Is one day in Vienna enough to see the city? After spending almost two weeks there, I’ll have to say it probably isn’t. Nonetheless, Vienna’s city center is very compact and with the right itinerary you can cover a lot in one day.
Some people visit Vienna as a day trip from Salzburg, or another European city. Others have a long lay-over, or a cruise ship stop. Ideally you should spend at least 3 days in Vienna, but one day is still better than nothing.
- One-Day in Vienna Itinerary
- Admire the Hofburg Palace Complex
- Learn About the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)
- Visit Stephansplatz and St. Stephen’s Cathedral
- Walk Along the Graben
- Step Inside St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)
- Visit the Vienna Opera House
- Try Vienna’s Famous Sacher Cake (Sachertorte)
- Stroll through Prater Amusement Park
- How to Make the Most of Your Day in Vienna
One-Day in Vienna Itinerary
The best way to discover Vienna’s architectural wanders and historical sites is to walk through its city center (Innere Stadt). This itinerary will take you through the city’s most important landmarks and help you discover the best of Vienna in a day.
Vienna’s historic center is encircled by the Ring Road (Ringstraße), a grand boulevard constructed along the old city walls. The walls have been torn down in 1857, when Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered the erection of a grand boulevard in their place.
Admire the Hofburg Palace Complex
The historic center of Vienna is jam-packed with grandiose structures and architectural masterpieces. The most impressive one of all is the Hofburg Palace. For centuries, Vienna’s Imperial Palace was the seat of the Habsburgs who ruled Austria until the end of the 1st World War.
The palace complex, which is one of the largest in the world, displays many architectural styles, from Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo. That is explained by the fact that almost every monarch who ever lived in this palace made changes or additions to it.
Take your time and admire the grandiose building structures that make up the palace. Notice the intricate details of the windows, doorways and the multitude of statues that adorn the building roofs and terraces.
The palace houses many museums, among which are the Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum, and The Silver and Tableware Collection. All three can be accessed with a single ticket and are worth visiting if you have more than one day in Vienna.
Learn About the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)
Next to the Imperial Apartments, also in the Hofburg Palace, is the famous Spanish Riding School. You’ve probably heard of this equestrian school and its Lipizzaner stallions before. For over 450 years, the Spanish Riding School has kept alive classical equitation and the haute école movements of classical dressage.
Watching the Lipizzaner stallions perform was one of the highlights of our trip to Vienna. Some of the movements presented in the show had a high degree of difficulty, yet they made it look so easy. There was an amazing connection between horse and rider, like they were one single body.
Performances at the Spanish Riding School are a big deal and difficult to catch. They only take place on weekends, between May and September, so it will be difficult to include one in your Vienna itinerary. However, you can still see what it’s all about if you take a tour of the school.
You’ll learn about the history behind the beautiful Baroque structure of the Riding School and about the Lipizzaner horses. You also have the option to watch the 10am training session and see the horses do some of their tricks.
The Spanish Riding School is located in the Hofburg Palace, between Michaelerplatz and Josefsplatz. To avoid the long lines, book your visit here:
Visit Stephansplatz and St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Stephanplatz is Vienna’s busiest square. Always full of people and street vendors! The Time Square of Europe, as some jokingly call it. The square is surrounded by shops and cafés and is a good place for people watching. From here you can easily navigate to the other parts of the city that you may wish to see.
In the middle of the Stephanplatz is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which marks the very center of Vienna. The 700 years old cathedral is one of the most important and most beloved landmarks in the country.
The cathedral is as beautiful inside as it is outside, decorated with Baroque altarpieces and tall marble columns. There are many treasures inside which you can see if you take a guided tour. Like the tomb of of Prince Eugene of Savoy, dating from 1754, or a red-marble sepulcher that took 46 years to sculpt.
And if these vestiges are not enough to impress you, think about the fact that you are standing in the same church where Mozart was married in 1782 and Joseph Haydn sang as a choir boy.
The most famous feature of the Cathedral is the Gothic South Tower, which took 65 years to build. If you are not claustrophobic (like me), you can climb the 343 steps of the tight spiral staircase to the lookout point. I was too scared to climb up there, but they say the view from the top is absolutely spectacular!
Walk Along the Graben
West of Stephansplatz is the Graben. Graben is a pedestrian street with upscale retailer stores, souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants. Most of the buildings in this area date back to the 17th and 18th century. Here you can find here some finest traditional shops in Austria, like the porcelain store Augarten, Heldwein Jewelry, or Nägele & Strubell perfumery.
There is so much to see during this walk! Looking at all the beautiful old buildings really makes you appreciate all the history and beauty of this city. This area is extremely crowded during the day, but the street is very wide and spacious. Walking down the Graben is an experience you shouldn’t miss if you are in Vienna.
There are several beautiful landmarks to watch for on Graben, like the fountains Josefs and Leopoldsbrunnen. Look also for the Plague Column which was built in 1679, at the peak of the plague epidemic.
Step Inside St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)
Just off the busy Graben, surrounded by 18th century buildings, is the beautiful St.Peter’s Church (Peterskirche). Peterskirche is the second-most significant Baroque church in Vienna, after Karlskirche.
The church is not big, but it’s unusually bright and beautiful. Everywhere you look inside you’ll see a rich, multicolored ornamental design. Just behind the main altar you’ll see the Baroque organ built in 1751.
The sound of this organ is particularly beautiful. If you are in this area around 3 pm, make sure to step inside. The church offers free concerts every Monday to Friday at 3 pm. We were fortunate to hear Mozart’s Laudate Dominum here. Divine!
The central dome has a small windowed tower at its center, with a dove as the representation of the Holy Spirit/Trinity at the very top.
Visit the Vienna Opera House
Just a short walk from Stephansplatz is the famous State Opera House. Seeing an opera in Vienna may be on your bucket list, but since you only have a day in Vienna you’ll have to settle for a tour.
The guided tour will take approximately 40 minutes. You will hear many interesting facts about the building’s history, its architecture and how an opera house runs. You will get to see the foyer, the grand staircase, the state rooms (Tea Salon, Marble Hall, Schwind Foyer, Gustav Mahler Hall) and the auditorium.
Try Vienna’s Famous Sacher Cake (Sachertorte)
No trip to Vienna would be complete without trying a slice of the famous sachertorte. The cake is available in many Vienna coffee houses, but you have to try it at Café Sacher, where it was first created in 1832. The café is located next to the State Opera House, in the grandiose building of Sacher Hotel.
However, there’s more to this coffee house than just the chocolate cake. Café Sacher is a Vienna trademark. This was the imperial café and a meeting place for many famous artists and political figures of the time.
As you sit in its plush salon lined with red damask, you’ll understand why this place has built such a fame. As for the dense and delectable chocolate cake made with apricot jam and a rich chocolate glaze, you are not likely to forget it soon!
Stroll through Prater Amusement Park
I left a visit to Prater – the amusement park of Vienna – for last, in case you think your itinerary is too busy. I personally don’t think this is a must-see, although it’s a nice place to spend a couple of hours.
The park was built on a piece of land that was donated to the public by Emperor Joseph II, in 1766. In the years that followed, swings, carousels and cafés began moving in and soon Prater became the favorite recreation area of the Viennese.
The park has many attractions, but is especially known for the giant Ferris wheel built here in 1897. Many people argue that no visit to Vienna is complete without a ride in the giant Ferris wheel.
The wheel itself is really impressive and offers some spectacular views of the city. However, if amusement parks are not your thing, you may skip this one and finish your day with a relaxing evening cruise through the Danube Canal.
Prater is a little far from the historical city center, but it’s a nice place to visit in the late afternoon. The park stays open till midnight and is particularly attractive for families with children.
To get to Prater take metro line U2 (Direction Seestadt). Or use the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus red line which stops at Prater. To skip the line, book your ticket to the Giant Ferris Wheel here:
How to Make the Most of Your Day in Vienna
If you only have a day in Vienna, you should get an early start. Vienna’s Inner Stadt is not very big, but it’s packed with attractions. Starting early will allow you to see more and beat the crowds. At 9 o’clock in the morning the city streets are still empty and quite enchanting to visit.
Use the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus for Getting Around
A great way to see Vienna when time is short is to use the Hop-on Hop-Off Big Bus. The Big Bus company has two main routes: the red and the blue. The red route will take you around the centre of the city and up to Danube Island. The blue route goes to the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. However, I would skip Schönbrunn for this one day trip.
The bus passes by many of the famous landmarks in Vienna. You can hop-off the buss to visit them and then hop back on, which is very practical. The tour has a very informative audioguide that tells you about each point of interest you pass by. The first tours starts at 9:30 am in front of Votive Church, at Rooseveltplatz. You can buy your Big Bus tour ticket online and save 10%.
Sample Some of Vienna’s Culinary Highlights
If you thought Vienna was all about crispy, golden Schnitzel, think again. The city’s food scene is varied and creative, so don’t leave without trying spaetzle, roasted chestnuts, venison and pumpkin, or the Viennese Goulash. Vienna is also famous for its wide variety of coffee specialties and scrumptious desserts.
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