Recently, I traveled on a trip to Munich, Germany, and Vienna, Salzburg, and Hallstatt, Austria. I have two teens, and I wanted them to see where I lived in Salzburg when I went there for school abroad in college. My husband and I also got engaged and married there. So, we wanted to take a trip down memory lane and show them Salzburg in particular. But prior to that, we spent a couple nights in Munich and then headed to Vienna.
Of all of the cities, I was probably the least excited about Vienna. I was still excited, but just more so for Munich and Salzburg. I had visited Vienna when I was in college, and then when I was newly married, but I missed out on a lot. And so, my impression of Vienna was that it was a nice big city with charm, but otherwise I didn’t remember much more.
So, for 20 plus years, like the famous Billy Joel line (When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?), Vienna has been waiting for me to realize how incredibly spectacular and stunning she truly is.
She has been waiting patiently for me to truly see the magic of this mystical, gorgeous, mesmerizing city: the incredible Baroque architecture, culinary scene, stunning palaces and churches, theaters, historic and lively music scene, and so much more. Thank you, Vienna, for your patience with me to finally discover the amazing gem of a European city that you are.
The only downside to my visit to Vienna was that it wasn’t long enough! We spent three lovely, beautiful days there, and my goal now is to go back someday soon, as there is so much more I want to discover.
In the meantime, if you have three days on your trip, here are my top picks for where to stay and what to do in Vienna, Austria.
Where to Stay
I am a person that likes to save money, of course, but when I travel to a big city, I make sure to stay in the city versus booking a less expensive hotel outside the city to save a few dollars.
The reasons are many, but, mainly, there is nothing like being able to step outside your hotel and walk to the main square. Also, if one person in your party wants to go back and rest, they can easily get back to the hotel without going on public transportation, catching an Uber, or driving a rental car back and forth. In addition, the cost alone of taking an Uber, or gas and parking fees, might easily be the same cost of a hotel in the city center by the time you add it all up. And also, time is money. The time it takes traveling back and forth to the city is time spent on the road, perhaps even in traffic. Losing precious time is one of the many reasons I chose a centrally located hotel.
That said, we chose to stay at a Marriott steps from the heart of Vienna and all of the action. Of course, we love pensions or locally owned hotels, but as I have Marriott status, we get a room upgrade and other perks. Again, that saves a family of four (with teens that seem to be always hungry) precious dollars. This time, the extra perks won out.
As mentioned, the location cannot be beat, but the breakfast and service are what makes this hotel stand out. The hotel was also clean and upscale but with a down-to-earth feel. Plus, you can access the Marriott M Club if you are a Platinum member or above, which saves a few dollars. However, if you do not have Marriott status, you can still access the club if you purchase a special rate with your room that gives you access.
The M Club is super, as it includes breakfast. Light snacks, fruits, and beverages are also available throughout the day, with hors d’oeuvres and reduced-cost cocktails in the evenings. Especially when you have kids or “hangry teens”, those waters, snacks, sodas, and juice really help get them through the day in between meals–and, again, saves a few pennies, too.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to use the public transportation system. You will travel with the locals, which is always fun people watching. And if you purchase the Vienna City Card, you can go anywhere in the Vienna City network on any municipal bus, train, or subway.
What to Buy
And speaking of the Vienna Card, in addition to the free public transportation, the Vienna City Card provides discounts at museums, churches, sightseeing tours, theaters, and concerts, as well as discounts in restaurants, shops, and also a few select hotels.
For an extra add-on, you can add hop-on, hop-off tours and airport transfers, should you be flying in or out of Vienna, which is a deal. This little card proved to save us a lot of money!
Also, if you have children under 15 years old, each child travels free with a paying cardholder. Prices currently are 29,00 Euros without add-ons, and you can purchase it as an app on your phone (which was easiest for us) or print a copy at home prior to your trip.
TIP: Not to confuse anyone…but there is also another competitor card called the Vienna PASS. Check out the benefits of both cards. If you plan on hitting up a lot of museums, the Vienna PASS costs more but might work better for you, as it offers free entry to over 70 museums as well as a fast pass to skip the long lines.
What to Do
Not far from our hotel sits the tallest church in all of Europe, St. Stephen’s Cathedral. No visit is complete without visiting this historic and gorgeous church. You can explore the inside of the church, which is stunning, but you can also climb to the top of the tower to check out the observation deck and get a bird’s eye view of the whole city. My husband and I loved the church with all of its glorious details and incredible history, but it was the view from the top of the tower that took our breath away.
First on your list after St. Stephen’s should be this incredibly historic and absolutely beautiful palace surrounded by lush and spectacular gardens. Known as the biggest tourist attraction in the country, while also being a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the palace and gardens do not disappoint.
The palace and gardens are captivating and exhilarating, and the history itself is fascinating. While there, check out the Schönbrunn Children’s Museum, where children dress up as princes and princesses and learn a little history about the real life of the children that lived in the palace.
There is a full 60-minute tour which is great. But for those with limited time, there is also a shorter 40-minute tour of the palace called the Imperial Tour, featuring 22 rooms of the palace in all its glory. The museum is open daily, including public holidays. Imagine strolling the halls of gilded gold and crystal chandeliers that royal Empresses and Emperors of the Habsburg family also strolled and lived. It’s an incredible experience and definitely worth it to add to your three days in Vienna.
For those with children or adults alike who have a love of animals, there is also the Vienna Zoo at Tiergarten Schönbrunn, not far from the palace. Known as the world’s oldest zoo which is still in operation, it is home to over 8,500 animals and 700 species, with the highlight being the two giant pandas that currently reside at the zoo.
TIP: Buy your tickets online prior to visiting the palace to save time and avoid long lines. But, if you end up purchasing the Vienna PASS, you will get in free and be able to use the fast pass option to the museum. The Vienna Card will offer a discount only. Still, every penny counts.
Stroll the historic center of Vienna known as the Innere Stadt, or Inner City
One of our favorite things to do in any European city is to just walk around checking out the people, the outdoor cafes overflowing with flowers in the spring and summer, and spontaneously exploring city life like a local–or at least pretending to be one. We also love checking out the markets and buying easy-to-eat local food (such as bratwurst and cheese and bread) and sitting down at a little beer garden to hoist a local beer while enjoying the gorgeous buildings. The Innere Stadt is so beautiful architecturally that it is even recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Check out a food tour, too. It’s a great way to experience the cuisine of Vienna while being guided by a local tour guide. Plus, how much fun would it be to eat and drink your way through a European city like Vienna?
End your three-day tour with the Riding Dinner in a horse-drawn carriage
Run by Marco Pollandt, who is the owner, and still very much hands-on making sure every detail is accounted for, the Riding Dinner is an experience we will never forget. Imagine being in a horse-drawn carriage with your family or friends and riding around Vienna while a personal butler makes sure all of your needs are met, including serving food and drinks and informing you of stories of Vienna, its history, and its architecture.
The two different rides are the Economy, which includes the carriage ride and drinks, and the Premium, which includes a carriage ride, drinks, and a table of food, as well as your own personal butler. There are 90-, 60-, and 40-minute rides, and packages range from a full three-course meal to sparkling wine with sweet and savory delicacies. You can even choose a package that stops at the stables for a visit with the horses, too!
We chose the 60-minute version, and we were lucky enough to try Viennese delicacies made from local Viennese restaurants and sip sparkling wine in elegant glasses, all while hearing the click clop of the horses hooves down the cobblestone streets. We truly felt like we were in a fairytale, and it was one of the top highlights of our trip to Vienna.
So, Vienna, thank you for waiting for me. I promise it won’t be that long until the next time…
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