A Day Tripper’s Guide to Vienna: What to See and Do

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Vienna is a fabulous metropolis full of incredible culture – so much so that it can be difficult figuring out what you want to see and do while you’re there. Here, Heather from Heather on Her Travels offers a perfect itinerary for a while-stop tour of the Austrian capital.

Austria’s capital of Vienna seems to epitomize elegance and glamour – with museums and galleries filled to the brim with the treasures of the Hapsburg empire sitting alongside shops selling the finest luxury goods. But look beyond the old-world charm and you’ll also find a city that’s bursting with creativity, a place where traditions are being reinvented and there’s a youthful energy in the markets and street-cafés. If you’re visiting Vienna on a cruise for the day, here are some of the best things to see and do.

naschmarkt fresh produce

An Early Visit to the Market

If you’re an early bird, why not begin your day in Vienna at the Naschmarkt – a popular market for both visitors and locals that’s been here since the 16th century. The market is open daily from 6.30am, except on Sundays. And if you visit on a Saturday, there’s also a flea market with a mixture of antiques and bric-a-brac available.

The stalls in the main section of the market sell only the freshest fruit, vegetables, and flowers; customers here are discerning and only buy the best. The open stalls merge into covered kiosks with ready prepared items to take home.

There’s a multicultural flavour, with piles of glistening olives, syrup drenched baklava and plastic bags filled with colourful spices. One side of the market is reserved for restaurant stalls with seating, where you can have a coffee or sample dishes made with the best produce.

Around the market area are plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can grab a coffee and freshly baked Viennese roll for breakfast. For a modern take on the Viennese coffee shop, try Café Dreschsler in the market area (Linke Wienzeile 22) – which has been remodeled with marble tables and red leather banquettes, in a contemporary twist on Viennese style.

vienna art museum

Dip Into Vienna’s Art and Culture

Spend the morning immersing yourself in the city’s cultural scene, as you wander through Vienna’s Museum Quarter, a pedestrianized area that’s packed with museums and galleries. You’ll find colourful outdoor furniture designed for lounging around, which gives the large open courtyard a vibrant, trendy feel.

The sheer variety on offer truly means that there’s something for everyone – take the Leopald museum housing the works of Egon Schiele, the Mumok museum of modern art, or the Family Museum featuring a green grass trampoline outside. The former Imperial stables, with horses above the door, are now used for concerts and dance productions.

busts in vienna museum

Just across the Ringstrasse is the imposing Kunsthistorisches (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Naturhistorisches (Natural History Museum), which face each other like mirror images, separated by a statue of Empress Maria Theresa between them. The museums were opened in by Franz Joseph I in 1891 to house the collections of the Hapsburg rulers, accumulated over the centuries.

The marbled halls and galleries of the Kunsthistorisches are designed to impress and provide a fitting setting for the sheer opulence of the gold, silver and precious artworks on display. You won’t have time to see everything, so just choose one of the museums to enjoy some of Vienna’s cultural delights.

cafe demel vienna

What to Eat – From Traditional to Modern

You can’t visit Vienna without sliding into one of the city’s famous coffee houses, where writers and intellectuals would meet or just sit for hours reading the papers. For old world elegance, try Café Demel or Café Sacher, both of which serve Vienna’s famous chocolate torte cake layered with apricot – although only Cafe Sacher has the right to call it a Sacher Torte.

Vienna also offers vibrant, modern cuisine with dynamic young chefs who showcase the best of Austria’s produce. For lunch, you may like to stop at Wrenkh (Bauernmarkt 10), a restaurant run by two brothers featuring a small menu of sharing dishes based on seasonal ingredients and healthy cuisine, with lots of vegetarian options as well as meat and fish.

white-stallion-riding-school

The Spanish Riding School

The famous white Lippizaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School are on everyone’s list to see in Vienna. Ideally, you need to book ahead if you want to see one of the special performances or morning practice sessions. You can also take a tour of the Winter Riding School, where the performances take place, and afterwards visit the horses in the stables – although no photos of the horses are allowed.

The riders at the school undergo an arduous apprenticeship and work with 6-8 horses at a time, which are selected for their lively temperament and natural desire to perform. Like top athletes, the stallions are kept in their prime with state-of-the-art training facilities and their performance saddles can cost up to €15,000.

music concert in vienna

Austria’s Music Capital

Vienna is also the musical capital of Austria and many of the great composers such as Hayden, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mozart, lived and worked here under the patronage of the Hapsburg rulers. At the House of Music museum, you can discover more about the lives of the great composers, play a scale as you run up the stairs and even conduct your own orchestra.

A perfect way to end your evening in Vienna is to attend one of the numerous concerts that are held in churches and old palaces; you can easily research these online and you’ll see many young men in frock coats selling tickets. There are beautiful concert venues around the city and the programme will typically include a mixture of well-known classical favourites, perhaps with some ballet or comic opera thrown in. We can guarantee that you’ll end your day in Vienna humming Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz!

intercontinental hotel vienna

Where to Stay in Vienna

If you require a hotel stay at the start or end of your cruise, look at Altdstat, a stylish boutique hotel that’s full of art and known for its outstanding hospitality, or Intercontinental Hotel, which features classical elegance and sparkling chandeliers overlooking the Stadtpark.

If Heather’s guide to Vienna has you excited to explore, then why not do so as part of our luxury river cruises from Scenic or Emerald Waterways – many of which visit this fantastic city.  

All images courtesy of Heather Cowper (Flickr). Used with permission.

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Heather from Heather on Her Travels offers a day-trip itinerary for Vienna – covering the best art, culture and food that the Austrian capital has to offer.
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Heather is a travel writer and runs the site www.heatheronhertravels.com, where she blogs about her adventures – whether that's world travel, cruising, or cultural experiences.

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