Billy Joel said it best, and sadly, it took me way too long to realize that Vienna waits for me. I think that song might be my top song on Spotify this year just from the few days I spent in Vienna. A timeless bop for a timeless city. When I finally arrived in Vienna, it was love at first sight, cliched as it may be. Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and it’s no surprise why it’s often referred to as the Paris of the East. Austria’s lively capital city is incredibly rich in history, culture, art, music, and more.
While it may not be the budget-friendly backpacker haven like neighboring Prague, Budapest, or Krakow, Vienna is well worth a visit no matter what type of traveler you are. For my fellow backpackers, there are plenty of affordable hostels to meet travelers at, and a lively nightlife scene that’ll keep you busy once all of the museum-hopping is done.
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Before Going to Vienna…
There’s not too much you need to know before heading to Austria’s capital city. Vienna is a safe, modern, and well-developed city that often ranks as one of the top places for quality of life. It should be pretty easy to adapt and integrate yourself, even if you’re relatively new at traveling.
The currency used in Austria is the Euro, like most of the countries in the European Union. There are plenty of ATMs throughout the city so one should have no issue withdrawing money. The official language of Austria is German, but in Vienna, most people also speak English. If you’re just frequenting the touristic areas, there should be no problem with a language barrier. Like I said, Vienna is a safe city, but always err on the side of caution when it comes to your belongings, especially on public transportation.
Before you head out, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.
Where To Stay in Vienna
Despite being pretty expensive overall, Vienna’s got a great set up for backpacking. There are dozens of hostels throughout the city that fit any budget and travel style. Typically, you’ll be paying at least 20 euros for a hostel. This price will go up the closer you get to the city center. However, with public transportation being frequent and reliable throughout the city, I don’t think it’s too important to book a place close to the city center.
St. Christopher’s Inn – Vienna
This is one of St. Christopher’s Inn’s newest hostels and my personal pick for where to stay in Vienna. It’s got a vibey social atmosphere, great facilities, and an excellent location right next to the Keplerplatz metro station. From that metro station, it’s only 4 stops to Stephansplatz (the historic city center), 5 stops to Schwedenplatz (a great area for nightlife) and 3 stops to Karlsplatz which can connect you anywhere within the city. It’s also just one stop away from Vienna’s central train and bus station. If you’re traveling by train, Flixbus, or RegioJet, you’re just one stop away or a 10-minute walk from the hostel.
St. Christopher’s Inn Vienna has a great social atmosphere, with a lively bar where the travelers flock to after a long day of exploring. It might be a little too fun. If you’ve stayed at a St. Christopher’s before, you know what I’m talking about. A couple of drinks at the bar can quickly turn into chaos. I actually had to avoid the bar my last few nights in Vienna because I couldn’t handle getting sucked into another night out.
Wombat’s City Hostel
The other popular option among backpackers in Vienna is Wombat ‘s City Hostel. It’s located right along the Naschmarkt, a great location for dining, drinking, and shopping. It’s a block away from the green metro line, and about a 10-minute walk from the red metro line in Karlsplatz. It’s a pretty social hostel, so if you’re looking to have a good time in Vienna, Wombat’s is a great option. The common areas are beautifully-designed, including their little outdoor cafe in a lively neighborhood of Vienna.
I stayed here for one night when everything else was fully booked and paid a whopping 54 euros for a dorm bed. Make sure to book in advance y’all. European hostels in the summer are ruthless when it comes to same-day bookings. It’s a great hostel but definitely not in the 50+ euros range.
How To Get Around Vienna
Public Transportation in Vienna is frequent, affordable, and reliable. Buy a multi-day public transportation pass. It’ll be much cheaper to stay outside of the touristic city center and utilize the public transportation system in Vienna. I stayed a few kilometers outside the city center but could still reach Stephansplatz in 10 minutes or less thanks to the metro. If you’re just looking for a one-time ride, the cost is 2.40 euros as of August 2022.
Buses and trams are also included in the public transportation pass. If the metro can’t take you there, then a bus or tram can. There’s also a dedicated airport train called the CAT that takes you to and from Vienna Airport for 12 euros. It’s right at Landstrasse metro station.
Vienna is also a very walkable city, so feel free to just stretch your legs and go for a wander. There is so much to see in Vienna, and you’ll undoubtedly find something to keep even the longest of walks interesting.
The Best Things To Do in Vienna
The entire city of Vienna is basically an open-air art and history museum. Roaming through the city center, you’ll stumble into so many masterpieces of architecture and art. Vienna’s history dates back thousands of years and evidence of its storied past is visible all throughout the city. I’ll admit, if history, art, and architecture aren’t your thing, Vienna might be kind of boring. I have the attention span of a squirrel so I did struggle with spending all day at museums and palaces. That’s what you’ll probably end up doing in Vienna. Switch it up by wandering aimlessly through the city’s many parks and plazas. I didn’t find ever myself bored enough to go to the opera so that’s a good thing. One thing can’t be denied and that’s that Vienna is a gorgeous, gorgeous city.
Here are a few things to keep you busy in Vienna.
Belvedere Palace and Museum
Belvedere was my favorite palace that I visited in Vienna. The palace is beautiful inside and out, just like me. We’re like basically twins. It also doubles as an art museum, housing works from Austria’s most famous artist, Gustav Klimt. It costs 20 euros to enter but you could spend two hours just admiring the jaw-dropping interior of this palace. The gardens outside are free to roam around in if you don’t want to pay to enter the palace. If you had to choose one palace in Vienna to go to, I’d say Belvedere takes the cake.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the big ass cathedral that is visible all throughout the city. It’s one of the most stunning in all of Europe. Going inside doesn’t cost a thang so be sure to pop in and take a look at its purty interior as well. For a panoramic view of Vienna, climb up one of the cathedral’s towers. It only costs 6 euros to enter the towers. Be warned, it’s a lot of narrow stairs to reach the top. I don’t mind the stairs, but it’s too narrow to pass people so you can only go as fast as the person in front of you. Which is usually pretty slow.
Schonbrunn Palace and Royal Gardens
Another of Vienna’s top attractions in Schonbrunn Palace and its Royal Gardens. It was quite expensive to enter and it only takes about 30-40 minutes to walk through the whole thing. The palace is home to over a thousand rooms. Depending on your ticket, you can only visit 22 or 40 of those rooms. What a rip off, y’all. That’s like selling me a whole pizza and telling me I can only have one slice. You also can’t take pictures inside. It was kind of worth it just to watch all the tourists dressed up for photoshoots trying to find sneaky ways to snap their shots for the ‘gram.
I think the palace itself can be skipped, but the Royal Gardens are another story. These are free to enter, and you’ll actually find a few locals jogging around the park. Lucky ducks. No wonder the quality of life in Vienna ranks so highly. Oh don’t mind me, just going for a jog around the Royal Gardens. One could spend hours roaming around the gardens. It’s like a little scavenger hunt. You never know what you’re going to run into. Besides statues and shrubbery.
The Hofburg Palace
This baroque palace and museum complex dating back to the 13th century is another of Vienna’s most iconic places. It used to be the residence of the Hapsburgs, some important family or dynasty that I will go rabbit hole on Wikipedia shortly after finishing this post. Anyway, it’s mostly just a museum now but remains one of the largest palace complexes in the world.
Hundertwasser is a renowned Austrian artist and architect who designed one of the most recognizable buildings in Vienna. Unlike the historical style of most of Vienna’s buildings, the Hundertwasser house is unique, colorful, and very out of the ordinary. It’s worth checking out while you’re in Vienna.
This is the largest market in Vienna and it is home to lots of restaurants, market stalls, souvenir shops, and some bars. I didn’t think it was all that great, but apparently some of the restaurants here are really nice. You can really feel the Turkish presence in Vienna while you’re here. None of the Turkish prices, though. It was 3.5 euros for 100 grams of olives, where in Istanbul I could buy a whole kilogram for less than 2 euros. If this whole blogging thing fails, I could just smuggle truckloads of olives from Turkey to Austria, I guess.
Rathaus (Vienna City Hall)
This is another of Vienna’s most gorgeous architectural masterpieces. It’s as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside. There’s even a restaurant inside that you can eat at if you’re feeling boujee.
Museums in Vienna
Vienna has no shortage of museums to keep you busy. The main hub would be in the sprawling MuseumsQuartier area, home to sixty cultural institutions ranging from art, architecture, fashion, design, film, and many more. You’ll have your pick of the litter just roaming around this huge neighborhood.
Climb Up the Danube Tower (Donauturm)
For a good view of Vienna, one can climb up the television tower just north of the main historic city center. It is the tallest structure in Austria, reaching heights of over 250 meters.
Take A Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava is only an hour by train from Vienna, making them two of the closest capital cities in the world. A train to Bratislava only costs 10 euros and it’s well worth the day trip to check out another country. Bratislava’s historic city center is quite nice for roaming around in. It’s pretty crazy how different it is to Vienna despite being only an hour away.
Take a Day Trip to Salzburg or Hallstatt
Nightlife in Vienna
Vienna isn’t a city that’s particularly renowned for its nightlife. Sure, it may pale a bit compared to nearby cities like Prague, Budapest, or Berlin, but it’s still pretty easy to have a good time in Vienna. I went out a couple of times in Vienna, and my first impression was that it can get really expensive really quickly. My bank account definitely took a big blow. After bouncing around Eastern Europe where you could get beers for 2 euros or less, the prices in Vienna were starting to add up.
For the few nights I went out, I hit up the area around Schwedenplatz. It’s close to the Donau (Danube) River just one metro stop past Stephansplatz. There are quite a few bars and clubs situated in that area. We started out bar-hopping, enjoying a few beers outside before moving to somewhere more dance-y. I didn’t really have a strong opinion of any of the bars we went to. They were all pretty similar, so it’s a matter of preference and how crowded you want the bar to be. The dance-y bar we ended up at was called Kaktusbar, and it was just alright.
If you walk along the Donau River, you’ll also find quite a few bars and nightlife spots. During the summers, Donaukanal is as lively an area as you could ask for to party in Vienna. Flex is a popular club frequented by all sorts of nightlife-goers. We stopped by for a little bit and I’d say it’s probably the coolest place we went to in Vienna.
Overall, I’d say Vienna isn’t the best place to go if you’re looking to have a wild night out. It’s a calm break in between the partying of Prague and Budapest. Take a few days to convince yourself that you’re a culturally-refined human being by checking out the palaces and museums and operas, and then save the partying for when you get back to Eastern European prices. Despite not being a great nightlife city, Vienna remains as one of my favorite destinations in Europe. It’s just that good.
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