13 Fun & Festive Things to Do in Vienna in Winter [2024 Update]

My love affair with Vienna is over a decade long and with no sign of stopping, and visiting Vienna in winter only confirmed that it’s a spectacular city in literally every season.

I first visited Vienna in fall of 2009, when I was studying in nearby Prague.

I was enchanted with the city from my first sight of its rooftops, dazzled by the colorful mosaic roofs that bedecked the tops of Vienna’s most beautiful churches.

Its museums also blew me away — something I was surprised by, after being spoiled for choice of museums, having a few years living in NYC under my belt.

And the pastries and cakes — oh, the cakes! That was when I knew I would revisit Vienna.

I returned to Vienna in December 2019, after a decade’s absence, to visit my family who were visiting Vienna, and we enjoyed the stunning Vienna Christmas markets and festive atmosphere.

And if I initially thought Vienna in the fall was magical, Vienna in winter is truly the time to visit!

the exterior of the spanish riding school in vienna
The winter spirit of Vienna is everywhere!

Its festive markest and decorations, its delicious street food stalls serving käsespätzel and bratwurst and garlic soup in bread bowls.

Seeing Vienna in winter, even though I went there wasn’t any snow, was even more magical than before.

There’s something so romantic about visiting Vienna.

It’s the setting of one of my favorite travel movies of all time — Before Sunrise — an epic romance which spans three movies and several decades of the characters lives.

And when you see Vienna for yourself, you’ll know why!

This guide will walk you through all my favorite things to do in Vienna in winter — whether you visit for the Vienna Christmas markets or in other parts of the winter!

Vienna in Winter: 13 Best Activities & Things to Do

Shop (and eat everything) at the Christmas Markets.

Looking out the window at the beautiful Schonbrunn palace and seeing all the Christmas market stalls below around the time of sunset
The Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace

2024 Update: The Christmas Markets have closed for the 2023-2024 season; the first markets will reopen on November 10th (including Am Hof, Stephansplatz, and the largest one at Rathausplatz )

Living in Europe for about five years, I’ve been to my share of Christmas markets in Europe.

At this point, and in general, they all run together for me: but not so in Austria!

Vienna Christmas Markets are easily the best I’ve experienced in all of Europe, better even than Germany’s. Yup, I’ve said it and I’ll stand by it!

Surprisingly, the food at the Vienna Christmas Markets far exceeded my expectations.

I had a dreamy spätzel with butter, applesauce, and dusted hazelnuts at the Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace, which was one of my favorite Christmas markets in the city.

There, I also had a phenomenal garlic soup – okay, the first of many delicious garlic soups.

Allison's hand holding a thing of cheese spaetzel (dumplings) while wearing a winter jacket in Vienna
Spätzel and applesauce, a match made in heaven!

One of my other favorite Christmas Markets at the city was in Am Hof Square, which conveniently I happened to be staying right in front of!

The cheese bratwurst there was amazing (it sounds so wrong; it tastes so right), as was the käsespätzel from heaven.

The same stall that served the käsespätzel, Tiroler Hut, also served a fantastic pork and cabbage dish that blew me away.

Other dishes worth trying are the raclette (always) and the waffles.

The only Christmas Market I didn’t love was the biggest one, the one in front of Rathausplatz.

It was crowded to the point where I basically grabbed my partner and fled the scene because I was on the verge of panicking.

If you don’t mind crowds, you’ll surely love it, but it made me really anxious!

People in their winter clothing standing in the market in one of the main central areas of Vienna's downtown where there are lots of markets in the right season
More Christmas markets, this one a smaller one found near the Spanish Riding School

For central but less intense Christmas markets, there are also excellent smaller markets in front of the Spanish Riding School, Kunsthistorisches Museum, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

For the souvenir-obsessed, the Christmas Markets also prove to be a fantastic place to shop.

We ended up taking home some beautiful ceramic mugs and an… interesting figurine which is now staring at me on my shelf while I write this.

Walk the beautiful Ferstel passage.

One of the few covered passageways in Vienna with Allison in a winter coat looking at the camera
Feeling Parisian in the Ferstel Passage

Similar to the covered passageways you’d find in Paris, Austria has its own gorgeous covered arcade, Ferstel Passage, that is one of my favorite places to escape the cold a bit and get lost.

It’s located right near Am Hof Square, so it’s quite a central location and definitely worth going slightly out of your way to visit.

The passage has pillars going all the way back, decorated with ornate marblework, with a stunning vaulted ceiling.

It leads you past several luxury shops, cafés (including one of the best coffee shops in Vienna), to a small interior courtyard with a fountain at its center.

On one end of the passage is the famous Café Central, the most famous coffee houses in Vienna.

And honestly, I can’t recommend you go there, unless you have an insane stroke of luck and manage to visit when there’s no line.

Every time I passed Café Central, it looked to be at least an hour’s wait just for a table!

So my pro tip is to walk past the lines, stroll through the passage languorously.

Then enjoy a line-free coffee at CaffèCouture, instead!

It may not be your traditional Vienna coffee shop, but it had one of the best flat whites I’ve ever had… and with a fraction of the price tag and no wait, either.

See a show at the Spanish Riding School.

the interior of the spanish riding school all lit up and ready for a show with the white stallion horses
The beautiful interior of the Winter Riding School in Vienna

The first time I was in Vienna, I somehow never learned about the Spanish Riding School — which is a shame, because when I was younger, I was totally enraptured by horses.

Now a bit more weary of them after a few haywire horse rides, I was still utterly enchanted by the exquisite horsemanship skills of the riders at the Spanish Riding School.

Seeing a show there was a highlight of my winter trip to Vienna.

The Spanish Riding School is quite a unique place: a gorgeous riding hall and stables smack dab in the middle of the city center, right next to the Hofburg Palace complex.

At the school, they use exclusively Lipizzaner horses as they have for centuries — a beautiful white stallion which originated from Slovenia but was bred for centuries by the Hapsburgs.

There are several options of how you can see the Lipizzaners, but my preferred way is at the show, when you can really see the horses in their element in the beautiful baroque Winter Riding School, which dates back to 1735.

Another close up view of the interior of the Spanish Riding school as seen from ground level
The beautiful chandeliers and Baroque detailing of the Winter Riding School

The performance lasts about an hour and a half and includes several different parts.

You’ll get to see younger horses showing off basic gaits to the more seasoned stallions showing off dressage moves in a beautifully coordinated mirror image, called the ‘pas-de-deux’.

Finally, the most interesting part is their school jumps, where the horses perform masterful jumps that really just have to be seen to be believed!

Book your tickets to the Spanish Riding School today, available on weekends only.

However, tickets to the show can be a bit expensive – if you want to save money, you can opt for standing room tickets, which are about half or a third of the price.

Alternately, you could also opt for the morning exercises which are less expensive.

Admittedly, it is a bit less impressive as it’s not as structured or rehearsed as the show, which shows both the riders and the horses at their finest. The morning exercises run every day except Monday.

A final option is a guided tour of the Spanish Riding School itself, which shows you both the winter and summer riding halls, the Stallburg arcade, and the stables of the Lipizzaners.

You’ll even get to see the Lipizzaners up close, though there is a strictly no touching and no photos policy! These tours also run daily except Monday.

If you’re not sure which sounds best and you want to read a guide about all the different options, I have a guide to visiting the Spanish Riding School and what you’ll see at a performance here.

Get down on some glühwein.

A person in their winter gear including cloves and a jacket and hood, pouring some hot mulled wine into a plastic cup with a ladel, steaming wine
Is it really winter in Vienna without glühwein

Every night in winter Vienna comes to life with people gathering at the Christmas Markets to enjoy glühwein, a hot mulled wine with spices.

And that’s not the only hot drink these stalls serve — you’ll find all sorts of other beverages of the warm and alcoholic variety (including in some cases, perplexingly to my Brazilian ex, a hot caipirinha).

People will often gather at the Christmas markets in the evening (evening being a loose term, given that sunset in Vienna in December is around 4 PM…) and drink glühwein or other hot punches, alcoholic or otherwise, until around 10 at night.

Generally, the Christmas markets operate on a Pfand (deposit) system.

When you buy your first glühwein, you’ll pay an extra 3 or 4 euros for a cute mug to drink your wine out of.

You can either keep it as a souvenir, you can refill your drink in it throughout the time you’re at the market, or you can return your mug at the end of your market carousing to get your deposit back.

Marvel at the works at the Albertina.

A series of three modern pieces of artwork on the wall at the famous Albertina museum in Vienna, one of the top museums
Beautiful Impressionist art at the Albertina

The Albertina is my favorite museum in Vienna – and in fact, one of my favorite museums in the world.

It contains an incredible collection of impressionist and expressionist art, which are two of my all-time favorite art movements.

Here, you’ll find lots of Renoirs, Monets, Picassos, Munchs, Chagalls, and more — plus a nice contemporary collection as well.

You can pre-book your tickets here to avoid lines.

The temporary exhibits are often much more crowded than the permanent collection, so keep that in mind when planning your Albertina trip.

When I went, the Dürer collection was so full that it was pretty miserable to walk through, but everything else was pretty clear.

Entrance: €17 euro per adult | Free with Vienna Pass

Attend a classical concert.

view of people playing music in vienna with a violin and other instruments.
Concert taking place in a church in Vienna

Vienna is known for its music… and how can it not be, being that it was the birthplace of Mozart?

A classy-(cal) way of getting out of the cold in Vienna is attending a concert! There are several classical music concerts, typically performed in different churches around the city.

One of the most beautiful venues is St. Anne’s Church, a stunning baroque church with exquisite marble interior and gorgeous frescoes on the ceilings and walls.

You can attend a 70-minute concert here, performed by the Viennese String Ensemble, which includes a selection of music from Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and others.

Shows begin at 8 PM and occur four times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Book your show today!

Another option is to see Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by the Orchestra 1756 at the Karlskirche, another beautiful and historic church in central Vienna.

Shows generally are on Thursdays, Fridays, and some Tuesdays, but they often sell out up to a month in advance, so book your show early so you don’t miss out!

There are several other options as well, such as Mozart’s Requiem, the Vienna Residence Orchestra, and more, so classical music fans – or the classical music curious – will be spoiled for choice.

Have a traditional Viennese meal.

Boiled beaf and vegetables and potatoes in a broth, a very typical winter Vienna dish
A delicious boiled beef dish – one of my favorite dishes in Vienna

I’ll be honest — Austrian cuisine is not my favorite.

There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but I just prefer my food a little more spicy and flavorful. That said, you should at least try Austrian food while in Vienna!

However, here are two stand-out Viennese dishes that I think are definitely worth seeking out while in Vienna (besides all the cake): boiled beef, which is much tastier than it sounds, and of course, Weiner schnitzel!

After all, the ‘Weiner’ in weiner schtnizel refers to Wien, aka Vienna.

I had a really nice boiled beef just opposite the Albertina, and you can have delicious weiner schnitzel just about anywhere in Vienna!

Get cultured at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

The ceiling at the Art history museum with ornate fresco work and detailing
It’s hard to know whether to look ahead or up at the Art History Museum!

I’m not normally the type to recommend museum after museum, but Vienna truly has some of the best museums in the world, so it’d be a shame not to visit them.

Especially since if you’re visiting Vienna in winter, you’ll probably want to get out of the cold as much as you can!

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) is full Vienna’s older art collection, whereas the Albertina hosts newer pieces.

Here, you’ll find the largest collection of Bruegels in the world, with 12 out of his 40-odd known pieces on display permanently.

But one of the coolest things is its gorgeous ceiling painting (shown above), as well as its wall panels supporting the roof featuring work from Gustav Klimt, one of Austria’s most famous artists of all time.

Other classical artists like Rembrandt, Velazquez, and Dürer are also on display.

Cost: €16 for adults | Free with the Vienna Pass

Be stunned by the opulence of Schönbrunn Palace.

View at the Schonbrunn Palace of the interior with pastel, ornate wallpaper, and fancy home furnishings and people admiring the displays
Absolutely worth visiting the interior of the palace!

Located outside of the city center of Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace is entirely worth the detour. This exquisite palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.

There are several options for how to visit Schönbrunn Palace, including two tiers of tickets. There are two main options: the Imperial Tour, which include 22 rooms, or the Grand Tour, with 40 rooms.

We opted for the Imperial Tour, thinking 22 rooms would be plenty and we’d avoid museum fatigue this way.

However, when we hit the end, we were a little bummed that we actually hadn’t booked the full tour, as it was all so impressive!

You can book your ticket and go with an audio guide, as we did, but the problem is that lines can often be insane.

We got lucky and somehow managed to visit on a day where there wasn’t much of a line (maybe because it wasn’t a weekend), but the palace website says that lines can exceed three hours during peak times (and Vienna in December is definitely peak!).

Pro tip: For more historical context AND to skip the line, you can join a guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace. Book your tour here!

Another popular, albeit touristy, thing to do at Schonbrunn Palace is to check out the Strudel Show, which takes place at the court bakery where strudel was made for the royals for centuries!

The Strudel Show is a funny, quirky show where they show you how strudel is made before plopping down a hot piece of strudel in front of you with a piping hot beverage to enjoy!

If you’re visiting Vienna in winter with kids, you’ll definitely want to plan to visit this as well (it makes good bribery for getting them to visit the palace as well.)

Avoid lines and pre-book your Strudel Show here.

(Window) shop ’til you drop on Der Graben.

A crowded street with lots of tourists walking under the lights in the festive lanterns.
One of Vienna’s most decorated streets!

Vienna is fancy. And nowhere is that more evident than on Der Graben, one of the premier shopping streets of Vienna.

Der Graben is the heart of Vienna’s shopping district, and several streets also worth shopping around radiate out from it.

You’ll find everything from luxury brands like Prada and Chanel to high street fashion to smaller boutique designers as well.

You probably won’t do much shopping here unless you have a very high limit on your credit card and a will to use it.

Still, it’s really fun to window shop and wander through the street, marveling at all the crazy window displays.

Visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

checkered rooftop in the typical tile of vienna

One of the most famous churches in all of Vienna, it’s hard to miss St. Stephen’s Cathedral – so don’t!

This exquisite church was badly bombed during World War II, but it has been renovated beautifully. I mean, just look at that roof!

The interior is also exquisite, but for me personally, the roof is the main draw.

Don’t miss walking around its perimeter, as there’s a really cute Christmas market there – the oldest in the city, in fact.

Take a fiaker around the center.

Allison and her family sitting in a horse fiaker ride in Vienna
Enjoying a fiaker ride with my family in Vienna in winter

One of the major facets of central Vienna you’ll see is the fiaker, a traditional horse-drawn carriage.

Once a necessity in pre-car Vienna, the fiaker is now a tourist attraction, and taking a carriage ride around the city center is a fantastic way to spend a winter Vienna afternoon.

We took a 15-minute carriage ride for 40 euro for 4 people — they also had 30-minute rides for 75 euro — which was a bit pricy, but it was well worth the fun experience! It’s an especially great thing to do if visiting Vienna with kids.

Book your carriage ride online here!

The carriage we took was uncovered as it wasn’t a very cold day, but if it’s raining or snowing they’ll put up the roof so you can enjoy it in any kind of weather.

The horses were well-loved and well-cared for, but as with any activity involving horses, check for signs that the horse is well-treated (healthy looking hair, skin, and hooves).

To get to see a little more insight on the carriage horses, check out this tour which lets you see the fiaker stables and learn about the history of these horse-drawn carriages before taking a carriage back into the city center.

Book your fiaker stable tour and carriage ride here!

Stop for some lebkuchen!

Allison's partner with a studious look on his face trying to pick out the right cookie at a market
Studiously picking out a good lebkuchen

Lebkuchen, aka gingerbread, is a delicious souvenir of your time in Vienna and it can be found at any of the city’s Christmas Markets.

There are several ways you can get your lebkuchen, including traditional which is generally un-iced.

However, the cutest way to get it is generally frosting covered with sweet wishes on the front in either German or English!

Where to Stay in Vienna in Winter

Vienna’s city center is compact and easily transited by foot or metro, so there’s no shortage of excellent accommodation options.

I’ll let you know where we stayed first, then I’ll share some other options for different budgets.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the peerless Park Hyatt Vienna right across from Am Hof Square with its amazing Christmas Market.

Honestly, I think it’s up there as one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at in my life!

Interior of the Park Hyatt vienna with sofa, bed, ornate wallpaper
Marble bathroom in the Park Hyatt Vienna with soaking tub

The breakfast buffet spreads and the breakfast in bed were both equally phenomenal, the rooms were basically like mini-palaces, the bathrooms were gorgeous with a marvelous tub, and everything was controlled electronically which basically made me feel like I was in the future.

I had dreamed of staying in a Park Hyatt since seeing Lost in Translation and it lived up to my every expectation of it and more.

Other shout outs go to the incredible spa center with an excellent steam room, sauna, and rain shower with a gorgeous indoor pool, the amazing on-site restaurants and their daily tea time, and excellent personalized service.

Check prices, reviews, photos and availability here!

Where to Stay on a Budget

Of course, there are more budget-friendly options in Vienna — the Park Hyatt was where we stayed as it was a special occasion having my family meet my husband for the first time (since we eloped!).

The first time I stayed in Vienna, I was a backpacker and chose the Wombats Hostel and have nothing but positive memories of it (even though it’s basically the polar opposite of the Hyatt).

It’s a great hostel chain, social but not party-centric, with all the amenities you’d expect in dorms and also lovely double rooms at a budget-friendly price, perfect for friends or couples who don’t want to share a dorm room.

Check prices, reviews, and availability of Wombats Hostel here

Where to Stay on a Mid-Range Budget

If you want something between a hostel and a five-star hotel, Vienna has tons of wonderful and unique options that won’t break the bank.

Motel One is a trendy boutique hotel chain with a few options around Vienna – there’s one by the Hauptbanhof (great if you’re going to travel around Austria a bit) as well as one near Westbanhof.

Both offer sleek, design-focused, super-comfortable double rooms for around 100 euro a night, with lovely boutique touches and central locations near major transit hubs.

Check prices, reviews, and availability of Motel One here

What to Wear in Vienna in Winter

Allison in a peacoat, hat, glasses, sitting under a large piece of art
Peacoats and Vienna — sometimes warm enough, but sometimes you want a parka!

It was an unnaturally warm December in Vienna this year!

I wore a dress, leggings, boots, hat, and warm wool coat basically every day and was always warm. I didn’t even need a scarf most days!

However, winter temperatures in Vienna are usually colder than that.

As I write update this post in January 2024, Vienna will range from -6° C to 12° C this week (21° F to 54° F).

When I was in Vienna in December, it never colder than 10° C all week — that’s 50° F!

Here’s what I recommend packing so you don’t get too cold in Vienna in winter:

A jacket: It depends how warm you want to be! I love my North Face parka, but Vienna was too warm for a down jacket during my last visit so I was fine with a regular wool peacoat.

Warm boots: Despite the picture of a snow-covered Vienna you may have in your head, winter is not typically super snowy. I wrote my pair of waterproof leather boots rather than heavy-duty snow boots. This is the style I own: a classic equestrian boot that is waterproof with good traction.

Fleece-lined knit hat: Since your jacket is likely a dark or neutral color, it’s fun to liven up your look (and photos) with a colorful hat or two. I like a snug knit hat lined in fleece.

Warm layers: I normally find wool unbearably itchy for a base layer — that is until I found Kari Traa merino wool base layers (bottoms here and half-zip top here). Note that the classic is the kind I like — the Fryd Base is too thin for much warmth.

An enormously wrappable scarf: The bigger and thicker the scarf, the better — again, this is a place where you can incorporate color and variety in your winter looks.

Touchscreen friendly globes: These gloves are adorable, smartphone-compatible, and affordable.

Visiting the Spanish Riding School in Vienna: 5 Ways to Experience the Magic [2024]

Visiting the Spanish Riding School in Vienna is a can’t-miss item on any Vienna itinerary

With a history spanning 450 years, Vienna’s Spanish Riding School (The Spanische Hofreitschule) is more than just a landmark of classical dressage.

The Spanish Riding School is about history and tradition, true, but also the enduring fascination between horses and people, and the relationships that riders are able to develop their with horses.

From its royal beginnings to its more humble everyday significance now, the Spanish Riding School is a captivating place to visit in Vienna.

Despite two World Wars, despite changing trends and times, the Spanish Riding School stays true to traditional dressage: their equestrians train for years to perfect exercises like the capriole and the piaffe

During the Spanish Riding School shows, awestruck visitors can watch as these magnificent Lipizzaner stallions perform a breathtaking equine dance accompanied by Viennese classical music.

There are many ways you as a visitor can experience a piece of this rich history — whether by watching a performance, observing a training session, or touring the stables.

I’ll talk a bit about my experience watching the official performance at the Spanish Riding School, but then I’ll also talk about other ways you can visit the the horses in Vienna — on all different kinds of budgets!

My Experience Visiting the Spanish Riding School

the exterior view of the spanish riding school with its signature teal-blue-green dome and christmas lights also visible
The Spanish Riding School building from the outside

I saw the traditional performance at the Spanish Riding School while I was visiting Vienna in the winter of 2019 with family.

My stepmother is a huge horse lover so this was a must on our family’s itinerary.

We snagged some great seats (front row!) which made the spectacle all the more amazing — it was definitely worth the added cost because our views were incredible.

Photos and videos of the performance are not allowed, for reasons that should be obvious (an accidental flash could absolutely spook a horse or distract a rider).

That said, I did manage to grab this one photo before the show began, to show that this really is the most beautiful riding hall I can imagine!

the interior of the spanish riding school all lit up and ready for a show
View before the show began

There are several stages of the performance that you’ll get to enjoy — they hand out a “playbook” of sorts as you seat, letting you know what’s on the agenda.

First, you’ll meet the young stallions — these guys are fresh out of basic training boot camp, and they’ll show you their perfected gaits: walking, trotting, and cantering all in beautiful harmony with the music. 

But let’s be real — you’re here for the Lipizzaners, the fully-trained mature horses. And these guys really know how to put on a show! 

The show includes all sorts of advanced movements — the half-pass, pirouettes, the piaffe (which is like a very jaunty trot with high steps, all remaining in place) — with the horses and humans alike showing the elegance of a dancer!

The highlight of the show is the “airs above the ground” portion, or school jumps — a series of high-level classical dressage school jumps in the Haute École style where the horse leaves the ground or balances!

You’ll witness stunning jumps and tricks such as the capriole, courbette, and the dramatic levade.

I had no area what any of these were before I saw the show, so here’s a quick primer of what those words actually mean, in case you’re not a horse nut who knows all the equestrian traditions.

The capriole is a move that the horse jump off the ground, tuck its forelegs under, and kick out with its hind legs mid-air – a move requiring tremendous strength and agility!

close up of a horse's head during the spanish riding school performances
Photography of the performance is not permitted, so here’s a stock image of a gorgeous Lipizanner!

The courbette showcases the horse balancing and hopping on its hind legs, a sight that truly defies gravity and boggles the mind!

The levade involves the horse lifting its body onto its hind legs at a 45-degree angle and holding the pose, a testament to the horse’s power and control (and the rider’s balance!).

There’s also an impressive pas de deux performance, in which two horses form mirror images of one another and perform one hell of an optical illusion, dancing in unison yet reflected in the other.

The performance culminates with the Grand Quadrille, the most complex and largest school quadrille there is, and what the school is known for!

In this, eight stallions move together in intricately choreographed patterns, like an otherworldly equestrian dance, showing off the complete repertoire of High School movements.

The entire performance is performed in harmony with classical music, for an extra dash of drama and elegance!

It’s called the Ballet of the White Stallions for a reason: it’s truly like a choreographed dance, requiring years of training to master this art of classical dressage.

The Vienna Spanish Riding School’s performance is truly a testament to the decades of training and the deep mutual respect between the riders and their Lipizzaner stallions — it’s sure to leave you spellbound.

Book your tickets to see the Ballet of the White Stallions here!

5 Ways to Visit the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

the exterior of the spanish riding school in vienna
The exterior of the beautiful Spanish Riding School in Vienna!

There are a variety of ticket options when it comes to visiting the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Note also that if you have the Vienna Pass, you are entitled to free admission to attend one of the training program of the white stallions (during the duration of your card’s validity).

​Also note that it’s only a standing room only ticket, not a seated ticket, so keep that in mind if you have a disability that would make standing the entire time difficult.

​The Vienna Pass does not entitle you to see a performance or take a guided tour of the stables and facility, so if you want to do that, you’ll have to book those tickets separately.

Best Way: Performance Of The Lipizzans At Spanish Riding School – Book Here

interior view of where the lipizanner horses perform
Interior view of the Spanish Riding School’s winter area

For a spectacle that’s one part equestrian marvel, one part historic tradition, and all parts absolutely breathtaking, you’ve got to attend one of the twice-weekly performances of the world-famous Lipizzaner Stallions.

Be sure you book your tickets ahead of time as the tickets often sell out 2-3 weeks beforehand.

This is the best option for seeing the Lipizzaners perform their magic, in the way they were meant to be seen!

Imagine a beautiful horse ballet in the grandeur of the Baroque Winter Riding School in Vienna, dancing underneath exquisite chandeliers paired to music: that’s basically what a Spanish Riding School performance is all about!

You’ll gasp in awe as the magnificent Lipizzaner stallions and their skilled riders prance, pirouette and perform intricate leaps, all in perfect harmony with classic Viennese music. 

Plus, the ambiance of the riding hall is so enchanting that it’s pretty easy to blink and forget you’re in the 21st century!

This show is a 70-minute display of Haute École, a form of dressage nearly 500 years old. This equine art form is so impressive and enduring that it has earned a spot on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

The equestrian performance has been given an extra sprinkle of magic thanks to a phenomenal lighting concept developed by acclaimed multimedia artist, André Heller. 

 These performances are exclusive to Saturdays and Sundays, so you’ll want to get your tickets well in advance as it’s quite a popular event in Vienna, and seats are limited. 

The standard performance runs about 70 minutes, starting at 11 AM.

But what about ticket prices? They’re surprisingly not bad!

They start at a modest $42 for standing area tickets, and $77 for seated tickets.

But if you’re feeling a tad more extravagant, the best seats in the house are yours for $138.

Occasionally, for special occasions like New Year’s, the School pulls all the stops for an extended 1.5-hour performance for a little bit more, but it’s worth it!

Next Best: Morning Training of the Lipizzaner Stallions – Book Here

the exterior of the spanish riding school
Outside the Spanish Riding School (as no photography is permitted during training, either)

There are a few reasons you may not go to a performance: maybe the tickets are out of your price range (though the standing room tickets are a steal, in my book!), or perhaps you’re not visiting Vienna on a weekend.

Or perhaps you are visiting on a weekend, but you’re reading this post too late and unfortunately, the next performance at the riding school is already sold out.

In that case, the next best thing you can do is book tickets for the morning exercise of these beautiful Lipizzan horses.

You’ll get to see some of the training that the young stallions (and more seasoned ones alike) undergo in order to be able to perform at the Riding School.

The morning exercise includes a one-hour spectating experience, getting to watch both the older, seasoned Lipizzaner stallions who are fully-trained as well as the adorable young horses, the gray colts, who are learning from the pros!

This one-hour morning exercise tour brings you into the Baroque Winter Riding School to show you the ins and outs of how the horses are trained — all paired with lovely classical music, since this is Vienna, after all.

The training is all about strengthening the horses and refining the relationship between horse and rider, so you may not see all of the fancy jumps that the Haute École is known for, such the the levade, the courbette, the quadrille, and the capriole.

If you want to see those fancy jumps and tricks for sure, you’ll have to attend the actual performance that I talked about above. 

That’s because these unique jumps and movements are not practiced every day, so you’re not guaranteed to see them at the morning training session.

While you may not get to see all the elegant fanfare that the Haute École style of dressage is known for, you will get to see the interior of the Winter Riding School.

You can also see the horses from afar, and learn more about the history of this style of classical horsemanship.

The price isn’t bad for this tour, either: about $18 for a standing ticket or $20 for a seated ticket.

The morning training takes place Tuesdays through Fridays at 10 AM for one hour.

Also, note that if you have a Vienna Pass, a morning training ticket (standing room only) is included!

For Historical Context: 1-Hour Guided Tour of the Spanish Riding School – Book Here

the tack room at the spanish riding school
The well-organized tack room of the Spanish Riding School!

While personally, I think the best way to experience the Spanish Riding School is by attending a performance or a training, you can also visit the grounds of the famous Vienna riding school on a 1-hour guided tour.

Led by an expert equestrian guide, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Winter Riding School’s Baroque beauty.

You’ll also get to see the Summer Riding School (where you can see the largest horse walker in the world, as well as take a stable tour!).

The stables are housed in the Stallburg, which is one of the most significant architectural landmarks in Vienna, dating back to the Renaissance period. 

Its gorgeous arcade courtyard and the stables around it are a true sight to behold!

You’ll learn all about the nearly half-millennium of history that is the Haute Ecole dressage style, and how it’s been specifically cultivated and maintained in Vienna throughout the centuries.

This tour takes place several times daily, so you can easily pair it with either a performance or a morning exercise (I really do suggest you do both — it’s hard to understand the beauty of the artform without seeing it yourself). 

Depending on the time of year, the tours vary. In peak season, there are 4 tours daily: at 1 PM, 2 PM, 3 PM, and 4 PM. 

Outside of the summer season, you’ll find there are only 2 tours daily, at 2 PM and 4 PM.

Tickets are quite reasonable, at about $23 USD per ticket.

I got to see behind the scenes paired my performance experience and it was really cool to get to see all the horse’s equipment (like the saddles, reins, saddle pads, etc), as well as the historic stables!

For History and Views: From Stables to Attic Floors Tour – Book Here

the stables of the spanish riding school with a gold plated engraved statement in german
The stables of the Spanish Riding School

This architecture and history tour is all about the Spanish Riding School grounds itself, visiting everything from the stable areas to the attic structure (which the previous tour doesn’t visit).

The attic structure is quite cool — this 250-year-old wooden roof is a marvel of architecture, cobbled together from over 2,000 pieces of wood.

But the view you’ll get from here is even better, since you can climb a ladder to see an incredible rooftop view of Vienna from a small window.

This is the postcard-perfect snap of the Old Town of Vienna, from an angle no one else (except those on your tour) can claim!

Of course, you’ll also learn the history of the Spanish Riding School and get to visit the horse stables of the Lipizzan stallions (the Stallburg) and the Winter Riding School.

Basically, it’s the same as the tour above except for the addition of the attic visit tahat gives you excellent views of Vienna.

This special tour is only given once a week, at 3:30 PM on Saturdays, so book it in advance if it’s something you want to do on your visit to Vienna!

On Special Occasions: “A Tribute to Vienna” Performance – Book Here

Two horses outside the spanish riding school
These horses aren’t part of the riding school, but they sure are cute!

Occasionally, there’s a unique collaboration between the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Spanish Riding School, in which the two work together to put on a live performance of two of Vienna’s classical art forms.

Normally, there is recorded music that the show is set to, but on these occasions, the Philharmonic performs live as the Spanish Riding School does its traditional performance in the beautiful Winter Riding Hall.

There are only one or two shows a month, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for tickets and consider yourself extra lucky if your visit happens to coincide with one of the more unique ways to see these famous Lipizzaner horses in action!

For the duration of 2023, here are the remaining shows: August 19, August 26, October 21, December 8, and December 15.

These live shows are around the same price as the regular shows: $38 USD for standing tickets, $72 for second gallery seats, and $119 for first gallery seats.

Seeing the Vienna Philharmonic and the Spanish Riding School all in one experience — for no more than a regular performance? I’d definitely call that two birds, one stone!

History of the Spanish Riding School in Veinna

the horses of the spanish riding school
Horse crossing! Seeing the horses of the Spanish Riding School return to their stables after a training

Back in the 16th century, Emperor Maximilian II, an avid horse nut, set out to establish an equestrian academy in Austria.

His goal was to showcase the agility and grace of the lovely Lipizzaner horses that he so loved. 

These stark-white horses are a rare, beloved breed that traces its roots back to Spanish stock.

That’s why the school is named the “Spanish” Riding School, by the way, in case you were wondering — it’s to honor the lineage of these Spanish horses!

Little did he know he was starting what would become a beloved institution that would still delight equestrians and curious travelers alike!

I bet he imagined that it’d be a popular tourist destination well into the 21st century — and even be perhaps the most famous riding school in history.

The Spanish Riding School Grounds

the interior of the spanish riding school with two grand chandeliers, beautiful baroque crown molding on the ceiling
The interior of the Baroque-style Winter Riding School

Throughout the year, the main building where shows take place is the Winter Riding School, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture.

This key building is located in the heart of central Vienna’s old town, and it makes up part of the Hofburg Palace complex.

While it has winter in the name, it is home to performances throughout much of the year.

Designed by the famed Baroque architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer, this riding hall is one of the most iconic places in Vienna, as elegant as the horses who grace its grounds!

This grand indoor hall, complete with ornate crown molding and beautiful crystal chandeliers, sets the stage for a dramatic performance of horses and their riders, as the snow-white Lipizzaner stallions perform a variety of almost dance-like movements in perfect harmony with music.

Tips for Visiting the Spanish Riding School

Dress appropriately.

There is no dress code, but you’ll likely want to show up in smart casual dress.

That way, you don’t feel out of place compared to how elegant these horses are!

Dress for the season.

Allison in Vienna underneath a painting
What I wore to the Spanish Riding School performance in winter

Also, be aware that the Winter Riding Hall, while indoors, is not heated. 

I visited Vienna in winter, and I wore my wool jacket the entire time because it was rather cold in there!

On the same note, it’s not climate controlled in the summer, either. 

If you’re visiting in June or late August when it may be quite hot, it’ll be warm in there as well.

Note the age restriction on young kids.

If you are traveling with young kids, be aware that the Spanish Riding School does not admit kids under the age of 3 years of age.

You’ll have to wait until your kids are a little more grown up in order to visit!

Be aware of when the horses do not perform.

a relaxing horse with braids in its hair

Of course, the horses do get some well-earned breaks!

​From the start of July to mid-August, the horses take a 6-week long break and go hang out in the countryside.  

During these times of the year, there are no performances or training exercises, though you can still do a guided tour of the premises.

Accessibility needs can be accommodated with notice.

If you use a wheelchair or require accessible assistance, it is possible to visit the Winter Riding School with stepless access.

There are a limited number of spots reserved for people in wheelchairs, so book in advance and let them know you need seats with stepless accessibility.

You can also take a guided tour of the Winter Riding School and the Stallburg (stables) barrier-free — again, contact the Riding School and let them know this so they can accommodate you.

Additionally, the visitor center has a wheelchair accessible toilet. 

13 Magical Things to Do in Salzburg in Winter

a frosty, wintry scene in the salzburg city center with a frozen garden and fountain

Salzburg is one of those places that captures your heart the moment you arrive, regardless of the season.

However, anyone who knows a thing or two about this beautiful medieval city knows that winter is the absolute best time to visit. 

Once winter falls over the city, you can admire the (already dazzling) cobblestone streets complimented by hanging lights and festive garlands. 

As you walk around the old town, the mouth-watering smell of roasted almonds will guide you to one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe.

lit up christmas tree in the center of salzburg with lights all around it and a sign that says welcome with lots of christmas market stalls

Here, you can sip on a warm cup of mulled wine as you shop for unique, handcrafted gifts. 

And that’s just the beginning! Every moment in Salzburg is somehow more magical than the last. 

So throw on your winter coat and get ready to have one of the best winter vacations of your life!

Things to Do in Salzburg in Winter

Visit the Christmas Markets.

The Christmas Markets of Salzburg come alive with festive cheer, opening around late November and typically running through Christmas Eve or New Year.

These markets are some of Austria’s best and they may even beat out Vienna’s in winter!

With their twinkling lights, highly-decorated stalls, roasted sausages and vats of steaming soups, and aromatic smells of mulled wine and gingerbread, they’re a highly atmospheric way to experience Salzburg in winter.

Here are a few of the best Christmas markets in Salzburg!

winter and christmas toys for sale at a salzburg christmas market

Salzburg Christkindlmarkt (Main Salzburg Christmas Market)

Location: Situated in the heart of the historic old town, this market spreads across Domplatz and Residenzplatz. More information here.

2023 Hours: From November 23 to January 1st. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 AM to 8:30 PM. Fridays, 10 AM to 9 PM. Saturdays, 9 AM to 9 PM. Sundays, 9 AM to 8:30 PM. There are a few holiday exceptions:

  • December 24: 9 AM to 3 PM
  • December 25 & 26: 11 AM to 6 PM
  • December 27-30: 10 AM to 8:30 PM
  • December 31: 10 AM to 1 PM
  • January 1: 10 AM to 6 PM

Highlights: This is perhaps the most famous Christmas market in Salzburg and one of the oldest in the world, with a history dating back to the 15th century. Enjoy around 100 stalls offering traditional Austrian handicrafts, festive foods like wurst and garlic soup, and all sorts of delightful gifts.

Winter scene with lit up Christmas market stands in the festive Salzburg Christmas market during winter in salzburg Advent period

Hellbrunner Adventzauber at Hellbrunn Palace

Location: Situated outside the city center, this market is set in front of the beautiful Hellbrunn Palace. More information here.

2023 Hours: From November 23 to December 24. Tuesday to Friday from 1 PM to 8 PM. Saturdays & Sundays from 10 AM to 8 PM. On Christmas Eve, from 10 AM to 2 PM.

Highlights: The romantic ambiance, with over 700 trees illuminated with tens of thousands of ornaments and lights, is truly enchanting. There’s a charming Christmas market with unique crafts and an advent path with life-sized nativity scenes. The palace itself is adorned with festive decorations, too!

Lebkuchen cookie (gingerbread heart) that says Frohes Fest, a winter slogan.

Advent Market at the Fortress Hohensalzburg

Location: Atop the Mönchsberg, this market is within the medieval walls of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. More information here.

2023 Hours: Friday through Saturdays only between December 1 and December 18, from 11 AM to 7 PM.

Highlights: It’s a smaller, more intimate market compared to the others, but it offers a unique atmosphere with its historic setting. Browse through a selection of handcrafted goods and enjoy the views of Salzburg below. The fortress itself is lit up, making it a beacon anywhere in the city!

Take a Stiegl Brewery tour.

sign of the stiegl brewery in salzburg austria
Photo Credit: Mattes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a country known for its beer, it only makes sense that one of the best ways to warm up on a winter day is by indulging in some beer yourself! 

What better place could you find to sample Austria’s famous beer than the brewery that gave the country its reputation as “Beer Paradise”? 

The Stiegl Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in Austria, drenched in history with roots dating back to the 15th century. 

By taking the Stiegl Brewery tour, you’ll learn all about the brewery’s claim to fame and see how things have changed over the last 500 years. 

Not to mention, you’ll also get to enjoy a variety of Stiegl beers, including the iconic pilsner, along the way. 

Start off at the Stiegl Museum before making your way into the production facility where you will get to see the beer making in action. 

Once the tour has finished, stick around to enjoy another beer and admire the picturesque views of the waterfront property. 

stiegl brewery view Girl goes on a snow-covered winter beautiful city.Walking through the streets of snow-covered city Medieval. Very nice view of Salzburg.Winter town.Journey in winter Austria

I can confirm that it is one of the best views in Salzburg!

And I promise it’s not just the beer talking — it’s actually that good. 

Book your Stiegl brewery tour here!

Watch a classical Mozart concert.

Picture this: You’re seated in one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, that dates back to the 11th century. 

You can see the snow falling down upon the city from the castle’s grand windows. 

You’re listening to musical masterpieces produced by Mozart in the city in which he was born. 

Christmas carols are perfectly intertwined in the performance to create a sense of holiday magic. 

Fortress Hohensalzburg in Salzburg, Austria in Winter, view from below

Talk about a dream, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be! 

The Best of Mozart Fortress Concert brings all of this to life!

But to experience a concert this magnificent, you’ll have to have a bit of dedication, and more than a bit of advance planning. 

Tickets tend to sell out months in advance so this is an experience that you’ll want to try to book the moment you know you’re taking a winter trip to Salzburg. The earlier the better! 

Book your concert at the fortress here!

Classic view of famous Mirabell Gardens with historic Hohensalzburg Fortress in the background in scenic golden evening light at sunset on a beautiful cold sunny day in winter, Salzburg.

But what if you booked a last minute flight to Salzburg and still want to get a taste of Mozart? 

The Mozart Concert at Mirabell Palace is a great alternative and tends to have more availability. 

Here you can listen to Mozart in one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world, while marveling at the idea that Mozart himself once performed in the very same space!

While it isn’t a fortress, it’s still a palace, so it’s not much of a downgrade!

Book your concert at the Mirabell Palace here!

Take a Sound of Music tour.

Detail of the Residence Fountain, Salzburg, Austria

Put on your winter coat, grab a cup of hot chocolate and get ready to spend half a day exploring the many filming locations of the crowd pleasing “Sound of Music”. 

Have someone in your party who doesn’t care for the film? You may as well leave them at the hotel because they don’t deserve to be in Salzburg anyways… (just kidding!)

The beauty of the Sound of Music Tour is that you’ll get to see film-famous locations like the Residenz Fountain where Maria sang “I Have Confidence”.

You’ll also get to see a variety of historic landmarks like the Mondsee Cathedral and the Leopoldskron Palace!

Winter in Salzburg, Leopoldskron Castle and Fortress Hohensalzburg, with frozen-over water in front of the castle

Even better, the incredible views of Lake Fuschl and Salzburg’s surrounding countryside are hard to beat. There’s really something for everyone to enjoy on this tour!

The tour ends at Mirabell Gardens, where you can reenact the Trapp family by dancing around the Pegasus Fountain and admire the incredible Baroque statues peppered through an already breathtaking garden. 

Visit the Salzburg Fortress.

Winter landscape and medieval fortress on top of the mountain. Hohensalzburg Fortress. Austria.

A trip to Salzburg wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, regardless of the season, but there is just something about the sight of this magnificent fortress covered in snow.

It’s a striking scene that makes winter my absolute favorite time to experience it!

Walk through the oldest well-preserved castle in Central Europe, exploring its many museums and wide-sweeping city views along the way.

View on Salzburg from the high tower of Hohensalzburg castle

Even the journey up to the fortress is a memorable experience in its own right, as you travel high above the old town on the Fortress Funicular

If you plan your visit between December 1st and 18th you’ll also be treated to Salzburg’s highest Christmas market! 

The fortress’ courtyard is transformed into a winter wonderland full of charming hanging lights, the chatter of local artists selling their craft, and the smell of the mouth-watering tarte flambée from the Fortress Bakery. 

Ski down a mountain.

Skiers on ski lift enjoying the view to foggy Alps in Austria and beautiful snowy country panorama in famous Kitzbuehel mountain ski resort

With mountain views in every direction, it’s no surprise that Salzburg is a great central hub for a ski vacation!

Within an hour’s drive, you have access to five major ski resorts, and that’s not even including the many smaller resorts like ​​Untersberg (nearby and great for beginners). 

Head to St. Johann for an afternoon of reliable snow, breathtaking views of Horn Peak, and an atmosphere that is both family-friendly and free of crowds. 

Check out Bad Gastein if you want to take a relaxing dip in a thermal pool between runs. 

the zell am see skiing resort with a clear lake in the background

Zell am See is the place to be for those skiers who are in it for the views (think horseshoe-shaped mountain range, charming medieval town, and massive frozen lake). 

You can even ski down Dachstein glacier with a visit to Schladming

Planning to visit more than one resort? Look into buying the Salzburg Super Ski Card

The 10-day flex ticket can seem like quite the investment, but if you consider the lift cost for every resort, there is a good chance you will be saving money. 

The ski card will give you access to 85 ski resorts and 926 ski lifts throughout Austria. It’s time to ski all winter long!

Explore a festive Alstadt. 

Salzburg old town city streets decorated for Christmas advent

Even on the rainiest of days, the charm of Salzburg’s old town (Aldstadt) is impossible to ignore.

My first visit here was paired with bad weather and I still immediately fell in love with its cobblestone streets, tight alleys, and iron guild signs. 

Now, imagine replacing gloomy, gray weather with a peaceful snowfall and Christmas lights galore. 

Salzburg had already earned the title as my favorite old town but visiting again during the holiday season just ensured that no other old town would ever top it! It truly is an experience like no other. 

Walk along Getreidegasse to see the already picturesque street covered in a variety of Christmas decorations, from massive holiday wreaths to an abundance of hanging lights, and enjoy an afternoon of window shopping. 

breze pastries in salzburg

Then, grab yourself a bite to eat at one of the many traditional restaurants before taking a tour of some of the old town’s historic landmarks. 

Just make sure you save time for the Christmas markets and all their delicious pastries, like the Breze.


Warm up at Cafe Tomaselli.

Speaking of the Altstadt (old town), located right at the heart of it is the iconic Cafe Tomaselli

This impressive cafe has been run by the same family for more than 150 years and it has built itself a reputation for being the best place to sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee.

It’s also the oldest coffee house in Austria — no small feat in a country known for them!

After an afternoon of walking around the festive old town, nestle into one of the cozy seats in Cafe Tomaselli as you sip on a delicious cappuccino and treat yourself to one of the bakery’s many fresh cakes and pastries. 

Enjoy the beautiful atmosphere and delicious treats, all while enjoying a session of people watching (and maybe even some snow falling) from the cafe’s perfect window-facing seating.

Go for a horse-drawn sleigh ride.

horse drawn sleigh ride in the austrian countryside with beautiful brown horses and mountain village landscape

Just when you think winter in Salzburg couldn’t get any more romantic, you realize that there are full-day tours of the countryside via horse drawn sleigh ride… How are you supposed to resist that? 

Head to the Mirabellplatz bus station to meet your guide and take a scenic bus tour through the Salzburg countryside to get to Ramsau where you will begin your sleigh ride. 

But not without having lunch first! Walk around the charming town of Ramsau and enjoy a meal of your choosing before setting out on your horse drawn sleigh ride adventure. 

Then, wrapped in a warm blanket, let yourself get swept away by the romance of the horse drawn sleigh as you admire the breathtaking views of the famous Dachstein Glacier and Styria’s surrounding alpine landscape. 

Enjoy a quick stop along the way to buy a hot chocolate or traditional gluhwein to keep you warm all afternoon long!

Book your horse-drawn sleigh tour here!

Ice skate around Mozart Square.

mozartplatz sign with white background and red ornate letters

Between the months of November and January, Mozart Square is transformed into a recreational wonderland for ice skaters… but this isn’t your ordinary ice rink! 

A typical historic plaza nine months out of the year, the rink is constructed every winter to give skaters the opportunity to glide amongst some of Salzburg’s most iconic landmarks. 

You can admire a variety of churches and palaces as you skate around Mozartplatz.

When you need a break, you can visit popular nearby attractions like the Neue Residenz, the Salzburg Christmas Museum, the Residenzplatz and the Salzburg Cathedral… Or just admire them from the rink! 

You will, however, most definitely want to call a brief intermission in order to grab a traditional glühwein from the concession stand to keep you warm out on the ice! 

Attend the Krampus Festival.

krampus demon like figure with red lighting in salzburg in winter

When you envision a magical holiday season in Salzburg, you probably don’t imagine a terrifying creature running through the streets of the old town… right?

Believe it or not,  it’s part of the tradition! 

The Salzburg Krampus Run takes place every year on the night of December 5th and it’s definitely a sight to see… even if it gives you nightmares. 

Krampus is everything that Santa is not.

Instead of rewarding good children with presents, he beats children deemed bad and may even kidnap the real trouble makers to spend the rest of eternity in the underworld. 

Forget a jolly old fat man and replace him with a six foot tall hairy demon, sporting massive horns and a truly uncomfortably long tongue. 

Now multiple that demon by ten, twenty, or maybe even thirty? That’s the Krampus Run. 

A large collection of people in elaborate, unique Krampus costumes roaming free throughout the old town scaring bystanders and chasing children. 

So who’s in?

Visit the Christmas Museum.

Salzburg Christmas Museum or Salzburger Weihnachtsmuseum. Christmas Museum located in Mozartplatz square in the old part of Salzburg city, Austria.

The Salzburg Christmas Museum is open year round but there is just something about visiting during the holiday season that makes this place feel that much more special. 

Make your way through Café Glockenspiel (and maybe grab something warm to drink while you’re at it!) to reach the small yet charming museum. 

Once inside, admire a collection of Christmas decorations that have been collected for more than 50 years. 

From nativity scenes to advent calendars, seeing the way these decorations have changed over time is not only interesting, but also the perfect way to get you in the Christmas spirit! 

Unwind with a thermal bath.

Spa resort Bad Ischl Austria at sunset - nature and architecture background

After a day of exploring the many wonderful winter activities that Salzburg has to offer, you’re bound to start feeling a chill in your bones that not even an excessive amount of glühwein can fix. 

That’s where a thermal bath getaway comes in! 

Aside from the fact that thermal baths offer a variety of health benefits such as fighting inflammation and boosting your immune system, they also provide a soothing way to warm up after a day of adventure. 

Take your pick of nearby thermal spa resorts and consider spending the night to take your relaxing evening to the next level. 

One charming spa town is Bad Ischl, about an hour from Salzburg.

Salzburg Itinerary: How to Spend a Perfect 2 Days in Salzburg

I’m someone who likes to jam-pack her vacations with as many awesome places as possible.

But I also struggle with the FOMO that comes with only giving yourself a day or two in each place.

Luckily, I can say with confidence that two days in Salzburg is genuinely the perfect amount of time to see what the city is all about. 

gardens in front of a palace in salzburg on a sunny day

This two day itinerary touches on a bit of everything that makes the city the incredible destination that it is.

From the salt mines that gave the city its name to the famous “Sound of Music” filming locations (which you can take a half-day tour of), your trip will be filled with unique adventures that leave you feeling content… and stuffed!

Salzburg Itinerary, Day One: Tour of the City

Indulge in a sweet breakfast.

A fruit-filled austrian strudel pastry with a beverage served on an outside table during the morning

One thing I learned after spending a few weeks in Europe is that it isn’t unusual to give in to your sweet tooth first thing in the morning. In fact, it’s practically encouraged! 

Of all the countries that I have been to, Austria ranks high up there with some of the best pastries I have ever had. 

Sticky and delicious, there’s a huge range of options to choose from.

When in doubt, just point at the one that looks the most appetizing.

(I still don’t know the names of half of the pastries I ate, but I do know they were all amazing). 

Still stuck on choices? You can never go wrong with a strüdel… like, ever.

My favorite bakery in Salzburg is Bäckerei Holztrattner, but I also found great success with the sniff and follow method.

It’s always exciting when you stumble upon an off the map hidden gem!

Take the funicular to the fortress.

View of the Hohensalzburg Fortress up on a hill, with houses at its base and lots of trees on the hill that the fortress is built on, in spring or summer

Now that you’re all fueled up on sugar, it’s time to start sight-seeing!

What better way to begin your Salzburg itinerary than with the largest fully preserved fortress in Central Europe?

The Hohensalzburg Fortress dates all the way back to 1077 and by 1500, it had received all of its finishing touches.

So, when you explore this fortress, you’re literally walking into a time capsule dating back more than 500 years. Furniture and original detailing included! 

The interior of the Hohensalzburg fortress, with intricate ceiling work and wall detail

As if that weren’t enticing enough, the historic significance starts before you even get there!

The funicular that takes you up to the fortress has been transporting visitors since the late 1800s. 

Luckily, thanks to modern day renovations, the journey now takes under a minute. 

the funicular in salzburg that takes you up to the fortress on a sunny day in the summer

Once you get up to the fortress, you may have a hard time deciding what to do first but don’t worry! You’ve got all morning to explore! 

Before you start shuffling from one awe-inspiring museum to another (the Marionette Museum is my favorite), take a minute to enjoy the view. 

From the fortress, you have panoramic views of the city and the mountains that surround it. It’s a view like no other in Salzburg.

Good to Know: You can buy a 48-hour for 35 euros and it’ll get you into all the museums and historic sites in the city.

Considering the fact that the ticket to the fortress alone is about 14 euros (book online to save time!), it’s definitely something to consider! 

If you do get the Salzburg Card, make sure to get to the fortress before 11 AM for free entry into the state rooms!

Enjoy lunch at Restaurant Stiegl-Keller.

Photo Credit: Mattes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Directly in your line of sight from the fortress, a short 10-minute walk will take you to one of the best restaurants in Salzburg, maybe even all of Austria!

The menu is as authentic as it gets… and the beer list does not disappoint! 

The food had me seriously debating whether I could just eat Wiener schnitzel for the rest of my life.

I especially have to sing the praises of the parsley potatoes and cranberries.

I’m not even a cranberry person and the thought of Stiegl-Keller’s cranberries has me ready to hop on the next flight out to Salzburg. 

But wait, there’s more! 

As if food perfection wasn’t enough to earn this place an award, they seal the deal with one of the most spectacular views of the city. What more could you want? 

Plus, if you want to tour the brewery facilities, you can do that too, before or after your meal — and throw in a beer tasting to boot!

Book your Stiegl brewery tour and tasting here!

Explore the St. Peters catacombs. 

Steps leading to St. Peter's Catacombs, Salzburg, Austria

It’s safe to say you’ll probably be feeling a bit lethargic after your savory lunch, so wake yourself up with a visit to the catacombs!

What’s more exciting than a mountain-carved cemetery?!

To get here, you will need to walk through St. Peter’s Cemetery, which means you can say you walked through the oldest Christian cemetery in the country! 

Plus, as odd as it sounds, the cemetery is extremely peaceful, and picturesque as well!

Gravestones, flowers, and pathway in the picturesque St. Peter's Cemetery which has kept its present form since 1627

After you’ve snapped a few photos, make your way up to one of the two catacomb chapels. 

These chapels date back to the 1100s and the impressive caves that house them are carved directly into Mönchsberg Mountain!

P.S. If you have one, your Salzburg Card will get you into this site for free, too! 

Explore all things Mozart.

yellow building that says mozarts geburtshaus, the birth house museum that showcases where mozart was born

As the hometown of the iconic composer, it only makes sense that you’d want to take a Mozart tour during your time in Salzburg.

There are nearly a dozen Mozart-related things to choose from and each one offers a unique experience. 

Here’s just a few of your options:

Sit in Cafe Tomaselli and sip coffee in the same place Mozart did (we’ll do that first thing tomorrow!)

Take a tour of the house where he was born (Birth House Museum) and the home where he spent his teenage years (Mozart’s Apartment Museum in Salzburg). 

Admire the larger-than-life statue of him at Mozart Square.

The statue of mozart at mozart square in salzburg.

Head to the Salzburg Cathedral where he was baptized or opt for the church (St. Peter’s Abbey) where he first performed his famous Great Mass in C minor. 

You can go to a Mozart concert at the fortress, complete with a romantic and delicious dinner.

Or do something really weird (and personally, this one’s my favorite)… Go check out his skull! 

The skull has been at the Mozarteum since 1902 and had been showcased up until recently.

But while the skull is no longer on display due to some queasy guests, you can always request a viewing!

Walk around Getreidegasse. 

One of my favorite things to do in Salzburg is just walk around the Old Town.

Getreidegasse is overflowing with historic character, and it won’t even let a McDonald’s get in the way of that. 

The shops here all boast wrought-iron guild signs (McDonald’s included!), and the many tight alleys are an urban explorer’s dream come true.

You can spend all day zigzagging through the streets, stumbling upon charming courtyards, and checking out the endless shops along the way. 

scheffer clock in the old town

Other charming streets in the area to explore are Linzer Gasse (look for the famous Scheffer clock sign!) and Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse with its great view of the clocktower.

Side note: If you happen to be visiting in December, the streets of the old town are transformed into a traditional Christmas Market! Just keep your eyes out for Krampus…

Have dinner at Zipfer Bierhaus.

sign that says restaurant zipfer bierhaus in salzburg austria with christmas deocorations
Photo Credit: Photo: Andreas Praefcke, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When your stomach starts rumbling, make your way over to Zipfer Bierhaus on Universitätsplatz for the perfect end to your day.

This traditional bierhaus can feel slightly intimidating when you first walk in since it’s more of a local scene, but trust me, that’s a good sign!

The waiter knew enough English to take my order but aside from that, I was the only English speaker there. 

I spend a lot of time (and I mean a lot of time) exploring side streets when I’m traveling, looking for this exact atmosphere (local crowd, mom and pop style, menus I need to translate) so I always pride myself when I find it.

If you want authenticity, you’ve come to the right place!

The food was even better than I thought it would be and the beer was plentiful. Sometimes a simple, home-cooked meal is all you need!

Salzburg Itinerary, Day Two: A Deeper Dive

Blend breakfast with history. 

Photo Credit: JoJan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

You’re in Salzburg, a city bursting with culture. It only makes sense that even the place you go to breakfast has some historic significance! 

Cafe Tomaselli has been run by the same family for more than a century and it has had many famous visitors (including Mozart himself). 

As you stand there deciding between the many eye-catching pastries and make your way over to a table with a specialty coffee in hand, you’re living through history. 

Besides, how else could a cafe stay open for over 150 years if it wasn’t worth visiting?

Just get here early because the wonders of Cafe Tomaselli are no secret!  

Journey through a salt mine.

river with a salt mine on the edge of it with green trees surrounding it

At first glance, a salt mine tour doesn’t sound too exhilarating, but I assure you that it will be one of your fondest memories from Austria.

That’s because you’re not just walking through a salt mine, you’re taking part in an immersive experience!

The Berchtesgaden salt mine has been in operation since the early 1500s and even when the mining stopped, it continued to draw people in from all over the world.

It wasn’t just to get a glimpse at history, but to feel like you were actually a part of it.

When you get to the mine, you’ll be given a pair of old mining overalls to better prepare you for your journey.

tourist wearing old mining overalls entering a mine in salzburg

Once dressed, the mine train will take you deep within the famous Salberg Mountain where the real adventure begins. 

Your guide will tell you everything you need to know about the history of the salt mine as you make your way through tunnels and into grand rooms like the Salt Cathedral. 

To make things that much more exciting, you will also have the opportunity to slide down various long miners’ slides and even take a raft out on a subterranean salt lake. 

abandoned mine shift in salzburg mine

The salt mine is less than 15 miles from Salzburg but there is also a bus (No. 840) that can take you there if you didn’t rent a vehicle.

If you don’t want to deal with public transportation, there are tours you can book — they’ll take care of getting to and from the mine for you, and they’ll also give you guidance while you’re there.

Book this guided tour of the salt mine here!

Make sure to book your tour in advance because this is an experience you don’t want to miss!  

Have a grab-and-go lunch at Grünmarkt.

Austrian sausages on a farmer's market in Salzburg

One of my favorite ways to experience local cuisine is at an open-air market where you can try a variety of street foods at usually reasonable prices.

Plus, I always have a hard time deciding which delicious thing I should eat, so with this method I get to eat a variety!

The good news is that the Grünmarkt is open every day (except Sunday) and it’s always jam packed with stands selling everything from fresh bread to spirits and everything in between.

As you walk through the market, you’ll be struck by a variety of different delicious smells, so just let your nose guide you in the right direction(s). 

If your open-air market day happens to fall on a Thursday, I’d also consider going to Schrannemarkt instead!

This weekly market is one of the largest and most-talked about markets in the country and it’s not hard to figure out why. 

On top of the variety of delicious food you can buy, there are also local vendors selling anything from crafts to flowers. 

Just do yourself a favor and try the clear fish broth! And a sausage, of course! 

Visit a different kind of palace.

Visiting Schloss Hellbrunn near Salzburg, Austria, a. bright yellow palace with blue shutters

Designed by a prince who doubled as an archbishop, the Hellbrunn Palace is one of a kind… and it’s nothing like you’d expect. 

Markus Sittikus had one goal in mind when building his palace and that it would be a place of pure pleasure.

It just so happens that his idea of pleasure is playing jokes on everyone who came to visit — mostly with tricky, hidden water fountains!

hidden water fountains next to marble chairs

So, as you walk through this grand palace, its five grottos, and impressive grounds, prepare to be a target to one of the many, intricate trick fountains. 

It won’t be enough to soak you but enough to catch you by surprise if you aren’t paying attention…. especially since you just never know when a trick fountain is going to claim its next victim!

Trick fountains aren’t the only thing Sittikus focused on. He wanted every inch of his palace to represent the joys of life.

unicorn statue at Hellbrun palace near salzburg

As you walk through the “Grand Delight,” you will find quirky additions like unicorn statues and creative water automats!

You can easily spend all day here but make sure you keep an eye on the clock (and your rumbling stomach) because dinner awaits you! 

It’s important to note that this is another destination where you will need to take the bus (No. 25) if you don’t have a vehicle, but that’s part of the Salzburg experience — enjoying Austria’s extremely efficient public transit!

Alternately, you can get there by boat and enjoy a scenic cruise of Salzburg along the way before having a guided tour of the palace.

Book your boat cruise and Hellbrunn Palace tour here!

Have a final farewell dinner in Salzburg.

traditional sign for a restaurant in austria
Photo Credit: Werner100359 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When I visit a new country, I want to pig out on traditional food and nothing else. Wouldn’t you agree? 

I hope so because your last meal in Salzburg will have you missing Austrian food for years to come. 

Bärenwirt is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Austria and it’s not just because I had the best fried chicken of my life here (but it definitely helps).

The sausage melts in your mouth and the bread dumplings follow suit!

As an added bonus, there’s an outdoor patio that offers spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains. 

Just make sure you make a reservation in advance, because seating is limited and anybody who knows what’s up will be coming here for dinner! 

Take a late night stroll in Mirabell Gardens.

Amazing night view of illuminated fountain, in the shape of horse in Mirabell Palace, Salzburg, Austria

All of the Sound of Music lovers out there will be happy to know that their farewell to Salzburg takes place in one of the most iconic filming locations!

But even if this famous musical doesn’t strike your fancy, a late night stroll through Mirabell Gardens is still sure to impress. 

This is one of the most popular tourist locations so it can get pretty hectic during the day but at night, everyone seems to disappear and you’ll be left with Mirabell Gardens all to yourself. 

I spent hours here walking amongst the Baroque statues and mesmerizing fountains!

The warm street lights provide just enough of a glow to see the dark streaks that give way to the statues’ age, without it feeling like an eyesore. 

In my opinion, there is no time more magical to see the gardens. Besides, you have to walk off that dinner somehow!

Where to Stay in Salzburg

With only 2 days on this Salzburg itinerary, you’ll want to pick somewhere central.

All these hotels are in the Aldstadt neighborhood right in the heart of the city and close to all the places on the itinerary.

$: Altstadthotel Weisse Taube

Nestled in the charming labyrinth of narrow cobblestone lanes of Salzburg’s old town, Altstadthotel Weisse Taube combines its historic roots with contemporary, fun design.

This historic hotel has been transformed with a modern, funky minimalist design, an unexpected blend of traditional and modern.

The guest rooms of Altstadthotel Weisse Taube have a funky minimalist design, each with its one character: some are decorated with vibrant floral wallpaper; others, a bold striped pattern.

With its fun design and affordable price tag for its central location, this is the place to be for convenience that’s relatively budget friendly.

Check availability, prices, and reviews here!

$$: Altstadthotel Kasererbräu

Boasting roots dating back to 1342, Altstadthotel Kasererbräu offers guests a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in living history!

This charming hotel, set within the pedestrian zone of the city’s old town, features both modern rooms as well as suites that preserve the building’s past like a time capsule you can spend the night in.

One of the hotel’s highlights is the junior suite, which not only features a luxurious hot tub for a relaxing soak but also original architectural details that set it apart.

The suite’s stunning embellished ceilings, with their intricate design and craftsmanship evoking a sense of the past, are gorgeous to look at while taking a soak in the tub!

Check availability, prices, and reviews here!

$$$: Hotel Sacher Salzburg

Does its name sound familiar for some reason? The Hotel Sacher Salzburg is as historic as it is beautiful, a branch of the same hotel in Vienna that created the now-world-famous Sacher torte.

Having opened its doors in 1866, this historic hotel is steeped in tradition, yet each room is personally decorated by the hotel’s owner for an individualized touch that sets it apart.

The decor is a thoughtful mix of timeless elegance and modern comforts. The suites are especially spacious, with ample seating and some even featuring fireplaces or terraces.

With its on-site restaurant, cafe, and bar featuring live piano music, it’s a little world in itself, tucked away from the busy streets of Salzburg’s Old Town.

Check availability, prices, and reviews here!

How to Spend 4 Perfect Days in Vienna: Itinerary for a Magical Trip!

Vienna is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, with its stunning Baroque and Gothic architecture and rich cultural history.

If you have 4 days in Vienna, you’re in for a treat: you have plenty of time to discover the beautiful capital city of Austria.

And you may even have enough time for a day trip to Vienna’s neighboring city just down the Danube River, Bratislava, or another magical town in Austria.

If you have more than 4 days in Austria, you can keep on going!

You can explore all the great things to do in Graz (the second-largest city in Austria), spend some time in Salzburg, relax in the charming lakeside town of Hallstatt, or depart from Innsbruck for all things Alpine!

What to Know Before Visiting Vienna

Getting Around

Scene in Vienna's public transportation system leaving from the airport

There is no need to rent a car in Vienna. Public transport in Vienna is fantastic and will get you everywhere you need to go for an affordable price.

Plus, the city center is already very walkable and compact. The first two days of this itinerary for Vienna, for example, can all be done on foot!

You can buy a day pass online here for around $18, which you can activate with your mobile device, which is good for 24 hours. This would really only be necessary on the third day of the itinerary.

Another option is a hop-on, hop-off bus. It’s definitely not necessary, but it may be helpful for families or anyone for whom a lot of walking can be tiring!

Best Time to Visit Vienna

View of the Christmas market at Schonbrunn palace near sunset in the winter in Vienna

I’ve visited Vienna twice — once in the early fall and once in December during peak Christmas market season! It’s one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.

I absolutely loved visiting Vienna in winter — you can read all about my experience here!

If you’re planning to visit during the winter, I suggest combining aspects of this Vienna itinerary with some of the unique winter activities in that post.

Vienna is also wonderful in the late spring and early fall. While summer can be beautiful as well, it can occasionally get quite hot and humid, plus it’s often crowded with Europeans on summer holidays, especially in June and July.

Where to Visit Before and After Vienna

visiting the budapest gellert baths - lots of blue water and blue tile and author wearing a backless bathing suit

One of the best things about visiting Vienna is how central and accessible it is to other Central European cities. In fact, when I lived in Prague, I loved visiting Vienna as a weekend getaway!

Vienna is best paired with other Central European cities. A few possible itineraries could look like this:

  • Prague —> Vienna —> Bratislava —> Budapest
  • Munich —> Vienna —> Bratislava —> Budapest
  • Berlin —> Dresden —> Prague —> Vienna
  • Munich —> Salzburg —> Vienna —> Bratislava

The possibilities are endless! You may also want to refer to this post that suggests how to spend one week in Europe, 30 different ways!

Is the Vienna Pass Worth It?

inside the schonbrunn palace
The Schönbrunn Palace – just one of many places included on a Vienna Pass!

Honestly, it depends, but if you follow this Vienna itinerary and plan to use transit other than your own two feet — I think it’s worth it.

I should note that I rarely say this — that’s because many city cards exclude some of the best attractions, but that’s not the case with the Vienna Pass.

Based on current exchange rate (June 2022), a one-day pass costs $91, two days costs $123, three days costs $160, and six days costs $203. Children under 6 are free, so long as an accompanying adult has a Vienna Pass.

The Vienna Pass includes unlimited rides on the hop-on, hop-off bus, plus admission to 60+ attractions, including the Schönbrunn Palace, the Spanish Riding School (performance not included — just a guided tour), the Giant Ferris Wheel, the Albertina Museum, Hofburg Palace, Belvedere Palace, and many others.

If you are following this itinerary, I suggest using a 3-day Vienna Pass and clustering your included admissions onto 3 days, and taking a guided day trip on the fourth day of the itinerary… but more on that later!

Save time and money – book your Vienna Pass online here!

How This Vienna Itinerary Works

architecture in the vienna city center in the early morning light, shining on a roof in a viennese church

This 4 day Vienna itinerary is rather flexible, and there is no particular reason to follow the days in order.

I did structure it as a Saturday through Tuesday itinerary. If you follow it on those days, the events will all be available.

I also started more central at the beginning of the itinerary and branched out further as the days in the itinerary progressed, as I think this is how you get a better understanding of the city.

However, there are a few things on this Vienna itinerary that are day-specific. For example, shows at the Spanish Riding School (which are one of my favorite things to do in Vienna) only occur on Saturdays and Sundays.

Therefore, feel free to switch up the days of this itinerary in order to accommodate that (and don’t worry, if your stay doesn’t overlap with one of the shows, you can still see a training session or take a guided tour of the school — the latter of which is included with a Vienna Pass!)

Additionally, some activities — like concerts, museums, etc. — are closed on certain days of the week. Therefore, I suggest you think of each day as a cluster of activities that you can move around, rather than specifically following these days in the exact order they’re laid out in

For the most part, this Vienna itinerary bypasses guided tours and walking tours, except where I think they truly add something to the experience or are necessary.

I do suggest buying ticket admissions and city passes in advance though, to skip any lines, as well as taking a guided day trip to take the hassle out of planning inter-city or inter-country transit.

I write my city itineraries the way I personally would like to experience them — independently, with plenty of room for wander and wonder.

However, I will sometimes break up the wandering with a guided tour when it simplifies transit or adds a lot of historical context I wouldn’t get otherwise.

To me, this blend of guided and independent travel is the most rewarding way to experience rich, historic cities like Vienna!

Where to Stay in Vienna

Where to Stay on a Luxury Budget

I stayed at the peerless Park Hyatt Vienna right across from Am Hof Square with its amazing Christmas Market in the winter, and I think it’s the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life!

Both the breakfast spreads (buffet and a la carte options) and the breakfast in bed were both equally phenomenal.

The rooms were basically like mini-palaces, the bathrooms were gorgeous with a marvelous tub, and everything was controlled electronically which basically made me feel like I was in the future.

I had dreamed of staying in a Park Hyatt since the Tokyo property in Lost in Translation, and it lived up to my every expectation of it — and then some.

Other shout outs go to the incredible spa center with an excellent steam room, sauna, and rain shower with a gorgeous indoor pool, the amazing on-site restaurants and their daily tea time, and excellent personalized service.

It is certainly pricy, but if you’re staying in Vienna for a special occasion, it’s the best option in town if your budget allows.

Check prices, reviews, photos and availability here!

Where to Stay on a Mid-Range Budget

Photo Credit: David McKelvey via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Of course, there are more budget-friendly options in Vienna — the Park Hyatt was where we stayed as it was a special occasion!

If you want something between a hostel and a five-star hotel, Vienna has tons of wonderful and unique options that won’t break the bank.

Motel One is a trendy boutique hotel chain with a few options around Vienna – there’s one by the Hauptbanhof (great if you’re going to travel around Austria a bit) as well as one near Westbanhof.

Both offer sleek, design-focused, super-comfortable double rooms for around 100 euro a night, with lovely boutique touches and central locations near major transit hubs.

Check prices, reviews, and availability of Motel One here

Where to Stay on a Shoestring Budget

exterior of wombats hostel in vienna, blue building with blue and yellow sign
Photo Credit: Tony Box via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The first time I stayed in Vienna, I was a backpacker and chose the Wombats Hostel and have nothing but positive memories of it!

Though to be fair, my tastes have certain changed with time, and I’m not sure Wombats would be my style anymore. Once you’ve had a taste of the Park Hyatt, it’s hard to go back!

But back to Wombats — it’s a great hostel chain, social but not party-centric, with all the amenities you’d expect in dorms and also lovely double rooms at a budget-friendly price.

The double rooms are perfect for friends or couples who don’t want to share a dorm room (as well as a Covid-conscious solo traveler)

Check prices, reviews, and availability of Wombats Hostel here

Your Perfect Vienna Itinerary

Day One: The Heart of Vienna

Start the day at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

St Stephans church in downtown vienna in the sunlight

One of the most famous landmarks of Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located in the heart of the Innere Stadt, Vienna’s Old Town.

This church has been renovated extensively to restore it to its original beauty after it was bombed extensively during World War II, and the work that has been done on it is simply magical.

The roof in particular has been perfectly reconstructed with the signature Vienna roof tile design that first made me fall in love with the city on my first visit back in 200 — a love that keeps drawing me back for more and more visits!

The interior of the Cathedral is beautiful as well but not quite as unique as the Gothic and Romanesque exterior and particularly the roof’s tile-work.

That said, entrance to the Cathedral is free, so you might as well take a quick look inside!

Walk the Graben and window shop.

Austria is known for being a major luxury shopping destination, and nowhere is that more apparent than you walk down der Graben.

This street runs from the Stock-im-Eisen Platz (right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral) and ends at Kohlmarkt.

This intersection of der Graben and Kohlmarkt is where you’ll find the nexus of some of the fanciest designer flagship stores, including Chanel, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, HERMÈS, and Cartier — all in the same one-block radius!

If you’ve got money to burn, this is the place, but even if you’re just window-shopping slash drooling, it’s still a fun place to kill a little time in Vienna between your first stop and the next stop on this itinerary.

Wander through the Ferstel Passage.

wandering through the ferstel passageway around christmas in vienna

Make your way up to Bognergasse and walk until it brings you to Am Hof Square, which is home of a lovely Christmas market in the winter and the all-year home of the statue of Mariensäule at its center.

This is also where the gorgeous Park Hyatt Vienna is located!

Check out the lovely surroundings of Am Hof Square before making your way over to the Ferstel Passage, one of the most picturesque photo spots in Vienna.

This traditional covered passageway was built in 1860 and is reminiscent of the arcades you’ll see in places like Paris and Milan.

There’s also a fountain and a courtyard in the middle of the passageway, as well as a few boutiques and an excellent coffee shop, Caffè Couture.

hand with painted fingernails holding a cup of coffee

On this day’s itinerary is the 11 AM show at the Spanish Riding School, and to me, it’s one of the #1 can’t-miss events in Vienna.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of horses and dressage (I am not), it is incredibly impressive what they have trained these horses to do!

If you’re in a rush before the 11 AM show, stop for a coffee at Caffè Couture if you need a quick pick-me-up.

If you have time (let’s say, it’s before 9:30 AM, or 10 AM if there’s not a line to enter the cafe), check out the next suggestion — Café Central, one of the most classic Viennese coffee houses in the city.

Stop for a coffee and cake at Café Central if you have time.

ornate interior of a vienna coffee house with arched ceiling, pretty tables, and lots of pastries
Photo Credit: a.canvas.of.light via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Vienna is known for its ornate coffee houses – so don’t miss the chance to visit as many as you can during your Vienna itinerary.

Café Central is one of the most famous, and its central location makes it hard to miss. Other famous coffee houses include Café Sacher Wien (inventor of the Sacher torte) and Cafe Schwazenberg, but there are many others.

Viennese pastries and cakes are world-renowned — whether you opt for an apple strudel or a rich chocolate-based cake, you won’t be disappointed!

If you don’t have time now to indulge at Café Central, don’t worry — its central location will ensure you can swing by for another visit another time.

Attend a show at the Spanish Riding School.

Interior of the spanish riding school
A photo I took before the performance began – you’re not allowed to take photos of the actual performance

Weekends at 11 AM, there is a show at the Spanish Riding School that simply should not be missed!

I admit that I was skeptical about seeing a show at the Spanish Riding School. It was my horse-obsessed stepmother’s idea, and I wasn’t totally sold on it.

However, I thought it was really an amazing experience, and I strongly recommend everyone planing a trip to Vienna to add it to their bucket lists!

Although I loved horseback riding as a kid, I’ve had a few unfortunate experiences which have since left me a little disenchanted with horses.

That said, I was still utterly transfixed by the exquisite equestrian skills of the riders at the Spanish Riding School and the unique training their brilliant, snow-white Lipizzaner stallions learn in order to perform.

This school uses use exclusively Lipizzaner horses, just as the school has for several centuries. So what exactly is a Lipizzaner?

Basically, these horses are beautiful white stallion which originated from nearby Slovenia, but they were bred for centuries by the Habsburg dynasty.

There are several ways to see the horse trainers and the Lipizzaners, but my preferred way is attending the show.

This way, you can really see the horses work their magic, plus it’s set in the exquisite baroque-designed Winter Riding School, with roots back to 1735.

The performance takes about 1.5 hours, and there are several different parts of the show. At first, you’ll watch the younger horses practicing more basic gaits.

Later on, you’ll get to see more skilled stallions showing off a dressage technique called the ‘pas-de-deux’, where the horses perform in a beautifully coordinated mirror image.

But the highlight to me is the way that the horses jump — a unique style unlike anywhere else, that simply must be seen to be believed!

Even if you can’t go to a show, you still shouldn’t miss the Spanish Riding School.

It is quite a unique place, with its beautiful riding hall and stables just steps away from the Hofburg Palace complex, tucked away almost invisibly in the heart of the city center.

Tickets for the shows (only available on weekends) do tend to sell out a few weeks in advance, so I suggest booking online.

I have a full guide to visiting the Spanish Riding School here, with 5 ways to visit the school.

Book your tickets to the Spanish Riding School performance here — or, if you can’t see a show, book a guided tour of the school or a visit during a training session.

Close up of the chandeliers and ceiling of the Spanish Riding School before a performance

If budget is a concern, or you aren’t visiting on a weekend, a ticket to watch their morning exercises is an option.

However, guests report that it’s not that impressive, as it’s not as structured or rehearsed as the show, which shows both the riders and the horses at their finest. However, the morning exercises run every day except Monday, so it’s pretty easy to fit into any Vienna itinerary.

Another, perhaps better, option is a guided tour of the Spanish Riding School, which takes you to you both the winter and summer riding halls, as well as the stables and the Stallburg arcade.

Doing this tour, you’ll get to see the Lipizzaners up close and personal, though there is a strictly no touching and no photos policy!

These tours also run daily except Monday.

Have a tasty Austrian lunch.

a plate of austrian food

After all that, you’re probably quite hungry, so it’s time to indulge in a delicious and hearty Austrian meal!

To stick close to the area, I suggest either Restaurant beim Hofmeister or Brezlgwölb Cafe Restaurant.

Both feature menus filled with Austrian classics such as boiled beef, schnitzel, and Austrian potato salad.

Check out the Rathausplatz, home to Vienna’s City Hall.

the vienna city hall with four smaller towers and one big tower on a sunny day

The Rathaus (City Hall) of Vienna is one of the city’s key landmarks.

During the winter, one of Vienna’s best Christmas markets is hosted right in front of the city hall, but even if you’re visiting outside of the holiday season, it’s still worth a visit!

The Vienna City Hall is gorgeous: it’s a prime example of Neo-Gothic architecture and, for a short period of time, was the tallest building in the world.

Take a quick walk past it to admire the exterior architecture, but don’t linger too long — we’ve still got a ways to go on this first day of your Vienna itinerary!

Walk through the Volksgarten.

yellow red and pink flowers in the volksgarten with a white building behind it

After walking past Rathausplatz, it’s time to head to one of the largest parks in the center of Vienna: Volksgarten.

Located on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, the garden was originally part of the Hofburg Palace and was opened to the public in 1823.

This is no average public park — there are temples such as Theseus Temple which are ornate and inspired by Roman design, as well as sculptures and memorials, such as the one to victims of Nazi persecution.

There’s also a Rose Garden and other beautifully manicured areas to wander around!

Enjoy one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

two stacks of books and a ladder inside the vienna library

Tucked away in an unassuming part of the Hofburg Palace in the Neue Burg Wing of the complex, the Austrian National Library is absolutely stunning.

It has ticketed entry, and at just 4 euros, it’s absolutely worth it — especially for bibliophiles, but fans of beautiful architecture won’t be disappointed either!

Check out the Hofburg Palace complex.

people in front of the kaiser apartments part of the hofburg complex

You’ve already dipped your toe into the Hofburg Palace complex area by checking out the Volksgarten and the National Library, but there’s so much more to see in this area.

This imperial palace was the home of the Habsburgs for centuries, and was originally built back in the 13th century — though of course, it was improved upon and expanded many times since.

This was the winter residence of the royal family, whereas Schönbrunn Palace (which we’ll visit on the third day of this itinerary, since it’s outside the main city center) was the place where the royals lived in the summer.

Now, the Hofburg palace complex has been converted into several museums, including the Sisi Museum, The Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartements), and the Silver Collection (Silberkammer).

Enjoy a fantastic schnitzel for dinner.

a plate of schnitzel with potato salad behind it

You’ve probably heard of Wiener schnitzel, but you may not have known that “Wiener” means Viennese in German!

Therefore, you simply must try a schnitzel while you’re in Vienna — and it should be one of the best possible!

I suggest either Glacis Beisl (conveniently located in the Museum Quartier area) or Figlmüller (the most famous schnitzel house in Vienna, and also conveniently located in the Innere Stadt area).

Expect to spend about 15 to 20 euros on a schnitzel main dish, but it will be huge!

Day Two: Vienna’s Art Museums & Culture Scene

Enjoy a delicious apple strudel and coffee for breakfast.

austrian apple strudel with powdered sugar

If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a tasty Viennese apple strudel, it’s time to seize the day!

There are many worthwhile places to grab a strudel and a coffee, but I’d suggest either Demel (a beautiful coffee house dating back to 1888), Cafe Mozart (a favorite amongst musicians and composers) or Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker (another stunning coffee house that is a little more under-the-radar).

These are all located in the Innere Stadt area, making the next stop on this Vienna itinerary an easy walk!

Visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.

interior of the art history museum in vienna with fancy painted ceiling

Located in the heart of the Museum Quarter (Museumsquartier), you shouldn’t miss the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum).

You’ll notice this Vienna itinerary features quite a number of museums. I’m not normally the type to recommend museum after museum, but Vienna truly has some of the best museums in the world. It’s hard not to recommend them.

This museum features Vienna’s older art collection, whereas the Albertina Museum (later on this itinerary) hosts newer pieces.

Here, you’ll find the largest collection of Bruegel’s work in the world, with 12 out of his 40-odd known pieces permanently displayed.

As with many things in Vienna, the beauty of the buildings themselves is astounding.

One of the coolest parts of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is its exquisite ceiling painting and wall panels, featuring work from Gustav Klimt.

Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM daily (until 9 PM on Thursdays)

Check out the Natural History Museum or the Leopold Museum.

fountain in front of the natural history museum in vienna

For the next item on this Vienna itinerary, I suggest picking between the Natural History Museum and the Leopold Museum, so you don’t get total museum fatigue!

The Natural History Museum features everything from meteorites to fossils to taxidermy from animals across the globe to rare gems.

It’s really impressive, and it’s the better choice if you want to break up your art museums (since another is on the way) or if you’re traveling with children.

Meanwhile, if you’re a huge art fan and you want as much art as you can get, I suggest the Leopold Museum.

This museum focuses on modern Austrian art, including one of the largest selection of works from Egon Schiele (one of my favorite artists in the world, who created thousands upon thousands of illustrations and watercolors before his early death at the age of 28), as well as other famous Austrian artists like Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.

Grab lunch at Cafe Tirolerhof.

a plate of boiled beef with vegetables and dumplings at cafe tirolerhof

Once you’ve check out those two museums, you probably want to rest your feet and relax a bit.

Luckily, there’s some great place to eat just a short walk away, and close to the next spot on our itinerary.

Cafe Tirolerhof features Viennese food from the Tirol region in a beautiful, 100-year-old café. Their lunch menu is really delicious and reasonably priced, with main dishes around 10-15 euros.

Check out the exhibits at the Albertina.

paintings inside the albertina museum

Ready for yet another museum? Please don’t groan — the Albertina is really worth it!

Whereas the Kunsthistorisches Museum focuses on older art, the Albertina centers art from the 19th century onward.

The Albertina has one of the world’s best collections of impressionist and expressionist art, which are two of my all-time favorite art movements. In fact, I’d say it’s equivalent to Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

The Albertina is not strictly Austrian art, like the Leopold Museum is — you’ll find more of the ‘classic’ artists from this era here.

Artists you’ll find here include Renoirs, Monets, Picassos, Munchs, Chagalls, and more — there’s also quite a nice contemporary collection as well.

When I was there last, there was a special exhibit of Albrecht Dürer’s work that was really interesting!

The Albertina is one of Vienna’s top attractions, so I suggest you pre-book your tickets here to avoid lines.

The temporary exhibits are often much more crowded than the permanent collection, so keep that in mind when planning your Albertina trip.

When I went, the Dürer collection was so full that it was difficult to walk through, but everything else was pretty clear.

Cost: €17 euro per adult | Free with the Vienna Pass

Admire the Vienna State Opera House (Staatsoper).

the exterior of the vienna opera house all lit up at night

If possible, I suggest taking a tour of the Vienna State Opera House, also known as the Staatsoper.

However, the tour schedule for the Staatsoper is a bit erratic, and it’s closed during much of the peak summer travel season.

Like many opera houses in Europe, it’s closed to the public in July and August.

However, if you’re traveling outside of those two months, it may be possible to book a tour of the interior of the opera house — or of course, you can also see a show at the opera if they’re playing!

Day Three: Palaces & More Sightseeing

Grab a quick bite to eat.

This day of our Vienna itinerary has us breaking out of the Innere Stadt into the outskirts of the city, so I suggest grabbing something to eat before you head to the Schönbrunn Palace, where there are less food options.

Fuel up — we have a busy day ahead!

Start the day at the Schönbrunn Palace.

inside the schonbrunn palace

This stunning palace was once the summer residence of the 18th century Habsburg family — and now, it’s an incredibly beautiful and opulent palace and grounds that you can tour and explore.

You can take a self-guided tour of the palace with an audio guide, but I think this is one of those instances where it’s preferable to go on a tour with a licensed guide.

You get so much more history and context for the palace with a guide who knows the history of what happened in these rooms and can tell them in an engaging, narrative way.

This tour includes the 22 state rooms of Schönbrunn Palace, as well as the Orangery and the French-style Schönbrunn Gardens, finishing at the Gloriette which offers a stunning view of Vienna and its green spaces surrounding it from above.

Book your tour of Schönbrunn Palace here!

the view of schonbrunn palace from up the hill

If you don’t want to do a tour, you can absolutely self-guide with an audio guide.

The price is approximately $24 USD for the 22-room tour, $28 USD for the 40-room tour, or $33 for the grand including the garden attractions.

Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM daily

Cost: $45 for a guided tour; or $24, $28, or $33 for a self-guided tour with audio guide

Explore the Belvedere Palace complex.

view of the belvedere palace complex with gardens on a cloudy day

The Belvedere is actually home to two beautiful Baroque palaces — the Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere — and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The grounds also include an orangery, a chapel, the palace’s horse stables, a museum, a sculpture garden, and stunning park and garden areas.

In the Upper Belvedere area, you’ll find the the Belvedere Museum.

This is one of the foremost museums in Vienna and is home to the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s work in the world, as well as other paintings and sculptures.

In the Lower Belvedere area, you’ll find the orangery, horse stables, and garden area, but it does not include museum access.

There is also the Belvedere 21, which houses modern art.

Each of these require a separate ticket (the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, and Belvedere 21 Museum) so you can mix and match to suit your interest and budget.

You can also just walk around the exterior if you don’t want to pay for admission to another museum or palace.

Skip the line and book your tickets to the Belvedere here!

Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM daily

Have lunch at the Cafe Kunst Haus.

After you’ve been steeped in old-world grandeur, we’re going to make our way over the Hundertwasser Village area — but first, lunch!

Inside the Cafe Kunst Haus, located in the Museum Hundertwasser, you’ll find a whimsical interior designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and delicious food such as goulash, schnitzel, etc.

It’s a great place to get you in the mood to exploring more of Hundertwasser’s work!

Check out Hundertwasser Village and House.

colorful exterior of the hundertwasser house apartment complex

Hundertwasser Village is a unique place that provides an intriguing contrast to all the opulence of old world Vienna.

Constructed in 1991, the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser took a disused tire factory and converted it into a multi-use center.

His vision was to revitalize the building without needing to tear it down, but to transform it through art, as well as implementing natural components.

The village’s roof features an urban forest, with 30 trees that stretch nearly 50 feet high into the sky.

There’s also the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building with a famously artistic exterior. This is one of his earlier concepts, which was built in 1985.

Seeing both of these buildings is a fun way to experiencing a more modern side of Vienna’s cultural and architectural heritage, and seeing how it will continue to change over time.

Grab a quick bite before your show.

schnitzel with lemon and potatoes

Next up on this Vienna itinerary is a classical music concert, which starts at 8:15 PM.

If you tend to get hungry early, you may want to grab something to eat before the show!

The concerts I’ve mentioned take place at Karlskirche and Musikverein, which are close to one another.

A good option might be the highly-rated Wiener Wiazhaus, which is a cozy, casual vintage-style eatery serving up Austrian classics.

Another option is the Naschmarkt which has a lot of different vendors in a food hall-style market, so you can grab something quick to eat here.

Enjoy a beautiful concert.

Vienna has a long and storied relationship with music, and what better way to cap off a night in Vienna than with a classical music concert?

There are several settings that host concerts.

The Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concert at Karlskirche take place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:15 PM.

Book your concert tickets in advance here!

Prefer to hear some Mozart?

There are also concerts at the Golden Hall of the Musikverein on Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, also at 8:15 PM.

Book your concert tickets here!

Day Four: Day Trip to Bratislava or Hallstatt

Finally, on your fourth day in Vienna, I suggest breaking things up a bit and heading out of town! ‘

Vienna is close to many wonderful places that make an easy day trip, and if you’ve seen as much of the city as I’ve covered on this itinerary, you could certainly see more of it — or you could branch out a bit and go on a day trip!

exterior of a building in bratislava

My top suggestion would be Bratislava! Despite being technically in another country, the capital city of Slovakia is only a short trip away by bus or boat, since both cities are on the Danube.

There’s so much to do in Bratislava, but it’s also a compact city that you can see the heart of quickly even in a short amount of time.

I suggest going with a guided tour, as they’ll simplify the transportation and give you guidance so you don’t miss any of the top sights in Bratislava.

This is the guided tour I recommend to visit Bratislava from Vienna!

However, if you prefer to self-guide your day trip to Bratislava, I have a full guide on what to see in a day in Bratislava here!

the lakeside town of hallstatt austria

Another compelling option is taking a day trip to the charming town of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region.

If you’ve gotten enough of city life and want to see mountains, lakes, natures, and small towns, this is the trip for you! And if you’re visiting in summer, the tour includes a boat tour across the lake!

Book your guided tour to Hallstatt and Salzkammergut here!