Visiting Vienna was something that I'd long wanted to do. On previous trips to Europe it had just seemed a little bit too far east to fit into our itinerary, but this time I was determined to visit the much-talked about capital of Austria. With its abundance of culture and famous cuisine, not to mention those Viennese coffees, there was plenty to look forward to. This is my 3 days in Vienna itinerary.
To make the most of your stay, I recommend allowing three full days to explore the city. One day in Vienna is not enough to see all the main Vienna tourist attractions but if you have two days in Vienna, or even better, three days, you’ll cover the main sights.
Depending on your time of arrival in Vienna, this may mean another half day or at least a few hours to get your bearings in the city, which means you’ll actually have more than 72 hours in Vienna. Take that as a bonus!
Staying within or close to the Ring Road which circles central Vienna means you’ll be able to explore most of Vienna’s main sites on foot.
Our base at the Kaiserhof Hotel proved to be the perfect location for discovering Vienna by foot and, armed with a list of things we wanted to see and do, we easily filled three days in the city. If you’re wondering what to do in Vienna, I hope you find this Vienna itinerary helpful.
- 1. How to spend 72 hours in Vienna
- 2. Where to stay in Vienna
- 3. Where is Vienna?
- 4. Getting to Vienna
- 5. Handy travel planning resources
How to spend 72 hours in Vienna
Your day of arrival in Vienna
When I arrive in a new city I like to familiarise myself with the general layout and find a couple of points of reference (these help me to navigate the city later on).
If you arrive in the afternoon, I suggest you head into the Old Town (Altstadt in German) for a quick look around. You may like to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour around the city or just sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and soak up the atmosphere.
Day 2 (Your first full day of Vienna sightseeing)
Start the day by heading back to the Old Town. If you’re in the mood for shopping, you’ll find all the big name stores on Kartner Strasse, the pedestrian-only main street.
As you approach the end of Kartner Strasse, you’ll see the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna’s Gothic Cathedral. Although it was originally consecrated in 1147, much of the Cathedral as we see it today dates from the early 14th century.
The south tower, at 137 metres high, is the tallest of the Cathedral’s four towers. From here you get great views across Vienna and can get up close to the 13 bells that hang here but you’ll need to climb 343 steps to reach the top.
The north tower (68 metres) can be reached by an elevator. Whilst it’s not as high as the south tower, visitors come hear to see the Pummerin, the second-largest free-swinging chimed bell in Europe.
The Cathedral’s interior, which changed often over the centuries, is home to numerous valuable relics, and the roof tiles are laid in a pretty geometric pattern.
Outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral there are plenty of options in Stephansplatz to take a horse and carriage (fiaker) ride around the city if you’re so inclined.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Vienna, a walking tour is a great option. The Vienna Tourist Office has a suggested walking tour that follows in the footsteps of the Habsburgs around central Vienna or you could join a guided tour (check tour details here).
Day 3 (your second full day of sightseeing in Vienna)
Start your day with a visit to the beautiful Belvedere Palace, built by Prince Eugene of Savoy between 1714 and 1723. It’s an impressive baroque residence surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens full of fountains and statues.
The Upper Palace houses some of the most valuable artwork in Austria, including works by Renoir, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. Pride of place goes to the works of Austria's most famous artist, Gustav Klimt, including “The Kiss”.
(You can see more of Klimt's work, including his famous 'Death and Life' painting at the Leopold Museum.)
Entry to Belvedere's Upper Palace costs around €12.50 per adult. Entry to the gardens is free. To skip the queues, you can pre-purchase tickets to Belvedere Palace here.
Belvedere Palace opening hours are from 9am to 6pm daily with extended opening until 9pm on Fridays.
Address: Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27, Vienna.
After marvelling at the works of art inside Belvedere Palace it’s time to admire art of a different kind.
Karlskirche (Charles' Church) features some of the most beautiful frescoes I’ve seen, covering an area of 1,250 square metres.
What makes this church different from many others I’ve visited is the fact that you can take an elevator inside the church in order to view the frescoes up close. It’s a great way to really appreciate the intricacies of the frescoes and it also gives you a great view of the church’s interior.
Address: Karlsplatz, Vienna
Next, head to Naschmarkt, Vienna’s best-known market. During the week you’ll find a selection of stalls selling everything from fresh produce to clothes, but on Saturdays the addition of a Flea Market adds to the appeal.
There are over 120 market stands here, including lots of cafes and restaurants offering a wide range of cuisine so this is a great place to grab some lunch before continuing your sightseeing.
Vienna Naschmarkt is open from 6am to 7.30pm Monday to Friday and 6am to 6pm on Saturday.
Address: Wienzeile, Vienna.
Another Viennese institution worth visiting is the Spanish Riding School. Here you can watch the famous Lipizzaner stallions perform, just as they have for over 450 years.
As we were visiting in August, there were no actual performances (the horses are rested in the countryside during July and August) but we did attend a one hour 'Piber Meets Vienna' show where young Lipizzaner stallions currently being trained for the Spanish Riding School put on a demonstration.
During the performance season you can also watch the stallions being put through their daily training sessions.
The Spanish Riding School is housed in the stunning Imperial Palace (Hofburg) which seems a fitting arena for the majestic and graceful stars of the show.
Tickets to Piber Meets Vienna at the Spanish Riding School range from about €10 (standing) to €40 per adult. We chose mid-range tickets for €20 each and were seated at one end of the arena. The regular performances are more expensive.
Tickets for both regular performances and the summer program can be purchased from the Spanish Riding School's official website which also lists performance times.
If time permits, you might like to take a look inside the Imperial Palace. This was once the seat of government of the Habsburg emperors, who ruled what we now know as Austria and Hungary, until 1918.
Areas open to the public include the Imperial Apartments, where Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (known as Sisi) lived, and the Sisi Museum, which houses many of the Empresses personal objects and numerous portraits of her.
Hofburg (including the Imperial Palace and Spanish Riding School)
Address: Michaelerplatz, Vienna
Day 4 (your third day of Vienna sightseeing)
On your last full day in Vienna, head to Schonbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs. Based on the Palace of Versailles, this 1,440-room ‘holiday house’ is massive by anyone’s standards.
To get an idea of how the Habsburgs lived, take one of the two tours of the Palace. You can either visit 22 or 40 rooms inside and an audioguide provides commentary in each room.
Then it’s time to get out and explore the grounds which feature the world’s oldest zoo, a maze, formal gardens and fountains, a greenhouse and the Gloriette Monument.
There are also exhibitions and museums, including a carriage museum, in the grounds.
The Palace Park is free to enter but entry fees apply to Schonbrunn’s special attractions such as the maze, the zoo, orangery garden and, of course, the Palace.
Schonbrunn Palace is open daily from 8am. It closes between 5pm and 6.30pm, depending on the time of year.
Address: Schonbrunner Scholss Strasse 47, Vienna.
To reach Schonbrunn Palace, I suggest you use public transport from the city centre. Underground train line U4 and trams 10 and 60 both have stops at Schonbrunn.
You could easily spend the whole day at Schonbrunn Palace but if you have time the Prater is well worth a visit. This area, which is situated between the Danube Canal and the Danube River, was previously a hunting ground before it was given to the people of Vienna for recreation.
The main attraction is a fairground which features bumper cars, merry go rounds and shooting ranges, and the Riesenrad, a giant ferris wheel erected in 1897. Jump aboard for great views over Vienna.
Finish your stay in Vienna on a high by attending a Mozart concert, in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Vienna.
We attended a concert at the beautiful Musikverein where all the orchestra members were dressed in frock coats and wigs as they would have been in the days of the great composer himself.
The 90 minute concert was fantastic and a definite highlight of our stay in Vienna. I didn’t take my camera to the concert, thinking that photos wouldn’t be allowed. They were (but no flash allowed) so I had to make do with a couple of photos taken with my phone.
TIP: We had Category A seats for the Mozart concert (which I had pre-purchased) which offered a great view of the stage but next time I'd opt for the Superior Category just to be that little bit closer.
Enjoy delicious Viennese Cuisine and Coffee
Three things were high on my agenda for my stay in Vienna - finally tasting Sacher Torte, sampling a traditional Wiener Schnitzel and getting tips from on expert on how to make apple strudel. None of them disappointed.
Cafe Sacher was where we headed for a taste of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.
Originating in 1832, the recipe is a well-guarded secret and the cake is now one of Austria's most important exports, with more than 360,000 of the cakes being produced each year, many of which get sent abroad.
A rich chocolate cake thinly spread with apricot jam and topped with a smooth layer of icing, it is delicious served with whipped cream.
The famous chocolate cake isn’t the only thing available at the cafe, with other tasty treats like apple strudel and a range of cakes also on the Cafe Sacher menu. Prices were what I’d consider reasonable for a well known establishment like this - not super cheap but not excessively priced either.
Cafe Sacher Vienna opening hours are from 8am to midnight every day.
Address: Philharmonikerstrasse 4, Vienna.
Our apple strudel making lesson was another fun thing to do in Vienna. Our lesson (which I wrote about here) took place at Schonbrunn Palace but we had lots of opportunities to sample apple strudel throughout Vienna, including a yummy serving at Belvedere Palace's 'Bistro Menagerie' and at Cafe Sacher.
Check details on the apple strudel show and tasting at Schonbrunn Palace here.
Another sweet treat definitely worth a taste is Punschtorte. Ingredients include chocolate, rum, apricot jam - need I say more! You can find out more about Punschtorte - and get the recipe - here.
Wiener Schnitzel can be found on the menu at most restaurants in Vienna - it is the national dish, after all! 'Real' Wiener Schnitzel is a thinly crumbed fillet of veal but a pork variety can be found, too.
You'll often pay a euro or two more for the traditional version but it's definitely worth it. Served with parsley potatoes and a wedge of lemon, it's a delicious meal and one of my favourites.
On our second visit to Vienna we ate twice at Cafe Mozart and the Wiener Schnitzel was superb.
Throughout Vienna you'll see Wurst (sausage) stands. The Viennese are fond of their wurst and they make a tasty snack for those in a hurry.
We sampled a wurst at the Albertinaplatz sausage kiosk. Served on a plate with a thick slice of traditional Austrian bread, one was definitely enough for me.
It's probably no surprise that two of the best coffees I had in Vienna were accompanied by two of the most delicious 'cakes'. At both Bistro Menagerie and Cafe Sacher coffee isn’t just something to accompany your cake, it’s pure bliss!
Order a cappuccino and it will be served Viennese style with plenty of froth and a big dollop of whipped cream. Naughty but nice!
Is summer not a good time for you to visit Vienna? Winter is a great time to visit the Austrian capital, too. Christmas in Vienna is magical - read this article to find out more.
If you'd rather not spend all of your three days in Vienna in the city itself, it is easy to plan one or more day trips from Vienna to the Austrian countryside or another nearby city.
UPDATE: I’ve now enjoyed two visits to Vienna, both of them for three days. On my second visit, rather than return again to Schonbrunn or Belvedere Palaces, I opted instead to take a day trip to Bratislava and I also enjoyed a few hours of shopping on Mariahilferstrasse.
On our second visit we ate twice at Cafe Mozart - the service and food was excellent - and again stayed at the BW Premier Kaiserhof Hotel.
Consider the Vienna Pass
The Vienna Pass (also known as the Vienna City Card) is worth considering if you are staying a few days in Vienna. The Vienna Pass includes free admission to over 60 attractions including Schonbrunn Palace and Belvedere Palace, as well as a free ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel and unlimited used of the Hop On Hop Off Vienna sightseeing tour for the duration of your pass’s validity.
Also included is fast-track entry to a number of the Vienna attractions and a free Vienna guide book.
The Vienna Pass can be purchased for durations of 1, 2, 3 or 6 days. Click here to check prices.
Where to stay in Vienna
Both times I have visited Vienna I’ve stayed at the Hotel Kaiserhof (you can read my review here) so if you are still choosing where to stay when visiting Vienna, I can highly recommend this hotel.
Other highly rated hotels in Vienna include:
- Hotel Sacher Wien (5*) - check prices here
- Austria Trend Hotel Savoyen Vienna (4*) - check prices here
- Austria Trend Hotel Europa Wien (4*) - check prices here
Where is Vienna?
Vienna is located in the far east of Austria, close to the border with Slovakia. It is 300 kilometres from Salzburg, 330 kilometres from Prague, 80 kilometres from Bratislava and 243 kilometres from Budapest.
Getting to Vienna
Most international and inter-Europe airlines fly into Vienna. Train services between Vienna and all parts of Europe are frequent.
Handy travel planning resources
I hope this post has encouraged you to visit Vienna. With all the suggestions above, you should have no trouble planning how to spend three days in Vienna.
This post was originally published in November 2013 but has since been updated.
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