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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
The Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria (Photo by Sandro Gonzalez on Unsplash)

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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TOURISM

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

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

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.

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