Things to Know About Vienna Before You Go
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If you're planning a trip to Vienna, you're probably trying to figure out where to stay, where to eat, and how to get around the city. Like you, before visiting Vienna, we were wondering the same things. So, to hopefully make your research that much easier, we've put together, in one place, everything you might be wondering about Vienna. Whether you want to know how to order the perfect cup of coffee or how to navigate public transportation, we've got you covered. And don't forget to get a jump-start on your must see sightseeing itinerary!
For those who aren’t geographically inclined, Vienna, is the capital of the central European country Austria. The city is situated on the banks of the Danube River in the eastern part of the country and the eastern part of the Alps, near the boarders of Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. For those who need the hard numbers, Vienna is located at 48.21 latitude and 16.37 longitude, and is 193 meters (633 feet) above sea level. Vienna is the largest Austrian city, with an area of 414.87 square kilometers (157.65 square miles), which for comparison, is similar in size to Cairo, Egypt and New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Also, upon arriving, don’t forget to set your timepieces to the Central European Time Zone (CEST, or UTC+01:00), as you don’t want to miss any of your prearranged activities.
When to Visit Vienna?
Tourism in Vienna peaks in the middle of summer, June through August, and so do the temperatures. We visited during late July and experienced temperatures between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 35 Celsius) and in the bright sun it was a bit uncomfortable at times. However, according to weather averages, this seems to be about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) warmer than July averages. Another thing to consider, is that businesses often close for a few weeks to a month or longer during summer months. Our host (we were house sitting) mentioned that rents in city center were by law limited to a set maximum, therefore keeping them low enough that it’s financially possible for businesses to close their doors for weeks at a time to take a vacation. In other words, this means that tourists might find the doors closed to some of Vienna’s favorite restaurants, cafés, and shops during the summer.
As an alternative to Summer, if you’re looking for a holiday getaway that’ll spark your Christmas spirit, then Vienna in the winter is calling your name. Everything about Vienna during the winter sparks that joyous, cozy, winter holiday feeling. Storefronts are wrapped in sparkling Christmas lights, roasted chestnuts are on almost every corner, and fantastic Christmas markets are thriving throughout the city. We highly recommend Spittelberg and Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz, holiday markets. Even though the weather in the winter is freezing, literally (it hovers around 32ºF, +/- 5 ºF; or 0 ºC, +/- 3 ºC), it ends up being the perfect excuse to curl up in a warm sweater in one of Vienna’s famous cafés. Moreover, don’t expect gray, dreary skies during the winter, as is often common in other parts of Europe. Instead, you’ll typically get crisp, clear, blue skies filled with sunshine. If we've talked you into visiting in the Winter, be sure to indulge in these traditional holiday treats:
- Glühwein – It’s a winter tradition in most German speaking countries and is heated red wine with a mix of cider-like spices (cinnamon, cloves, anise, sugar, and vanilla), very similar to mulled wine and Mexican Ponche.
- Schaumrollen – An Austrian pastry confection that’s a puff pastry filled with a soft vanilla meringue. They can also be referred to as Lady Rolls or Schillerlocken.
- Langos – They are a traditional Hungarian fried flat bread that’s often topped with garlic, sour cream, cheese and/or butter.
- Maroni – Roast chestnuts.
If a winter holiday in Vienna isn’t your thing, we’d recommend Spring or Fall. Both ‘ends’ of summer are fantastic times to visit if you prefer mild temperatures and less tourists. You’ll get to enjoy the hottest tourist spots with fewer people crowding around and you won’t have to worry about lathering on the sunscreen (we prefer chemical free sunblock that uses Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide for both UVA and UVB protection) or packing bulky sweaters!
The currency in Vienna, as well as all of Austria is the Euro. In our experience the city was modernized in its payment methods and we were always able to pay by credit card for everything we purchased, never running into a need to use cash. However, it’s always good to be prepared and carry a small amount of local currency, as we’ve been in a few situations when travelling in Europe where non-European issued credit cards weren’t accepted. When we do withdraw cash, we use our Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, which reimburses ATM fees world wide and provides a currency conversion rate at 'Banker's Rate' (which is about the best rate you can get).
The official language of Vienna, Austria is German. It’s most commonly what you’ll hear on the streets, but don’t be surprised if you hear Hungarian and Slovenian. Although, before panicking and purchasing Rossetta Stone for German, you’ll be relieved to know that most people, especially in city center, speak English very well. However, it’s always a good idea to learn a few words and phrases. Here are a few we found helpful:
- I don’t speak German, In German: Ich spreche kein deutsch
- Thank you, In German: Danke
- You’re Welcome, In German: Bitte
- Excuse me/Pardon me, In German: Entschuldigung
- Please, In German: Bitte (Yes, it’s the same as your welcome)
- No, In German: Nein
- Yes, In German: Ja
It’s also helpful to know a few words you’ll commonly see written:
- ‘Strasse’ means ‘Road’ in English
- ‘Einweg’ means ‘One Way’ in English
- ‘Platz” means ‘Place’ or ‘Square’ in English
*Click the German translation to view it in Google Translate where you can click on the audio icon and hear how it’s pronounced.
You may also find it helpful to know that the letter ‘W’ in German is always pronounced as an English ‘V’ and the letter ‘E’ at the end of a word sounds like an English ‘A’. Also, if you see the letter ‘ß’, it’s essentially a double ‘S’ (ss).
Districts in Vienna
There are 23 districts (think of them like neighborhoods) in Vienna, Austria. Districts 2 through 9 are considered to be city center, as they all encircle the 1st district, Innere Stadt. The first district is the most prestigious district and is encircled by Ringstrasse, the road that holds the city’s most magnificent buildings and parks. Tourists spend most of their time sightseeing in the first district, however districts 2 through 9 all have their unique and distinctive ‘personalities’ and feel to them. We highly recommend exploring them after you’ve seen the ‘must-sees’ in district 1 and completed the obligatory walk around Ringstrasse.
What District Are You In?
We didn’t learn it until well into our time in Vienna, but once we figured out how to tell what district we were in, it was extremely helpful. Like us, you may have already noticed that there seems to be a number on street signs that isn’t a building number or a block number. It’s usually the district number. So, if you’re walking along and want a clue as to what your general whereabouts are, look at the street signs, usually located on the corner of a building, and they'll give you the district number. Additionally, the postal codes in Vienna are an easy to decipher code that provides insight as to what part of the city the address is located in. Of the four numbers, the first is always a ‘1’, representative of Vienna. The second two are the district (01, 02, … 10, 11, etc), and the final number is a mailing sub-division which is usually zero. So for example, we stayed in district 8, so the postal code was 1080.
What to See in Each District
This list is in no way inclusive, and only includes districts 1 through 9. We’d love your input, so comment below if you have a favorite destination in one of these districts.
District 1, Innere Stadt
- Hofburg Palace
- Walk Ringstrasse
- The Spanish Riding School
- Austrian National Library (the old building, and be sure to see The State Hall)
- Volksgarten Park
- Rathaus (City Hall)
- Vienna State Opera House
- University of Vienna
- Natural History Museum
District 2, Leopoldstadt
- Prater Park - known for its giant Ferris Wheel, a large amusement park, and miles of tree-lined walking, jogging, and bicycling paths.
District 3, Landstrasse
District 4, Wieden
- Historical Museum of the City of Vienna
District 5, Margareten
- The homes of famous composers Franz Schubert and Christoph Gluck
District 6, Mariahilf
- Mariahilferstrasse - one of Vienna’s most popular shopping malls
- Naschmarkt - a large produce market
- Flohmarkt - it’s a Saturday flea market that’s adjacent to Naschmarkt
District 7, Neubau
- Spittelberg quarter - walk the neighborhood to admire the old houses that are now shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and theaters.
District 8, Josefstadt
- Josefstadt Theater - Vienna’s oldest theater (1788)
District 9, Alsergrund
- Freud Museum (in his historical home)
- Liechtenstein Palace
Where to Eat/Dine in Vienna
Restaurants in Vienna
Mochi – A very popular Japanese restaurant in district 2 that serves modern Japanese food and sushi.
Naschmarkt – More than just a produce market, all types of foods, including trendy restaurant stands can be found here.
Motto am Fluss Café – Located in a modern building, this café offers coffee, breakfast, desserts, and a great view from its rooftop terrace.
Pizza Mari – Acclaimed to have some of the best pizza in town. If you’re looking for a Neapolitain pizza, this is your place!
Schweizerhaus – This is the place to go to experience traditional Viennese food. Go for the goulash, the wiener schnitzel, or try their trademark dish schweinsstelsen (pigs feet). It may be crowded, so we recommend making a reservation ahead of time.
Plachutta – This is the best place to come and try the traditional Austrian dish, Tafelspitz (boiled beef).
Disco Volante – Not only are they known for great pizza (it’s all they make) but the pizza oven is a giant disco ball!
Figlmueller – Famous for their Viennese Schnitzel. It tastes great and is inexpensive, but you’ll probably have to wait in line.
Cafés in Vienna
Café Prückel – An old traditional café that has great coffee, breakfast, and pastries. Visit on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after 7 pm for live piano music!
Cafe Sperl – Vienna is known for its coffee culture, and Café Sperl should know a little about it, since it’s been around since 1880. While there, you’ll probably fall in love with its 19th century interior design!
Café Central – Come for a cup of coffee at this historical writers’ and philosophers’ café, where Trotsky, Karl Kraus and Hermann visited. Most evenings include live piano music.
Cafe Espresso – This retro bar and café is perfect for the hipster crowd. If you’re looking for breakfast in the morning or a drink in the evening, this is your place.
Café Landtmann – Are you intrigued by secret political meetings and espionage? Then this café just might be a must see. It’s famous as a café that was founded in 1873 and is known as a place where spies met during the Cold War.
Café Sacher – This café is famous for chocolate cake that draws in the tourists. It’s also known for a decent cup of coffee, although both coffee and cake are on the pricey side.
Where to Get a Drink in Vienna
Salmbräu – A popular brewery in Vienna that’s popular for its beer and pork knuckles.
Loos American Bar – Come here to admire the architecture, dating back to 1908, and order one of the best vodka cocktails or Manhattans in Vienna.
Das Loft bar & Lounge – Looking for a classy lounge with floor to ceiling windows offering great views? Then this is the bar for you! Das Loft is a chic venue, with stunning views at sunset, so dress accordingly and consider booking a table online to beat the crowd.
First Floor – Located on the first floor of Seitenstettengasse 5, this is the place to go to meet up with the 'cool crowd' and enjoy a drink in this stylish, modern bar.
Dachboden – It’s literally translated to ‘attic’ in German and is located at the top of the 25 Hours Hotel. It’s a popular spot for locals (it was recommended by our house sitting host) and offers a fantastic view.
Vienna Night Life
Porgy & Bess – A popular music and jazz club that can get packed, so do yourself a favor and purchase tickets online! Local and international artists perform here, so be sure and check out their online calendar.
Albertina Passage – Located in what once was an underpass, this chic, contemporary club offers live music, DJs, and international dancing. Between 6 pm and 11 pm, dinner is available, music (jazz, soul, funk, and Bossa Nova) starts at 8 pm, and DJs take over at midnight. Dress sharp!
Where to Stay in Vienna
Where to Stay by Accommodation
Airbnb – We highly recommend Airbnb, not only for Vienna, but for any destination! It’s an affordable way to get comfortable accommodations. Use filters to make sure all of your needs are met, from Wi-Fi and work-spaces, to a kitchen and a washer and dryer. You choose the part of town you want to stay in and the budget (from economy to luxury) that you want to spend. You even have the option of choosing a shared room, a private room, or an entire apartment! Don’t forget to look over reviews from people who’ve already stayed with each host and to ask the host any questions you may have before booking. Use our Airbnb link and get up to $40 off your first stay! Cost: Budget to Luxury
Trusted House Sitters – If you’re flexible with your dates of travel, we absolutely recommend house sitting! It’s how we lodged in Vienna for free, in an apartment that was a 7 minute walk to the famous Ringstrasse, Parliament, and Rathaus (City Hall)! Learn more about scoring the perfect house sit! Cost: Free (Of course nothing's 'free', you'll be caring for a home and possibly pets.)
Sans Souci – A contemporary boutique hotel located just 5 minutes from Ringstrasse, directly across from the Museum Quarter (MuseumsQuartier) and in the desirable Spittelberg neighborhood. Cost: Luxury
The Sacher – An elegant, Art Nouveau style hotel that’s a short walk to Hofburg Palace and located just behind the Vienna State Opera Hotel. If you want to stay in Luxury in the heart of Vienna’s Old Town, this is the prime hotel. Cost: Luxury+
KT Boarding House – Located between the central train station, West Bahnhof, and Old Town, you’ll be near most everything. Rooms are private with ensuite restrooms, but there isn’t a common room or access to a kitchen. Cost: Budget
Pension Dr. Geissler – A great choice for families who want to be in district 1, the center of Vienna, and close to just about everything. It’s on a quiet street and less than a ten minute walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It’s a basic guesthouse, but its budget prices make it worth it! If you want to get a private restroom, be sure to get the upgrade. Best part? Breakfast is included. Cost: Budget
Hotel Post Wien – Located in the 1st district and just a 7 minute walk to St. Stephen's Cathedral. It’s not flashy, but offers basic, clean rooms. Breakfast is extra, but at least it's a full buffet. Cost: Moderate
Hotel Doppio – An Austrian Trend Hotel property located in the 3rd district. If you’re up to using public transportation to get to sightseeing locations, this is a great hotel. It offers spacious, contemporary rooms aimed primarily at business travelers. It also offers a free breakfast buffet and a fitness center to work off the calories from all of those indulgent Viennese treats! Cost: Moderate
Hotel Altstadt Vienna – Located in a hip part of district 7 and just a few minutes walk to the Museum Quarter. Stay here to enjoy a stylish and hip atmosphere in a great location! Upgrade to a suite or get an apartment room for access to a kitchenette. The breakfast buffet and afternoon tea with cakes and fruit plates are included at no additional cost. Cost: Moderate
Hotel Kaffeemühle – There are no bells and whistles here, but it’s clean and located near public transportation. It’s highly rated and rooms include mini-fridges and fans (there’s no air-conditioning). Additional charges are required for the breakfast buffet and parking. Cost: Budget
Westend City Hostel – Located in a renovated building dating back to 1876, this hostel is about a 20 minute walk into city center. A breakfast buffet, shared kitchen, vending machines, and a washer and dryer are included. Also, the common area includes games and a television that has satellite TV. When booking choose a private or shared room and bathroom. Cost: Budget
Where to Stay by District
Inner Stadt (district 1) – It’s the heart of historic Vienna! You’ll be close to the highlights and sightseeing destinations in the city. You’ll sacrifice your budget to be in the most desirable location.
Landstrasse (district 3) – It’s located near city center, but it’s still a few minutes to walk to all the sights and highlights in town. You’ll sacrifice a bit on location to get more budget friendly accommodations.
Neubau (district 7) – Stay here to enjoy the artsy side of Vienna. You’ll be near all the galleries, indie coffee shops, and in a young and hip neighborhood.
Wieden (district 4) – This is the laid back, ‘cool’ neighborhood. It’s edgy and multicultural with a mish mash of hipsters, designers, and students.
Döbling (district 19) – Further from city center, this district has the tranquil and small village vibe, and is great for families and foodies alike.
Heitzing (district 13) – A bit away from the hustle of city center, this district is the place for those who prefer the quiet side of Vienna and that ‘old-world’ feel and charm.
Traditional Foods to Eat in Vienna
When in Vienna, be sure to try the best traditional foods eaten by the locals. You’ll notice, that because of the far reaching history of the Hapsburg Empire, the Austrian dishes have flavors from around Europe. Here are a few dishes we highly recommend if you want to get a taste of Austria:
- Wiener Schnitzel – It’s a thin cut of meat, traditionally pork but can be found in chicken, or turkey. It’s then coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried, and served with a slice of lemon. It’s one of the most common dishes and can be found just about anywhere in Vienna.
- Apfelstrudel – Translated into English as Apple Strudel, it’s a traditional dish of Vienna that doesn’t take much convincing to taste. It’s usually served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
- Tafelspitz – It’s a very traditional dish of boiled beef with vegetables and spices that are served in a broth.
- Goulash – A hearty staple dish of beef, tomato sauce, and spices. Think stew.
- Knödel – You’ll know them as dumplings and you’ll be able to find them in both savory and sweet varieties.
- Kaiserschmarrn – The best way to describe this dish is as a sweet, desert version of pancakes. Pieces of fluffy pancakes are mixed with apple sauce and powdered sugar.
- Lattella – This dairy fruit drink dates back to the 1970s and can be found in most markets. It’s available in many flavors, but if you want to keep it traditional, try the original two flavors, passion fruit or mango.
- Käsekrainer – It’s a sausage filled with chunks of cheese, hence the name (Käse is the German word for cheese). This is a typical street food that can be found throughout the city’s various food stands. It’s also known as ‘eitrige’.
Ordering Coffee in Vienna
There’s a huge coffee culture in Vienna, and if you want to experience the history of the city and live like a local, you’ll want to go to a café at least once. However, understanding the menu can a bit more complicated in Vienna than your average Starbucks or Costa Coffee. Here are the basics:
- Kleiner Schwarzer or Großer Schwarzer – Single or double espresso. Translated, kleiner is ‘small’ (for single) and Großer is ‘large’ (for double). Schwarzer is translated to ‘black’. Be careful, you may also see Mokka used in place of Schwarzer, so Mokka doesn’t mean mocha or chocolate!
- Kleiner Brauner / Großer Brauner – Again, this is also a single or double espresso, however this time with milk. Brauner translates to ‘brown’. Order this and you’ll be served a small jug or carton of milk or cream to add to your espresso.
- Verlängerter – An espresso with hot water, like an Americano. It literally translates to ‘an extended one’.
- Einspänner – This is espresso topped with whipped cream.
- Cappuccino – You probably know what this is, espresso with a little bit of milk and a lot of foam. However, it’s sometimes served with whip cream (schlagobers) in place of the foam.
- Wiener Mélange – It may be shortened to just mélange and is the French word for mixture. It’s like a late, with steamed milk and a bit of foam.
- Heferlkaffee – Simply coffee with milk.
- Kaffee – Just good ol’ coffee.
Getting Around Vienna
Fortunately in Vienna most sights and highlights that will be a priority for tourists are centrally located. This means that getting to your destination will be pretty easy and can often be done by foot. Although, if you aren’t able or don't want to walk, public transportation is a great option. The system, run by Wiener Linien, is easy to use and will take you to most places you need to go, by tram, train, bus, or U-Bahn (the underground). Alternatively, you can hire a ride, by taxi or Uber (use our link and get your first ride free!).
Walking and Biking
Vienna is a densely packed city in a small area, so walking is going to be your best bet, if you’re up for it. It’s also a fantastic way to see the beautiful architecture of the city. We love walking because it’s how we find so many hidden gems that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. If you’re on public transportation or driving, you often miss things down side streets and around corners because they pass by too quickly.
If you’re a bicyclist, be sure to check out the more than 250 kilometers (155 miles) of bike paths in Vienna. We found the walkways to be well marked between pedestrian and bicycle paths (bicycle paths were usually painted green). You can rent bikes around town, especially near Prater Park and along the Danube River. Expect to pay around $30 to $40 for a day rental with a private company. One option is Pedal Power, where you can pick up at their location or have the bikes delivered to your hotel. Alternatively, register for a small fee (€1) with City Bike Wien and rent bicycles around town as needed. The first hour is free, the second is €1, the third hour is €2, and the fourth hour and every hour thereafter is €4 (not to exceed 120 hours). Check out how it works, where the stations are, and the service fees.
Public transportation is managed by Wiener Linien. The system is wide spread and between trains, trams, buses, and U-Bahn (the underground) you’ll be able to travel just about anywhere in the city. Tickets work across all types of vehicles throughout the entirety of the transportation network and are available in a couple of options:
- Single Journey – It's valid for one journey in a single direction and has no restrictions on transfers. Be sure to validate your ticket at the beginning of your journey.
- Shopping ticket – It's valid between 8 am and 8 pm for an unlimited number of journeys.
- 24, 48, 72 Hour Pass – It's valid for the relative number of hours and an unlimited number of journeys during that time period. The validity of the ticket starts once it’s been validated.
- Vienna 8-Day Ticket – It's valid for eight individual days (they don’t need to be consecutive), and for an unlimited number of journeys. Tip: Use this option for groups, as each person in a group can use one of the days of the 8-Day Ticket.
- Weekly Pass – It's valid for the calendar week, starting on Monday at 12 am and expiring on the following Monday at 9 am. It’s valid for an unlimited number of journeys.
*Additional information for tickets can be found on the Visitors to Vienna page on Wiener Linien’s website.
Public Transportation Tips
- Important Tip: Google Maps’ transit directions are limited in Vienna because Google doesn’t have U-Bahn routes, schedules, and timetables. Therefore, unless you only want to stick to using trains, trams, and buses during your stay in Vienna you’ll need to use the Journey Planer and Maps on the website provided by Wiener Linien. The offerings by Wiener Linien aren’t as streamlined as Google Map’s public transportation direction but they do work.
- UPDATE: This was accurate at the time of our visit, however, we've been told that Google Maps has been updated to fully support public transportation in Vienna. Additionally, we received an inside tip that locals use Qando, an app with real time transportation data.
- We highly recommend downloading WienMobil to your mobile device, especially since Google Transit Maps aren’t currently a viable option.
- We also recommend downloading timetables.
- Use your smart phone to purchase mobile tickets.
- Use the FAQ on Wiener Linien’s website for additional information on riding with bicycles, information for children, safety, and much more.
- If you’re traveling with a dog (non-service pet), it needs to be muzzled and leashed, unless it fits into a closed pet-carrier. Additionally, a half-price ticket needs to be purchased.
- Information on regulations and rules, including bicycles, dogs, and smoking can be found on the House Rules page.
Taxis and Uber
The base rate for getting a taxi is €3.80 between 6 am and 11 pm Monday to Saturday. If you hire a taxi outside of this window, the base rate increases to €4.30, plus don’t forget, there’s an additional charge of €1.42 per kilometer traveled. To get a cost for an Uber ride, use the fare estimate tool, but be sure to sign up using this link to get your first ride free.