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.

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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Donauinselfest: What you need to know about Austria’s biggest open air festival

Austria has the largest free open-air festival in Europe, and the Donauinselfest is taking place this weekend. Here is what you need to know.

Donauinselfest: What you need to know about Austria's biggest open air festival

The Austrian Donauinselfest is known as the largest free open-air music festival in Europe, and it happens yearly on Vienna’s Danube island. The festival attracts around three million visitors over its three days of events and is starting on Friday in the Austrian capital.

The festival has been taking place yearly since 1983 on the 21.1-kilometre river island. This year, it has 14 different areas and 11 stages, according to the official website. Visitors can expect more than 600 hours of program.

READ ALSO: The best festivals and events to enjoy in Austria this summer

Here is what you need to know to enjoy the programme fully.

When and where is the festival?

The festival has an extensive range of events starting on Friday, June 24th, and lasting until Sunday, June 26th. It takes place on the island between the new Danube and the Danube rivers, known as the Donauinsel.

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about driving in Austria this summer

It is easily accessible via the U1 (Donauinsel station) and U6 (Handelskai station) metro and there are no parking spaces available near the festival site.

Admission to the event is free.

The festival is back after the pandemic

After two years of reduced capacity and many Covid-19 restrictions, the Donauinselfest is back to (almost) normal. There is no limit to the number of visitors, no requirement to show proof of vaccination or recovery from the disease, and no mask mandate.

However, the authorities have asked that people take “personal responsibility” as coronavirus infection numbers have been rising.

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

The organisers have requested people to get tested before visiting the vast festival, reported.

People gather on the shores of the Danube river, in Vienna during a hot sunny day and Danube Day on June 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN

“We ask everyone who would like to visit the Donauinselfest this year to take a PCR or rapid test in advance and thus protect themselves and others. People with symptoms are not allowed to enter the festival grounds.”, said organiser Matthias Friedrich.

Though masks are not mandatory, they are recommended on-site if it is too full of people and no social distancing is possible. Besides, there is a masks requirement to all Donauinselfest workers in indoor areas.

Watch out for what you cannot bring

There is an extensive list of things that are not allowed on the festival site. For example, visitors are not allowed to take large bags and backpacks (“A3 format”, according to the website). However, a gym bag is not considered a backpack.

Animals, including dogs, are prohibited – except for guide dogs and service dogs.

You are also not allowed to bring umbrellas, alcoholic beverages, cans, glass bottles, or drones. The list of prohibited items includes “propaganda material”, spray bottles, whistles, large or bulky objects, bicycles and skateboards, stools and chairs, food and more.

Check out the complete list here.

Danube festival

Vienna’s “Danube-island” Festival will return this weekend. (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

READ ALSO: Forecast: Austria set for high temperatures and storms throughout weekend and beyond

You can – and should – bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as temperatures are expected to be around the 30Cs over the next few days.

What kind of music is there?

The festival has several stages and a broad programme selection. The bands are usually more regional, with a significant presence of Austrian, German, and Italian bands.

You can find all sorts of music, from pop to rock, rap, and techno. There are even tribute bands like Break Free, which will play Queen’s best signs on the rock stage.

The program includes other activities as well, such as poetry slam, art stages, sport areas, and even events for families and children.

You can check the official program here.