With just one day in Vienna – how to make the most of your time to see the famous landmarks, explore the city and cover some of the top cultural things to do in the Austrian capital – what will you be able to include with a bit of planning? Here you will find a 24-hour itinerary that covers a couple of top museums, as well as famous monuments, architecture and churches that are must-sees in Vienna – not omitting the classical Viennese coffee house.
Vienna is situated along the Danube River and is one of the topmost cities in this part of Europe. The city has everything within culture, architecture, elegance, and economic prosperity, as well as a comprehensive and rich history. This includes formerly being an imperial city, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Later, Austria was transformed into a republic – after World War II, Hitler’s ‘Greater’ Germany (at the time including Vienna) ceased to exist, and Austria regained its independence with Vienna again becoming the sovereign capital of the Austrian republic.
Although heavily damaged in the last months of World War II, a lot of rebuilding took place after the war, preserving its pre-war character.
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You will start your day in Vienna with an early morning stroll in the very city centre, the Innere Stadt, taking an itinerary through the famous pedestrian street Graben, Neuer Markt and Stephansplatz that is flanked by classy, centuries-old buildings and historical architecture. It is all easily accessible on foot. At this time of day, you will pretty much have the core of the city to yourself – and the opportunity to take photos at the top Vienna sights without them being too much dominated by tourists.
Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral, is one of the things you must see in Vienna. The 12th-century cathedral is an iconic landmark symbolising the city – and world-famous for its Gothic architecture, its colourful roof tiles, and precious relics. Although reconstructed many times throughout the years in various architectural styles, there are still traces of the original Romanesque structure.
In all there are four cathedral towers with the tallest rising 136 metres into the air. You can climb the tower for magnificent views across Vienna. In all there are 13 bells hanging up here to toll the hour.
Now your will cross over to Michaelerplatz and the impressive Hofburg where the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) is located.
Beforehand, you will have made a reservation for the morning training session at the Spanish Riding School. It is a unique chance to see the training for the classical equitation performances and culture of the Austrian riding school as it has existed for more than 450 years. This Renaissance tradition appears on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Spanish horses formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed which the horses performing in the Spanish Riding School belong to and which is the oldest horse breed in Europe. Inside the Lipizzaner horses are trained for equestrian performances at a very high level by their proficient riders. It is world-class entertainment to attend a performance here, but also the morning training of the Winter Riding School will give you an impression of the particular Viennese discipline and cultural tradition. In July and August the stallions are in general taken to the summer stables in Heldenberg-Wetzdorf, but at the Hofburg you may still have the opportunity to see some training.
It is maybe now time for a coffee – and you should take the chance to visit one of the traditional Viennese coffee houses. They can be found all over the city, but why not visit one of the historic cafés such as for instance Café Central just a few hundred metres away from Hofburg at Herrengasse.
This is your chance to experience a historic Vienna café from 1876 with all that it entails: stunningly elegant decorations and ornaments, delicious cake treats of which you can opt for the traditional Sacher-Torte, and great Viennese coffee specialities – maybe accompanied by soft Mozart or Strauss music.
Café Central, which is located inside the mansion Palais Ferstel, a former bank and stockmarket building, seethes with atmosphere from the time that some of our most famous poets and philosophers used to come here for a cup of coffee. The guests included Zweig, Trotsky, and Freud among other intellectuals! Welcome to the Viennese coffee scene!
Now you will continue your sightseeing inside the Imperial Palace, the Hofburg. The complex consists of several sumptuously ornamented building parts and beautiful courtyards that go back to the 13th century. Today the Hofburg holds both state apartments and imperial treasures of the Holy Roman an Austrian empires, as well as serves as office of the Federal President.
For over 700 years the Habsburg empire was reigned from the Hofburg Palace. The complex expanded in the city along with the increasing power of the House of Habsburg, and the Hofburg was inhabited by the imperial dynasty until 1918.
You can visit the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments, as well as the fine Silver Collection. The Sisi Museum tells the life of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), who was the renowned wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. Their historical home is accessible in the Imperial Apartments with part of the original furniture being on display, and the Silver Collections is a journey into the mysteries of exquisite pieces of porcelain and other precious household items used at that time.
When you are filled with impressions from the former Imperial Palace, it is probably time to look for a restaurant in the area to have lunch – for example along the Ringstrasse – which is next on your sightseeing agenda.
You can now make your own tour of historical Vienna mid-19th-century architecture. The famous Ringstrasse consists of several stretches – for example the Kärntner Ring, Opernring and Burgring. Along the Ringstrasse some of Vienna’s most splendid architectural constructions can be seen, some of them decorated with arcades and colonnades.
A stroll along the Ringstrasse will, besides the Hofburg, take you past the Wiener Staatsoper from the 1860s, the Burggarten, the neo-Renaissance Naturhistorisches Museum, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Volksgarten, the neo-Flemish Gothic City Hall, the neoclassical Paliament, the Renaissance-baroque Burgtheater, as well as the University of Vienna founded in 1365 and designed in an Italian Renaissance style. These museums, mansions and palaces are all magnificent examples of outstanding Viennese architecture.
If you continue all the way round the Ringstrasse, you will reach the neoclassical-Renassaice-style Stock Exchcange north of the city centre.
It is now time for some very different architecture. You will take the short trip over to the Hundertwasserhaus (near Landstrasse), a vibrant block of architecture consisting of irregular forms, created for residential purposes. It is a highly unusual structure of vividly patterned façades, decorative columns and a plethora of plants winding their way up the walls from balconies, pots, as well as the roof, contributing to a lush look of the colourful house. The house is named after the artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), and the construction was carried out together with the architects Josef Krawina and Peter Pelikan.
The Hundertwasserhaus from 1985 can only be admired from outside, whereas the Hundertwasser Village, located right opposite in the same street, has been created as a public shopping centre with a village square, a bar and various stores in the characteristic ‘Hundertwasser style’. You absolutely need to enter it to experience the extraordinary architecture and ambience for yourself!
Another option to see the works of the artist is Kunst Haus Wien which is a museum located a few streets north of the Hundertwasserhaus. Inside Kunst Haus Wien you will through the permanent exhibition of Hundertwasser’s artwork gain insight into his life and controversial art projects.
From Landstrasse you can take the U-Bahn U4 down to Karlsplatz. The buildings of Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station have been designed in the Austrian Jugendstil /art nouveau style, known as Secession, by Otto Wagner and Joseph Maria Olbrich. A few hundred metres from here you will catch sight of the Secession building, characterised by its golden leafwork dome. The remarkable building was also designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich who worked for the Viennese architect and city planner Otto Wagner.
An art association called ‘Secession’ was founded in 1897 by Gustav Klimt and other Austrian breakaway artists. The year after, the Secession building in Friedrichstrasse was completed, representing the Austrian art nouveau style movement and exhibition – which slightly differed from the art nouveau styles in other European cities at the time.
Inside you will find Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze, which is the artist’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, created for an exhibition in 1902.
A stone’s throw from Karlsplatz, the impressive 18th-century baroque Karlskirche rises. It is built by Emperor Charles VI and dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo who is a plague saint. Rich in marble stonework, beautiful paintings, carvings, and reliefs, it is considered to be the most outstanding baroque church in Vienna.
The church is characterised by its huge dome and two lavishly ornamented columns that can be viewed from afar when approaching.
Karlskirche is recognised for its magnificent ceiling frescoes in bright colours and of very high quality. A panorama lift can take you up to the dome ceiling for both interior views of the dome frescoes and exceptional views across Vienna.
Finally, it is time for dinner! Quite near Karlsplatz you will find Naschmarkt, Vienna’s amazing street food market with over a hundred market stands and restaurants. It is a popular meeting place in Vienna, and you can find all kinds of international and Viennese cuisine here. The open stalls offer take-away food, and the numerous restaurants range from simple sit-down meals to more fine dining.
Since the 16th century, Naschmarkt has been a marketplace where farmers came to sell their produce. During the last hundred years the place has served its purpose of being a street food market in its current form with enticing stalls and a plethora of restaurants.
Naschmarkt is also a great place for people watching and you can easily spend a couple of hours in one of the restaurants here – maybe before going to the Prater (Wurstelprater) for the evening. The Prater is the amusement park in Leopoldstadt with the giant Ferris wheel (Wiener Riesenrad) visible on the Vienna skyline. It has a centuries-old background as both a former imperial hunting ground and, later, a popular site for public entertainment.
An alternative for the evening is to buy tickets for a classical concert in one of the churches or concert halls – maybe Mozart or Strauss…
‘9 Cultural Things to Do in Vienna – What to See in 24 Hours’
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9 Cultural Things to Do in Vienna – What to See in 24 Hours:
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What Things to See in Vienna – Vienna Museums – Vienna Sights – Vienna Churches