The Essentials: The Ultimate Historic Walking Tour Of Vienna
Vienna is an amazing travel destination, and with so many historic tourist attractions in one place, it is almost impossible to see it all in one trip. Fortunately for you, I have put together the perfect walking tour of the city’s Historic First District, which includes all of the best things to do and see in Vienna. Better yet, it can be done all in the space of just one day – so what are you waiting for? Bust out those walking shoes and let’s get started!
ABOUT VIENNA’S HISTORIC FIRST DISTRICT
Vienna is Austria’s central hub and is home to more than two-million residents, so as such it is considered to be quite a large city. Despite its vast, sprawling topography, spanning tens of kilometres in every direction, the majority of the city’s cultural and historic sites are confined to the very centre of town, in what is called the “First District of Vienna”.
Essentially, the First District of Vienna is a large circular area, encompassed by a large main road which surrounds it, called the “Ringstrasse” or “the Ring”. For those who only have a short time in Vienna, this is an absolute godsend and a blessing! Almost everything that you really need to see in Vienna, is located either inside the Ringstrasse, or just outside it, and, all of the best things to see are in walking distance of each other!
GETTING TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT – SCHOTTENTOR STATION
So, the tour I have set out will begin at Schottentor Station. Schottentor Station is located on the Ringstrasse, just outside of the First District. It is the perfect place to start as it is not only accessible from all parts of the city, but you will begin to experience Vienna’s historic beauty from the second you step out onto the street.
As I have mentioned above, Schottentor Station is accessible from every part of the city, by all methods of transport, including CityBike, Taxi, Bus, Tram and Train. However, we recommend that you arrive via the U2 Underground Train (The Purple Line). Why? Well, I’m glad you asked!!! Because everything in Vienna’s Historic First District is so close together, if you arrive by any of the above ground methods – such as Taxi, Bus or Tram – you run the risk of passing many of the sights you are about to experience along the way!!! If you take the Underground U2 Train, you guessed it, you travel underground!!! So, you won’t accidentally pass things along the way, and you will get to discover and experience all of the amazing attractions of the walking tour as you arrive at them on foot for the first time.
Trust me, the walking tour has so many amazing things to see along the way, that if you follow this advice and come on the U2 Train instead the above ground methods, it has the potential to become somewhat of a euphoric experience, stumbling through what is arguably one of the world’s most amazingly beautiful destinations.
Public Transport Lines to Schottentor Station;
TRAIN – U2 (THE PURPLE LINE)
TRAMS – 1, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 71, D
BUSES – 1A, 40A
Tip – Download the “WienMobil” App on Both iPhone and Android for Public Transport Lines, Connections, Directions, Assistance and Online Ticketing Options! It’s an Amazing Help!!!
PLEASE NOTE: I will not list directions in the descriptions listed below. I am going to assume that most people will have some form of GPS or paper map available to them. All of the destinations below are listed in the order in which they follow the trail. Please proceed from one location to the next, in the order they are listed. If you cannot visibly see the next destination in the list, I suggest you use your GPS or paper map to guide you to it, as this will be more effective that using any written instruction.
FIRST STOP – SIGMUND FREUD PARK & VOTIVE CHURCH (VOTIVKIRCHE)
As you step out of Schottentor Station and look in a North-East direction, you can’t help but notice the magnificent Votive Church (Votivkirche) of Vienna. Standing tall over the open-grassed-area of the Sigmund Freud-Park, the Votivkirche is considered by many to be one of the most important examples of a neo-gothic religious building in the world today. Not only does the Votive Church (Votivkirche) represent the pinnacle of historic religious architecture in Vienna, but it also holds an internal beauty matched by few other churches you will experience.
2. UNIVERSITY OF VIENNA
The ambience and cultural history of the old and established University of Vienna, comes alive as you visit “die Uni” on the Ringstrasse – the main central building of the university, a university which is in fact spread over 60 buildings throughout the city. If you decide to come back another day, a guided tour will take you through the historic library – where perhaps some of the 15 Nobel Prize winners studied – and onto the Ceremonial Chamber, where graduations are held.
3. CAFÉ LANDTMANN (BREAKFAST OR LUNCH)
If you haven’t already eaten, this is the perfect place to start your tour with a fantastically divine, traditional Austrian breakfast or lunch. The Café Landtmann is by far and away one of Vienna’s most popular and charming café’s, serving traditional Austrian cuisine, coffees and cakes, since 1873. This really is the place to experience true and authentic Viennese style and culture; we highly recommend you start your tour on an empty stomach and fill it up here, with a magnificent Café Landtmann experience!
4. VIENNA TOWN HALL (RATHAUS)
The size and beauty of the Neo-Gothic Town Hall (Rathaus) in central Vienna will hold you spell-bound. As you approach, take some time to admire the intricate design and the imposing 100 metre spire that towers over you. Built in 1883, wander through the seven inner courtyards, or come back another day to join a guided tour and explore the interior, with frescos and gigantic mirrors throughout. Once you have finished, make sure you take a small detour to the Rathauspark where you can explore the statues that line the walkways.
The Burgtheater – Austria’s National Theatre in Vienna – is regarded by many to be one of the most important German language theatres in the world! Constructed in 1741, and originally known as the K.K. Theatre an der Burg, this magnificent structure has housed some of the most famous traditional performances in history. The Emperors and dictators of the past – who frequently graced its stalls – are long gone, but the beauty and magic of its stage, still sings out to regular standing ovations, even to this day.
Located in Vienna’s central First District, the magnificent Volksgarten can be described as nothing short of pristine. The perfectly manicured grounds are filled with beauty wherever you look, and the walkways are lined by spectacular flowers beds, which paint the grounds in amazing colour. The Volksgarten is part of the Imperial Hofburg Palace and was originally designed by Ludwig Remy back in 1821, so it goes without saying, this slice of paradise – in the middle of an already amazing city – truly is something out of a fairy tale!
7. AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT BUILDING (PARLAMENT)
Located on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament conduct their sessions. This magnificent building is not only the heart of Austrian politics, but it exudes a fascinating history, filled with great tales of triumph and defeat. Come and discover these stories as you walk the halls, where the most powerful men and women of Austrian history have, since its original construction back in 1874.
8. MUSEUMS QUARTER (MUSEUMSQUARTIER)
Undeniable proof that architectural and design innovation lives on in Vienna, is to be found at the Museums Quarter (MuseumsQuartier). Just off the Ringstrasse, and south of Maria Theresa Square, is this amazing complex of 20 museums and galleries, including the Leopold Museum (Art) and Kunsthalle Wien (Photography). As you wander from museum to museum, enjoy the open spaces, and have a break at one of the many cafes and restaurants as you admire the range of architectural styles on display.
9. MARIA THERESA SQUARE (MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY + ART HISTORY MUSEUM)
As you head towards your next stop, pause for a while at Maria Theresa Square (Maria-Theresien-Platz). Empress Maria Theresa was the sole female ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and in the centre of the square you will see a magnificent statue of her. Enjoy the gardens and get your bearings before your next foray in the city! There is probably not enough time on this walking tour to explore the Museum of Natural History, or the Art History Museum of Vienna, nevertheless, they are both housed on the edge of the Maria Theresa Square (Maria-Theresien-Platz); admire them from outside in the their magnificent glory!
10. HERO’S SQUARE (ÄUßERES BURGTOR + PRINCE EUGENE STATUE + NEUE BURG)
Hero’s Square (Heldenplatz) is a spectacular public space in the centre of Vienna, located in front of the magnificent Hofburg Imperial Palace. This popular meeting point offers a beautiful panoramic view of many of the city’s famous surrounding buildings, and is filled with plenty of grassed areas to sit and relax in the sun. The square has witnessed some of Austria’s most important moments in history, and is also home to some of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions, including the Äußeres Burgtor (Hero’s Gate), the Prince Eugene Statue, and the stunning Neue Burg building!
11. THE HOFBURG IMPERIAL PALACE
Located in the heart of Vienna, the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was the seat of power for the House of Habsburg, the ruler of Austria for six centuries. Austria is now a democratic republic, but the Imperial Palace remains the centre of government. A part of history for so long, you would expect such a building to have magnificent displays of architecture and history, and you will not be disappointed! Your visit will be a walk through many eras, including Baroque and Renaissance periods.
12. ST. MICHAEL’S SQUARE (MICHAELERPLATZ)
One of the most famous squares in Vienna, St. Michael’s Square (Michaelerplatz) is located right in the centre of the city. St. Michael’s Square is an amazing display of the mixed architectural styles of Austrian history, and is dominated by the spectacular neo-baroque gate of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. This spectacular meeting place also includes the Looshaus – which is one of the city’s first “Modern” buildings – as well as St. Michael’s Church (Michaelerkirche), which dates back as far as the 1200’s!
The Albertina is one of Vienna’s most famous art museums, and for good reason! This magnificent museum houses some of the most important art collections in the world and has hosted some of the most famous exhibitions on offer, including works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Duerer, Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet, and many more. Come and discover the elegant weave of history and culture on display at the Albertina!
14. VIENNA STATE OPERA HOUSE (WIENER STAATSOPER)
Since the early 18th century, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) has entertained the city. With over 300 performances per year, check the guides to catch a performance later in the evening! Experience the enchantment of the performers, take in the beauty of the architecture, and marvel at the opulence of the interior. If you want to come back another day, a guided tour is around 40 minutes and will take you behind the scenes to discover the history, view the state rooms, and learn how the Opera is managed today.
15. ST STEPHENS CATHEDRAL (STEPHANSDOM)
St Stephen’s Cathedral, in the Inner City, is a special place to visit. A working church, it holds a fond place in the hearts of the locals, perhaps because of its resilience and beauty. As you admire the architecture and beautiful interior of altars, art and sculptures, you will see the remnants of the original structure dating back to the 12th century. To best appreciate its beauty, perhaps take a guided tour that will include the catacombs.
16. CAFÉ HAWELKA
Time for a break! Rest your feet with a coffee and cake at one of Vienna’s oldest and truly original café’s. This amazing café in Vienna’s central First District has remained largely untouched since its original opening in 1939, when some of Europe’s most famous writers and artists graced its tables. Regular guests included Friedrich Achleitner, H. C. Artmann, Konrad Bayer, Ernst Fuchs, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Rudolf Hausner, Wolfgang Hutter, Helmut Qualtinger, Gerhard Rühm, and Oskar Werner, to name a few! Come and immerse yourself in true history, before moving on to your next destination!
17. ST. PETER’S CATHOLIC CHURCH (PETERSKIRCHE)
St. Peter’s Catholic Church of Vienna (Peterskirche) can only be described as a kaleidoscope of ornamental design, bursting with an array of colour that will take your breath away! Located in the city’s First District, St. Peter’s Catholic Church can appear quite humble from the outside – it is not until you step through its doors that you will experience its stunning beauty. Dating back to the middle of the fourth century, this is one piece of history that you should definitely check out!
18. JUDENPLATZ HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
The Jewish community had enjoyed a long and prosperous history as an integral part of Vienna, when the horrors of the Holocaust struck. Located in the First District of the city, Judenplatz is the central memorial for the 65,000 Austrian victims of the Holocaust. This stark concrete and steel memorial was built in 2000, and stands in contrast to the surrounding architecture.
If you’re into summer walks, street art, or just relaxing in a deck chair with a beer or a cold glass of wine, then the Donaukanal is where you want to be! In the summer, 100’s of Viennese locals will flock to the banks of the Donaukanal each day to spend their afternoon relaxing in the sun. An old arm of the Danube River, this stretch of water is now regulated, and the walkways and bikeways that line its shores are filled with trendy restaurants and bars, as well as vibrant music and street art! This is the perfect way to let a busy afternoon fade off into the night!
20. DAS LOFT (SOFITEL HOTEL)
The last stop on our walking tour, before we relax and grab a bite to eat, is the spectacular Das Loft, located on the top floor of the Sofitel Hotel. Quite simply, there is no better place to finish a tour of Vienna than here, with endless 360-degree views of the city and its surrounds, as far as the eye can see. Try to trace your steps, from start to finish, as you sit back and admire the magnificent city vistas with an ice cold drink. Please note that due to the upper-class nature of this venue, a fairly strict dress code does apply during the busy night-time hours, however, I have found that during non-peak afternoon times (when you want to be there), this does not apply, as long as you look neat and respectable.
Lastly, while Das Loft is also a restaurant offering a wide array of exceptional foods, due to its high-priced menu, we recommend that this venue will be more suited to most people as a place to relax briefly with a drink, to take in the views. We recommend that once you have finished with the magnificent views, and cooled down with a nice cold beverage, that you move to the final destination on the tour for cheaper food options, and a better atmosphere.
END OF TOUR – (BLUMENWIESE OR MOTTO AM FLUSS)
So, now it’s time to eat! By this time you are probably pretty hungry, and even though you have just had a cold drink at Das Loft, you are probably keen for just a few more, yes? Great! I recommend choosing one of two places on offer, just a short walk back to the Donaukanal. The place you chose really depends on which side of the canal you want to be on (where is the sun shining), and which venue has the best tables available (because both get quite busy). Rest assured, BOTH have great food. BOTH have great drinks. And, BOTH will allow you to let the day fade away with great people, great conversation, and great memories of one of Europe’s most spectacular cities – Vienna.
These venues are called Blumenwiese, and Motto Am Fluss – both can be found on the banks of the Donaukanal, just a short walk back from Das Loft!
Thank you, and I hope you enjoy my walking tour of Vienna!
Cities & Towns