Actually I was in Vienna for less than 24 hours but I had the whole day, from the moment I woke up and stepped out of the hotel door to the streets of Vienna till I left the city at 7 pm headed to Salzburg. It was my first time in Vienna and I must admit, even if I did so much research before boarding my flight alas, there’s just so much you could squeeze in a day so I just kind of winged it and chose a few “must see” places.
Bear in mind that this itinerary is no way a fixed itinerary for your 24 hours in Vienna. There are so many places to see, and this was just my experience.
Anyway, I feel Vienna is so much like Tokyo: the vibe, the crowd, the subway stations. It’s so much like Tokyo except for, say, there are bakeries instead of standing noodle shops. I explored the city using public transport in Vienna, there’s no need to hire a car so did not use any taxi, or rented a car, and did lots of exploring by foot. The underground train system, trams and buses are easy to use, punctual and safe and it’s all free when you have the Vienna Card (more on this in another post!).
This was my itinerary.
1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
I don’t know what got to me but this was the first place I really wanted to visit from the list of places to see in Vienna. So many people I know think it’s easy for me to just hop on the plane and just go but actually it’s not. So I am really overwhelmed I am able to finally step foot on Austria and wanted to spend a quiet time inside a church in Vienna before I go out and roam around.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral (more commonly known by its German title: Stephansdom) is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.
Right outside the exit at Stephansplatz (U1, U3), you can immediately see the majestic church. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is particularly famous for its majestic towers, which have dominated Vienna’s skyline for centuries. The tallest of these is the Steffl, as the Viennese call the South Tower. While it’s a tough climb up the 343 steps to the Watch Room, it’s worth it for the spectacular views over the city.
View of Vienna atop the North Tower, home to the massive Pummerin Bell (largest in Austria), rung only on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve. A fast lift takes visitors up for 5.50 Euros (as of this writing).
The roof of the cathedral is decorated with more than two hundred thousand glazed tiles. They form enormous mosaics depicting a double headed eagle (symbol of the Holy Roman Empire) and the coats of arms of Vienna and Austria.
I found the solace and serenity I was looking for inside the church because I was so early there. When I was up at the tower, there was no one there too so I had early morning thoughts under the gray Viennese skies with the cold, crisp autumn air on my face (it was cold!).
The St. Stephen’s Cathedral is accessible from Stephansplatz station (U1, U3).
2. Hotel Sacher
Why head to a hotel early in the morning? Hotel Sacher is not an ordinary hotel, it is home to a cake. And not just an ordinary cake but a very famous (even once controversial) cake.The Original Sacher-Torte has been the most famous cake in the world since 1832.
I’ve read there’d be long queues of tourists outside the cafe later in the day so I made it early to tick this off my list.
My order of the original sacher-torte and Wien Melange came in very quickly. I don’t normally drink coffee but they say the cake is best with this coffee so I gave in. Most of the people at the cafe were locals who were having breakfast. You would know which ones from the crowd are tourists in this cafe – they will be the ones with the slice of cake and Wien Melange (German for Viennese Blend), like me. For coffee fans, the Wien Melange is “one espresso shot served in a large coffee cup topped with steamed milk and milk foam”.
I’ve heard and read two contracting comments about this: “Visiting Vienna cannot be complete if you don’t try their world famous Sacher-Torte!” and “It’s overrated, skip it!”. I don’t want to overthink because we all know there’s only one way to find out: to try it yourself! I paid around 10 Euros for the cake and coffee, by the way.
My opinion about the chocolate the world has marked as “best”?
Not bad. But let’s say I’ve had better chocolate cakes in my life, somewhere. Of course, you shouldn’t take my word for it, I would still say, try it when you are in Vienna!
The Hotel Sacher is only a few minutes walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral though accessible from Karlsplatz station (U1, U2, U4).
After getting my sugar fix at the Cafe Sacher, I was ready to start serious walking around the city. First up, Ringstrasse or The Ring Road where some of Austria’s most attractive and most important buildings stand shoulder to shoulder.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) was built in 1891 near the Imperial Palace to house the extensive collections of the imperial family.
Definitely one of the most exquisite buildings in Vienna, the Hofburg is the former Imperial Palace that has housed some of the most important people in Austrian history. Originally as castle built in 1918 for the imperial family, it now houses the offices for the President of Austria.
Other buildings I found on my way to Ringstrasse.
I imagine it would take at least 2 hours to walk around all of the buildings at Ringstrasse. I suddenly envied the tourists who were shuttled by bus from one building to another. Vienna weather was gray, cold and dreary that day. Your feet’s endurance in walking wasn’t the only challenge, the cold too. I did not bring gloves and cap!
4. Schonbrunn Palace
After walking along Ringstrasse, I got on the subway again to go to a more distant Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial family, is one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes.
This is quite far from central Vienna but still easily accessible by the U-bahn (subway) so I went. By this time, my feet are already very tired after walking for at least 5 hours already. When you get down at the station, be prepared to walk for at least 15 minutes to get to the palace and once you enter the gates, you need lots of energy to walk around the expansive gardens.
The Vienna card entitles the holder a discount for the palace entrance and other attractions (the labyrinth, etc). However, there was already a crowd of tourists at the ticket windows so I skipped it.
You can still stroll on the palace grounds without buying tickets. Many reviews mention that you would need at least 3 hours to explore the rooms inside the palace and the gardens and to climb up the top of the hill to get a view of Vienna. I did not have that much luxury of time!
The Schloss Schonbrunn is a few minutes walk from Schonbrunn station (U4 Hutteldorf direction).
After The Schonbrunn Palace, I took my dying feet back to the city. I got down at Kettenbruckengasse to visit the Naschmarkt – at 2.315 hectares, it is the largest urban market in Vienna and it’s over half a kilometer long with over 100 permanent stalls.
The Naschmarket is an open market that contains small shops that sell spices, tea, herbs and food from different countries.
There are also traditional Viennese eateries serving schnitzel and sausages, and there are fish restaurants, sushi, Vietnamese, Chinese, ice cream parlors.
Known as one of the famous markets in Vienna, this is quite a size, even though part of it was closed off for building works while I was there. But despite its size, the types of stalls do get rather repetitive and if you’re someone like me who comes from the Middle East and want to see something else rather than falafels, kebabs, shawarmas, spices, dried fruits and nuts which are already aplenty in the Middle East, I think you can skip this market, especially if you only have a day in Vienna!
References: The Vienna Subway Network Maps, Vienna card