Does anywhere epitomize Austria’s penchant for music, architecture and art quite like its capital? From the sweet melodies of Strauss in the Kursalon to even sweeter scents of apple strudel drenching its historic center, Vienna is an experience for every sense. This culture-crammed city on the Danube has all the hallmarks of a top European weekend: an enticing old town, ancient cathedrals, a grand music hall, museums, and galleries. Read on and delve into our top 10 Vienna attractions.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Part of the city’s soul, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is inarguably one of the top Vienna attractions to tick off your travel list. Dedicated to the first Christian martyr, it’s an intricate mish-mash of 13th-century fragments, late-Gothic additions and post-war restorations. One of the oldest parts is the Giant’s Doorway – a work of late-Romanesque wizardry with an exquisitely carved entrance and majestic twin towers. Wander over to the cathedral’s pulpit, decorated with portraits of the four fathers of the church, and see if you can spot the sculptor himself (clue: he’s peeping over from a window below, under the stairs).
The Spanish Riding School
What was once a circus-style horse-training school, dating back to the 16th century, is now one of the top attractions the city has to offer. The Spanish Riding School is where white, regal Lipizzaner stallions – a mix of Spanish, Arab and Berber breeds – are specially trained by the brass-buttoned riders, now purely for entertainment purposes. The horses’ orchestrated ballet of croupades and piaffes (leaps and trots) are as mesmerizing as the riding school’s opulent interior. It’s swathed in stucco ornaments, flamboyant chandeliers, 46 columns and a coffered ceiling.
You’ll quickly learn that classical music legends have some strong roots in Austria’s capital. One of the top Vienna attractions is Kursalon Vienna – a Renaissance-style music hall where pieces by Strauss and Mozart can be heard most days. Spend an evening soaking up enchanting performances in the very concert hall where Johann Strauss once directed his own orchestra. Goosebump-inducing opera vocalists, breathtaking ballet soloists and all the dreamy melodies of waltzes and polkas wash through the air – this is the very essence of Vienna’s musical culture.
Vienna’s Historic Center
Amble along cobbled lanes, in the shadow of the towering St Stephen’s Cathedral, as you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site – the capital’s historic center and one of the top 10 Vienna attractions. The beating heart of the city, it’s crammed with architectural treasures – from pastel-colored baroque mansions to pristine gardens. This is where major personalities from the 16th to the 20th centuries made their name, securing Vienna’s title as the musical capital of Europe. To the north-west, you’ll find the Jewish quarter in all its medieval glory, while a south-aiming wander will bring you out at the postcard-pretty Danube Canal – just follow the signs for signs to Donaukanal.
Serene lakes speckled with turtles, glorious sculptures and all of the fauna, Danube Park – or Danau Park – is a blissful, green refuge in the bustling center. The centuries-old park is now protected as a natural monument, and its southern edge is mere meters from the Austria Center Vienna. Flashy and futuristic, this building is one of the best places Vienna has on offer for large-scale events, with state-of-the-art architecture and giant tech-laden spaces for events and conferences.
House of Music
Discover Vienna and its music heritage in a wonderfully unique way at the must-visit museum, House of Music – or Haus der Musik. This place of discovery showcases everything from the creation of sound to stories of Austria’s genius composers. Kids can while away hours playing on the music stairs, or virtually conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Get up close and personal with Strauss’ violins in the classical rooms, or throw blobs and swirls at a fluorescent, interactive wall as you visualize your own music – an otherworldly experience that will raise hairs.
If there’s anywhere you’re going to run into plenty of Gustav Klimt, Vienna is the place. His works are instantly recognizable. As one of the most important Austrian painters, his golden phase resulted in dazzling, sensual works focusing on female form. The Leopold Museum houses the largest collection of modern Austrian art and is one of the best places to get up close and personal with Klimt’s masterpieces, including Death and Life (1906-1916), Attersee (1900) and Still Pond (1914). He’s in good company – there are also works by his protégé, Egon Schiele, on display, as well as spectacular works by Kokoschka and Gerstl.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site – and yet another hot contender for the top 10 Vienna attractions – Schönbrunn Palace attracts droves of tourists through its grand doors each year. You can imagine yourself as an Austrian noble as you wander through its sumptuous staterooms, replete with original furnishings and authentic imperial design. From travelers exploring Vienna to in-the-know locals, the palace’s gardens and park are a wildly popular place for a leisurely stroll. Come at any time of year and you’ll be smitten – but they’re at their most beautiful in the full bloom of summer.
Belvedere Palace Museum
Perfectly placed on a gently sloping hill, the Belvedere Palace Museum offers multiple levels of pristine gardens that allow travelers to transport themselves into 17th-century living. The royal kind, that is. One of the most beautiful Vienna attractions, Belvedere Palace Museum was originally the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
State Hall of the Austrian National Library
Imagine a grand library hall – the kind Belle glides round in Beauty and the Beast. Dark woods, old tomes and otherworldly frescoes await in the State Hall of the Austrian National Library Vienna. It’ll exceed your mind’s most magnificent images. The largest baroque library in Europe, this magnificent hall houses more than 200,000 antique books and is undoubtedly top of the Vienna attractions for bookworms. You’ll find it in one of the wings of Hofburg Palace – see how many antique globes you can spot wandering its ornate walls.
Vienna is a city packed with amazing sights and picturesque views. Tag us in the photos from your trip on Instagram to share your favorite spots in Austria’s beautiful capitol city.