36 Hours in Vienna: where old meets new

Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral) Photo: Isaree Thatchaichawalit
Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral)  Photo: Isaree Thatchaichawalit
Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral)
Photo: Isaree Thatchaichawalit

Vienna is often known as the City of Music, but it is so much more than that. For centuries, it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and it has always been the point where Eastern and Western Europe merge. This makes Vienna a city rich with history and culture, filled with palaces and museums and many, many cafés. 36 hours is nowhere near enough time to fully appreciate this unique city, but this guide should give you a good taste of what Vienna has to offer.

Friday evening: From the airport, make your way to Stephansplatz, the centre of Vienna. Tip: take the Schnellbahn (S-Bahn), not the City Airport Train (CAT). It is only 10 minutes slower and saves you €7.80 (£6). Here you can see Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral. It is one of the great symbols of Vienna, with its colourful tile roof and Gothic-style tower.

Go inside and marvel at Stephansdom’s equally impressive interior, then head over to Figlmüller for dinner. It may be a bit touristy, but the food is delicious. The schnitzel here is bigger than the plate it is served on and ideally serves two, but if you are on your own you can wrap up your leftovers. Order the potato salad with Styrian pumpkin seed oil to accompany your schnitzel. And although there are two Figlmüller locations right around the corner from each other, be sure to make a reservation to avoid disappointment.

After dinner, if you somehow still have room in your stomach, go to Café Sacher for a slice of Sachertorte. The most famous of the many Austrian desserts, this chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache is special because of the apricot jam that runs through it.

Saturday morning: Instead of your usual morning cup of coffee, go to one of Vienna’s many cafés and try a Melange instead. This famous Viennese coffee is similar to a cappuccino but tastes milder. Take your time at the café – order some breakfast (or maybe cake), do some reading and absorb the Viennese atmosphere.

After your daily dose of caffeine, make your way to Schönbrunn Palace. This was the summer palace of the Habsburgs, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire and, later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Get the Grand Tour ticket, which costs €13.20 (£10.53) for students ages 19 to 25. It will gain you access to all the rooms, and it comes with a very informative audio guide. Afterwards, explore the expansive surrounding gardens. If you are a fan of zoos, make some time to visit the Schönbrunn Zoo, the oldest in the world.

Saturday afternoon: Grab a quick lunch at one of the many noodle or doner kebab stands. Though chains like McDonald’s and Burger King
are dotted around the city, noodles and doner kebabs are Vienna’s version
of fast food. Take a walk on the Ringstraße (“Ring Street”), which circles Vienna’s city centre and marks where the city walls used to be.

Most of Vienna’s monumental buildings line this street, including the Rathaus (the Gothic-style city hall), the Parliament, the Hofburg (the Imperial palace) and the Vienna State Opera. Visit the Kunsthistoriches (Art History) Museum, also on the Ringstraße; a student ticket costs €11 (£8.76). It houses a huge collection, from Ancient Egyptian artefacts to famous paintings by artists like Raphael, Caravaggio, Brueghel, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Saturday evening: For dinner, head to Café Diglas for some traditional Austrian food, followed by one of their delicious desserts. Afterwards, experience some of Vienna’s night-life at Schwedenplatz, where you can find many busy bars. For a more expensive drink and a view of Vienna at night, go to the rooftop bar at the Sofitel. If you feel like clubbing, popular venues include Passage and Flex, but Praterdome is a personal favourite.

Sunday morning: For breakfast, try something from a bakery (Spinattaschen, puff pastries filled with spinach and ricotta, are highly recommended). If you have time, visit the Hundertwasserhaus, a building built in the Expressionist style, with its bright colours and not-so-straight lines. It is vastly different from structures like Stephansdom and Schönbrunn, which highlights just how varied the city’s history and culture is. This makes it the perfect last stop of your 36-hours jaunt to beautiful Vienna.


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