What to do in Vienna if you have only one day?
Well, it’s not easy, as the capital of Austria has so much to offer having a very rich historical and artistic heritage.
Since I’m Hungarian I’ve been to Vienna a couple of times and all of these trips have been one day visits.
I now recommend a few things seeing and doing that would fit in a single day, giving you a good deal of pleasure and beauty.
First of all: don’t regard your one day trip to Vienna as a challenge.
It’s not fun trying to squeeze as many sights, monuments, museums, and events as possible in that short period of time.
Relax and go for “feeling” the city instead of rushing through it.
Visiting the few places I’m going to mention here will provide a nice experience—after which you’ll get the hang of this calm Central European city.
What to see in Vienna in a day? Let’s see the plan!
Starting in the city centre: Opera House – Hofburg – St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Vienna State Opera
Let’s suppose you start the day at about 9-9.30 am in the city centre, at the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).
The Opera House is situated on the Ring Road and was completed in 1869, built in the Neo-Renaissance style, with a seating capacity of 1709.
The famous composer Gustav Mahler worked here as a conductor at the turn of the 20th century. Herbert von Karajan, one of the most influential conductors of the 20th century, was artistic director here from 1957 to 1964.
From the Opera House it’s a very short walk to the Hofburg, which used to serve as the winter residence of the Habsburgs.
- Hofburg means “Castle of the Court”
- Residence of the President of Austria
- One of the largest palaces in the world occupying 240,000 sq metres (2.5 million sq ft)
- Originally built in the 13th century, expanded a number of times afterwards (e.g. Spanish Riding School, Treasury, Imperial Chapel)
- The Austrian Crown Jewels are kept here in the Treasury
I personally haven’t been inside and I just suggest walking around the old buildings and courtyards while taking some pictures from outside (a 30-minute look-around should do) and then head over to Stephansplatz.
If you’re really a history freak, go ahead to the exhibitions, but I think saving time for the Hundertwasser Museum and the Schönnbrunn Palace and gardens is a better idea.
Have a coffee
From the Hofburg enjoy a little walk in the sleepy pedestrian streets towards Stephansplatz.
Stop by for a coffee at a traditional Viennese coffee house: after all, one of the reasons you’re here is to experience that!
Vienna’s coffee culture is very special. It’s not like Paris or Milan.
It’s total relaxation. Make yourself at home, no worries, no hurries.
Stephansplatz & St. Stephen’s Cathedral
This is the heart of Vienna. You should not miss it by any means.
It is dominated by the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), open from 6 am (Sun 7 am) to 10 pm, free to enter.
This beautiful gothic cathedral was built in the 14th century, on the ruins of two former Romanesque churches.
Its south tower was completed in 1433 reaching a height of 136.4 m (448 ft).
Photographing is allowed inside for personal use, tripods, however, are not allowed to be used (probably for safety reasons).
Exterior shots, showing the multi-coloured tile roof, covered by 230,000 glazed tiles, can be very appealing.
The central square, Stephansplatz, offers an eclectic atmosphere: old and modern buildings, lots of tourists, horse-drawn carriages, cafés…
Hundertwasser House & Museum Hundertwasser
If you feel fit enough, from Stephansplatz you can walk to the Hundertwasserhaus, or you can take the metro or tram to get there faster.
I believe, the Hundertwasserhaus (built 1983–1985) and the Museum are a must-see. The house is so special and fun to discover and photograph. Unfortunately it faces north so you won’t get the chance to take shots in sunlight unless you come here late in the afternoon during summer.
It is an apartment house where you cannot enter, a sign informs about you should not disturb the privacy of the residents.
But you can look around in the Hundertwasser Village, a bazaar built in 1990-1991, also according to the concepts of Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
In the Museum Hundertwasser (Kunst Haus Wien), a few hundred metres north of the Hundertwasserhaus, you can learn about the life and works of Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Hundertwasser (1928–2000) was a great artist and architect, who considered environmental protection a top priority.
He was a devotee of organic architecture, looking for ways to find harmony between human habitation and the natural world.
Across the globe, especially in Austria, Germany, and Japan, some 30 buildings were designed by Hundertwasser, including both new buildings and alterations.
He first became a painter and later entered the field of architecture.
The Museum features many of his paintings, monotypes, tapestries, and stamp designs.
“Two large groups of motifs determine the content of Hundertwasser’s painting. One comprises a world of forms analogous to vegetative growth as animistic nature; the other is the repetitive use of architectural signs: houses, windows, gables, fences, gates, etc.” — Wieland Schmied, in Hundertwasser – KunstHausWien (Cologne, 1999)
All in all, it’s a wonderful exhibition—full of beauty. Guaranteed.
Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)
Crème de la crème…
Or so to say “Das Feinste vom Feinsten”.
It’s just gorgeous.
Even if you do not go inside the palace and just hang around in the gardens, you’ll get an exceptional experience.
The grand views of the huge palace, the fountains and statues, the Gloriette on the hilltop, the Orangery Garden, the Rose Garden, the Maze, the wide walkways, the century-old trees, the flowers in all forms and colours…
You’ll want to photograph everything and that’s perfectly OK.
However, if you pay a little attention to find angles and compositions that are less cliché, you’ll enjoy your visit here even more.
Needless to say, the best time to visit is the summer season, from May to September, in the afternoon hours, so that you can take nice shots of the Palace in the sunlight with the park in the foreground.
Inside the Palace you can take one of the tours taking either approx. 40 min (Imperial Tour) or 60 min (Grand Tour), while you can enjoy some of the finest, abundance-radiating Rococo style rooms in the world.
- Schönbrunn means “Beautiful Spring”
- Used to be the summer residence of the Habsburgs
- The Palace in its present form was constructed during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa in the 1740s and 1750s
- The Schönbrunn Palace has 1441 rooms, 45 of these can be visited, its area is 31,000 sq metres (334,000 sq ft)
- Grounds of Schönbrunn: 160 ha (400 acres)
- Mozart performed in the Mirrors Room at the age of 6
- Between 1805 and 1809, during the occupation of Vienna, Schönbrunn served as Napoleon’s headquarters
- Emperor Franz Joseph was born here in 1830
- Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1996), as a unique Baroque ensemble
- The most visited place in Austria (not surprising at all!)
Extra: The Belvedere
On a long summer day you still may have time to take a look at the Belvedere, which includes two beautiful Baroque castles, Upper and Lower Belvedere, and a magnificent garden between them.
It served as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (Prinz Eugen), a general of the Imperial Army, one of the most successful military commanders in European history.
The palaces and gardens were built at the beginning of the 18th century, they are also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I hope you enjoyed this post, have a lovely day in Vienna!
Text and photographs © Daniel Kerek
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