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VIENNA

Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

The Austrian capital can be pricy, especially if you're comparing to its neighbours to the east. With these tips, you can make the most of the city whether you live here or are just visiting.

Vienna
There's plenty to see in Vienna either as a tourist or a local without needing to spend a cent. Photo: Sandro Gonzalez/Unsplash

Get a panoramic view of the city

Many visitors head to the tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Danube Tower or a fancy rooftop bar for views over the city, but there are plenty of options to gaze out over the rooftops without paying a cent.

Two free viewpoints in the city are the MQ Libelle, a terrace at Museumsquartier open daily except Tuesdays from April to October, and the rooftop of Ikea near the Westbahnhof (Ikea’s cafe also has lovely views without the premium prices of most rooftop restaurants!).

The gardens of both Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces also offer good views over the city, and are free to stroll around.

And if you’re willing to stretch your legs a bit, you can hike to Kahlenberg or Leopoldsberg to see Vienna from these hills on the outskirts of the city. Walking is free and takes around an hour from Nussdorf following the Stadtwanderweg 1, or if you’ve already paid for a public transport ticket you can reach Kahlenberg by bus.

Other good viewpoints reachable by a combination of public transport and hiking include the Jubiläumswarte (along Stadtwanderweg 4) and the viewpoints from the Zugberg along Stadtwanderweg 6.

Sightseeing on a shoestring

Some of Vienna’s most show-stopping sights are free to visit, including Schönbrunn castle park and the Gloriette (the castle itself has an entrance fee); the stunning Belvedere Palace gardens (again, entering the actual palace comes with a fee); and some parts of St Stephen’s Cathedral.

For adults without a student or senior discount, some of the most popular museums can set you back close to €20, but go off the beaten track and focus on the several museums which offer free entry all year round or every first Sunday of the month (you can find a list here).

Vienna is such a picturesque city that just wandering through the streets feels like a sightseeing tour, especially if you plan your route to wind through the charming streets and alleys of the first district, pass architectural curiosities like the Hundertwasserhaus in the third district, or feel like you’re getting an exclusive insiders’ tour by checking out Vienna’s ‘secret’ courtyards known as Pawlatsche (see a route from the city council here). 

To get from sight to sight, you can use the Citybikes, which are free for journeys of up to one hour once you’ve paid a one-off €1 registration fee. You can rent them multiple times per day, but just have to wait at least 15 minutes in between rides so that the one-hour limit resets.

A popular route with tourists and locals is the Ringstrasse encircling the city centre, which takes in some beautiful streets and buildings. The Ring Tram is aimed at tourists and offers this as a complete route, but if you’ve already paid for a public transport card, you can do the same trip for free and with very little effort. Just take tram line 1 between Karlsplatz and Schwedenplatz, and tram line 2 (in the Dornbach direction) from Schwedenplatz to complete the loop. The Ringstrasse also makes a nice walk if you have the time. If you want to pick just one section, the stretch between the Rathauspark and Stadtpark packs in the most impressive sights.

Events and activities

There are often free concerts on offer in Peterskirche or the student performers at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts.

And mark your calendar for some of the special annual concerts and festivals that are free to attend, such as the Summer Night Concert at Schönbrunn Palace, and on the more modern and lively end of the musical scale there’s the Gürtel Nightwalk and the Danube Island Festival.

Open air cinema is a great way to spend the warm Vienna summer nights, and there are multiple options (although not all have confirmed if they will be going ahead in 2022): VolxKino at venues across town, Frameout in Vienna’s Museumsquartier, the Rathaus Film Festival, and Science Fiction im Park.

It can be cheap to get standing tickets to performances at Vienna’s State Opera, but free is even better than cheap, so make the most of the free Opera Live festival through the summer. Or create your own DIY version using the free streaming programme provided by the opera.

Take a hike

Enjoying the capital’s plentiful green spaces is free, so check out local favourites like the Danube Island, the sprawling Prater park, or a wander along the Danube Canal.

For a longer walk, Vienna has 11 city hiking trails or Statwanderwege. These are round trips ranging between 5 to 13 kilometres, and each one is well signposted. Pick up a stamp card before you begin and get a stamp for each walk you complete — free souvenir alert! If you have limited time in Vienna, walks number 1 and 4 are probably the most scenic.

Little extras

Vienna has plenty of water fountains, so take a refillable bottle with you to take advantage of the free refreshment, especially during the warm seasons.

Particularly helpful for tourists is the offer of free WiFi at many spots in the city.

For the summer, there are eight free barbecue spots where you don’t need to book in advance (there are also 15 popular spots on the Danube Island which do require a fee).

And there are a few outdoor gyms dotted across the city, where you can get in some exercise without signing up for a gym membership.

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One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna is undoubtedly one of the best and most beautiful cities in the world. If you only have 24 hours to spare, here's what not to miss.

One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna is by far the most visited Austrian city. Data from Statistics Austria shows that the capital received more than 17 million tourist overnight stays a year – at least in a pre-pandemic year.

Austria’s second most visited city is Salzburg, with more than three million tourist overnight stays in 2019.

With a long history and the beautiful buildings and constructions that only a city which was the capital of an empire for hundreds of years can have, Vienna – Wien, to the locals – is definitely worth the visit.

READ ALSO: Austria: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Also, definitely worth an extended visit. But as weekend train rides become more common in Europe and low-cost flights make it possible for quick holidays across the continent, many visitors only have a few hours to spend in this historical town.

While it might seem impossible to see all, there is to see in Vienna in only 24 hours (and it is!), The Local has asked for the help of Robert Eichhorn, a Vienna-accredited tourist guide and a born and raised Viennese with an eye for the unique parts of town.

If you only have 24 hours in Vienna, arriving around 2 pm on a Saturday and leaving at around the same time on a Sunday, here are a few things you could do to make the most of the city.

Vienna’s St. Stephen Cathedral, in the first district (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Start out with the first district

The Austrian capital is divided into 23 districts. The first is the central, where many historical sightings and political buildings are located. The remaining districts spiral from that, with 21 and 22 located just across the Danube river.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: The Vienna coffee shop where phone-less visitors get a discount

In the first district, you will find many of the most impressive places.

“Even for those who are not church fans, a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral should not be missed”, Eichhorn says.

The landmark stands for centuries in the heart of the city. It offers not only a postcard picture (literally) and a beautiful interior but also amazing views, as our tour guide explains that it is possible to reach the top of the big spire (343 steps by foot) or the smaller taller (by elevator) to enjoy the city from above.

If you enjoy the religious history, it is also possible to, from St. Stephen’s, reach Ruprechtskirche, one of the oldest churches in Vienna. “From there, it’s just a stone’s throw to the City Temple of the Viennese Jewish Community in Sitenstättengasse and the Ankeruhr at Hoher Markt”, describes Eichhorn.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

Heading East from Ankeruhr, you will reach one of Vienna’s beautiful city parks. Actually, the city park: Stadtpark, the 19th-century park with a lake and a river. This is a fantastic starting point to Vienna’s incredible Ring Road.

“The Ringstrasse was built in the second half of the 19th century, and there are numerous buildings important for the city”, Eichhorn explains. Walking from the Stadtpark, with a short detour to visit the beautiful Karlskirche, it is possible to follow the road and see some of the main attractions, including the Vienna State Opera, Burggarten, the Hofburg, the Museumsplatz, the Parliament and Vienna’s City Hall (Rathaus), all the way to the beautiful Votivkirche.

“I would recommend taking a break in the coffee house in the Burggarten Palm House”, our tour guide notes.

“The historic ambience makes it a great place to relax”, he adds.

READ ALSO: The best spots to recharge on the weekend in Vienna

For the evening attractions

Truth be told, the Ringstrasse and its beautiful buildings also shine with the facade lights, and a walk around the first district could seem totally different depending on the time of the day – or the season in the year.

But if you want to have “old-school Viennese”, as the born-and-raised Eichhorn says, then a trip to a Heurigen would be suitable. Those are the typical and traditional Viennese wine taverns.

“They are located on the city’s outskirts but can be reached by public transport well”.

READ ALSO: Six tourist scams to be aware of in Austria

A less rustic option, but central, is the so-called (even by locals!) Bermuda Triangle, an area in the first district with plenty of pubs and bars.

“Or maybe end the day with a concert?” suggests Eichhorn. “Vienna has an incredible amount of music events to offer, from classical to modern music”.

The next morning

As you prepare to enjoy your final hours in the beautiful city, how about heading to a genuinely imperial and impressive palace?

The beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, in Vienna, viewed from the Gloriette, accessible from the palace gardens (Copyright: Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur-und Betriebsges mbH, Severin Wurnig)

It only takes about 30 minutes with the metro from the first district to Schönbrunn Palace. “It is the summer residence of the Habsburgs, the imperial family. An impressive palace and a beautiful garden complex”, Eichhorn explains.

Schönbrunn is really a crown jewel, and no visit to Vienna would be complete without going there. The palace gardens also house a modern zoo worth visiting – but could be cutting it close with the time, according to Eichhorn.

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There might be still just enough time for a traditional Austrian meal as you head out your way: try the schnitzel and potato salad if you eat meat. For vegetarians, the Käsespätzle is a very typical one (especially in the Austrian mountains).

Unfortunately, there aren’t many vegan choices for traditional meals, but more and more restaurants offer vegan options.

Vienna also houses several beer gardens, where you can eat and drink local foods and beers just before taking your train back home.

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