I’ve been to Vienna twice – once in November on a business trip, leaving me with just a day of free time to explore the city, and again the following June on an InterRail trip around Europe – again with just a day to play with before moving on to the Alps. When it comes to making the most of this city in just 24 hours, there’s a few things I’ve learnt from these two trips. If you only have one day to explore this city, read on to discover my top tips!
10:30 AM: Take the Ring Tram
After a sufficiently long lie in, it’s time to head out to Schwedenplatz to board the Ring Tram, a retro tram that takes you around Vienna’s Gürtel (literally translates as ‘belt’), a ring road which replaced the old city walls in 1893.
The tram will take you around city in 25 minutes, giving you views of some of Vienna’s most famous attractions, including the Vienna State Opera, the Imperial Palace, the Austrian Parliament and more. With your ticket, you’ll get a set of headphones to plug into the control panel on the back of each seat, giving you information on what you’re looking at on the way around.
The Ring Tram is a great way to get a quick overview of the city centre – while it is possible (and cheaper) to get two normal trams to take you around the same route, you won’t benefit from the audio guide to explain the significance of the sights outside, or get as good a view from a crowded tram.
11 AM: Visit St Stephen’s Cathedral
After you’ve left the Ring Tram at Schwedenplatz, it’s just one stop on the U1 to Stephansplatz, where you’ll find St Stephen’s Cathedral, a 136 meter tall gothic cathedral built in 1359, the final resting place of some of Austria’s most important monarchs.
If giant gothic cathedrals aren’t you’re thing, you’ll also be surrounded by countless designer stores and restaurants, or alternatively, you can also take a ride around the city on a horse drawn carriage. As you may have guessed, all these activities are quite expensive!
1 PM: Lunch at Café Imperial
Instead of having lunch at Stephansplatz, take the U Bahn down to Karlsplatz, and after just a short walk, you’ll be at Sigmund Freud’s favourite coffee house, Café Imperial. Not only do they serve up Freud’s favourite flat white, you’ll also be able to choose from a selection of delicious pastries or even a full banquet from the weekly or a la carte menu.
3 PM: Go to the Prater
The Prater is just 4 stops on the U Bahn from Karlsplatz, and is a large public park with it’s own golf course (miniature), theme park, and even a nightclub (more on this later). The giant Ferris wheel is the highlight – it’s Vienna’s version of the London Eye, only it was built in 1897, and views of London aren’t quite as good.
It’s well worth a ride if you’re visiting in the summer, giving you a commanding view of the city.
It’s even possible to book a private cabin for hours at a time, ideal for stag or hen parties, or a romantic dinner for two, with a free gift from Vienna’s flagship Swarovski store, if you have €405 to spare.
4:30 PM: Visit the Rathaus
At most times of year, the Rathaus is a Neo-Gothic city hall, housing the office of the Mayor of Vienna. That all changes in the run up to Christmas, when it’s a Neo-Gothic city hall with it’s own Christmas market in the front garden, making it the perfect place to grab some traditional Austrian street food and some souvenirs to bring home.
You’ll find it on the U2 line at the imaginatively named stop, ‘Rathaus’, again just 4 stops from the Prater.
6 PM: Dinner at Schnitzelwirt
A visit to Vienna is incomplete without tasting the Wiener Schnitzel, one of the national dishes of Austria. Where better to try this delicacy than at a local independent restaurant?
Before you go to this place, you’ll need a thorough briefing. If you’re after impeccable customer service, you probably won’t find it here (nor anywhere in Vienna, for that matter). If you’ve come as a pair or a small group, be prepared to sit on a table with other strangers – most of the tables here seat as many as 10 people. Finally, make sure you learn how to order your food in German, as none of the staff seemed to speak English.
If you can handle that, then you’re in for a treat, as Schnitzelwirt serve up some incredible schnitzels which are HUGE. Having been here twice and ordering one to myself both times with a side of fries, despite my colossal appetite, I was defeated. The portions are epic and I strongly suggest sharing a schnitzel between two.
9 PM: The Nightlife Beings
If you’re travelling solo, the Travel Shack on Mariahilfer Gurtel is an ideal place to go, as it’s a dedicated bar for backpackers, hosting a range of events such as beer pong and karaoke. In the summer months they also run a pub crawl, which starts at 9pm every night, for just €20, including a power hour of unlimited beer, wine and sangria. Wowzers.
The fact that locals come here too shows how good it is, or perhaps how average the nightlife is here. Honestly, the clubs here aren’t the best in the (german speaking) world – for that you’d need to go to Berlin.
However, there are a few quirks. We went to a club called Prater Dome, which – you guessed it – is at the Prater. While the music and overall experience is the standard mix of EDM, VIP areas and lyrical toilet attendants that you’d get in the UK, the way you buy stuff when you’re inside is quite unusual.
The entire club is cashless – instead, on entry you’re given a credit card that’s just for use in the club. Everything goes on this, meaning you’ll have a hard time remembering how much you’ve spent. They even have vending machines inside for beers and ciders.
As you leave, you’ll go through a sort of supermarket checkout, paying for what you’ve drunk with your actual credit card. Trust me, you’ll be in for a shock!
10:30 AM: Time to Go!
Most clubs close at around 3-4 AM in Vienna, so unless you’ve really splurged the night before, you should be up at 10:30, completing your 24 hours. Getting back to the airport is easy, taking the City Airport Train from Wien Mitte, just a 10 minute walk from Stephansplatz. Alternatively, there’s a range of mainline railway stations around the city centre, if you’re taking the train.
If you had 24 hours in Vienna, what would you do? Know anywhere better than the places mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!