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
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.
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.