Vienna is a city well known for its beautiful architecture style, huge palaces, sprawling gardens and overall sense of splendor. This reputation often puts would-be travelers off, thinking that it surely must be impossible to enjoy the city properly and remain frugal at the same time. This guide will showcase how we explored the former imperial capital with a less than imperial budget.
No list of things to do in Vienna would be complete without Schonbrunn Palace, the summer retreat of the Habsburg royal family. The palace itself as well as the vast estate it sits in typify Austrian grandeur. We spent the best part of half a day wandering the beautiful sprawling gardens complete with rose adorned archways. It's not uncommon to see victorian-esque horse drawn carriages slowly making their way through the gravel pathways. The Palace itself is enormous and you will need to stand several hundred feet away from it in order to capture it in its entirety in a photo. Speaking of photos, Schonbrunn is without a doubt an intstagramer's dream, the lush gardens, bold mustard brickwork and extravagant fountains look incredible from any angle.
Tickets can greatly vary in price for tours of the palace and after doing a fair amount of research online decided to buy the slightly cheaper 'Imperial Tour' (€16) as opposed to the 'grand tour' (€20), the most interesting and awe-inspiring rooms are included on the imperial tour anyway. Save the 20 minutes and €4 and spend them elsewhere.
The grounds of the palace are free to enter, although entry to specific attractions like the on site zoo cost money to enter. If you intend to spend a good deal of time here, pack yourself a lunch that you can buy cheaply at a local 'Billa' or Lidl. The bakeries of both are of exceptional quality!
Vienna State Opera House
The Vienna State Opera remains to this day one of the most surreal experiences that either Caitlin or I have ever been involved in. The opera house itself is perhaps the most architecturally impressive building I've ever been in. Its towering alabaster beams, golden staircases, beautiful statues and chandeliers the size of cars hanging from ceilings hundreds of feet above.
Seeing an opera in one of the most splendid venues in perhaps all of the world must be unattainable expensive? You would think so. However it is possible to watch an opera for only €4, If you are willing and able to wait in line for an hour or two (ideally two!) before the performance. Make sure you are somewhat well dressed (I wore a long sleeve shirt, jeans and shoes) a complete guide to the experience can be found here.
Our advice would be to choose 'gallery' tickets as you will be on the highest level, some say giving the best acoustics, without a doubt the best views. It's common practice to take a scarf with you to 'claim' your standing station, so to speak, but as we had no scarf when we visited the opera house staff member near us advised us to wrap our program guide around the stand instead. Before the opera begins, head out to the balcony for spectacular views of the city, after the opera finishes don't be afraid to explore the building in its entirety! It's well worth giving half an hour to!
We stumbled across this hidden gem totally by accident while on our way to check out St. Stephan's Cathedral. Hidden away underneath the U-Bahn station at Stephanplatz lies this gorgeous ruined underground chapel. Only 5 euro to enter, its well worth the entry fee. As you descend to staircase to the chapel itself, the constant noise of the busy Viennese streets disappear and you are welcomed with peace and tranquility. The atmosphere totally contrasts the packed Cathedral just a few hundred feet away.
The museum section of the chapel is surprisingly comprehensive and focuses on the history of Vienna before its imperial heyday. You will be in the Stephanplatz area while you are in Vienna anyway, so it makes sense to check this little treasure out while you are there. Seeing a chapel totally underground and in partial ruin is a pretty unique experience!
Modling is a little town attached to the west of Vienna. A major reason that we visited Vienna in the first place was to spend the day hiking through medieval woodland, marveling at a Disney castle and enjoying a boat ride inside of a mountain. We spent the whole day on our feet taking part in these activities, so if you intend to do the same, wear sensible shoes and be ready for a lot of walking, but as much if not more amazing sights to take in.
We began by getting the 'R' train to Modling Bahnof and then following the B11 south and then west towards Hinterbruhl. After walking down this attractive road for a while you will notice a stone wall and a street sign that is pointing right, into the wooded hills. After a fairly steep climb, you will find 'Schwartze Turm' or 'The Black Tower', which happens to also be a good time to catch your breathe after the ascent.
Once you have recuperated, make your way on the paths leading to the west and be sure to try and stop of at the ruins of an old chapel, now largely overgrown. Once you begin to reach the western edge of the forest, you will be presented with fantastic scenic views of the region (and benches to rest on!).
Underground Lake - 'Seegrotte'
After exiting the vast forest directly to the south of the chapel ruins, you will be on 'Liechtensteinstrasse', follow the road right until it turns into 'Graf-Mailaf-Gasse', continue on this road and after some time the entrance to the underground lake will be on the right. The entrance fee is 12 euros per adult, but considering you will be given a guided tour as well as a boat ride, the price isn't unwarranted in my opinion. The temperature in the cave system can be much colder than outside, so if you are prone to feeling the cold pack a coat in your backpack to put on.
The Seegrotte itself is unreal, after spending a while descending into the tunnels (a little claustrophobic at times!) you are given a complete history of the system, from its mining origins through to secret Nazi-controlled weapons development. The lighting in the cave system is old fashioned and really adds to the eerie atmosphere. After being given a run down of the history, you finally reach the main attraction, the lake itself. You board a viking style dragon-boat and are taken around the lake, the experience is simply one of a kind and a must see when you visit Vienna in my opinion!
'The Disney Castle' as I like to call it, can be reached after the Seegrotte by heading north and then following 'Johannesstrasse' east, back into the forest. The castle has a vast estate around it, where you can stop off and buy snacks and refreshments for fairly reasonable prices. Although we arrived too late to enter the castle itself, tickets range from 7 to 10 euros and from the pictures we have seen online, the price seems fair.
The castle is simply awe inspiring and no matter the angle you look from, you can take spectacular pictures. Entering the castle grounds is of course free, making it a perfect excursion from Vienna without spending a fortune. Well worth the visit! If you are more pressed for time, the castle can be easily accessed by bus from Vienna itself.
St. Stephan's Cathedral
It may well be the main cathedral of Vienna, and possibly even Austria as a whole, however the cathedral isn't as impressive or even as accessible as most other cathedrals in Europe. Access to much of the floor is restricted, with visitors instead allowed in an 'observation area'. The interior of the cathedral as seen from the observation area is beautiful, the typical catholic pomp is present which seems to fit with the rest of Vienna's style perfectly. If you do go, visit early in the morning so you see more of the cathedral and less of the back of peoples heads.
The Spanish Riding School
An institution that has been in the city since the renaissance, the Spanish Riding School can be found a short walk from the National Library mentioned above. You can actually see the horses for free as you walk around the outside of the building, which was enough to satisfy us. Tickets start at around 10 euros (and rise quickly thereafter).
This courtyard located right outside of the Spanish riding school often hosts very quirky and unique art exhibitions and should be checked in case there is one at the time of your stay. When we visited there was a large wooden box with veiw-holes dotted around it (below). Inside several 'actors' were playing out a very suggestive scene involving a scantily clad drindl wearing girl sucking on a lolly pop as two male performers watched, also in traditional clothing. If nothing else, it was something that got us talking as we made our way around the city.
Belvedere Palace and Kunsthistorisches Museum
As Caitlin and I aren't hugely into art exhibitions, we decided we wouldn't go inside of Belvedere Palace which has a huge collection of Gustav Kilmt's work. The grounds are utterly spectacular and if the weather is kind to you, there aren't many places in Vienna we would rather hang out. The same can be said for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a visit is warranted if only to appreciate the architecture and the well maintained grounds. These should be on anyones to do list who has an appreciation of the artistic.
Top budget tips for ViennaRSS Feed
1) Take advantage of day passes or even multi-day passes for the buses and trains. Buying single fares can be useful if you don't have a set plan or itinerary, however if you know you will be in the city for say, thursday - saturday buy a three day pass. If you don't want to commit to the price of a day pass, plan your single fares to cover only what you need to by bus/train and walk the shorter distances (you'll discover hidden gems this way too!)
2) The supermarkets Bila and Lidl are your wallets best friends. Eating out is expensive, this is the case the world over, however in a city as 'flashy' as Vienna, it's even more accurate. Rather than spending heavy at restaurants, purchase hearty meals at Bila and use the savings elsewhere. As mentioned above, the bakeries at both of these stores are fantastic for their price.
3) Airbnb it. As ever, we fully recommend using Airbnb during your time in Vienna. As with any large city, there is a great deal of flexibility around both choice and price on Airbnb in Vienna, which means you can find exactly what you need for the right price. We ended up in an apartment with a few mature Italian students in a beautiful Baroque converted complex and spent only $20 a night for it. With some hunting around and planning in advance, accommodation doesn't have to be much of an expense in Vienna.