How to Spend a Perfect Weekend in Vienna

Food meets culture in this gorgeous European capital

May 4, 2024 10:21 pm
Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Austria
Getty Images

To say Vienna has a rich history is an understatement. Situated on the Danube River, this strategic city served as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it was home to the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled for centuries. 

Today, the German-speaking city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a United Nations outpost and — thanks to famous former inhabitants like Beethoven and Mozart, and to its lauded orchestra and opera house — it’s widely considered the music capital of Europe. Vienna’s mix of modernity with Baroque design, clean streets, stability and safety make it one of the world’s most livable cities, according to the Economist’s annual index.

Despite its reputation for music, world-class architecture and old-world charm, Vienna hasn’t enjoyed the same reputation for food and nightlife as cities like Paris, Barcelona and London. But all that’s changing, as the city’s new crop of exciting restaurants and bars are now woven seamlessly into the Viennese fabric, existing alongside grand hotels and cafes, while also breathing new life into less-expected neighborhoods. 

There’s a lot to do in Vienna. Consult this guide as you game-plan the perfect weekend in Austria’s capital city.

How to Get to Vienna

If you’re traveling from the United States, you’ll find a few nonstop flights from select markets, including New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Otherwise your best bet is connecting through a major European hub, like London, Zurich or Frankfurt. Vienna is also served by a variety of trains, so travelers already in Europe can ride the rails straight into the city center.

One important note: Vienna is “Wien” in German, so if you see Wien listed on a train schedule or local ticket, you’re going to the right place.

Rosewood Vienna
Rosewood Vienna

Where to Stay in Vienna

Vienna has accommodations for every type of traveler, from five-star properties to budget-friendly hostels. Rosewood Vienna is one of the city’s newest and nicest hotels, leaning into its reputation for luxury while still honoring the structure’s historic past. The property is situated across a series of four 19th century neoclassical buildings that once housed a bank. Much of the facade remains, while the interior now sports 100 guestrooms and suites outfitted with custom furnishings and modeled after Viennese residential living, plus an Austrian brasserie, a rooftop bar and a spa.

It’s easy to become ensconced in the hotel, content to explore the two-story Asaya Spa, with its jetlag-curing treatment rooms, sauna and steam bath, before adjourning upstairs to the Neue Hoheit Bar for a well-made cocktail highlighting Austrian ingredients. But one of Rosewood Vienna’s main draws is its location. Sitting right in the middle of the action at Petersplatz, a famous city square, the hotel looks onto St. Peter’s Church and provides convenient pedestrian access to shopping, dining and cultural sites. So, make sure you get outside and stretch your legs.

Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace
Getty Images

What to Do in Vienna

The typical Vienna to-do list includes a stop at Schönbrunn Palace — the former summer residence of the Habsburgs and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s full of gilded rooms and meticulously maintained gardens — and the dramatic St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We find no fault in those stops, but with only a few days on the ground, it’s best to rank your priorities and hit the high points, leaving plenty of time for leisurely strolls and lengthy lunches.

Art buffs should spend a few hours in the Museums Quarter, which used to be the imperial horse stables. That seems insane considering it’s 90,000 square meters, accounts for 60 cultural institutions, and is one of the largest art and culture districts in the world. But that’s where you’ll find attractions like the Leopold Museum, which is loaded with Austrian art, and the modern art-focused Mumok.

You’ll have to venture outside the quarter for other top museums, like the Kunsthistorisches Museum and its fine arts collection, or the impressive Natural History Museum. And did you really go to Vienna if you didn’t swing through the Belvedere Museum to view masterworks by Gustav Klimt including “The Kiss”? Yes, but it couldn’t hurt to check it off your list anyway. 

One of the greatest orchestras in the world is posted up at the Vienna Philharmonic, and top-notch singing happens nearby at the Vienna State Opera. Music aficionados should see a show before adjourning to dinner one night.

And if your visit coincides with the holidays, don’t miss Vienna’s many festive Christmas markets, which pop-up across the city from late-November through the end of December. There you can drink mulled wine, snack on sausages and potato pancakes, and grab souvenirs to take home with you, from ornaments to street art.  

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Where to Eat and Drink in Vienna

Vienna is famous for its cafe culture, which eschews the hurried rush at your typical Starbucks in favor of a laid-back, leisurely approach where guests might linger over an espresso and an apple strudel or sachertorte for hours. Cafe Central is heavily trafficked and often has a queue out front, but for good reason: It serves cafe classics in a grand old building. Cafe Landtmann, dating back to 1873, is another old-school favorite, where you can get coffee, cakes, breakfast and lunch. There are dozens of modern cafes, too, where you can sit with your coffee or take it to go.

Vienna (aka Wien) is the home of the wienerschnitzel, so you can’t leave city borders without having at least one. They’re easy to come by at restaurants across town, but a personal favorite is Figlmuller, which opened in 1905 and is a cozy spot for scoring a schnitzel that spills over your plate, a side of excellent potatoes and a tall beer.

A newer crop of restaurants is serving local cuisine through a modern lens. Find great food and drinks at Bruder, which specializes in house ferments and natural wines. The casual atmosphere at O’Boufes belies the cooking, as chefs prepare thoughtfully presented plates of meat, fish and vegetables alongside a solid wine list. And Mast Weinbistro serves a fresh and seasonal take on Austrian cuisine, with a six-course chef’s tasting menu and wine pairings, so you can enjoy the ride without the need for decision making.

In Vienna, wine and beer are everywhere you look, so you’ll never go thirsty. Great cocktails are fewer in number, but increasingly more available via a handful of excellent bars. Stop into Josef for good drinks and friendly service in a small, cozy space, then double-up at its adjacent Tiki offshoot. And when plans take you into the city’s stylish 7th District, don’t miss Moby Dick, a gorgeous bar with creative cocktails and an interesting menu that breaks down drinks via graphics and flavor wheels. Sure, you can get an expertly made Old Fashioned or Negroni at Vienna’s top bars, but then you might miss out on some unexpected tropical flair or whatever off-menu experiments the barkeeps are tinkering with that particular day. 

Just like Vienna itself, the bar scene manages to blend old-world charm with enough subversive creativity to keep you thirsting for more.


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