Vienna: Insider Travel Guide

Britta Pichler, for CNN Updated 23rd March 2017
Editor's Note — CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN) — The best of Vienna shows off a versatile city with more to offer than most people think.
Vienna's elegance and tradition find their greatest expression in the Inner City, or more formally, the First District.
Its 3 square kilometers are full of stunning architecture, highlighted by palaces, museums, theaters and churches.
Most tourists stay in this small area to see the best of Vienna, then leave town thinking that's all there is.
Pity, those people miss out on seeing what Vienna is really about by not exploring the outer districts.
There's the Naschmarkt (snack market) where Viennese go to eat.
There's the Seventh District with its huge shopping street and Bohemian flair, funky coffeehouses and local designers.
The Nineteenth District showcases a strong wine culture with vineyards inside the city limits.
After a day of touring the city, all-night partying awaits in pubs, bars, restaurants and dance clubs.


Hotel Imperial You can live like a prince at the Hotel Imperial.
The building was originally constructed in 1863 as the Vienna residence of the Prince of Württemberg.
The stately palace on the magnificent Ring Boulevard was turned into the Hotel Imperial in 1873.
It's still a best of Vienna hotel pick.
The Ritz-Carlton Vienna
Opened in 2012, the Ritz-Carlton Vienna is the groups' first hotel in Austria.
It sits among stiff competition on the Ring Boulevard, which is dusted with one five-star hotel after another.
However, the rooftop terrace Atmosphere is a hotspot for the local Viennese to enjoy a spectacular view of the city.
Hotel Bristol
Rooms with a view of the Opera House are more expensive, but worth it.
Hotel Bristol
Yet another five-star hotel decorating the Ring Boulevard, the Hotel Bristol has been around since 1892.
Its Prince of Wales suite is the largest in the country and famous because the Prince of Edward VIII once resided here.
The rest of the hotel can feel a bit tight for American guests, but cozy for Europeans, depending on your viewpoint.
NH Wien City
NH Hotel on Mariahilfer Strasse supports the company's claim to being one of the top 20 chains in the world.
It follows the company's look with minimal style and clean lines.
The location is fantastic, right in the middle of Vienna's biggest shopping street with an underground connection almost at the front door.
Yet for all this, it still manages to remain quiet and tranquil.
Staff are friendly and check-in quick.
Pension Schönbrunn
Next to the imperial summer palace and a five-minute walk from an underground station, this clean budget hotel has an ideal location.
Rooms are spacious and there are a few that overlook a courtyard that offer quiet from the busy street outside.
Staff are friendly and speak good English.
The breakfast is basic and unvaried but provides good coffee.


One of the world's best restaurants.
Britta Pichler
One of the world's best restaurants.
Considered one of the best restaurants in the world by prestigious Les Grandes Tables Du Monde, Steirereck offers painstakingly presented modern Austrian cuisine.
It uses fresh ingredients from the chef's own farm.
Its location in the middle of a park offers a soothing escape from the bustle of the city.
Open weekdays only.
Reservations are a must for lunch and dinner.
Taverne am Sachsengang
Thirty minutes from the Vienna city center, Taverne am Sachsengang is an escape from the city -- and other tourists.
During summer months, guests sit outside and enjoy a view of the Danube.
In winter, a fireplace gives the restaurant a cozy atmosphere.
The chef changes the menu according to season and specializes in fish, game and asparagus.
On the first Wednesday of every month, a special 10-course menu is offered that allows chefs to show off culinary creativity and excellence.
Plachutta is celebrated for its tafelspitz, the favored dish of Emperor Franz Josef.
The best of Vienna boiled beef comes with a side of applesauce spiked with horseradish, which makes a sweet and spicy combination.
Café Central
Café Central is a coffeehouse first, but serves traditional Austrian food for lunch.
During dinner the white linens come out to cover the marble tabletops.
The grand interior displays its palace setting to perfection, with a classical pianist serenading diners on select days.
Bettel Student
Bettel Student is a rowdy pub that serves reasonably priced, consistently good Austrian food.
The upstairs seating area is usually quiet and not too crowded.
For those seeking the best of Vienna, eating at a würstelstand (sausage stand) is an integral part of the local eating experience.
There are many stands strewn throughout the city, but the best is in front of the Albertina Museum.
There are a variety of sausages with the option of a side of bread and an Austrian Ottakringer beer or even champagne.


Vienna coffeehouses are an institution.
Social life revolves around them, as people have breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, business meetings, celebrations and above all, coffee and cake.
Decide quickly or they'll all be gone.
Demel was the Imperial and Royal Court Confectionary Bakery to the former Austrian royal family.
Though the emperor is gone, Demel hangs on tight to its traditions.
It continues to produce exquisite cakes created by hand.
You can check them out behind glass walls in the back.
Upstairs offers seating in pretty, parlor-like rooms.
Sacher Café
Sacher Café makes the delicious sachertorte, which has been delivered to almost every country in the world.
The recipe is kept secret and the country's best bakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate the iconic chocolate cake.


Nightlife in Vienna isn't always easy to find even though the party week starts on Wednesday and on weekends goes all night long.
Sofitel Hotel
The Sofitel has a sophisticated bar that offers the absolute best view of the city.
The floor-to-ceiling glass windows lay a glittering Vienna at your feet.
The bar is well stocked.
The restaurant's Austrian-French fusion is so-so.
Unfortunately making reservations for the bar is no longer an option and standing in line to get to the top is the norm.
The 25 hours Hotel bar
The 25 hours Hotel bar has a laid-back atmosphere, good vibe and cheap drinks.
The best thing about the place is the large terrace.
A downside is that there can be a long line to get in; reservations aren't taken, so it's wait to get in or skip it.
Volksgarten-Pavillon is where Viennese go to dance late into the night during the hot summer months.
The garden in the back is the highlight, with an outside bar and even a pool.
The music is a mix of house, disco and party hits.
On Fridays and Saturdays, if you show up before midnight, you might be the only one in the place.
Albertina Passage
Vienna über-chic.
Albertina Passage
Albertina Passage is where the über-chic of Vienna go to dance.
A major advantage is that there are a lot of seating nooks to sip your drinks in and get cozy with friends.


The major shopping street in Vienna's First District, Kärntnerstrasse, has one flagship store lined up after the other.
The usual suspects, such as H&M and Zara, are present, but the German department store Peek & Cloppenburg dominates the scene by offering the best all-around shopping.
Kärntnerstrasse; Kärntner Str. 29; +43 1 8904888 0
Golden Quarter
The Golden Quarter is so-called due to the brand flagship stores lined up one after another in the First District on Kohlmarkt Street.
Sitting right behind the Imperial Palace, brands such as Chanel, Tiffany, Burberry, Ferragamo and Gucci among others feel right at home.
Chanel, Kohlmarkt 5; Tiffany, Kohlmarkt 8-10; Burberry, Kohlmarkt 2; Ferragamo,Kohlmarkt 7; Gucci, Kohlmarkt 5
Vienna's preeminent markt, er, market.
Britta Pichler
Just outside the Inner City is the Naschmarkt.
You'll need to put up with crowds and walk at a slow pace to see all the exotic foods on display.
On Saturdays, the Naschmarkt expands to include Europe's largest flea market.
It's fun to poke through all the dusty knickknacks even if many items are overpriced.
Closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Peryd Shou Print Boutique
If it can be printed on something, Peryd Shou Print Boutique can do it.
Peryd Shou Print Boutique believes that printing what you want on any surface is possible ... and in just 30 minutes.
The store is filled with bags, shirts, lampshades and even tea sets with unique prints from the imaginative to the bizarre.
The Hot Dogs
The Hot Dog is the result of designer Mandarina Brausewetter's dream of producing streetwear to buy.
The trained graphic designer rose to fame in the graffiti scene.
Now she puts her designs on T-shirts, skirts and other articles of clothing that she makes in the back of her store.
The Hot Dogs, Zollergasse 12; +43 1 236 8814
With the tagline "fashion democracy," useabrand encourages its shoppers to design their own clothes.
Its website allows users to pick the color, material and cut.
Once a month designs are voted on by users and the winner is then produced and sold online and in the useabrand store.
useabrand; Zollergasse 15; +43 1 699 11 47 8004


The First District contains almost all of the best of Vienna's "must sees."
It's small enough to walk everywhere.
St. Stephen's Cathedral
Vienna's most photogenic cathedral.
Ostreich Werbung Bohnacker
St. Stephen's Cathedral is the iconic image of Vienna and an excellent display of Gothic architecture.
It dominates the center of the city.
Its colorful roof is covered with 230,000 tiles that form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle representing Austria's former imperial family, the Habsburgs.
Inside there's an elevator that goes to the top of the cathedral for nice views of the city.
The Hofburg Imperial Palace
The art of history.
Britta Pichler
The Hofburg Imperial Palace has 20 different tours that inform visitors about Austrian history.
The most impressive is the Spanish Riding School, where white Lipizzaner horses perform to Strauss' "The Blue Danube."
Tickets purchased in advance are necessary.
The Imperial Treasury boasts imperial crowns, jewels and a "unicorn" horn.
However, the best tour is the Imperial Apartments Sisi Museum, with a refreshing honesty about the past Austrian Empress.
Vienna Ring Boulevard
Lined with the most stunning architecture in the city, the 5,200-meter-long Vienna Ring Boulevard was created from 1860-1890 when the old city walls were torn down.
Best of Vienna architecture includes the neo-classic Parliament, Gothic City Hall and State Opera, which received such criticism from the Viennese upon its opening that one of the head architects committed suicide.
The Ring is lined with so many beautiful buildings that the city runs a Vienna Ring Tram.
It starts at Schwedenplatz and informs riders of the highlights en route during its 23-minute circuit.
Schönbrunn Palace
Rococo at its fullest.
Ostreich Werbung H. Wisenhofer
The exquisite baroque summer residence of the former imperial family, Schönbrunn Palace is located outside the First District.
A 30- or 60-minute tour gets you access to the living quarters of the ruling family, with excellent examples of Rococo interior design.
The large baroque garden is filled with wonders such as the world's oldest zoo and a public pool where the chic set cool off.
The Giant Ferris Wheel
AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater Park is a landmark of Vienna.
Though the ride offers a bird's-eye view of the Danube, lines can be long and for many not worth the wait.
Photo opportunities from the ground looking up at the wheel are nice.

Vienna Balls

Did you remember to polish your shoes?
Ostreich Werbung Lammerhuber
Attending a ball is a best of Vienna experience.
The balls are also a great way to get into parts of buildings normally closed to the public to see dazzling displays of imperial interior design.
Despite the formal setting and strict dress code (men must wear tuxedos and women must wear floor-length gowns), balls are anything but stuffy, with long nights of dancing, live music and fun.
Balls vary in price and experience.
Of the 450 balls hosted in Vienna each year, four stand out.
The Vienna Philharmonic Ball
The Vienna Philharmonic Ball is the most elegant ball, with Viennese society attending, including the President of Austria.
The Vienna Philharmonic performs during the opening ceremony.
The Viennese Coffeehouse Owners' Ball
The Viennese Coffeehouse Owners' Ball is one of the top five balls in Vienna with more than 5,000 guests in attendance.
It's hosted every year in the Imperial Palace, the Hofburg.
The imperial ceremonial room where the emperor received guests is the most beautiful, with white marble and gold chandeliers.
Viennese Coffeehouse Owners' Ball, Hofburg-Michaelerkuppel Vienna
The Emperor's Ball --- Le Grand Bal
The Emperor's Ball --- Le Grand Bal is hosted at the Hofburg on New Year's Eve.
It's expensive and touristy, which doesn't make it the most interesting event to attend, but it does have its devotees and the New Year's Eve vibe is good.
Emperor's Ball, Hofburg-Michaelerkuppel Vienna
The Opera Ball
Vienna's grandest spectacle.
And everyone knows it.
The Opera Ball is the most famous Vienna ball, with its big show of celebrities.
The ball gets mixed reviews.
Some find the grand experience transcendent; others say it comes off tacky due to the media circus around it.
More information about Vienna's ball season can be found at