3 days in Vienna: these are our tips & highlights

A city trip to the Austrian capital is worthwhile at any time of the year. I visited Vienna in the run-up to Christmas, enjoyed warm spring days here and experienced the summer groove. Last year, we used the long weekend over Pentecost to travel once again by night train from Zurich to Vienna and to go on a discovery tour. In this post, I’ll show you how to spend three varied days in Vienna and which sights you should definitely include in your sightseeing program.

The sights of Vienna at a glance

Around 1.9 million people live in the greater Vienna area – that’s one third of Austria’s total population. No wonder, Vienna exudes big city flair with its abundance of cultural events – but at the same time the historic center also looks pleasantly compact and surprisingly contemplative. The main attractions here include the former residence of the Habsburgs – the Hofburg including the Spanish Riding School – as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Also worth seeing are the Vienna State Opera, the Albertina and the Museumsquartier.

Other top sights that are no longer within walking distance of the historic center include Schönbrunn Palace with its gardens, the Prater with its iconic Ferris wheel and the viewing platform on the Danube Tower.

In addition to these classic sights, Vienna invites you to discover and enjoy with its coffee house culture, the Naschmarkt and numerous casual rooftop bars. It is therefore worthwhile to plan at least two full days – or even better: three days – for Vienna. Especially if this is your first Vienna city trip. Alternatively, you can also get a good first impression of the Austrian capital with only one day of time and a corresponding deliberately placed focus (e.g. historic center with St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Hofburg and then out to Schönbrunn Palace).

3 days in Vienna – our sightseeing program

Vienna is a popular city break destination and accordingly the internet is full of sightseeing tips and similar listicles with the top sights and other activities that should not be missed. Spoiler: in the following lines, some of Vienna’s main attractions are completely missing. But you will find my culinary tips and a suggestion on how to approach three days in Vienna in a relaxed way.

Vienna Day 1 – check out the classics

1. Check-in in at a central location

If you travel from Zurich to Vienna by night train, you will arrive at Vienna Central Station shortly before 8 o’clock in the morning. 15 minutes by tram you are already in the middle of the historic center of Vienna. And right here, in a central location between the opera house and the Albertina, we checked into the Guesthouse Vienna* (*partner link). The design hotel is ideally located to discover the city centre on foot and offers modern and well-equipped rooms including an espresso machine and a well-stocked minibar.

Room rates at Guesthouse Vienna start at around 200 euros per night. This is also about the price level of other 4-/5-star hotels in the immediate vicinity (including the Grand Ferdinand*, which was also on our shortlist). Cheaper accommodation alternatives can be found, for example, at the hotels near the Museumsquartier. In the 25hours Hotel* there (where I have already stayed), the accommodation prices start from around 115 euros.

2. Explore the historic center of Vienna including St. Stephen’s Cathedral

In search of coffee, we walk over the Neuer Mark in the direction of Stephansplatz immediately after checking in. Here you will find one of Vienna’s top sights: St. Stephen’s Cathedral. From 09:00 a.m., the two towers (South Tower and North Tower) of St. Stephen’s Cathedral can be visited. To marvel at the view from the south tower, you need your own muscle power: 343 steps lead to the tower room (costs 5.50 euros per person).

The North Tower (Pummerin), on the other hand, is accessible by elevator. Since we haven’t fortified ourselves with a coffee that day, we decide to take the leisurely version = the ascent to the North Tower (costs 6.00 Euro per person) and enjoy the view over the rooftops of Vienna.

Wien Stephansdom Aussicht

Then we follow the Rotenturmstrasse towards the banks of the Danube. Shortly before we reach it, the smell of freshly roasted coffee lures us to the Fenster Café in the Griechengasse. In view of the traditional Viennese coffee house culture, this is a rather unconventional place – but definitely recommended.

From here, my tip would be: Walk on to the MAK via the Postal Savings Bank designed by Otto Wagner (which was unfortunately scaffolded during our visit). The Museum of Applied Arts Vienna is housed in an impressive building with a magnificent courtyard. Absolutely worth seeing!

3. Book a table at Restaurant Steirereck

From the MAK it is only a stone’s throw to our first culinary highlight of this city trip. In the run-up to lunch, we secured one of the coveted tables in the Steirereck restaurant in the city park. The creative cuisine of chef Heinz Reitbauer is considered one of the best in Austria. The Steirereck also receives international recognition. It currently ranks 13th on the “50best” list.

We tried our way through the 6-course menu, which inspired us from A to Z. We were less impressed by the ambience and the quality of service. This left us with a somewhat rushed impression. However, this may also be due to the fact that you can also order à la carte at lunchtime in addition to the menu, which is of course a much greater challenge for the kitchen crew than if only the menu were to be chosen.

Nevertheless, it was definitely the culinary highlight of our stay in Vienna, which I definitely wouldn’t want to miss.

Please note: the Steirereck is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Alternatively, you can stop off on Saturday (or of course on Friday) in the adjoining dairy with a beautiful sun terrace. For both variants, early reservations are recommended.

Stadtpark Wien

4. Visit the Albertina Museum

If you are already staying right next to the Albertina, then you should also pay it a visit. After all, the collection, founded in 1776 by Albert Casimir, Duke of Saxe-Teschen and son-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa, is one of the world’s most important art collections. But the current special exhibitions are also exciting – during our visit, for example, one of them was dedicated to the work of the German photographer Michael Schmidt.

Albertina Wien

Right next to the Albertina, the Heidi Horten Collection opened at the beginning of June 2022 as another visitor magnet for art enthusiasts.

5. For an evening snack, stop at Gulasch & Söhne

After our sumptuous lunch in the Steirereck, there is only something left for the “Gluscht” at the end of the day. For this purpose, we head for Gulasch & Sons. At first glance, the rather inconspicuous restaurant on Vienna’s Ringstrasse celebrates the so-called “fast Viennese cuisine” (Lahner sausages, Debreziner, goulash). And in really good quality.

Gulasch & Söhne

Alternatively, I can also recommend a stop at the traditional restaurant Zum Schwarzen Kameel. If you eat meat, you should take the opportunity to order a classic Wiener Schnitzel. In both restaurants we received a table without prior reservation.

Vienna Day 2 – Immerse yourself in art and culture

6. Walk through the Hofburg

We start the second day of sightseeing with a coffee in the Brasserie & Bakery of the Vienna Guesthouse. The hotel restaurant also enjoys a good reputation among Viennese people and is a popular breakfast restaurant. But if you want to stop here before 10:00 a.m. for a coffee and a small bite, you can usually get a table without any problems.

Strengthened, we then walk in the direction of the Hofburg in beautiful weather. The huge palace complex served as the Viennese residence of the Habsburgs from the 13th century until 1918. Today, the Hofburg serves as the official residence of the Austrian Federal President and is one of the main tourist attractions. There is a lot to visit: the Spanish Riding School, the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments, the Imperial Treasury, the Silver Collection, the State Hall of the National Library, the Butterfly House and various other museums (such as the Albertina, which is also located in the rooms of the Hofburg). As you can see, visiting all the sights of the Hofburg would take at least two full days alone.

My tip: Start your tour across the grounds of the Hofburg on Josefplatz at the statue of Emperor Joseph II. Walk from there towards Michaelerplatz, continue past the Sisi Museum into the inner castle courtyard and from there via Heldenplatz to the Burgring. On the way back you can take the castle garden and the butterfly house with you.

Wien Hofburg Parkanlage

7. Visit the MuseumsQuartier Vienna

Directly opposite Heldenplatz – on the other side of the Burgring – is the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) Vienna. The whole area was redesigned at the end of the 1990s and today forms an interesting potpourri of baroque buildings of the imperial era and modern architecture. In total, the MQ is home to around 60 cultural institutions and museums. My favorites are the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art), the Kunsthalle Wien and the Architekturzentrum Wien.

Mumok Wien

And since September 2020, the roof of the Leopold Museum right next to the MUMOK has been offering a free overview of the MQ and the rooftops of Vienna’s city centre. Access to the so-called “MQ Libelle” is via two outdoor lifts on the east side of the Leopold Museum. In the summer months, there is also a kiosk with seating up here.

MQ Wien Libelle

You can find more information about the Museumsquartier here:

8. Im & Flora Lunch

The morning is already well advanced and hunger is making itself felt. Directly behind the MQ there are some exciting places to stop for refreshments. This time we decided to make a stopover at the newly opened Hotel & Restaurant & flora. Visually incredibly well designed – but the dishes could not all convince us completely. For a light lunch, however, it is still quite functional. Alternatively, the TIAN Bistro on Spittelberg is just around the corner.

Extra tip: If you are interested in sustainable clothing and vintage shops, you should – if you are already in this corner of Vienna – include a detour to Burggasse in your city tour.

9. Via Karlskirche and Albertina Modern back to the historic center

Our exploration tour takes us from the 7th district to the 6th district “Mariahilf”. Here we stroll through the Naschmarkt and then follow the walking paths through the Resselpark to the striking Karlskirche. Directly opposite is the Künstlerhaus Wien with the Albertina Modern in a magnificent renovated classicist building. During our visit, AI Weiwei’s impressive exhibition “in search of humanity” was running.

By the way: if you are planning to visit both the Albertina and the Albertina in a modern way, then it is worth buying a combined ticket (24.50 euros instead of 18.90 + 14.90 each). Information on the current exhibitions at the Albertina Modern can be found here: The Albertina – Albertina Modern

Right next to the Künstlerhaus is the house bar (to the website). Unfortunately, we only discovered the trendy restaurant on site and everything was already fully booked. On our next visit to Vienna, however, we would definitely reserve a table here and try our way through the vegetarian menu with drink accompaniment. If you follow this tip, I’d love to hear your feedback on whether it not only sounds like a totally cool concept, but also passes the “taste test”!

10. Enjoy a 3-star dinner at Amador

But we wouldn’t have exchanged our restaurant reservation for this evening for a table in the house bar. It’s been on our bucket list for too long. Namely the stop with the 3-star chef Juan Amador in the restaurant of the same name in Vienna Heiligenstadt (just under 30 minutes by tram from the stop Oper, Karlsplatz in the center).

With 295 euros for the menu (+ 165 euros for the wine accompaniment), this is a larger budget item – but definitely one that we wouldn’t want to miss. Compared to the Steirereck, there were a little less WOW moments (all very solid & tasty sauces – but a bit too classic for me), but the service was absolutely top!

Extra tip: before dinner at the Amador, we stopped for an aperitif at The Bank Brasserie & Bar. A fantastic location with really good drinks!

Vienna Day 3 – Indulge in Sunday Happiness

11. Start your Sunday at a leisurely pace with the motto by the river

We start our last full day in Vienna at a leisurely pace. Once again, we let ourselves drift through the alleys of the old town to the banks of the Danube. Here we first want to take care of tickets for a Danube cruise and then have something small for breakfast.

This can be perfectly combined in the Motto am Fluss. The restaurant is located in the same building as the provider of the boat tours. And so we first secure the tickets and then enjoy an iced matcha and a sandwich on the sun terrace. On the weekends, the motto on the river is usually quite well attended – here, too, the following applies: If you want a table without a reservation, it is better to be there early.

Motto am Fluss Brunch

12. Let your mind wander on the big Danube cruise

The City Cruise with the DDSG Blue Danube from Schwedenplatz is very popular on nice days. At least our course was filled to capacity. And if we had known how crowded it would be, we probably would have given up the tour. But if you’re not looking for the hottest Whit Sunday of all time for the tour, then the boat tour seems to me to be a relaxed way to get a few other perspectives on Vienna.

Donaufahrt Wien
Donauufer Wien

The whole round trip of the City Cruise lasts two hours. In the summer half-year, we paid 36.70 euros per person when buying tickets on site (which is quite expensive, for which we sat crammed together like sardines on the ship during the first half of the tour). However, this may also be dynamic pricing. If you know for sure in advance that you want to go on a round trip, then it’s best to buy a ticket directly online from the provider under the following link: DDSG Blue Danube

13. Take a detour to the Prater

The City Cruise docks once during the two-hour round trip, at the level of the Danube Marina. Thus, it is possible to ride only half of the way and head for other sights from there.

With the U2, for example, you can reach the legendary Praterstern in 10 minutes. We were surprised that no one was queuing at the Ferris wheel during our detour to the Prater. Is that somehow no longer a thing? Did I miss something? No idea. I think the fact that you don’t have to queue makes the ride on the Ferris wheel even more appealing. And the view is always impressive!

Praterallee Wien

Cost: Adults 13.50 Euro |Current opening hours can be found here:

We then walked along the Praterallee via the Hundertwasserhaus back to the hotel.

14. End your city trip at the Mast Wine Bistro

At the end of our three-day city trip to Vienna, we take the tram to the 9th district. Not far from the Franz Josef train station in Vienna is the MAST wine bistro. If you are interested in wine and like fresh, high-quality, regional market cuisine (also combinable as a menu), this is the right place for you.

Here, too, the following applies: Secure your table in advance at The individual courses cost between 10 and 25 euros.

More tips for your city trip to Vienna

  • There is a daily night train from Zurich to Vienna. Alternatively, Vienna can be reached in just under 8 hours with the direct Railjet connection. We took the night train there and took the Railjet back to Zurich during the day.
  • In the Favoritenstrasse, directly behind Vienna’s main train station, is the Ferhat Döner. Here they work with local products (100% beef from Austria) and everything is homemade. Conclusion: It tastes really, really good! At this point, many thanks to the person who gave me this tip!
  • We actually wanted to scout out a few rooftop bars we had researched in advance, but only made it to the Lamée Rooftop Minibar on Rotenturmstrasse. Unfortunately, before we could order anything, we were “chased away” by a thunderstorm front. In the end, we didn’t even make it to the Atmosphere Rooftop Bar at the Ritz-Carlton – but who knows, maybe you’ll soon be toasting the sunset from there.

Vienna Map

For a better overview, you will find all the sights, museums, restaurants mentioned in the article as well as our hotel tips geographically located in the following map. I hope you enjoy planning your city trip to Vienna.

Have you already been to Vienna? Alternatively, how about a city trip to Graz or Linz?

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