Not to set any unrealistic expectations, but it may very well be impossible to have a bad time in Vienna. Austria’s capital is easy to adore, with brilliant baroque architecture, cozy coffee shops, and a seemingly endless amount of art and culture.
Vienna was the largest seat of power in the Austro-Hungarian empire, a joint region which dissolved just after World War I. Although the country only became independent in 1955, the capital city has long been an influential hub for creatives, thinkers, and dreamers. It’s the home of famed composers, psychoanalysis, art’s Vienna Secession movement, and incredible architecture.
While Vienna knows how to honor its past, you’ll find plenty of modern-day creatives making their mark as well. With that in mind, it’s easy to plan a trip that blends time-honored spaces with new, exciting culture.
What to Do
Vienna has over 100 museums, so you can find world class art tucked in every corner of the city. You’ll have your pick in the MuseumsQuartier, a hub of cultural institutions ranging from fine art to music, architecture to fashion, and theater to photography. The open space is dotted with places like the Leopold Museum and the Architekturzentrum. It also offers plenty of room to relax, hang out, and ponder which exhibit you’ll visit next. Not far from the MuseumsQuartier, you’ll find Albertina Modern, the city’s newest museum for modern and contemporary art. The building itself has been around since 1868, always as an institution for art. After the city restored the space to its neoclassical glory, it formally opened as a new museum in 2020.
Graphic designers and typeface enthusiasts should make a point to visit the Stadtschrift showroom. Since 2012, this archival space has collected letterforms, signage, and other historic signs of Vienna’s past. If you can’t visit the showroom, you may also encounter one of their wall shows while wandering the streets. Throughout the city, you’ll find building façades with a wide range of lettering, from thin, graceful scripts to thick, ‘70s-style signage.
Walk around the Vienna University of Economics and Business campus and you’ll encounter buildings by an impressive array of global designers. Here, you can spot the work of architects like Zaha Hadid and Hitoshi Abe, which makes it a perfect spot for architecture buffs. The structures’ bright, subdued colors, sharp angles, and gentle curves combine to create an energizing effect.
Don’t forget to put the Museum of Applied Arts, or MAK for short, on your radar. MAK has been in Austria since 1863, and was originally known as the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry. This institution specializes in arts, crafts, and design, with a roster of exhibits that rotate throughout the year. A permanent exhibit, the MAK Design Lab, is unsurprisingly, a must for design lovers. It uses hundreds of objects to present a thoughtful look at how design has the power to shape our world, enhanced with the MAK Lab App. On your way out, make sure not to miss the well-curated gift shop.
You’ll encounter no shortage of boutiques and local handicraft stores in Vienna. You can purchase fine, locally-made ceramics at feinedinge*, a tableware and home accessory shop. They craft delicate, dainty pieces, with an emphasis on sustainability that includes using nearby suppliers and recycling unfired porcelain. Discover statement pieces you won’t find anywhere else at UNIKATESSEN concept store, featuring new and vintage fashion, furniture, and other unique pieces. You can enjoy relaxed wandering and window-shopping on Neubaugasse, a street in Vienna’s 7th district. This destination is ideal for anyone who’d prefer to avoid big-name stores and purchase local goods instead.
Eat and Drink
Viennese coffee house culture has been an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” since the 17th century, so no trip to the city is truly complete without experiencing it firsthand. If you try to imagine a coffee shop there, Café Sperl is likely just the spot you’re envisioning. This historic cafe from the late 1800s has a well-maintained, warm interior with mouth watering homemade cakes. Adlerhof has a stunning interior, and it’s a prime spot to see Thonet chairs in action. Michael Thonet created these icons of furniture design in 1859, and they have since become synonymous with coffee shop culture. Why view them in a museum when you can sit in one yourself?
Dining options abound in Vienna, and The LaLa stands out for its refreshing, healthy lunch options and insanely stylish space. The rosy, pink restaurant feels a little like a fever dream, and its sleek serif wordmark and meticulously tiled floors make it a chic dining destination. Even if you don’t stop in for a full meal, grab a smoothie to take on-the-go while you sightsee.
The Palmenhaus delivers with a creative menu and gorgeous physical space between Hofburg Palace and Burggarten. Here, you can dine amongst lush flora and bask in the natural light filtering through the windows. This 140-year-old structure has gone through a few iterations, and a recent multi-million dollar renovation made it the extravagant, statuesque spot it is today.
TIAN Bistro is the spot for vegetarian haute cuisine, with food that looks like a work of art. The comfortable seating area, wooden tables, and abundant nearby greenery will make you feel like you’ve just sat down on someone’s patio for a meal. The menu won’t steer you wrong, and the highly-recommend multi-course tasting menu provides an innovative take on fresh, local fare.
Vienna stays busy late into the night, so grab a drink at Barfly’s Club. This recently reopened bar is a local legend, and the decor will make your Great Gatsby dreams come true. This glamorous art deco spot is resplendent with leather seats, moody lighting, and green marble. With over 100 pages of cocktails, you’ll certainly want to go for a second round. The iconic Sacher hotel’s Blaue Bar is another spot to indulge in the glitz and glam of the city. The sophisticated spot invites you to enjoy impeccable service and divine decor, like brocade walls and sparkling chandeliers.
Where to Stay
At night, rest your head at Hotel Josefine in Vienna’s creative 6th district. The second you step inside, you will think you’ve just walked into a Wes Anderson film. It features a healthy dose of art deco and surrealist decor, a laid-back lobby, and lovely personal touches throughout the rooms. Enjoy downtime with a retro Roberts radio, or rest against a traditional headboard made from Viennese woven cane.
Check into Hotel Karasinski for a truly one-of-a-kind hotel experience. This tiny Superbude hotel only houses 2-3 people at a time, with unique design and decor by Laura Karasinski. The room features charismatic vintage furniture and personalized welcome note from the designer herself. This intimate experience is as close as you can get to staying in a local’s home, while still having all the benefits of a hotel.
If you want the marriage of luxury and a central location, consider the Park Hyatt Vienna. This century-old building used to be a bank, and the hotel manages to convert a once-stuffy financial space into sheer elegance. This spot is perfect for lounging on particularly exhausting travel days. Enjoy a glamorous day of downtime at the unique Arany Spa, tucked within the bank’s former vault.