Vienna, Austria’s capital city, is packed with rich cultural heritage, imperial palaces, historical architecture, walkable streets, and a vibrant social scene. Vienna, Wien in German, (the national language in Austria) is pronounced “Veen” with a V. Located in the northeastern corner of Austria it’s close to the borders of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Germany – four countries I was also visiting on my Central Europe Tour with Intrepid Travel. This B Corporation Certified tour company specializes in small group travel and are renowned leaders in responsible tourism in addition to being on the forefront of animal welfare issues. Intrepid, whose mission is to create positive change through the joy of travel, offers more than 1,150 trips on every continent and is designed for participants to experience local culture. This happens with a combination of arranged tours led by local guides and free time to explore on your own with tips on tours and attractions provided by your leader before heading out. Here are five things you won’t want to miss in Vienna.
Ride Public Transit Like A Local
Our Intrepid group received a 24-hour public transport ticket in Vienna. Not only is this an ideal way to get around the city the further you get from the main center of town, but it’s the perfect opportunity to learn how special Vienna is. I had many wonderful chats with locals and other visitors while riding public transit. Sure, you might get lost, but it’s part of the adventure. Vienna’s well-developed public transport network, Wiener Linien, includes buses, trains, trams, and underground lines that will take you anywhere you need to go. If you don’t have a pass you can buy individual tickets at most underground stations, on board the tram, or purchase online. There is also the option of purchasing a pass for 72 hours if you need it and don’t forget a handy timetable and digital map. Vienna’s trams are simply adorable and you will be tempted to take photos and videos of the experience.
Stand In Front Of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
While this might not sound very exciting, it actually left me speechless. True, there are many wonderful places where you can gawk in amazement at the amazing architecture here, but St. Stephen’s Cathedral is known as the symbol of Vienna and stopped me in my tracks as I was walking down the historic cobblestone streets. This magnificent gothic structure has four tall towers with windows at each level and 13 bells hang here. I must have stood there for half an hour just staring and taking photos and videos from various angles. While I didn’t go inside the renowned Cathedral, guided tours are available in English or German or an audio guide in your language of choice. During the tour you will learn about the baroque cathedral, home to the second largest free-swinging chimed church bell in Europe, the Pummerin. Sites of interest also include colorful roof tiles, underground burial sites, and the high south tower, an architectural masterpiece of the late Middle Ages. There is also the option of climbing 343 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular views of Vienna.
Learn History At Hofburg Imperial Palace
Put on a royal outfit if you so desire and head to Hofburg Imperial Palace, one of the biggest palace complexes in the world dating back to the 13th century. Here you will find many of Vienna’s outstanding museums, galleries, historical monuments, and stunning gardens, so if you are a history buff plan to stay awhile. The main attraction is the magnificent palace but the grounds also include former imperial buildings ranging from the Austrian National Library to the office of the President. If you love all things books you will be impressed as the library ranks among the most beautiful in the world. The oldest part of the palace, Imperial Treasury, is home to the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian imperial crown. If music is your jam, check out the impressive inventory of Renaissance and Baroque instruments at The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.
You could easily spend every day of your trip in Vienna visiting different museums because there are over 100 of them. Some of the top museums include Belvedere Palace and Museum, Leopold Museum, Mumok Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Technology, Sigmund Freud Museum, and Museums Quartier (MQ), one of the largest cultural quarters in the world.
Shop Till You Drop At Vienna City Center
On my time off in Vienna instead of visiting more museums I decided to fill every last free space in my luggage, which wasn’t much since I was traveling with carry-on bags only. Vienna City Centre will fulfill all your shopping dreams from cute souvenirs, boutique shops, European chain stores, famous Italian and French designers showing off the latest trends, the best luxury brands (Think upscale Beverly Hills shopping), and everything in between. My shopping mission to track down vegan Birkenstocks was successful and totally worth the line up to get inside the famous German store. The city center is also a fun place to walk around, listen to talented local buskers, watch costumed performers on stilts make kids smile, chat with other tourists from around the world, or simply people watch from a cute patio sipping your drink of choice.
Enjoy Decadent Vegan Ice Cream
You can’t go to Vienna and not visit Veganista, an Austrian ice cream shop whose philosophy is to make the best vegan ice cream ever. Their success is proven by multiple locations throughout Vienna and the fact that most of their customers are not vegan yet keep returning. Veganista is the mastermind of two vegan sisters with a background in ice cream production and a passion for creating delicious food (they also own The Lala, a plant-based restaurant in town.) Veganista’s decadent and extravagant flavors include blueberry lavender, basil, maple pecan, matcha, mango, cinnamon caramel, and pumpkin spice latte. My only regret is that I only went once and didn’t try more flavors. Just another reason to return to Vienna.