Vienna is a classical city with an abundance of cultural institutions to discover. It is entertaining, safe and gives off a prestigious feeling. From someone who wants to indulge in classical music, European history, and visual arts – this could be your next best destination!
When you live in North America, Western Europe is far enough that we often overlook the lands just a little further East. Central Europe includes historically rich countries such as Austria and Hungary which are home to two of the most visited cities in the world, Vienna, and Budapest. Conveniently for travelers, these cities are just a short two-hour train ride apart!
Even though these cities are geographically nearby, the charm, culture, and history are distinct. Vienna is a city with long-lasting imperial roots. Though their political structure has changed, you can still feel the prideful essence that the inhabitants still resonate.
The adjective “Viennese” is frequently applied to describe things from food to music, and to other cultural preferences. You can almost neglect that you are in Austria because people seem to be much more attached to being inhabitants of Vienna. I was even once corrected when I mentioned the term “Austrian” vs “Viennese” – let there be no confusion!
1. The Belvedere Palace, “The Kiss”, and Gustav Klimt
Culturally speaking, Vienna takes the cake when it comes to museums; they have over one-hundred! Their most famous painter who arguably created the most famous painting in the world is Gustav Klimt. That painting is “The Kiss” which is housed in a former empirical palace called the Belvedere Palace and it is never moved so if you want to see it, you need to go to Vienna! The Belvedere Palace is an elegant place to visit as a whole as it is divided into three sections which you can choose to visit independently or as a whole which could take you a full day to do so. Walking around the magnificent gardens which link the buildings is also a serene way to enjoy the experience and a good excuse to get some fresh air in between galleries!
Considering the importance of this artwork in art history, its stunning appeal and the wonder of where it is located (a palace!), I think this is without a doubt a must-see in Vienna.
2. Vienna’s Opera House
One of the most elite and exquisite opera houses in the world, if you get a chance to enjoy a performance here or at least visit the interior, it will surely be a memorable experience! You do NOT need to be an opera fan to enjoy but *warning* you may become one after this. The emotional intensity, the powerful voices, the drama and the overall appeal of seeing society get together to rejoice in a magnificent way is well worth the effort to plan to see a production if you are lucky to get tickets.
Since we did not have time to plan our trip ahead, we opted for standing tickets that are purchasable on the day of the show. You need to wait in line directly at the opera house an hour before but beware, there are often lineups! You need to dress appropriately (no torn jeans or t-shirts – think sophisticated and elegant) and get ready to hustle a little because getting these seats is an entire experience in and of itself, but well worth it. Click here for more information on visiting the opera house.
One more thing – if you are hungry after the performance, do like the locals and have a glass of champagne and a Viennese sausage at the famous outdoor stand across the street called “Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina”. You can’t miss it, it’s the only green rabbit sitting next to a bottle of champagne out there!
3. Albertina Museum
Next on the list is the Albertina Museum located across the street from the Opera House. The architecture of this museum is remarkable and we were lucky enough to see an exhibit of Durer, one of the most renowned artists of the 15th century and of the German Renaissance. Hard to believe that drawings can stun you like this but they do just that. They looked like they could just jump out of the paper. His most famous is a hare sitting seamlessly on “nothing”.
They also have a lovely restaurant, cafe and museum shop. A wonderful gem to visit overall.
The bulk of the museums in Vienna are a part of a group called the MuseumQuartier. Spread over 90,000 square meters in central Vienna and encompassing 60 cultural institutions, the MuseumsQuartier Wien is one of the largest districts for contemporary art and culture in the world. There is something for everyone! We had the pleasure to visit the Leopold Museum and the momuk which met our interests but were also part of the most visited institutions.
The Leopold Museum is home to the largest collection of works in the world by Egon Schiele who is a famous Austrian painter who died at the young age of twenty-eight. One of his mentors was the famous Klimt we discussed above. The Leopold also houses an exhibition of modernist Austrian art of international standing which is unique for outsiders to visit and does not disappoint.
The mumok, located just across the street from the Leopold and is a contemporary museum in a beautiful modern building. It makes the various aspects of the international and Austrian avant-garde accessible to everyone interested in the arts. From Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol and to Franz West, the collection and special exhibitions represent a blend of tradition and experiment, past and present. We were able to bounce around one of the largest exhibits that was essentially a huge airborne mattress with balls. It was a lot of fun.
5. Hofburg Palace
Sisi Museum & Imperial Apartments
Recognizing the impressive reign of the Viennese royals, it is not surprising that they have left quite a legacy for the public to continue to enjoy. There are a number of distinct museums to visit throughout the large quarters but we opted for two of the most popular ones which were the Sisi Museum and the Kaftnes apartments. The Sisi Museum was clearly our favorite as they guide you through the tragic life story of the fascinating and popular Princess Elizabeth, better known as Sisi. All the information on visiting Hofburg can be found here.
Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School is one of the most exclusive and elite riding schools in the world. They only use XX horses that are renowned to be completely white which gives them a majestic image. I was able to get a guided tour of the stables and even see the horses themselves! What a wonder to explore and learn more about this prestigious institution. It is in fact located right next to the Hofburg palace but holds its own separate quarters.
6. Classical Music
Mozart, Strauss, and Schubert are some of the most recognized names in classical music and guess what? They were all Austrian and from Vienna. This city takes a lot of pride in their past talents landing them international recognition and for good reason! We were lucky enough to enjoy a concert in the lavish Musikverein venue which was a sophisticated and enjoyable experience for a number of reasons. The building itself oozes with the beauty, so much so that the tone is set the moment you walk through the door. It holds the title of the best acoustics of any concert hall in Austria, you can also opt for a guided tour during the day.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Located in the old part of town where we stayed, St.Stephen’s Basilica cannot be missed as it is very close to many commercial intersections. Its majestic nature is striking and there is a lot going on around it. It is surely a place you need to visit and will impress you. For all the information, click here.
Karl Borromäus Church
The Karl Borromäus Church is a little out of the way yet breathtaking once you find it. Located in an area with greenery, you can relax and enjoy the landscape when you find it. There are many beautiful churches in the city and too many to name but they will surely pop up in your strolls and you will be grateful to enjoy their beauty!
Other stunning buildings like the Opera house, the Hofburg Palace and the Belvedere mentioned in this article are also, evidently, part of the architectural charm of the city.
8. Foodie Vienna
During our time in Vienna, we enjoyed the famous schnitzel in a restaurant claiming to be the birthplace of the dish, Figlmueller. The schnitzel has now traveled all around the world and can be found in a variety of variations! It was amusing to see just how BIG the piece of meat was in our plates and enjoy it in the traditional way.
We also noted and experienced the “Kafe Houses” that are still popular and known as places where artists, creatives and the general public relax, hang out and enjoy the day. There is a home where you can relax and have a drink, a coffee or one of the popular apple strudels alike! We also ate some goulash soup, crepes, and enjoyed some of the best coffee in the world!
The most famous edible item though was clearly the Sacher cake. With its apricot jam and intense chocolate layers, it has quite a story and still attracts hundreds of tourists daily. The original is found in none other than the Sacher hotel.
Vienna is in many ways at the heart of classical culture and is a must for anyone who has been inspired by rich art forms. It is worth the extra kilometers to visit – plan to visit this fab city during your next European vacation!
Founder/Editor-in-chief/Creative Director. Passionate about the city of Montreal, discovering its various cultural components as well as exploring foreign places. I am inspired by artists, innovative concepts, philanthropy, creative encounters, and cultural events. View all posts by Anne Jano