A classic itinerary to see the best of Vienna in one day: historical cafes, imperial palaces and even a night at the opera! One day in Vienna walking itinerary.
When I was little, at the end of a family holiday in Vienna, I declared that Vienna was my favorite city in the world.
There was nothing I didn’t like about the city.
I loved its elegant center, its imperial splendor and the old European charm exuding from Vienna’s cafes, theaters and churches and even as a child got mesmerized but its incredible architecture.
Vienna is much more than its past and over several trips to the city, I did get to experience also its more modern side.
However, classic Vienna is still what I love the most and it is what I went searching for this past weekend, when tickets to the opera brought me again to the city.
This is how I organized my day in Vienna and the Vienna itinerary I recommend for a first taste of this most stunning European capital.
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One day in Vienna practical info about our stay
My recommended itinerary is flexible enough to allow you to adapt it to your needs.
However, these are the details of our stay: everything worked perfectly so please feel free to ‘steal’ how we did it and make it your own!
- For our stay in Vienna, I chose the Hotel Kaizerin Elizabeth, right in the city centre (family friendly)
- To go from the airport to the hotel we used the CAT (fast train) + metro
- To get around Vienna we walked. Good shoes are a must (shoes I use for Italy worked great)
- The tickets to the Opera were booked well in advance (4 months prior)
A note about Vienna museums: this itinerary includes several museums. However, I do not recommend you visit them all in one day.
Rather, I recommend you pick one but you do make time to see even just their outside due to the peculiar and unique architecture of their buildings.
One day in Vienna itinerary at a glance
- Morning: Vienna’s cafes, Vienna’s imperial Palace, Albertina museum
- Afternoon: Vienna’s churches
- Evening: Vienna’s opera house and Sacher hotel
Morning: start with breakfast at historical Cafe Central
Vienna is famous for cafes and pastry shops (Konditorei) and breakfast is an excellent way to get a first experience of the Viennese coffee culture.
Among the many in the city center, we chose to start from the Vienna institution called Cafe Central.
This cafe opened in 1876 and it is famous because in the late 19th / early 20th century it became the meeting place of the Viennese and international intellectual scene, becoming the hangout for Freud, Trotsky and many others.
Indeed, it doesn’t take long to understand why such a group selected Cafe Central as their favorite: the place is just stunning.
As you arrive, an elegantly dressed usher lets you in and you enter a vast and bright hall filled with small round tables and velvet-covered chairs and divans.
The cafe has vaulted ceilings that make you feel as if you were sitting inside a Gothic cathedral but despite this manages to be welcoming and cozy.
We ordered their special breakfast and spent the following hour tucking into a delicious and generous meal, enjoying the elegant cafe decor and eyeing up the trays of cakes regularly refilling the cafe cake stand.
Need to know: Cafe central is very much on the main tourist track and you may find a line at its door. However, this popularity has not impacted the quality of the food nor the service. We had a lovely meal and would go back again should we be in Vienna. Address: Herrengasse 14
Stop 2: Stroll along Herrengasse and Vienna’s inner city streets
Fed and well served, we left the cafe and took a stroll down elegant Herrengasse, one of the most elegant roads in inner city Vienna.
Herrengasse is home to some of Vienna’s most attractive mansion houses and grand buildings and exudes elegance at every corner.
Located just beside the Hofburg, Vienna’s imperial palace, this road was the address of choice of the local aristocracy, who wanted to stay as close to the imperial family as possible and it has maintained its well heeled character even today.
The road is a real pleasure to see and takes you straight to the Hofburg in a matter of minutes.
Stop 3: Vienna’s Hofburg and the Spanish riding school
The Hofburg is Vienna’s former imperial palace and is nowadays the residence of the Austrian president as well as, in part, an important museum.
The palace is an incredible sight.
Huge and imposing, the building is a triumph of white columns and green domes.
The palace opens over a large inner courtyard and its walls resonate with the noise of horse-drawn carriages that bring tourists in and out of the palace in the same fashion the Imperial family would have known.
The palace is open to the public and has several areas worth a visit.
The most important and popular are the Imperial Treasury and the Spanish Riding School, which still hosts elegant horse shows.
If you want to visit the museum, I highly recommend you book tickets in advance.
You buy them following the links below:
- Hofburg imperial treasury only,
- Spanish riding school (guided tour)
- Imperial treasury and Spanish riding school combined tickets
Hofburg Vienna need to know: A proper visit to the Hofburg will take a few hours, depending on what parts you decide to visit. If the palace and school are in your plans, I suggest you schedule almost a full morning for it
Stop 3: Vienna National Library
Just beside the main Hofsburg courtyard, in the Neue Burg wing of the palace, lies another impressive and elegant attraction, Vienna’s public library.
This is a ticketed attraction, it can be visited in a matter of minutes, and I highly recommend you go as its grand State Hall is truly special.
The library is the biggest in Austria and holds over 12.000 books in an elaborate and elegant baroque structure reminiscent of a large church.
As you walk into the main hall, you cannot help but marvel at the tall, frescoed ceiling of this huge room and the rows of books filling the dark shelves on the walls.
Photos were not allowed but the place is wonderful.
Time needed: about 15 minutes, advance booking not required.
Stop 4: Albertina museum
This part of Vienna is compact and it takes just a couple of minutes to walk from the Hofburg to the next stop on this Vienna itinerary: the Albertina museum.
Vienna is full of art museums and the Albertina is one of my favorite.
It hosts a wonderful permanent collection of classical modernist paintings ranging from impressionism and post-impressionism artists such as Monet, Degas and Gaugin to expressionism, Russian avant-garde and even cubism (Picasso in particular).
The museum is a real pleasure to visit and being in such a central location it is also one of the easiest to include in Vienna one day itinerary
Stop 5: Lunch in Karlsplatz
After a busy morning, we felt the pangs of hunger but since we didn’t want to waste precious sightseeing time, we opted for lunch with a view and headed to Karlsplatz.
Karlsplatz is a vast square immediately outside of the Vienna Ring and is a great place to see as two important buildings open over its plain.
The Secession, which is an important art museum with a distinctive golden dome (even just the outside is so special, you want to see it) and also Karlskirche, one of the most imposing and better known in the city.
We had lunch right on the square, in the outdoor terrace of a cafe/ restaurant called Heuer which had a good selection of dishes and nice coffee and then we headed we took a photo tour of the Secession and Karslkirche.
Karlskirche is one of the most distinctive churches in Vienna and one you can easily recognize it by two impressive columns reminiscent of Trajan’s column in Rome, from which they took inspiration.
The church was consecrated in 1737 and is built in the baroque style that is so distinctive of the city of Vienna, with a grand whitewashed exterior and large dome.
Good to know! Outside of the church, there is a cool fountain with ducks and a children’s playground. On the day of our visit, despite the less than spectacular weather, we noticed many local families playing here, which prompted me to take a note of this place as one to return to when visiting Vienna with kids!
At this point, we needed to start heading back to our hotel and get ready for the night at the opera but first we wanted to stop in Stephen’s dome, Vienna’s cathedral.
St Stephen’s dome lies in the very center of Vienna and you can see its tall Gothic spires from almost anywhere in the inner city.
The first thing you notice about St Stephen’s dome it its colorful tiled roof but the real gem is the church’s interior.
At present, the church hosts an art installation flooded in hot pink light and while it may sound far fetched, the contrast between this piece of art and the Gothic architecture of the church works exceptionally well.
If you are fit and in the mood for a view, the church also has a tall tower you can climb and that allows to get amazing views over the city.
Dinner in a traditional Viennese restaurant
Just in front of our hotel we found a traditional Viennese restaurant and so we didn’t resist going in for a quick fix of fried chicory and schnitzel.
I guess you could argue that this was, like cafe central, a bit of a tourist choice but since we only had one day in Vienna we didn’t mind acting the tourists that we were and truly enjoyed our meal.
Once again properly fed, we were ready to go dress up and the then head to the Opera
Evening at Vienna Opera
We had come to Vienna specifically to see a showing of Puccini’s Turandot and so it comes as no surprise that the evening performance was, for us, the highlight of our stay.
Vienna’s opera is a stunning theater and you don’t need to be an opera connoisseur to enjoy a night here (I for once am not an opera person at all, this was my first time).
The theater itself has incredible architecture and its grand entrance staircase is so beautiful is it alone worth the cost of the ticket!
Despite this great elegance, the Vienna opera is not a stiff and off-putting place, only welcoming you if you can dress and act the part of the aristocratic music lover
The theater has a refreshing dress code policy and while we did wear nicer clothes to get in (you can read my full packing list for Vienna and dress code for the opera here) and saw many ladies in full ballgowns, we saw many on jeans and sneakers, which gave the whole experience a relaxed and easy to enjoy feel.
Good to know: outside of the opera house we notices a large screen and were told that, in the good season, shows get streamed live for free! This sounds like a wonderful way to get aquianted with the opera if you cannot get a ticket or if you are trabeling with young kids, like I usually do, who may not take well a full performance indoors.
Nightcap and the Sacher hotel
It had been a long day but we could not finish the night without a celebratory drink at the Blau Bar in the Sacher hotel.
Located just beside the Vienna Opera House, the Sacher is a Viennese institution, famous for its elegant interiors and legendary Sacher torte!
With our schnitzel still on our stomachs, we didn’t get the cake this time (I did the time before, totally worth it!) and instead indulged in some of the bar’s well-crafted cocktails before heading back to the hotel for a restful night.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day in Vienna.
Other things you can do with one day in Vienna
There are many other ways of enjoying one day in Vienna and these are some of the main attractions we didn’t get to see with our limited time.
One of the most important art museums in the city (it famously hosts paintings by Klimt) as well as an impressive palace with stunning gardens. Advance booking highly recommended: click here for prices
One of Vienna’s modern architectural highlights, an apartment house with distinctive shapes and colors
Vienna’s famous theme park with the iconic Ferris Wheel.
This is a very popular attraction especially in the evening when you can catch beautiful views of the city at night. You can get skip the line tickets here
Vienna’s most famous imperial palace and gardens, deserving of a full morning for a proper visit. You can get skip the line tickets and tours here
What to eat in Vienna
Vienna has a very interesting food scene and if, like us, you want to try some traditional specialties, there are some you should look out for.
- Schnitzel. Probably the most famous of all Viennese foods, this is a treat for meat lovers. The schnitzel comes in two versions, pork or veal, and is a thin cut of meat pan fried in butter oil and served with a wedge of lemon and crispy parsley.
- Viennese Wurst. One more for meat lover, the Viennese Wurst is ubiquitous in the city and you can find it sold at street stalls but also at the opera! You can order your wurst in advance and they will have it ready for you at break time.
- Fried chicory. This is something I only learned while I was in Vienna, on the menu of the Zum Weissen Reauchfangkehrer, the restaurant we chose. The chicory is lovely and while fried, it is a nice departure from the meat and cake we had during our stay
- Sacher torte. One that needs no presentation. Love it or leave it, real Sacher Viennese style is a must-try when in Vienna
- Kaisersmarren. Vienna is a treat for sugar lovers but personally, no cake matches the satisfaction given by a kaisersmarren, a sweet serving of thich, shredded pancakes with raisins, jam and dusted with sugar.
Where to stay in Vienna for a one day visit and night at the opera
The best place to stay in Vienna for classic sightseeing and a night at the opera is the central area around St Stephen’s Dome. The hotel we got, the Kaiserin Elizabeth, was a good quality 4 star hotel with reasonable price, clean, large rooms, a wonderful lobby and lovely staff.
How to get around Vienna
Vienna’s city center is compact and it is possible to see all mentioned in this itinerary on foot.
To get from Vienna aiport to the city center you have 2 public transport options, both easy.
The CAT train, a fast service connecting Vienna airport with Vienna air terminal in the city center in 16 minutes (12 Euro at the time of writing) or the standard train, cheaper. In both cases, you can then catch the Vienna U (the metro) to your destination.
I hope you enjoyed this one day in Vienna itinerary and gave you ideas on how to see the city in a short amount of time. Safe travels!