Vienna is a beautiful city but in winter the capital of Austria turns into a magical wonderland. Wandering the numerous Christmas markets, sipping mulled wine, indulging in the amazing chocolatey Sacher Torte, you will likely feel like the famous Austrian Empress Sissi herself. We have the perfect itinerary for a royal 3 day winter trip.
Arriving in Vienna
After your arrival at Vienna airport, you have two options to get to the city:
Option A – expensive but fast: take the City Airport train (CAT) train. It will bring you to Wien Mitte within 16 mins. Purchase a return ticket for €21 if you are going to travel back from Vienna Airport on your return journey (the CAT ticket is valid six months from date of purchase). Single tickets are €12. The Vienna City Card will give you a discount. Below you will find the schedule, however, note that since March 19, 2020 the CAT is out of service until further notice. For further information, visit: www.cityairporttrain.com
- From Vienna Airport to the City Air Terminal (Wien Mitte) – daily from 6.08 am to 11.38 pm, every 30 minutes
- From the City Air Terminal (Wien Mitte) to Vienna Airport – daily from 5.37 am to 11.07 pm, every 30 minutes
Option B- cheap but slower: take the Schnellbahn S7 to Wien Mitte (Wien Central). It will take you there in about 25 min. for 4,10€. It runs every 30 min. and offers additional rides in peak-times. The ÖBB ticket counter and ticket machines can be found in the arrival halls. The platforms can be reached directly from Vienna Airport.
Where to stay: We can recommend you a stay at Motel One Wien.The motel and the rooms are amazing and the location is top notch with close connections to all major sights and Christmas markets!
Breakfast at Demel
To celebrate your stately arrival in Vienna start your trip with a fancy breakfast at K&K Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel. This is a historic confectionary chain that the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I used to write love letters about. You can have a classic Viennese breakfast, which typically consists of bread rolls, jam, a boiled egg, ham and cheese along with a mélange, which is espresso with steamed milk, topped with foam. However, seeing the display of the most beautiful cakes in the world, we went with the latter… Even if you don’t want to have breakfast here, it is worth going inside to take a look at the beautiful Art Nouveau interior.
Do a Walking Tour
Of course we started our exploration of Vienna with a walking tour that we did with WelcomeTourVienna. Our guide was knowledgeable, entertaining and covered the most important sights of Vienna such as Albertina Museum, Burggarten, Burgtor and Stephansplatz in about 3 hours. You can find the full list of visited locations and sights on their website. Meeting point was at the Helmut-Zilk-Platz.
Have lunch at the Bitzinger Würstlstand
With a growling stomach we headed out for lunch at the Bitzinger Würstelstand. This was definitely THE HIGHLIGHT of our trip and that is coming from a (part-time) vegan! Order a ‘Käsekrainer mit Brot und Senf/Ketchup’ (cheese sausage with bread and mustard/ketchup) for merely 4,60€ and yes, you may thank us later. You can find one stall at the Albertina and another at the Ferris Wheel. Because the food was so good, we completely forgot taking a picture. If that doesn’t say something then I don’t know what does… If you are a vegetarian, you can have the ‘Kartoffeltaschen mit Frischkäsefülling’ (potato puffers with cream cheese filling), which are pretty amazing, too!
Sacher Torte at Cafe Central
Time for coffee and the famous, most chocolatey Sacher Torte at the iconic Café Central. “Time and Space are consumed but only coffee is on the bill” is what Austrians say about their own coffee culture in the Kaffeehäuser (‘coffee houses’). We didn’t need to hear that twice.. The Sacher Torte was definitely one of the best chocolate cakes we have ever tried. If you are not a chcolate fan, you can also try Apfelstrudel, which is a crumbled apple cake and another Viennese classic.
Christmas Market at Rathausplatz
Spend your evening at one of Vienna’s many Christmas markets. Our plan was to visit as many as possible because … well, we just love Christmas! The first one we went to was the main and biggest one of them all: the Christmas market at the Rathausplatz, one of the main squares in Vienna and it turned out to be our second most favorite. If you go, make sure to have a ‘Feuerzangenbowle’! This is a German alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and slowly drips into a mug of hot mulled wine. It’s a whole experience!
Next morning, we visited the Naschmarkt, the biggest food market in Vienna. We hoped to be able to grab breakfast there, however, we only found some bakery-like stalls where we could buy some sweet pastries while strolling around the famous market. The majority of stalls offered fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, cheeses and sweets. We would advise to head over there after breakfast and only if you are a fan of regular fresh produce markets, but don’t expect to find street food stalls since this is not that type of market.
Breakfast at NENI
Because we were so hungry at the Naschmarkt, we just went into the nearest restaurant and luckily it proved to be amazing! NENI am Naschmarkt, a Middle Eastern restaurant with a cool looking interior served us some amazing red and green Shakshuka with warm bread fresh out of the oven. They also sell great smoothies and amazing coffee, so even if you’re not hungry, you might want to stop by their place for a quick coffee break.
Afterwards we went to the museum district (Museumsquartier), where you will find the Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Leopold Museum (art from Klimt and Schiele), the Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum), the Art hall (Kunsthalle Wien) and of course, Christmas market #2. So, if you are a bit tired of the cold, stepping in one of the many museums that the Museumsquartier in Vienna has to offer may be exactly what you need.
Museum of Natural History
We decided to enter the Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum). The museum is definitely worth a visit and you should definitely schedule plan to spend at least 3 hours here although you could even spend an entire day and still not see everything given the large number of exhibits. At the end of your visit, you’ll come out with 1000 pictures of pretty looking crystals, corals, fossils, anemones, dinosaurs, but because we don’t want to spam you we’ll only share the prettiest one of them all.
Dinner at Café Alt Wien
Head for dinner to Café Alt Wien, which is another must-do in Vienna, especially in the winter time. After a walk in the cold, there is nothing better than enjoying a classic Wiener Schnitzel or some hot Gulasch, which are both Austrian specialty dishes. You definitely need to leave some room for dessert, because the ‘Wiener Topfenstrudel’, a Viennese cream cheese strudel in vanilla sauce, is amazing here! The prices at Café Alt Wien are fair, the portions are big and the place feels authentically rustikal. If you seek a truly unique Viennese experience, you should definitely come here.
Breakfast at Vollpension
Start your day with breakfast at Vollpension (reservations are necessary since they are easily booked out!), where you can opt for a typical Bavarian breakfast including pretzels, white sausage (Weißwurst) and beer(!). Enjoy the Austrian colorful interior, the traditionally dressed staff and ‘Santa Baby’ chants coming from the kitchen. This was a very unique and delicious experience and an amazing way to start your final day in Vienna.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Afterwards visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) and climb your way up to the top to enjoy a nice panoramic view over Vienna. You can count in 1-2 hours for this experience and of course you will also find Christmas market #3 there. However, this one is quick to walk through, also because it’s on the slightly pricier side.
Lunch at Trzesniewski
If you’re hungry, you can have a quick snack at Trzesniewski, a sandwich chain offering rye bread rectangles with various different spreads that you can choose from. If you’re bored, you can also try creating a chessboard with your slices.
Austrian National Library
After a quick lunch, visit the Austrian National library housed in the Baroque State hall. Here you will find the most beautiful ceiling in the world and will probably spend half an hour just admiring it and trying to capture its beauty on a photograph, which we didn’t manage to do. You should especially come here, if you are into books. You can for example compare the messy handwriting of Freud with the neat handwriting of Albert Camus here. Plan to spend around an hour.
Christmas Market at Karlsplatz
Time for Christmas market #4, this time the one at Karlsplatz, which turned out to be our favorite, because of its historic and artistic charm. You will also have a chance to take a look at the Karls church (Karlskirche) in the background. Definitely try a Raclette Brot when you’re there. This is an Alpine-style Swiss cheese, melted over crunchy bread and yes, it tastes just as amazing as it sounds like.
Christmas market at Belvedere
And because it was our last day in Vienna and rumor has is that there’s even more Christmas markets to explore in Vienna (more than 20 in total actually!), we headed to the final one: the Christmas market at Belvedere Castle (Schloss Belvedere), which was nicely lit with the Christmas stalls set up alongside its facade. If you decide to visit, definitely try the Kässpätzle, which are the Austrian version of mac n cheese, at the end of the market and cheers with some Glühwein to this amazing city and this incredible trip!
After Vienna, we immediately headed to Budapest, so feel free to check out our Budapest winter itinerary as well!
If you have extra time:
- Schönbrunn Palace: take a trip onto the hill for a nice view. Walk through the gardens, get lost in mazes and explore the residence of the Habsburg dynasty. Note that the entry is expensive (22€) and that most people say it’s not worth its price, also because you’re not allowed to take pics inside. If you go, get the audio guide and do the Imperial tour, not the Grand tour.
- Museum of Applied Arts (MAK): free admission on Tuesdays between 6pm-10pm. Potters, architects and graphic designers will love this place.
- Vienna State Opera (Beethoven and Strauss): at the Stehplatz Kasse you can get a ticket for 3€ with which you can get a standing place for the Opera
- Hofburg Imperial Palace: If you have to choose between Hofburg Imperial Palace and Schönbrunn, go to Schönbrunn
- Leopold Museum: look at art from Klimt and Schiele and other impressionists. Tickets: 18€,
- Sigmund Freund Museum
Gifts to buy:
- Sacher Torte: purchase the most famous Austrian cake it at K & K Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel, where you will not only find Sacher Torte but also other confectionary items
- Mozartkugeln from Mirabell: you can find packs of different sizes in almost every grocery store in Austria
- Wine: we recommend WienWein or Weingut Cobenzi
- Snow Globe: since the snow globe was invented in Vienna, for once you may buy a snow globe