Vienna is a city of culture, art, and music. The capital of Austria is one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe and with dozens of attractions to explore, you could easily spend weeks here. But if you are short on time, many of the best places can be seen in just 3 days in Vienna! Here I’ll share with you some of the best things to do in Vienna during a short stay.
Note: Check out our post on the best places to stay in Vienna to choose the perfect accommodations for your visit to Vienna.
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Come Prepared for a full 3 Days in Vienna
The best way to be prepared for a short stay in Vienna is to arrive with time and money-saving passes and tourist attraction tickets, including convenient “skip the line” access. With ticket prices ever climbing, research your preferred Vienna attractions and book ahead to save time on your logistics.
Consider the following options to make the most of your 3 day Vienna itinerary:
- CAT Transfer: Vienna Airport – Wien Mitte – Arriving by plane? Use the City Airport Train between Vienna International Airport and arrive at the city centre in just 16 minutes.
- Vienna Public Transport City Card and Attraction Discounts – this pass gives you unlimited use on all forms of public transportation in Vienna: train, bus, metro, and tram. Choose 24, 48 or 72 hours duration. This app-based virtual Vienna city card allows you up to 50% discount benefits at attractions, museums, exhibits, concerts, and shops. Also, get 20% off at participating restaurants, and more.
- Vienna PASS – this all-inclusive Vienna card gives you free access or discounted admission fee to over 70 main attractions, some with fast-track entry: Schönbrunn Palace (including the Maze, Gloriette, and other attractions), Schönbrunn Zoo, Giant Ferris Wheel, Art History Museum, Albertina Museum & Art Gallery, Museum of Natural History, Danube Tower, Leopold Museum, Imperial Treasury, Spanish Riding School, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Museum of Modern Art (mumok), Vienna State Opera – Guided Tour, Madame Tussauds, Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere, 21er Haus – Museum of Contemporary Art. Use it on the Vienna Ring Tram and enjoy unlimited Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours. Pick up your Vienna PASS between 9am – 3pm at the Vienna Sightseeing office, 3-5 Opernring, facing the Vienna State Opera.
Day One: Your Vienna Grand Tour
The best way to get your bearings in Vienna is a grand tour of the main attractions. When I can, I like to start with a Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour. This allows me to familiarize myself by following along in real time on Google Maps, and getting off the bus at what looks like a great place to see.
You may want to disembark the bus at the Hofburg Imperial Palace and take your time to explore its intricately decorated rooms, galleries and museums. Get Swiss Wing Imperial Treasury entry tickets where the Habsburg jewels, including those of Empress Elisabeth, the Holy Roman Empire Imperial Crown, the Austrian Imperial Crown and the Holy Grail are all displayed.
The Sisi Museum is a short walk close by (click here for skip the line tickets to the Hofburg Palace and Sisi Museum). Empress Elisabeth, fondly known as “Sisi” by her subjects, was beloved in her time. Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, and cousin and beloved friend of German “Mad King” Ludwig II (who built the famous Neuschwanstein Castle), Sisi’s fascinating story is one of beauty and privilege, as well as dramatic tragedy.
Alternatively, an Empress Sisi Guided Walking Tour might be just the thing at this first point. You’ll discover the Imperial Palace where she lived, the church in which she was married, and her favorite confectioner and jeweler, all with the historical perspective of Sisi’s life and legacy.
Perhaps you may want to consider going on the “Sisi’s Amazing Journey” Virtual Reality Experience, which is a virtual immersion into Vienna’s underworld where you will be guided by Sisi and other historical figures with anecdotes and simulators.
Adjacent to the Sisi Museum, check out the Spanish Riding School – home to one of the oldest equestrian traditions in Europe, and on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Many of those who visit Vienna are intent on attending a Performance Of The Lipizzans at the Spanish Riding School, which is an unparalleled experience in baroque environs accompanied by traditional Viennese music. Others will opt for a 55-minute behind-the-scenes guided tour, or a morning exercise training to watch the horses and their riders practice, which is a best option for those on a budget.
Next, take a leisurely stroll down to the Cafe Mozart for a coffee or the Hotel Sacher for some famous Sacher torte. The Viennese coffee houses provide an experience that is made for savoring and will fuel you for the rest of your activities.
Adjacent to the Hotel Sacher is Kärntner Strasse, a street lined with boutiques and cafes on your way to visit Vienna’s most famous Unesco World Heritage Site, St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This Gothic cathedral is an iconic landmark in the city and offers stunning views from its bell tower.
To spend some time exploring the intricacies of this medieval masterpiece, opt for a Secrets of St. Stephen’s guided tour. This will take you from the underground catacombs to inside the attic roof – places that the casual visitor never sees.
From here, it’s more palatial landmarks. Head over to Belvedere Palace for breathtaking Baroque architecture, but also be amazed by the scope of its art collections, which range from medieval times to the present. As well, you will enjoy the Botanical and Alpine gardens in Belvedere Park.
Upper Belvedere was transformed by Empress Maria Theresa into one of the first public museums in the world in the 18th century. If you’re a fan of Gustav Klimt, you’ll want to wander through the world’s largest collection of his work here. (Click here to get a combination entrance and Klimt gallery ticket.) You will also see works from the Biedermeier era, the turn of the 20th century, and French Impressionists.
Lower Belvedere was the residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, who built the palace complex. Click here to get a combination entrance ticket to Lower Belvedere, the Orangery, and Palace stables.
By evening, you will have experienced almost all of Vienna’s main attractions in just one day! But one of the most spectacular is left: Schönbrunn Palace. This beautiful baroque palace is one of the most visited attractions in Austria and it’s easy to see why — the grounds feature a beautiful garden and short walking trails where you can admire its fountains and statues.
Many visitors to Vienna opt to take a guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace. But since you’ve had a full day already, may I suggest you consider a relaxing Mozart and Strauss Concert in Schoenbrunn. Depending upon the time of year, you’ll listen to masterpiece-level musical selections performed by the Palace Orchestra in the Orangerie, Great Gallery, White-Gold Room, or Palace Theater.
If you like, choose a combined concert, dinner and tour experience at Schoenbrunn for a romantic end to your first day in Vienna.
Tip: to see highlights of Vienna in a 3 hour private luxury van tour. Enjoy insights from a knowledgeable private guide for up to 7 people.
For more ideas, see Top Ten Vienna Attractions for First Timers.
Day Two: Delve More Deeply into Vienna’s Culture & Lifestyle
Vienna is a city steeped in history and culture, so it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities to discover its fascinating context that gave way to today’s lifestyle.
On your second of 3 days in Vienna, take some time to explore the many museums in the city center.
Art lovers will not want to miss the Albertina Museum, named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Urban World in 2018, is known for its collection of classic works. Tickets for the Albertina’s Exhibitions include the permanent Monet-Picasso exhibition, as well as exhibits of French and German Expressionism, Russian avant-garde and Austrian art.
The Albertina’s state apartments, where Habsburg Royals lived, have been restored to their historic grandeur, are worth visiting for their exhibits of prints, architectural drawings, photography and temporary exhibitions are included in your entrance fee.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum (get a day ticket here) features amazing artifacts. Classical antiquities from Ancient Egypt and Greece share space with masters such as Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. Sculptures and filigree in ivory and gold are also represented
If you are looking for something more modern and unmistakably quirky, get tickets for Kunst Haus Wien and Museum Hundertwasser. Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser made an ecological commitment and translated it into architecture and decoration which lives in harmony with nature. The resultant Hundertwasser House is an ebullient and joyful esthetic imposed on a practical urban lifestyle.
In the same unconventional spirit, head over to MuseumsQuartier (the Museum Quarter) where you will find contemporary art galleries and theaters. Here it makes sense to go on a guided walking tour of one of the largest arts and cultural districts in the world, a diverse melting pot that has been called “Vienna’s largest living room.”
Vienna has a worldwide reputation as a city of music. Music enthusiasts will want to make sure to catch a performance at one of Vienna’s world-famous Opera Houses such as Staatsoper or Volksoper Wien – both offer unique performances throughout the year!
A Mozart Concert at the Vienna State Opera is an opulent experience you will never forget. Combine an evening concert with dinner and a carriage ride to the Vienna Opera House accompanied by a guide in Mozart costume. You’ll enjoy these inclusions: a 4-course meal with aperitif, best-level concert seating, a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride, and a beverage at intermission.
If a concert isn’t your thing, perhaps an atmospheric evening stroll through the Prater Amusement Park would be. Open until 10pm, the Prater Park features the famous 125-year-old Riesenrad Ferris Wheel, a narrow gauge railway, and a planetarium.
Lastly, be sure to experience the city’s vibrant nightlife and explore some of Vienna’s best bars and clubs.
Day Three – Relax and Enjoy Nature and Parks
On your last day in Vienna, why not take a relaxing cruise or a day trip to sightsee along the Danube River? Some of the most beautiful river scenery in Europe lies along the famous “Blue Danube.” A full-day (9 hours) Private Trip to Melk Abbey, Wachau, and the Danube Valley includes a boat cruise in summer and comfortable sightseeing to historic castles, Melk Abbey, and picturesque communities in both valleys.
If you’d rather, a 3.5-Hour Grand Danube River Cruise will take you through “green” or “modern” Vienna on the MS Vindobona, which is Hundertwasser designed in distinctive hues.
Take a break from sightseeing and enjoy leisurely outdoor activities at Donaupark. Adjacent to the Danube Canal, this former garbage dump was reclaimed in 1964 and now boasts a bird sanctuary, bee gardens, horseback riding and walking paths, and playgrounds.
The space needle-like Donau Tower (click here for skip the line entry tickets) is Vienna’s tallest landmark. Rotating floors hold a cafe and full-service restaurant (make reservations), which are great choices to sample Austrian specialties while taking in panoramic city views.
An Evening Cruise Along The Danube might be the best time to see Vienna from the water. The cruise takes you along the Danube Canal to enjoy the evening city lights. On-board restaurants are available for a meal.
With just three days in Vienna, you can still explore the city’s amazing attractions and experience its culture, art, and music. From iconic landmarks to buzzing nightlife, baroque palaces and beautiful places throughout, there is something for everyone! Whether it’s culture and music or parks and nature, there’s no shortage of things to do during your three-day stay in Vienna. Take some time to explore this beautiful city and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.