guide and map of Ringstrasse Vienna.
3. Schönbrunn Palace
Vienna Sightseeing. Certainly Schloss Schönbrunn is among the best things to see in Vienna. Until little more than 100 years ago it was the Imperial summer residence of the Habsburgs, who ruled Central Europe for more than six centuries.
Nothing beats a day at Schönbrunn Palace and gardens for me. You still sense Empress Maria Theresia of Austria, Empress Sisi (Elisabeth) and Emperor Franz Josef, whether you tour the palace, promenade in the gardens, have coffee in the Gloriette belvedere, visit the spectacular zoo, or visit the historic marionette theater. Find out about Schönbrunn Palace.
4. Hofburg Imperial Palace
Vienna Sightseeing. The Imperial Palace (Hofburg) is a city within a city. The average Viennese doesn’t know where it starts and where it ends. Its 18 tracts and 19 courtyards spread across 240,000 square metres. Most of its buildings are among the best Vienna sights.
They house popular attractions such as the collections and exhibitions in the Museums of Fine Arts and Natural History, and the Museumsquartier. The clubbings and summer café at Volksgarten, and dining at Palmenhaus Orangery are all part of Hofburg.
Because even vast Hofburg requires a plan where to visit I have put together this compact guide to the Imperial Palace Vienna.
Vienna Sightseeing By Car
If you don’t have much time at your hands or want a thorough overview of Austria’s capital consider touring Wien by car. Since I did such a tour through central Vienna and the Vienna Woods with a car and driver I’m sharing the exact tour route and my experience in Vienna Sights By Car.
Vienna Sightseeing. Since Stephansdom is Austria’s symbol of national identity you will eventually come across St. Stephen’s Cathedral. What’s more, the gothic church on Stephansplatz is right at the epicenter of Wien’s city centre.
In fact, Stephansdom is more than 900 years old. We call it ‘Steffl’ and most of us adore it: the gothic interiors, the glazed roof tiles, even the catacombs. While our school children regularly collect donations we adults listen to ‘radio Stephansdom’. Not to mention that our favourite sweets brand Manner chose Stephansdom as its logo. During classical concerts I think the church ambiente really shines. To find out more what to do there visit my tips for Stephansdom.
6. Austrian National Library
Vienna Sightseeing. I have known the Austrian National Library since I toured this baroque architecture gem with my school. Then I came back as a student to use it for research. Imagine thousands of precious volumes nesting in high galleries under domes of colourful frescoes. Smell antique paper and polished wood – irresistible.
Whenever I am around, I try to re-visit the library, as many other travellers do, to see its gorgeous State Hall, full of ancient leather-bound books sitting on large wooden galleries under marble columns and vibrant baroque frescoes.
Read my review of the Austrian National Library
Vienna Sightseeing. If you like Schönbrunn Palace, explore what the same architect did with a church: While church St. Charles Borromeo is far from palatial size it does spread grandeur, thanks to an ancient-style exterior and a dazzling mix or marble and baroque frescoes inside. Best of all, the church hosts regular classical concerts and allows unique vistas of baroque art thanks to a panorama lift. Find out how to plan your visit to Karlskirche Vienna.
Vienna Sightseeing. Augarten porcelain is very ‘old European’. In fact, the Augarten porcelain manufactory is located at Vienna’s oldest baroque garden across the Danube Canal. Seeing how the delicate porcelain figurines, vases and coffee cups are made is fantastic. But it is not the only thing to do at Augarten. The park collects two baroque palaces, an original World War II defence tower, a modern art museum, and an urban orchard. Don’t miss the open air cinema and laid back cafés in the summer. Read more in Augarten.
9. Vienna Secession
Vienna Sightseeing. The Secession blends Art Nouveau and Modernism. When it was finished at the end of the 19th century, many Viennese hated it. The Emperor decided to ban it from Ringstrasse boulevard. He knew the Secession was about to start an art revolution. In the following years, the Secessionist artists turned Viennese art upside down.
The Secession is easy to integrate into your sightseeing programme. It is located between Naschmarkt and the Vienna State Opera. Make sure you see Gustav Klimt’s gigantic masterpiece inside. Find out more about Vienna secession and which tours are available.
10. The Rathaus
Vienna Sightseeing. One of the most impressive state buildings along Ringstrasse is Vienna’s City Hall. Because of its neogothic splendour and cathedral like tower the Rathaus dominates the boulevard even from across the city hall square in front. To find out what to expect from a visit and what’s going on in the square read more in Rathaus Vienna.
11. Central Cemetery Vienna
Vienna Sightseeing. Before you ban a cemetery from your sightseeing programme, think of the Egyptian Pyramids. Vienna’s Central Cemetery has the quality of an open-air museum. Many tombs are pieces of art. The Zentralfriedhof also hosts many celebrities, from Beethoven and Johann Strauss to pop star Falco. When I walked through it with guide Gertrude it was like leafing through Vienna’s Who Is Who. It’s curious but nowhere else in town does Viennese history become so alive as at Zentralfriedhof. Read my review of Central Cemetery Vienna.
12. A Fabulous Rooftop View
Vienna Sightseeing. Don’t climb up any towers and rooftops unless you are absolutely sure it is worth your energy and time. Hunting for the best city views can be exhausting. I have taken hundreds of steps and a dozen elevators to find the best rooftop views of the city’s top landmarks.
It turned out they are mostly in the unexpected locations.
To find out more, go to Best Rooftop Views in Vienna.
Extra Vienna Sightseeing
13. Hitler In Vienna
Vienna Sightseeing. Although many Vienna travellers like to know more about Adolf Hitler and World War 2 it is difficult to get an overview of key places. There are no signs and plaques referring to Hitler, with the obvious reason of avoiding Hitler pilgrims, though that doesn’t help history buffs.
In my post Hitler in Vienna I’m sharing the top 10 key sites and museums related to the Führer and Nazi Vienna.
14. Flak Towers
Vienna Sightseeing. Although Vienna’s ugliest buildings rarely form part of a standard tour you should see at least one of them. Since the former anti aircraft turrets bear witness to a key chapter in Vienna’s history, these monuments help to revive the days of World War II in Wien.
In this Vienna flak tower guide you will find details about all six flak towers, where they are located and which of them is open to the public, along with a map.
15. Gasometer City
Vienna Sightseeing. When architecture and urban design freaks travel to Vienna, where to visit apart from baroque palaces?
While off the main list of tourist attractions, Gasometer City beautifully blends historic and contemporary architecture. Actually, this former industrial area has transformed into one of the best modern Vienna sights.
About 20 years ago, four architects transformed four gigantic brick cylinders into a town within a town. French star architect Jean Nouvel was one of them. Gasometer City is a protected monument, and a statement of urban re-generation. It teaches you a lot about local design and lifestyle. The residential community is the closest knit in all Vienna. Visiting Gasometer City takes you off the beaten track and inside modern day Vienna. I did a guided tour at Gasometer City and loved it.
More Vienna Sightseeing: Picture Galleries
Browse through image galleries of famous landmarks, the most beautiful palaces, opera houses and concert halls, and a few of my favourite wineries.
going off the beaten track in Vienna, where to visit? explore these 10 off-beat travel tips for Vienna