Vienna is a wonderful city to visit, easy to walk everywhere, plenty of pedestrian streets – we could easily have spent 10 days here. I can’t imagine how people visit in only a couple of days, we did a lot in 6 and barely scratched the surface.
Best things about Vienna
- Beautiful, cosmopolitan, clean city – Disneyland for adults!
- Palaces and museums and everyone out in the cafés
Worst things about Vienna
- Tour groups too big for the space at Schönbrunn
Would I change anything?
- A walking tour of Vienna would have been a good idea to fully appreciate the impressive buildings and landmarks.
Free opera – live on the big screen
Jet lagged the first evening after arriving in Vienna, and we were wandering up to the Opera House to check the tour schedule… why are all these chairs in this big square? What are these people waiting for? OH! an Opera!
The performance inside is broadcast live on the big screen outside in the Opera House square. If it’s really close to performance time most of the chairs will be full – find a seat, sit down and enjoy a bit of opera like the locals do. When you’ve had enough just leave, no commitment, no problem.
We launched ourselves into the world of the Habsburg dynasty with all the usual museums – starting with the Hofburg Imperial Palace and it’s interesting Sisi wing (Empress Elizabeth), followed by the Treasury.
Tip: If you plan on visiting both the Hofburg Palace AND Schloss Schönbrunn, you’ll save by buying the “Sisi” ticket for 25,50€. This ticket gets you the Grand Tour at Schönbrunn palace, with the audio guide and a hassle-free entry.
Tip: At the Treasury, we bought the combined ticket that also gets you into the Kunsthistoriches Museum, called the “Treasures of the Habsburgs” ticket for €20 each.
Tip: There’s a lot to see in the Treasury, but leave time for the last rooms, they have the oldest treasures and tapestries!
Seeing priceless treasures continued the next day with the rooms and rooms and more rooms of treasures collected by Habsburgs and displayed in the Kunstkammer (part of the Kunsthistoriches museum) followed by art art art in the main part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Whew!
Schönbrunn Palace, gardens and carriage museum
A 20 minute metro ride out to the Habsburg’s summer place – Schönbrunn palace, gardens, and the carriage museum. There were hordes of people touring the palace on Saturday, which was NOT unexpected – this is the most visited site in Austria. The tour route takes you through the rooms, most are small, and the tour path is roped off from the furnishings of course. The tour groups of 25-35 people completely engulfed the available space as the guide stopped to explain the room. If you got stuck behind one of these herds you got to listen to your own audioguide 3-4 times until you managed to squeeze through. Most people and groups seemed to do just the Imperial Tour, the Grand Tour ticket (which you get with the Sisi ticket) extends the tour into the apartments of Maria Theresa. The entire tour of the palace only takes about an hour and despite the crowds was well worth it.
The carriage museum (Wagenburg) was an unexpected treat – we had time after visiting the gardens and really enjoyed this museum of beautifully preserved and elaborate carriages of the Habsburgs.
The carriage museum Sisi Trail continued the “Sisi” theme with fascinating details of her life explained in the context of her carriages. Overall, the Wagenburg was more interesting than the palace! Plus, no crowds.
Tip: Stop at the huge visitor center just to the left of the entrance and pick up a map. No need to wait in line if you already have the Sisi ticket. BTW: They charge to use the restrooms here.
Tip: There are free restrooms after you enter the Palace building, a long wait for the ladies like usual.
Tip: Inside the entance corridor there were a lot of people standing in lines, but with the “Sisi” ticket in hand, just show the ticket to the person standing before the turnstile. You get your audioguide after going in.
Tip: Have some 2€ coins on hand for the metro – we didn’t, and tried to purchase a ticket in a machine with the Chase Sapphire World Mastercard. This ticket machine required a password to verify the credit card transaction and our card didn’t have the Chip & PIN (Smart Chip) technology. Chip & PIN is common in Europe but not the US.
Lippizaners and the Spanish Riding School
We decided to wing it on Sunday and got to the Spanish Riding School box office about 10:40 to buy standing room tickets.
We could see fine from our spot but I wasn’t keen on this method, with all us standing room people trying to keep other standing room people from wriggling in front of them. On the other hand, if we’d paid for a seat I would have been very disappointed in the price to enjoyment ratio of the performance. The first half was like a training session we saw for free in the paddock at the riding school in Jerez! So all in all standing room for 23€ was the way to go, the performance was ok, the historic building beautiful, and it was fun to do if you have a couple of hours but I think a walking tour around Vienna would have been a better choice. Tip: After the performance, walk over to the Opera House for a 1:00 tour, it’s not far.
Opera House Tour
The line to buy a ticket for the 1:00 tour was out the door, but everyone seemed to manage to get into a tour in their language. Great tour of this beautiful and historic building.
Belvedere Palace and then the Naschmarkt
A final day, a final palace in Vienna. Belvedere is nothing like Schönbrunn, it’s a museum with some fabulous art set in a beautiful palace. We only paid for the upper palace and audioguide.
Saw the room with the Klimt’s (featuring Gustav Klimt’s HUGE 6×6 masterpiece The Kiss) and everything else and walked through the gardens back to Vienna, with a detour to see the Naschmarkt.
Great Eats: The Naschmarkt has lots of places to eat, we chose a Chinese restaurant called “Yumi” and had the best duck I’ve ever had. Mango duck. Fantastic.
Flying into Vienna, out of Prague
We had 2 flight changes from San Diego to Vienna… no problem! We had business class all the way thanks to a little planning on using award miles. A “little” planning? 336 days in advance for United award travel.
Travel: Train from Vienna to Prague – 4hr 36mins on EC172 “Vindobona”
Tip: You can buy the train ticket for 29€ Euros (39€ 1st class) up to 90 days in advance. On the day of travel it costs 64.20€ – about twice as much. The ticket is called SparSchiene (Rail Savings), no refunds or exchanges, and there are limited numbers available. Austrian Rail Company (oebb.at)
I opted for more comfort and bought 1st class tickets on Jan 30 for our April 30 trip and printed it before we left.
Reserving a seat: Seat reservations aren’t required, but we were boarding the EuroCity EC172 at Wein Simmering and the only seats left in the 1st class coach were on the single seat side, and one of those seats was facing backward! Sitting backward knee to knee for 4 1/2 hours wasn’t a happy idea, fortunately we ended up in a first class compartment with only one other person in it. The first class compartments are in the same coach as the business class compartments. Business class compartments looked great – 4 seats instead of 6. This train on this day from Vienna to Prague was REALLY FULL! I walked the length of the train and didn’t see one empty compartment in second class. Or 1st for that matter. Or Business class, or I would have taken a pic! Maybe because the next day, May 1, was a holiday.
Vienna’s a wonderful city to visit, very walkable – especially if you stay “inside the ring”. Our apartment was on the Donaukanal, a huge apartment but don’t look for it, the apartment I rented isn’t offered any longer. I loved the balcony view but with a location over busy Franz-Josefs-Kai the traffic noise could be a problem with the windows open.
- Hofburg Imperial Palace – Get the Sisi ticket which is also for the Grand Tour at the Schonbrunn Palace. It also includes the audioguide. Tip: You can download the audioguide if you want to listen on your own mp3 player.
- Hofburg Treasury (Schatzkammer) and Kunsthistorisches Museum – Get the combined ticket to see both these fabulous museums and save some money