One of the great European capitals, Vienna was for centuries the stomping ground for the Habsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire is long gone, but reminders have been carefully preserved by the tradition-loving Viennese. Past artistic glories live on, thanks to the cultural legacy of the many artistic geniuses nourished here—including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Gustav Klimt. Today’s visitors discover a city with a special grace and a cohesive architectural character that sets it so memorably apart from its great rivals—London, Paris, and Rome.
1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Towering above the streets of the Innere Stadt, this massive cathedral is the true centerpiece of Vienna. St. Stephen’s has stood in this very spot since the early 12th century, but little remains of the original aside from the Riesentor (Giant’s Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens).
The Gothic structure standing today was built in the early 1300s and has survived the Turkish siege of 1683. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Entry to the main section is free, but you’ll have to shell out around 5 euros (about $6) to visit the catacombs or climb the towers.
2. Museum of Fine Arts
The works at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts, range from ancient Egyptian and Greek objects to masterpieces by numerous European masters, including Titian, Velasquez, Van Dyke and Rubens. In fact, the collection here is so extensive that many people say the walls of the Hofburg Palace look bare in comparison. The building itself, which opened to the public in 1891, impresses travelers as well; its facade features ornate sculptures.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday evenings. During the summer, the museum is open daily and operates the same hours. Admission (which includes entry to the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace complex) is 15 euros (around $17) for adults and guided and audio tours cost 4 euros (about $5) extra.
3. Schonbrunn Palace
Originally constructed in 1696 as a hunting lodge, Schonbrunn Palace later became the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler), Schonbrunn evolved into an expansive paradise with ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens comparable to King Louis XIV of France’s palace at Versailles.
Schonbrunn Palace is open daily at 8:30 a.m. (closing times vary depending on the season). Admission ranges from around 14 to 20 euros (about $16 to $23) for adults and about 10 to 12 euros ($11 to $14) for children, depending on what type of tour you select and whether you’ll be using a guide. You’ll have to pay a few euros extra to explore certain areas of the gardens.
Today, Tiergarten is the oldest zoo in the world, home to about 750 animal species (around 8,500 animals total) ranging from tigers to lemurs. The zoo hosts daily animal talks and feedings that visitors can watch, with animals like orangutans, elephants, penguins and otters.
Since its founding, Tiergarten has undergone many a renovation to bring it up to par with modern facilities. Travelers say that while the cost of admission is on the pricey side, it’s worth it to see the variety of animals and impressive facilities at this zoo. Tiergarten – located on the Schonbrunn Palace grounds – is open every day at 9 a.m.; closing times (usually sometime from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) vary by season. Admission is 18.50 euros (or around $20)
5. Hofburg Palace
Sitting on the southwestern edge of the Innere Stadt, the 13th-century palace shelters several individual attractions, and if you want the full royal experience, you’ll need to spend at least half a day here. Experienced travelers say it’s best to start in the middle of this massive complex and work your way out. The oldest parts surround the Swiss Court, named for the Swiss guards who used to patrol the area. And from there you’ll find the Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments), more than 2,000 rooms where the royal family lived.
Only a dozen or so are open to the public. Take some time to explore the Kaiserappartements‘ Sisi Museum, which offers insight into the life and death of Vienna’s beloved Empress Elizabeth. Then swing by the Imperial Silver Collection or the butterfly house. The Hofburg Palace is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 or 6 p.m. depending on the season. Prices vary depending on which attractions you wish to see. Visit the palace’s main website to plan your visit.
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