After exploring the most obvious places and attractions in the Imperial city it really pays to get off the beaten path in Vienna.
Vienna was recently declared the world’s most livable city, prompting people across the world to ask themselves what makes Austria’s capital so special. Beyond the main tourist attractions in Vienna what else is there to see?
We’re happy to report that the answer to that question is “lots and lots!”. There are a bunch of exciting and unique things to do in Vienna that are off the beaten path and help to ensure you experience the city at its best.
We always recommend that tourists walk beyond the boundaries of their little maps whenever exploring a new city, and Vienna is no exception! Sure, you can walk around the Old Town city center for days marveling at all the amazing museums and architecture that Vienna has to offer, but by doing ONLY that you might never learn more about the TRUE Vienna, the one removed from the hordes of tourists.
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Vienna Off the Beaten Path
With that in mind, we wanted to provide you guys with a starting place to explore the Vienna most tourists won’t get to see. Below you will find our list of favorite authentic things to do in Vienna off the beaten path.
While for typical Vienna sightseeing we recommend you come to Vienna in the off season, there are some great offbeat activities you can do anytime, all year round.
And remember, once you guys are done exploring all the touristic and off-the-beaten-path facets of Vienna make sure to take one of these awesome day trips from Vienna!
Go For a Walk and Dinner in Grinzing
You probably don’t know that Vienna is the only metropolis with significant vineyard operations within the city limits.
The wine taverns in Vienna are named “Heurige” and are located in charming neighborhoods that have maintained their village character. These areas are easily accessible by public transport from the city center and they border the Vienna Woods, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with clearly marked walking and hiking routes.
Grinzing is the most famous of the Viennese wine villages, and is reachable from the Schottentor station in the city center via tram line number 38. Heuriger restaurants are everywhere in Grinzing and you can enjoy new wine (the one from the current vintage also named “heurige”), assorted food platters, live music, and good cheer
But before you visit one of these restaurants you can work up an appetite by hiking to Kahlenberg or the Leopoldsberg. Although tiny for everybody else’s standards except for the locals’, Vienna’s most famous hills allow for enchanting vistas over the city and the Danube basin as far as Bratislava.
If you’re on the lazy side, bus number 38A takes you from Grinzing to the top of the hills such that you can walk your way back through astonishing panoramas, vine-covered slopes, and more Heuriger hidden among vineyards. Finally, for the super lazy ones, the Vienna Heurigen Express offers a round trip of the area in a hop on hop off system, so you can enjoy the charming villages and views without too much effort.
Enjoy Nature in the Middle of the City
For fresh air and relaxation in Vienna there are countless green areas, each with a distinct character and history. The city’s parks and gardens are true gems for the locals and for the visitors who dare to discover them. You find below our favorite picks.
The Vienna Prater
Home to the iconic Giant Ferris Wheel, the Prater is the oldest amusement park in the world and not exactly what you would call an off the beaten path destination. However, beyond roller-coasters, merry-go-rounds, and candy shops, the area covering six million square meters also features vast lawns and woods. These green grounds are virtually unknown to tourists, such that the 4,5 km long straight boulevard called the Prater Hauptalle is a heaven for local runners, inline skaters, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Its location only 3 km away from the Stephansplatz (city center) has earned the Prater a spot among the ten best city parks in the world. Add that to your list of things to do in Vienna, it’s a must!
Looking for budget accommodations in Vienna? Check out our guide to the best hostels in Vienna!
The Türkenschanzpark (Turks’ Ditch Park)
To reach this park located on the spot where in 1683 the Turkish army entrenchments were built, you simply need to take trams 40 or 41 from the Schottentor station. There is something for every taste in the 2,500 square meters area including a lookout water tower (the Paulinenwarte), sport facilities, lovely walking paths, a pond, and a waterfall.
Our favorite monument is the fountain in oriental style donated by the Turkish embassy as a sign of friendship between Turkey and Vienna. We also love the Meierei-Diglas restaurant inside the park, run by the great-great-grandchildren of the man who served a sweet treat to Emperor Franz Josef in 1888 when the Türkenschanzpark was open.
The Kurpark Oberlaa
This one is our all-time favorite and I have been reluctant to share it, to be honest. There are enough things to do in the area for a whole day, so we highly recommend it to those who simply need a break from all the sightseeing. Take the metro line number one (U1) to its end station called Oberlaa and it will lead you directly to the Therme Wien (Vienna’s Thermal Baths), the biggest city spa in Europe.
Next to it, you will find a representative branch of Kurkonditorei Oberlaa, a famous producer of infamously delicious Viennese pastries. If you are still able to move afterward, the park itself is absolutely splendid. It was built for the Vienna International Garden Show of 1974 and it features amazing flower arrangements (including a flower maze), ponds, themed gardens, and for those who skipped the pastry shop, sports facilities.
Savor a Musical at Ronacher Theater
I am pretty sure that when you think about things to do in Vienna you might rightfully consider a classical concert or an evening at the opera/ballet as a priority.
You can have the traditional Viennese experience in one day, leaving you with enough time to experiment further. So how about a Broadway level musical for a change?
The Ronacher has a long tradition as a vaudeville and variety theater and has been known to compete with the more high-end establishments since the 19th century. The theater building itself (located in the historic first district) recently underwent extensive renovation works well worth checking out.
Dine With a Panoramic View at the Danube Tower
The Danube Tower (Donauturm) is Austria’s highest landmark, situated in the Danube Park and visible from afar. Constructed in the 1960’s for the Viennese International Horticultural Show, it has recently been renovated in a modern reinterpretation of the original style.
Visitors can take the express lift to the viewing terrace 150m above ground which presents an arresting 360° panorama over the entire city. One floor higher is the Tower Café offering the full traditional Viennese coffee house experience in this unique setting.
One of our favorite things to do in Vienna during weekends is to enjoy brunch in the Tower Café. Go even higher, and at 170m you find the Tower Restaurant, an excellent blend of Austrian cuisine, wine, and hospitality. The restaurant rotates, thus enabling guests a changing 360° scenic view over Vienna during dinner.
Family events can be celebrated at the Danube Tower, or you can book special meals in a romantic setting, such as the monthly full moon dinner package.
Shop at Authentic Neighborhood Markets
We love Vienna’s neighborhood markets because they display the city’s multicultural facets in a charming, unique way. Stalls of freshly supplied produce from all over the world and genuine ethnic restaurants are the setting where long-time residents, expats, and visitors come together to enjoy Vienna at its best! In addition to the famous Naschmarkt, we want to go on record for the Karmelitermarkt and the Brunnenmarkt.
The Karmelitermarkt is located across the canal from the city center (Schwedenplatz) and can be easily reached on foot. While the market itself dates back to the 17th century, the surrounding area has recently reinvented itself with plenty of art galleries, studios, restos, and bars worth discovering.
To reach the Brunnenmarkt you need to get on the metro line number 6 (U6) and go to the station Josefstädter Straße, but the ride is well worth it. This is Vienna’s largest market (1700 stalls) offering very good quality fruit, vegetables, and fish at affordable prices. Add to that a vibrant international dining scene and you have the ingredients for a perfect Viennese afternoon away from the crowds.
See a Movie at the Austrian Film Museum
This one is for all those who think that museums are dusty, trite, borderline boring places to spend time in during city visits. Vienna offers museums with a twist for everybody looking for something different to do.
Each month from September to June/July at the Austrian Film Museum they choose a director/actor/theme/topic and screen the most relevant movies pertaining to it/him/her. In their own words, their aim is both the high-quality preservation and the public presentation of film, in an attempt to bring the history of cinematography to life for all those interested.
Indulge at the Chocolate Museums
There are actually two museums dedicated to this sweet pleasure in Vienna! One of them, the Chocolate Museum Vienna, offers free tastings and chocolate making workshops in the Prater, daily from 10 AM-6 PM.
The Schokomuseum is associated with Austria’s most famous chocolate producer Confiserie Heindl. They invite you to get exclusive insights into the production of their specialities Heindl and Pischinger through guided tours, workshops, and of course, sweet tastings. Can you resist?
Marvel at Austria’s National Treasury Museum
Tucked away in one of the inner courtyards of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, one could easily pass by this outstanding museum without even realizing it. The Austrian National Treasury Museum houses a priceless collection that includes the insignia and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the world’s largest emeralds, the Crown of the Austrian Empire, the Holy Lance (traditionally worshiped as the lance used to stab Jesus Christ while on the Cross), and an agate bowl thought to be the Holy Grail.
The artifacts and jewels in this collection take you on a gripping journey through the Middle Ages and beyond, illustrating how art blended with religion and faith throughout history.
The State Hall of the Austrian National Library
Whether or not the State Hall of the Austrian National Library is an off the beaten path attraction is debatable, seeing as it is probably the most famous library hall in the whole world. The previous court library of the Habsburgs, decorated in a lavishing baroque style, is 20 meters high and 80 meters long, and houses over 200,000 volumes.
To make it even more majestic are the central 30 meters high oval dome, allegorical frescoes, and four Venetian globes each more than one meter in diameter. It does not matter if you are a book and art lover or not, a visit to this landmark should be on your list of things to do in Vienna during your next visit.
Delve Into Vienna’s Third Wave Coffee Culture
Although Vienna is renowned for its traditional coffee house culture, tuxedo-outfitted, grumpy, unintelligible waiters and delicious pastries included, the speciality coffee trend is very well represented in the city. Whether you are a devotee of artisanal coffee or just want to try it out for the first time, here are some third wave coffee shops in close proximity to the center/main attractions.
Jonas Reindl is the absolute favorite place for many students, and conveniently located close to the Schottentor tram station.
Right in the heart of the city, the Fenster Café is exactly what the name says – a Window Coffee Place – that serves the most affordable espresso in Vienna for 0,99 cents, coffee in a chocolate-covered ice cream cone, and a wide range of other specialties – to go!
Before opening their second shop in the famous Ferstel Passage in the city center, CaffèCouture has been around in Vienna for over five years and has gained the appreciation of the locals with their know-how and passion. Enjoy!
I have saved our personal favorite for last – hidden pretty much behind the famous Karlskirche, Kaffefabrik is a small neighborhood coffee shop that has won our hearts. Their coffee is made from freshly roasted beans they acquire themselves from farmers in Africa, India, and South America.
Join in Austrians’ Obsession With Death
This one’s a bit of a turn-off, but there’s no way around dealing with the macabre if you are serious about experiencing Vienna in an authentic way. The Austrians’ obsession with death is as long-standing as their coffee culture, the traditional one that is. The 18th-century trend to devote time and resources to prepare one’s own funeral stems from a general enthusiasm for the ceremony and taking the spotlight, so much so that there is a museum in Vienna dedicated to the process. The Vienna Undertakers’ Museum shows you the most relevant inventions related to burial procedures, including the reusable coffin introduced in the 18th century in order to save wood.
If you want to go light on the matter, the St Marx Cemetery where Mozart is buried turns into the most magnificent lilac garden in spring. I would have never believed that a walk in the cemetery would be among my number one things to do in Vienna, but lilac is my favorite flower so here you go.
For a more hardcore approach to the topic, you can follow the trail of the Habsburgs’ burial ritual. Traditionally, their corpses were buried in the Kapuzinergruft where the Imperial Burial Vault can be visited, their intestines went to a crypt in St Stephan (Stephansdom), while their hearts reached the Augustinian Church.
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About Anca at Dream, Book, and Travel
If you still did not find your cup of tea (or coffee) among our suggestions above, feel free to contact me at Dream, Book, and Travel. I am the least better half of a Romanian/Turkish couple who call Vienna their home for ten years now. Our studies and job as Molecular Biologists, alongside our passion for books and culture, food and wine (not in that particular order), have led us to travel extensively over the past years. It is these experiences I share on our blog, where we also offer personalized itineraries, book suggestions, restaurant reviews, and more recently tips on how to travel with a nine month old baby.