Austria

Things to do in Vienna. Some You Shouldn’t Miss and Some You Can

Photographing North Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my impending whirlwind trip to Vienna. I’m back (obviously). The visit was a bit frenetic. We had a short amount of time and a very busy schedule.  All in all, you could say the experience was the travel equivalent of a tasting menu.

Vienna is as beautiful as all the travel books say, and even though the city was grayed by cold unpleasant weather, its gorgeous historic architecture and easy navigation made it memorable.

Below are some of the things that struck my fancy and other things that were so-so, plus some suggestions to consider if you’re heading to Vienna any time soon. And, of course, lots of photos!

Photographing Sausage vendor in Vienna, Austria

A sweet sausage vendor hard at work

Fountain in front of the Parliament building in Vienna, Austria

Fountain in front of the Parliament building

Unexpected tasty treats!

Before my trip, I’d heard a lot about the sausages in Vienna but I really didn’t give them much thought. Then I tried one. Yum! I went back, twice.

Kaiser Krainer Vienna_Austria -

My incredibly phallic Käsekrainer

My guilty pleasure was the Käsekrainer, a large, ridiculously phallic sausage with cheese served in an equally large, warm, crusty baguette. (If you’re not into the carbs you can order the Käsekrainer cut into bites on a plate).  I paired it with spicy mustard and washed it down with an ice-cold beer and it was the perfect nosh after a rigorous morning of turbo sightseeing.

There are sausage stands all over Vienna (how do we not have these in the States?), but the one I went to was the Bitzinger Wurstelstand in front of the Albertina, part of Hofburg Palace, kitty corner from the Vienna State Opera. It’s a great, central location to people watch and take a break.

Around the corner is the Sacher hotel, known for its world-famous Sacher Torte.

As I was preparing for the trip, I asked people for recommendations of where to go, what to eat, etc., and nine out of ten people told me not to miss the Sacher Torte. Tourists flock to it. It’s a thing. My opinion: It’s OK, you can skip it.

It’s very tasty, don’t get me wrong. But is it worth standing in a long line of tourists to try it? Nope. If you fear a raging case of F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out for those who are acronym challenged), there’s a separate entrance to the restaurant’s smoking section—which is really cute by the way—about 20 feet from the main door on the left.  My fellow travelers and I decided we’d rather risk a smoke-filled room than stand in the queue that had formed out front.

Photographing Sacher hotel in Vienna, Austria

The smoking side of the Sacher Hotel restaurant (So cute). If you can stand the idea of smoke, it’s a much easier way to try the torte without having to wait in line.

Photographing St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

As an alternative, I highly recommend the cheesecake at Distrikt  (a chic and popular restaurant) in the Ritz Carlton. The general manager boasted at dinner one night that it would be one of the best cheesecakes I would ever eat. I was dubious. I’m from New York—cheesecake central—but he was right. So right. It was creamy and delicious with just the right amount of tang and the graham cracker crust was divine.  I’m salivating as I write this. Best of all, no lines.

Photographing little girl in St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

A little girl prays after lighting a candle in side St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Cathedrals and Catacombs

I’m a big fan of cathedrals and St. Stephen’s is very impressive. Originally built in 1147 (it was almost destroyed in World War II but rebuilt within seven years), the cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vienna, so be ready for crowds. (I was there midday, I’m sure it’s better early in the morning.) You can explore the main nave, climb the 334 steps to the top of the south tower where I’m told there are spectacular views of the city ( I passed on the workout) or take a tiny elevator (if you’re claustrophobic may want to pass on this option) to a viewing area on the north tower which also has some pretty views.

 Photographing St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

The catacomb tour with its coffins, interned bishops, 56 urns filled with Habsburg intestines, thousands of bones and other historical artifacts, in addition to the tour guide’s delightfully creepy stories, are worth the hour of your time and the €5,00 (Approximately $5.50). I really wanted to take photos but the powers that be wouldn’t allow it.

Photographing St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

P.S. If you’re concerned that your little kids might get bored at St. Stephens you’re in luck, on the plaza there’s a wonderful antique-looking carousel that’s sure to please. UPDATE: I’ve learned that the carousel is not permanently outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It’s there typically during festivals (there was one the day I was there, May 5) and during the holiday season.

Photographing carousel outside St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

An adorable antique-looking carousel outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral

I also recommend putting Votive Church on your list. We ran across it while exploring the Ringstrasse, the famous circular boulevard along which countless historic buildings are found including Hofsburg Palace, the Museum Quarter, the Parliament building and City Hall. It’s neo-Gothic design was consecrated in 1879 on the same day that Emperor Franz Joseph married his Empress Elisabeth.

We didn’t stay long—we were making our way to St. Stephen’s and under the gun to make the catacombs tour—but it was utterly breathtaking. (Be sure to check out the “Antwerp Altar,” it’s spectacular). The church was practically empty, which I loved. St. Stephen’s was packed with people but in Votive I was able to revel in its beauty in quiet serenity.

 Photographing Votive Cathedral interior in Vienna, Austria

The stunning Antwerp alter in Votive church

Photographing inside Votive Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

Tea lights sparkle in the din of the church

Photographing inside Votive Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

A gorgeous stained glass window looms over an equally spectacular chandelier

Danube Island

On my last day, the weather perked up and by late afternoon the sun peeked out from behind the dark clouds that shrouded Vienna during my stay. Harald Kalasek, a local photographer with an unusual past (his many chapters includes  years as a fire-eater / juggler in a circus; helping Russian Jews immigrate to Israel and other countries; leading tours as a guide in Salzburg, Prague and Budapest, and an owner of a bottle closure company), was kind enough to show me around town for a little night photography.

Photographing the Danube in Austria

A beautiful pastel sunset in the Copa Kagrana area near Danube island.

Our first stop was sunset at the New Danube (a channel created to ease flooding in bad weather) and the 13-mile Danube island, where the locals like to eat, drink and play. You can rent boats, picnic, lie on a beach, hike, ride bicycles, bask in the beautiful scenery, and dine in one of the many cafés that line the shore. There’s also water and climbing parks.

The best part: it’s easy get to. Take the U-bahn (subway) line U1 (red line) to the Alte Donau stop or the U6 (brown line) to Neue Donau. You’ll be there in 10-15 minutes from the city center. Piece of cake.

Photographing the marina at the Danube in Vienna, Austria

Boat rentals

Photographing the Danube in Austria

Peddling down the Danube

The night we went it was relatively quiet. The temperature was still nippy, though you could sense that better days were on the horizon, and only a couple of cafés had opened for the season. Despite the low-key vibe, it was easy to see that once summer hit it would be filled to the brim with people and laughter.

On the way back into the city, we stopped at the Wurstelprater amusement park to shoot the Ferris wheel. It had all the rides one expects of a good amusement park and it’s a perfect place to spend time if you’re in to that kind of thing or have kids in tow. If not, there wasn’t anything uniquely Viennese that stood out as a must-see. If you have limited time, I would pass.

Photographing Hofsburg Palace in Vienna, Austria

Hofsburg Palace

Photographing the Ferris Wheel in Vienna, Austria

The iconic Ferris wheel at the Prater

Photographing Parliament building in Vienna, Austria

City Hall

A few suggestions

  • If you’re headed to Vienna, love photography and would like Harald to show you around while regaling you with his unique life story and historical Viennese tidbits, he runs a photo tour. You can reach him here.
  • Depending on how much you plan on sightseeing, it might be worthwhile to invest in one of two options (You can buy the following online, at a hotel or various locations throughout Vienna. Follow the links for exact locations.)
    • A Vienna Card ( you can get on in a 48 or 72 hour denomination) It’s a single card that enables you to have unlimited use of the U-Bahn (subway), trams and buses around the city, as well as more than 210 discounts at museums, sights, theaters and concerts, in shops and cafés. The cost is either € 21,90 (~ $24.00) for a 48 hour card or 72 hours for €24,90 (~$26.00). Each card entitles one child up to the age of 15 to travel with you free on Vienna public transportation.
    • The Vienna Pass is more expensive and ranges from €59,00 to €114,00 ( ~$65.00 – $127.00), depending on how many days the pass is valid for, but gets you in to over 60 attractions, including the hop-on, hop-off buses, compared to just discounts with the Card, and it doesn’t include public transportation, though you can add that feature if you want. The Pass becomes cost-effective if your itinerary will take you to four or more attractions.
  • Check out the 450 year-old Spanish Riding School, named after the famed Lippizan horses originally imported from Spain. On the weekends (be sure to check the online schedule as there are breaks throughout the year) they have spectacular presentations showcasing the best in traditional horsemanship. During the week you can see the horses trained during their morning exercises but the pomp and circumstance of the shows is much more exciting.
  • In April, May and June, grab a KäseKrainer and watch selected operas and ballet performances (their free!) simulcast on giant LCD screens in front of the Vienna State Opera.

What want to do on my next visit

  • I don’t know when I’ll be back in Vienna but when I do I’m going to take a Hot Rod City Tour. Every day I saw people zooming around in these teeny-weeny cars. It wasn’t until I returned home that I found out it was a tour (I thought it was some tiny hot rod club or something). Besides being utterly adorable, it looks like so much fun and a great way to get an overview of the city.
I was a guest of Austrian Air, The Ritz Carlton Hotel and the Vienna Tourist Board . My coverage was not guaranteed and the sentiment is my own.

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Things to do in Vienna that you'll love.

 

168 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Brought back so many memories of my own trip there 🙂 Those sausages! And I went to Bitzinger too (drool! drool!) And you nailed it with your sacher torte report. That’s exactly what I felt and wrote about in my own Vienna post. Nice to see I’m not the only one knocking a beloved Viennese tradition 😉

  2. I was having so much fun reading your blog, and I love all of your posts so much, and then I came across this post. Your photos and advice just arrested me!!! I love it so much.I love finding a fellow traveler who shares my love for detail and adventure. Thank you so much for sharing! you are totally welcome to check out my travel blog if you ever want to, but warning, my photography is no where near yours!

  3. I’ve been to Vienna several times and it is a wonderful city. If you like art, I suggest you to visit the Hunderwasser, a hause similar to the Casa Batlò in Barcelona. I love your blog and your pictures are amazing!!!

  4. Beautiful photos! And I totally agree with you about the Sacher Torte. I visited Vienna in May too (you can see the post on my blog if you’re interested) and was unimpressed with the famous cake. The city itself, on the other hand, was lovely. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Adam. It’s true, that sunset was extraordinary. The week had been so grey and cloudy, it was lovely to have such a wonderful send off on my last night in the city. Glad you liked the post. Welcome to the blog. Please share if you think your friends or family will enjoy. 🙂

  5. I went to Vienna a few years ago and loved that trip! The city itself is beautiful (so much heritage!) and we visited many churches (when it rains it’s a great shelter and you can sit and most of them are worth seeing!). My preference goes to Schönbrunn though, such a nice place (especially when there’s sunshine).

    As for the food, did you tried the schnitzel? It is quite good.
    With my friend we went to café Central and were not disappointed, it’s beautiful, sometimes a pianist is playing and you have a large range of cakes to try (the 3 we trasted were very good!)

    I guess I will go back some day…

    • Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to explore Schönbrunn and would probably make time to do that if I returned–especially the gardens. I did try the schnitzel and it was good but not so extraordinary that it struck me as worth a mention. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. Thank you so much for your comment. 😉

  6. Beautiful photos and suggestions! It is a wonderful city. Also, I couldn’t agree more about the Sacher Torte. No fun waiting in the cold for it!

  7. This post was amazing. I am a new blogger trying to learn the ins and outs of blogging, and I’m trying out all types of writing. I have been blessed and will be traveling abroad for 4 months next year in Rome and London. I want to try travel blogging and your blog acts almost as a “How To Guide” from everything to what to write about, to photography, etc. And I just wanted to take the time to thank you because your writing has served as an inspiration and, in the near future, a guide on how to do it and how to do it right. So thank you. I really enjoyed this article and can’t wait to read the next one!

    • Hi Baylor –

      Welcome to the blog! I appreciate your kind words and wish you great luck with your blog. Rome and London, what fabulous cities to explore. Have a fantastic time. 🙂

    • Thank you! The horses are gorgeous and the riders extremely skilled. I recommend the show over the training if you happen to be there over the weekend. Welcome to the blog. 🙂

  8. Wow.. this makes me wanna grab my backpack visit Vienna right away! Great shots… could I trouble you to get some info about the lens and shot specifications?

  9. Wow, you covered some ground, Susan — and got lots of wonderful shots. Beautifully done! (Even if I am a *tad* disappointed not to see those 56 urns filled with Habsburg intestines. YIKES.)

  10. Thanks for this hearththrilling report of your visit to Vienna. I wish I had opportunities such as this to travel. The phographs are so nice that I am highly tempted to start learning photography. One more thanks for this beautiful and well articulated presentation and I look forward to hearing more from you

  11. Hi, Susan, great pics as always! If you ever go to Vienna in winter, especially December,be sure to taste those different and delicious variants of punch sold on stands everywhere! I was tipsy all week and didn’t manage to taste them all… There are fruity ones (apple, plum, cherry…) and some with egg and whipped cream (very sweet) etc, etc. Even a stand serving only punch variants created by star cooks! As for Sacher Torte, you’re perfectly right. American Brownies are much better!

    • Agree. There was a lot of research done, you could sense it. I again saw Vienna through the different perspective. Nice. Though I got a feeling, that you enjoyed Cuba more,am I right?

      • Cuba and Vienna are so different it’s hard to compare the two. Vienna was fun but it was a very limited amount of time (2.5 days) and the weather wasn’t the best. So yes, Cuba was better but I was also there a full week. 🙂

      • I think you had a different feelings towards those places and I see it in the choice of those images and also the way how they are made. I might be mistaken too

      • Yes.. they are completely different places. One is a third world island that is a throwback to the 50’s, the other is a modern European City. But really, Vienna was difficult to shoot. Between my schedule and the weather, I had infinitely fewer photos to choose from. A lot of what I did was inside and at locations that didn’t allow photography. 🙂

  12. Great post! Sounds like a whirlwind few days, and you also hit a couple spots we missed (I guess we’ll just have to go back…). Were you able to see Schonbrunn? It was our favorite!

  13. Hi Susan, I am new here, never did blogging before, and you are the first blogger I subscribed to because your photographs are amazing and I like the way you write – you are great!

  14. Ohhhh, those sausages! I’m dying Susan. There was a place on the street when I was there that served them on big slabs of black bread. I can still taste it after all these years. Thanks for the walk through Vienna and those lovely churches and cathedrals. As usual, great images!

    • I still think about that damn sausage, Patricia. LOL. I appreciate your support of the images. It was hard to shoot there with bad weather and flat light. Half of what I took was blah..

Would love to hear from you!