If you’ve only got limited time to explore the city, great news – Vienna is small and compact enough that you can see most of the city in a couple of days. If you have just 48 hours in Vienna on your Interrail trip, here’s what an itinerary for your time there.
A good place to start is with a self-guided tour around the Burgring, the main road that circles the city centre and very conveniently has most of the sights on route. Start at the Hofburg, one of the many palaces the city has to offer. It’s perfectly impressive from the outside (save the entry fee for the Schönbrunn palace) so just have a wander around the pretty, rose-filled garden out the front (free) and don’t forget to see it from the back where there’s more grassy areas to sit and chill.
From here, it’s just a hop across the Burgring for the Museum Quarter – a collection of art museums in a trendy square that, come summer time, is a popular spot to grab a few drinks and chill with friends. But you should also check the exhibition list, the MQ (as it’s known) boasts an impressive roaster of big names – Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol to name a few, and with a student discount, it’s definitely worth it.
From there, come back over to the Burgring, walking in between the National History Museum and the History of Art museum on the way, two equally majestic buildings and follow the road up towards the next stop on the Burgring tour: the parliament. You can apply for a free tour on certain days which is definitely worth the extra organisation. Check the website here for more details.
Then it’s a short walk up to the Rathaus, Vienna’s Hogwarts-Esque town hall. In winter this is where you’ll find the most insane ice rink you’ll ever see but in summer the square in front is often filled with stalls or one-off events and festivals.
Carry on round past the university, and the Votivkirche, soaking up the grandeur of the city until you get to Schottentor. There’re lots of places to grab a cheap bite to eat here or just save yourself for the upcoming coffee and cake in one of Vienna’s world famous coffee houses.
Now is a good time to cut into the city centre, following the cobbled streets of the Jewish Quarter to Cafe Central, for that said coffee and cake stop. Strange as it may sound, visiting a coffee house is probably one of the most important things to do in Vienna! The city is practically founded on it, with the coffee house being an institution since the 1700s. The Viennese love to while the afternoon away over Sachertorte and a Melange – Vienna’s answer to the cappuccino.
Cafe Central is slightly touristy and you might have to wait a little bit for a table but it is definitely worth it! It’s one of the oldest coffee houses in Vienna and still retains all of the grandeur of the last century. Chandeliers hang from the high ceilings and the walls are adorned with oil paintings and dark oakwood but the main draw are the cakes. Beautiful, delicate patisserie bursting with cream – you’ll be drooling over these in your dreams. Just one word of warning – the coffee is pretty rubbish but that’s ok because you’re here for the experience itself which includes the haughty waiters who, on first impressions can seem rude, are all part of the allure of the Viennese coffee house.
Roll out of the coffee house on a sugar high and continue along the immaculate, cobbled streets past Demel, another famous Viennese coffee house, and the fancy shops to Stephensplatz, the very centre of the city, and the home of the dazzling Stephansdom cathedral with its intricate gothic turrets and striking roof tiles. Nearby is the almost-as-important Manner shop – Vienna’s famous wafers and if you’re in luck there will be some tasters.
If your legs still have the energy then you should then head towards the canal (or take the U-Bahn to Schwedenplatz) to experience the chilled out vibes of the Viennese summer. Take a stroll and soak up the atmosphere, stopping at one of the hundreds of bars that spill out onto the canal-side when you need a break. A Radler (like a shandy but nicer) or a Hugo will be perfect for that refreshing sip in the heat of summer.
Then, hot-foot it back over to the Vienna Opera House to catch a show in the evening. Standing tickets are amazingly cheap (€3) and can be bought on the day just by queuing up outside a couple of hours before the show. It’s definitely worth it, especially for the price, although I’d probably recommend a ballet over an opera because they can go on forever.
Even though you’ll be there way before the show will start, once you are in and have snagged your place on the standing bars, mark your space with a scarf which reserves your place. It’s the unwritten rule of the opera house standing tickets so trust me, no one will move it. Then you can pop out round the back to grab a disgustingly yummy Käsekrainer (sausage filled with oozing cheese) from the Imbisa with the rabbit on it. Apparently even Pavarotti used to do this in his day so if it’s good enough for him…
Now you’ve done the city centre, (yes Vienna really is that small) head further out of town to the city’s most spectacular palace Schönbrunn, first making sure to stop at the Naschmarkt on the way to pick up picnic supplies. Make sure you try the falafel from Dr. Falafel!
Even though technically it’s outside the city, Vienna really is quite small and public transport is wonderfully efficient so getting there couldn’t be easier, just hop on the U-Bahn or, if you’ve got more time, the tram, where you’ll see far more.
If there is one palace you pay for, this should probably be it. With hundreds of grand rooms and an interesting and informative audio guide, you’ll learn all about the Habsburgs – Vienna’s Royal Family. But even if you don’t go inside, the pretty pastel facade and satisfying symmetry makes the palace worth a visit in its own right. Not to mention the extensive grounds (free) which in summer are bursting with roses and fountains. Climb to the top of hill at the back and you’ll get an even more impressive view of the palace and be able to spot some of the sights of the city too. Not a bad spot for a picnic!
If you wanted to explore the grounds properly you’ll probably want a good hour or two and it would be easy to get lost in the vast expanse of woodland. There’s even a zoo in there – just to give you an idea of how big we are talking!
Continue the chilled out day by getting the U-Bahn out to the Alte Donau in the afternoon where you can relax on the water in a pedalo or if you remembered to pack your swimming stuff, go for a dip in the river. There are a few “schwimmbaden” along that stretch of the river, just go in the first one and for a few euros you’ll have a nice grassy area to sunbathe and a clean bit of the river to swim in (no yucky weeds).
Dry off, have a nap and then start your final evening off with a classy drink at Das Loft, Vienna’s bar with a view in the Sofitel hotel. It has great views across the city and you’ll be able to spot everything you’ve seen in the last few days, taking the city in, in all its splendour.
It’s fancy – so no trainers – but still casual enough to not be too pretentious (again ignore the rudeness of the waiting staff, it’s not personal) with surprisingly affordable cocktails crafted by expert bartenders. Go before dinner to avoid a wait.
For food, take it down a notch to ridiculously cheap Schnitzelwirt in the 7th district – home to many a trendy eatery and bar. It’ll be rowdy and full of tourists and locals alike and you might even end up sharing a table with strangers so they can squeeze everyone in. But it’s all part of the fun.
Don’t expect the highest quality of meat, but when one portion includes two huge slabs of tasty schnitzel, so you can’t complain. Just share one and order a side of fries along with an ottakringer beer and the whole meal will set you back less than €10.
Continue the night by exploring the bars around the district. Here’s a hint: try hipster Brickmakers Pub and Kitchen for craft beers, Cafe Espresso for a more Viennese experience with cocktails and wine, or Cafe Europa for a buzzing, lively atmosphere. This place closes at 5am!
And there you have it, in 48 hours you’ve experienced the grandeur and sophistication of the city, explored its regal legacies, indulged in the classy culture through ballet and cake and channelled the chilled Viennese vibes by the Danube.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the perfect city to me!