Strolling along the Ringstrasse in central Vienna, you are immersed in a world of elegance, wealth, and nobility. This 3-mile route takes you past palaces, government buildings, domed cathedrals, the Vienna Opera House, and upscale shops. The varied architectural styles give this area an eclectic, lively feel.
Vienna offers so much to experience in the Ringstrasse area. Even if you’re only in town for 48 hours, you can walk to many of Vienna’s highlights from here. You will want to venture from central Vienna to visit the magnificent Schonbrunn Palace, but this is an easy ride on the underground. And you will be astounded at the scrumptious cakes, coffees, and lunches and dinners at every turn. You will not go hungry in Vienna.
Vienna is charming year-round. In the spring and early summer, flowers bloom and the temperatures are mild. August and September can be hot. Plan for plenty of indoor time and cold drinks. Winter brings cold and snow. But Vienna excels at Christmas markets, which may draw you to visit in November and December. As long as you dress for the weather, you’ll enjoy the city in any season.
Things To Do In Vienna
Here are some places to prioritize if you've only got two days in Vienna. These appeal to a variety of interests. You can easily skip some of these and choose instead to relax at a sidewalk cafe with a hot chocolate. You could also spend an entire day at Schonbrunn Palace, taking time to visit the zoo, take a thorough tour of the gardens, and have a leisurely lunch at the cafe.
When I visited, we spent far longer than I planned in The Demel watching the pastry cooks turn out world-famous delicacies -- so the Hofburg Palace will have to wait until my next trip. Plan loosely and allow for memorable times. Vienna will give you those for sure.
See Schonbrunn Palace, The Viennese Versailles
The jewel of Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace, is not only a lovely, royal home, but it also features acres of gardens and sculptures and fountains. It is a must-visit on any trip to Vienna. You can visit the gardens for free during opening hours, so you may want to tour the palace and then return to walk the tree-lined paths as a relaxing end to your day.
What makes Schonbrunn Palace so fascinating? It’s both the beauty apparent today and the history of the home. Built between 1743 and 1779, the palace served as the home of Maria Theresa, the daughter of Emperor Charles VI. She ran a household of as many as 1,000 people and had the palace painted a cheerful color that is now known as “Maria Theresa yellow.”
The palace housed no shortage of famous residents and guests. Maria Theresa and her husband had 16 children, including the ill-fated Marie Antionette. The empress also loved music and hosted a concert given by a six-year-old named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On the audio tour, you’ll walk through a room where Napoleon once stayed.
When you tour the palace, you will hear about Maria Theresa as well as her great-grandson, Franz Joseph, who was born in 1830 in the palace. His wife Elisabeth was known to all as “Sisi.” Some of the rooms are decorated as they were during the time of her reign. She had stunning floor-length hair and boasted a 17-inch waist. You will see boxes of candy all over the city with her picture on them.
After your tour, venture out the back of the palace and up the grassy hill to the Gloriette, a building with columns and arches that now houses a cafe.
Arrive early in the day if you can in order to avoid crowds. Allow at least a morning to tour the palace and wander through the gardens. Go for a light lunch in the cafe in the Gloriette, with its view of the gardens and palace. You’ll have more time to spend in the gardens in the afternoon, then, if you wish.
Climb The Tower Of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
In the heart of the city, look for the giant spire reaching skyward, and you’ll find one of Vienna’s most popular landmarks, Saint Stephen’s Cathedral. Mozart was married here in 1782. This Gothic masterpiece, built in the 14th and 15th centuries, has been altered over time. The notable mosaic tile roof was added after World War II.
Saint Stephen’s narrowly escaped damage while bombs fell all around it during the war. But a month before the war’s end, the cathedral suffered a direct hit. The entire wooden roof of the nave collapsed and burned, burying the Gothic choir stalls. Vienna fared better than many bombed areas during the war, since funds quickly came in to rebuild. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral was fully restored and given a new roof and bell tower by 1952 thanks to donations from Austrians who wanted to save their beloved cathedral.
Consider climbing the tower if you can handle the 343 steps. The view of Vienna from the top is magnificent. Look for the carving in the wall that marks the night an Allied bomber aiming for a nearby industrial plant dropped a bomb on the church by mistake on April 11, 1945.
As sunset approaches, sit on a bench outside the church and watch the changing light patterns on the spire. This is a fine way to watch your day in Vienna turn to night.
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is open to the public year-round; many events, concerts, and guided tours are available. Allow about an hour to tour the church and climb the tower.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth At The Demel
The Demel is an experience, not simply a place to eat. This historic bakery full of delicacies is a Viennese institution dating to 1857. Franz Joseph and his wife Sisi loved The Demel. She would order deliveries of her favorite candied violets, still offered today for visitors to sample.
What’s especially fun is that you can observe the pastry chefs fashioning their sweet creations through a large glass window. This is where the magic happens. Then hang out at the display case to take your time choosing from among all the yummy treats. Most popular is the Sachertorte, a signature pastry of Austria made of chocolate and whipped cream with a thin layer of apricot jam. And be sure to pick up some packaged truffles, pralines, or bonbons to take home.
Get Your Musical Fix
Vienna is well known for its quality music. Plan to spend an evening immersed in a flawless performance, and you’ll see why this capital city gained its reputation for excellence. This website lists all the concerts currently running.
A popular venue is the Vienna State Opera. Check the website for tickets before your trip. If you have an appreciation for opera, you will want to book ahead to be sure of a seat.
Not an opera fan? I’m not either, but I love music. So I booked tickets to the Vienna Philharmonic, which holds concerts at Schonbrunn Palace. Not only was the music inspiring and impeccably performed, but we also enjoyed a wonderful surprise. The concerts are usually in the Orangerie on the palace grounds. We arrived early, wondering why the building was dark, but the front door of the main palace stood open. About twice a year, unadvertised, the concert moves into the ballroom of the palace. “You are very lucky,” we were told. And into the grand ballroom we went. What an amazing evening!
If you arrive in Vienna without prebooked concert tickets, you will still be able to find a concert. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral hosts many musical events, for example. If you are a music lover, though, you will want to book ahead for the best choices.
Learn About Empress Sisi At The Hofburg Palace
The Hofburg Palace is in the center of the city and is open for tours. Once home to the Habsburgs, it’s now the residence and offices of the Austrian president. Areas open to tour include the Sisi Museum, where you can learn more about the life of the famous empress; the royal apartments; and the royal silver collection.
The Spanish Riding School, where the Lipizzaner stallions are trained, is part of the complex, and visitors can take in a practice or performance. Check the website for up-to-date information.
See The Lavish State Rooms At The Albertina
The Albertina houses works by artists such as Monet and Picasso. Collections include paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs. The museum is located in what served as the palace for the Habsburgs for about 100 years, when the dynasty ruled large parts of Europe. The state rooms have been impeccably restored to how they looked in the 1500s. Enjoy artistic wall coverings, chandeliers, and furniture as you tour the palace.
Best Restaurants In Vienna
Vienna is known for its exquisite cuisine, coffee and hot chocolate, and pastries. The problem will not be finding good food but deciding how to sample all that looks so appealing.
Here, more than in most cities I’ve visited, the hotels also house wonderful restaurants, cafes, and bakeries. You may find it most convenient to eat some meals right where you are staying. And you will likely enjoy a five-star experience there!
Here are a couple of favorites I found during my time in Vienna.
I’m always up for Italian food, and I found the perfect place for it in Vienna at Osteria d’Atri. The specialty is wine, and the cuisine was light and delicious.
When you’re in Vienna, you must go for dinner or dessert at Cafe Central. Opened in 1876, the cafe has served many famous and infamous patrons, including Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. It closed after World War II but has now reopened and welcomes everyday people like you and me. Graceful arches fill the interior of this historic cafe. Try the apple strudel or chocolate cake, and you will be in food paradise.
Best Hotels In Vienna
Accommodations in and near Vienna run the gamut from five-star hotels to camping and glamping. You may want to choose an Airbnb so that you have a kitchen. If you have just 48 hours or so in this historic city, your best choice may be to stay central and walk to most of the sights. Here are a few top options.
This hotel is on a side street off the main ring road in the heart of Vienna. I enjoyed my stay at the Graben Hotel with its comfortable, elegant decor. It’s just around the corner from an underground station, and the sidewalk restaurant offers great food and friendly service. Our waiter insisted we try different drinks and dishes and kept them coming at no extra charge.
Another choice in the city center is The Guesthouse. It boasts a calm, elegant design and is near the Opera and the Albertina. Relax in this hotel between sightseeing ventures. And you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the hotel’s brasserie.
If it’s luxury you’re craving, splurge on a stay at the Hotel Sacher. Guests have included England’s Queen Elizabeth, President John F. Kennedy, and Justin Bieber. Open since 1876, this hotel offers culture, history, and elegance. And you can order a chocolate mask spa treatment for a most unusual experience.
This colorfully decorated hotel in the Museum Quarter of Vienna describes itself as “surprising, surreal, and exotic.” At the 25Hours Hotel, the walls and furniture carry a circus theme. The byline of this trendy hotel is “We are all mad here.” If you’re up for something different and fun, check out the hotel website and see if it’s for you.
Vienna is a place to relax, savor elegant cuisine and architecture, and get caught up in heavenly music. There are dozens of palaces and museums and gardens to explore. You’ll see many highlights in 48 hours, but I’m betting you will want to return for more!