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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
Moving to another country can be stressful, but The Local's got you covered. (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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Everything that’s new in Vienna in December

From new energy bonuses being sent out to important trials and major events, here are the important changes, dates and events happening in Vienna in December.

Everything that's new in Vienna in December

Vienna will send €200 bonuses to help cushion rising energy costs

The City of Vienna announced more government assistance to cushion rising costs for residents.

Viennese households will receive €200 in a new “energy bonus’, as The Local reported. The administration said the bonus would benefit about two-thirds of all city homes.

Single households with a gross annual income of a maximum €40,000 or multi-person households with an income of up to €100,000 gross per year are entitled to receive the payment. 

In December, every household in the capital should receive an information letter with a password they will need to use for an online application for the bonus. Once applied for, the money should arrive within a few days”.

READ MORE: Vienna Energy Bonus: How to get a €200 payout

Influenza vaccination appointments

The City of Vienna has made available 64,000 influenza vaccination appointments for December in the city’s vaccination centres and those of the ÖGK. 

The City is investing a total of €9.9 million to be able to offer the flu vaccination campaign in Vienna free of charge again this year.  The campaign will run until the end of the year unless an extension becomes necessary due to high demand.

The influenza vaccination campaign focuses on people aged over 65. This avoids multiple exposures to Covid-19 and the “real flu”. Chronically ill people, children and health or care workers are also among the priority target groups. However, influenza vaccination is also recommended to all other people.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Vienna starts inquiry committee over Wien Energie

Starting on December 2nd at the Vienna City Hall, the City Council’s investigative commission on the Wien Energie case will meet every two weeks.

On the initiative of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), it will investigate the events surrounding the dramatic financial needs of Wien Energie that became known in the summer. The commission can summon people to testify and request documents.

They will focus on two issues.

The first concerns the extent to which Mayor Michael Ludwig and City Finance Councillor Peter Hanke have exercised their ownership rights regarding Wien Energie, which is wholly owned by the city via Wiener Stadtwerke. Specifically, the commission wants to know whether the two SPÖ politicians reacted in time and appropriately to the price increases in the electricity markets in the summer.

The second matter revolves around Ludwig’s emergency powers as head of the city, with which he granted Wien Energie loans totalling €1.4 billion. It is to be clarified whether this procedure was legally compliant and whether Ludwig should have informed committees such as the City Senate earlier.

READ ALSO: Why did Wien Energie ask for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

Terror trial continues

On November 2nd, 2020, a jihadist terrorist shot dead four people and injured more than 20 in the centre of Vienna before police forces killed him.

Now, the country is going through a complex trial involving six men who allegedly helped the shooter prepare for the attack started. The process first started in October, as The Local reported, but a final verdict is not expected until at least February.

In December, tricky trial stages are scheduled, including questioning people suspected of having sold weapons to the terrorist.

READ ALSO: Austria starts trial over Vienna jihadist shooting

Armed police officers stand guard by the area where the terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria on November, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This Human World Festival

The This Human World Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and it focuses on the theme of human rights. In four Viennese cinemas (Schikaneder, Topkino, Gartenbaukino, Stadtkino) and two other venues (Brunnenpassage, Brotfabrik) you can watch films that deal with human rights, current conflicts and crises from December 1st to 11th. 

About 90 feature films, documentaries and short films await you – some of them will celebrate their Austrian premiere at the festival. 

The aim of the film festival is to draw attention to political and social grievances in a sensitive, stirring and occasionally humorous way.

You can read more about the event HERE.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” is touring worldwide and the major exhibition about the wizard’s universe will get its first European location in Vienna on December 16th, 2022. The show will be housed in the METAStadt in the 22nd district (Dr.-Otto-Neurath-Gasse 3).

The ticket sale has already started on the official site of the exhibition and via oeticket. Tickets are available from € 24.90 for children (up to 12 years) and € 29.90 for adults (from 13 years).

Weihnachtsmärkte

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit. Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19th to December 26th.

The Viennese markets are drawing in thousands of tourists to the Austrian capital. Don’t miss out on all the Glüwein (even if it is more expensive this year), geröstete Kastanien and Weihnachtskugeln you can get. 

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25th) and Stephan’s Day (December 26th), December 8th, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4th, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5th, Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6th, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24th, 25th and 26th) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – and especially in Vienna.

In the capital, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.

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