What to do in Vienna in Two Days: Stuff You Shouldn’t Miss and Things You Can

view of Vienna from St. Stephen's Cathedral

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 my short trip 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.

A sweet sausage vendor hard at work
Pallas Athene Fountain - 1893
Pallas Athene Fountain erected beginning in 1893

Kaserkrainer – Unexpected Tasty Treats and Great People Watching

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.

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. It’s a great, central location to people watch and take a break. In April, May, and June, watch selected operas and ballet performances (their free!) simulcast on giant LCD screens in front of the Vienna State Opera.

Kaiser Krainer Vienna_Austria -
My incredibly phallic Käsekrainer

Sacher Hotel – Long Lines

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.

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.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral

The Cheesecake at Districkt – YUM

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.

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

St. Stephens Cathedral – A Must

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.

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Catacomb Tour

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.

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 outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It’s there typically during festivals and during the holiday season.

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

Votive Church – Less Touristy

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.

The stunning Antwerp alter in Votive church
Tea lights sparkle in the din of the church
A gorgeous stained glass window looms over an equally spectacular chandelier

The Spanish Riding School – Amazing

A man leading a horse at the Spanish Riding School
Before the performance at the Spanish Riding School

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 are much more exciting.

Danube Island – Short Trip into Nature

Not far from the city-center is 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.

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

The best part: it’s easy to 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.

Boat rentals
Peddling down the Danube

Prater Amusement Park – Great Family Fun

The Wurstelprater amusement park had all the rides one expects of a good amusement park and it’s a perfect place to spend time if you’re into 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.

Hofsburg Palace
The iconic Ferris wheel at the Prater
City Hall

A Few Travel Tips for Vienna

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.)

Vienna Card vs Vienna Pass

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 into 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.

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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161 thoughts on “What to do in Vienna in Two Days: Stuff You Shouldn’t Miss and Things You Can

  1. Diya says:

    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. anywherewithbrooke says:

    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. littlemissinternationalblog says:

    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. plaidshirtdiaries says:

    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!

  5. Adam Morris says:

    Enjoyed your tips and photographs… that sunset around the Copa Kagrana area is absolutely stunning… wish I had been there!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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. 🙂

  6. Flo. says:

    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…

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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. 😉

  7. caribfa says:

    I love all your pictures. I’ve knocked around Asia and other parts of the world. Never hit Vienna until now. Thanks.

  8. Kayleigh Norton says:

    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!

  9. Baylor Cook says:

    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!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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. 🙂

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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. 🙂

  10. rpadmashree19 says:

    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?

  11. hmunro says:

    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.)

  12. jopamhworo says:

    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

  13. lilisar says:

    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!

    • hermesssaglaea says:

      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?

      • Susan Portnoy says:

        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. 🙂

      • hermesssaglaea says:

        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

      • Susan Portnoy says:

        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. 🙂

  14. Suzanne Tenney says:

    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!

  15. sashafromrussia says:

    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!

  16. Zarii&Beauty says:

    You have very wonderful pictures I would love of you could give me a few pointers in phography
    Stay beautiful😘

  17. Patricia Pomerleau says:

    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!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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..

I would love to hear from you! What did you think of the post?