There are so many reasons I love Vienna and keep returning to this city. It’s impeccably clean and well preserved, the buildings are grandiose, getting around is a breeze with the walkable city center and cheap bike share program, summers are filled with outdoor activities and events while winters bring some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, and the café culture of decadent cakes and coffee hit the sweet spot for me. If time was never an issue I would always spend a minimum of 4 nights here. Alas, sometimes we travelers are short on time and held to a tight schedule thus allowing only one day in Vienna.
Vienna’s position between several other large cities like Budapest, Munich, and Prague via train makes this a convenient stop. If you’re in Vienna for a brief time and want to make the most of your one day in Vienna continue reading below for my detailed itinerary. This will be a whirlwind of a day but you will leave feeling like you got a good feel of the city. I guarantee after 24 hours in Vienna you will make sure you revisit again soon and stay a while.
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Getting into Vienna city center
First things first…how are you going to get into Vienna city center assuming you are arriving by train? Thankfully Vienna's city center is super easy and cheap to get to with their convenient U-Bahn, aka metro, system.
Getting to Vienna City Center from Wien Hauptbahnhof
If you are arriving at the Wien Hauptbahnhof train station your quickest and cheapest option is to take the U1 metro line. It will take about 10 mins and cost 2.40 euros per person. Consider buying a 24-hour pass for 8 euros. If you have several people in your party and prefer to take a car with your luggage, consider taking an Uber. It will be around 8-11 euros and will take 20 mins.
GETTING TO VIENNA CITY CENTER FROM Westbahnhof
Take the 8-minute metro ride on the U3 line or take a 20 minute Uber for 12-16 euros if you are arriving at the Westbahnhof station.
Getting around Vienna
The city center of Vienna is entirely walkable and nothing is more than a 15 minute walk away. The compact layout plays a huge factor in successfully seeing all the main sights during your one day in Vienna. You will have to use the U-Bahn, Vienna's metro, to get to and from Schonbrunn palace. If you like bike riding consider using Citybike Wien to get between sights even faster. First time registration is just 1 euro and the bikes are free as long as you return them within an hour to any of the 120 docks in Vienna. Jake and I loved riding around Vienna. There are plenty of bike lanes and the city felt very bike friendly.
How to spend 24 hours in Vienna
WALKING TOUR OF VIENNA CITY CENTER
Consider starting your day with a walking tour focused on sights within the famous Ringstrasse, the street that circles the city center. This will take you past the main tourist attractions in Vienna and give you a brief history. Dace Scharf has a wonderful 2-hour walking tour. If a scheduled tour doesn’t fit with your schedule, consider doing a self-guided tour. I like Rick Steve’s Vienna City Walk. You can download the audio tour via the Rick Steve’s app on your phone and it takes about 1 hour. This is the perfect way to start your one day in Vienna as it will give you a good layout of the city and you will walk past many of the sights listed below.
Here are some other walking tours in Vienna.
Vienna Opera house
Once you finish your guided or self-guided walking tour make your way over to the Opera House. We all know Vienna is considered the classical musical capital of Europe. Home to prodigies like Beethoven, Strauss, and Mozart, no visit to Vienna would be complete without at least a quick visit to the Opera. Enjoy the exterior and pop your head in to see the glamourous lobby. If you want to get a full look at the inside and learn a brief history of the building show up for a 40-minute tour. It’s 9 euros and the schedule is different every day. Check the schedule online and arrive 15 minutes early to buy your tickets. If you are staying the night buy tickets for that evening’s performance at one of the ticket windows.
If you like to travel cheap like me, get the standing room tickets for as little as 3 euros! You can buy these tickets up to 80 mins before the performance…though many people will start lining up 2 hours or more before the performance. You can buy standing tickets on the Operngasse street side of the Opera House. You will see a sign that says “Stehplatz-Kasse - Standing Area”. Enter through that door and walk down the hall to the box office. This is where the line begins. 80 minutes before the performance the ticket window will open and you can buy your ticket. Exact change only and 1 ticket per person. You can’t buy tickets for any one that is not with you. After you get your ticket you go your designated area, claim your spot by the railing with a scarf and explore the Opera House until the performance starts.
Coffee and Cake at Cafe Demel
Walk 9 minutes for a coffee break at Café Demel. The atmosphere will make you feel like you stepped back in time to the glory days when Vienna was the capital of the Hapsburg empire. The interior is that of an old world Viennese café. Make reservations in advance if you don’t want to risk a long wait. Jake and I got lucky and snagged a seat at the coffee bar. We tried the Demeltorte, a chocolate walnut cake with apricot filling and a milk chocolate glaze, along with traditional apple strudel. Both were fantastic and not the typical dry cakes you will find at other popular Vienna cafes. Café Demel also serves the ever popular Sachertorte that Vienna is particularly known for. Stopping for coffee and cake is a must, even if you only have one day in Vienna. This is part of the culture much like afternoon tea is a part of British culture.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Walk 5 minutes to get to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A Gothic masterpiece and the center of Vienna. It’s 6 euros to enter the main nave. You can also join a 30-minute guided tour in English Monday – Saturday at 10:30am but I prefer to do my own thing. I really enjoyed Rick Steve’s audio tour that you can download on the Rick Steve’s app. Pay 5 euros and climb 343 steps up the south tower to see breathtaking views of Vienna.
One of my most favorite palaces in Europe! This palace rivals Versailles and in some ways is more impressive as it has been well-kept and preserved. Unlike Versailles that went through abandonment, looting, and severe mistreatment. Schonbrunn is easy to get to at a quick 10 minute ride on the U-4 metro. Its proximity to Vienna city center is the only reason visiting this palace is doable in our one day in Vienna itinerary. A leisurely visit would require 3-4 hours. A quick visit can easily be done in 1.5-2 hours. Buy your tickets in advance so you don’t waste time in line and choose the Grand Tour ticket which includes the best rooms in the palace. Once done touring the royal apartments walk past the perfectly manicured lawns in the royal gardens and up to the Gloriette viewing terrane for perfect picture views of palace below.
*Note that I did not mention Hofburg Palace. You will walk past this on your walking or self-guided tour. Touring both the Hofburg Palace and Schonbrunn would be redundant and Schonbrunn is without a doubt the better of the two.
From Schonbrunn take the U4 metro and get off at the Kettenbrückengasse stop. This will drop you smack dab in Naschmarkt. A large and popular outdoor market with two lanes of stalls selling international food, produce stalls, and other gourmet bites. This market is worth a look and maybe a bite or two, but I would suggest ending your day in Vienna, after enjoying the performance at the Opera House of course, at a more atmospheric restaurant as there are plenty to choose from in the city center.
If you are in Vienna during the months of July and August ending your day at the City Hall is a must. During the summer months food stands and picnic tables are set in front of the City Hall, aka Rathaus, and recordings of anything from Opera to Jazz performances will be showcased on a large screen. The food is an eclectic mix of world flavors and the crowd is a fun combination of locals and tourists.
Zanoni & Zanoni
Though gelato has more of a connection to Italy than Austria, Zanoni & Zanoni is a must for any ice cream lover! This spot serves some of the most authentic gelato I have had outside of Italy. The flavors are extremely rich and the place is always packed. Dark chocolate was consistently one of my favorite flavors here as it was so dark it was almost black.
Have more than 24 hours in Vienna? Consider doing a day trip!
Have you been to Vienna or are you a local? Let me know how you would you spend 24 hours in Vienna in the comments below!
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