Guides

Visiting Vienna on a budget

Vienna's Staatsoper Opera House, Austria

Walking through Vienna is a bit like walking into the pages of a fairytale, as a horse and carriage trots past one ornate palace after another. The Austrian capital is bursting with Imperial history and Baroque architecture, with a musical accompaniment by Mozart and Strauss. But there’s also a more modern side, with Art Nouveau and modernist art, and a darker side to the city as depicted in The Third Man. Like in many famous European capitals, the sheer number of visitors here each year can push up the prices. But it is possible to fill yourself up on the city’s history, culture and sachertorte without having to spend big. So here are my top tips for experiencing all that Vienna has to offer without blowing your budget.

More budget city guides: London, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Madrid, New York, Las Vegas, Cape Town
Mozart statue in the Burggarten, Vienna

Statues in the Burggarten and outside the Hofburg

Things to see and do

Take a walk around the Ringstrasse, the ring road that runs around the centre of Vienna, past some of the city’s most famous buildings. Along the route you can see the Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, Parliament and City Hall. You can also take a free guided tour around the City Hall, or Rathaus, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1pm (except on public holidays). In the winter there is a Christmas market and skating rink in front of the Rathaus, and during July and August there is a free open-air cinema, with a big screen showing operas and concerts each night after sunset, as well as food and drink stalls.

It’s also free to visit the city’s parks, like the Burggarten and Stadtpark. Entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace gardens is also free (though you have to pay a couple of euros to go into the maze or Gloriette viewing terrace). If you’re in the city during summer, you can escape the heat by heading down to the banks of the Danube. Danube Island has 42km of beaches as well as boat and bike hire, playgrounds and cafés.

If you’re planning to visit a lot of the city’s attractions, it will probably be worth investing in a Vienna Card. They cost €13.90 for 24 hours, €21.90 for 48 hours or €24.90 for 72 hours and give you free unlimited travel by public transport as well as discounts on 210 museums, sights, shops and restaurants. You can buy the cards at the Tourist Information Centre in Albertinaplatz, at the airport or online.

The Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Wandering through the Schönbrunn Palace gardens

Museums and galleries

Vienna has a great selection of museums, but with many entry fees around €15 per person the costs can add up. But there are ways to save – most museums have reduced-price tickets for students and seniors, and discounts with the Vienna Card range from 5% to 50%. You can also buy joint tickets for various combinations of museums that save on the full entry fees – a combined ticket for the House of Music and Mozarthaus saves you €5, or a combined ticket for the Leopold Museum and Kunsthistorisches Museum saves you €4. There are also combined passes available for the MuseumsQuartier or Belvedere.

Several of the city’s museums have discounted entry on certain days and times. The Wien Museum is free for under 19s all the time and for everyone else on the first Sunday of the month. There’s also an ‘Art in the Evening’ programme, where many museums stay open late on certain evenings and some have discounted entry to go with it – the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) has free entry on Tuesdays from 6pm–10pm, the MUMOK museum of modernist art has reduced price entry for €8 on Thursdays from 6pm–9pm including a tour, and the House of Music has half-price entry for €6.50 from 8pm–9.30pm every day.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Kunsthistorisches Fine Arts Museum

Top city views

One of the best views in the city centre is from the South Tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral, 137 metres up. Entry to the cathedral is free but if you want to climb the 343 steps to the top of the tower, it costs €4.50 for adults (open daily 9am–5.30pm). If you prefer your views with a cocktail, try the Sky Bar Restaurant on nearby Kärntnerstraße Road, on the top floor of a department store with a great view of the cathedral.

A bit further away from the city centre on the northern banks of the Dabube is the Danube Tower, or Donauturm, the tallest structure in Austria at 252 metres high. At the top there is an expensive rotating restaurant, but a cheaper option is the viewing platform for €7.90 (€6.40 for students and seniors or €5.70 for under 14s). But some of the best free views over Vienna are probably from the hills around the city – you can reach Mount Leopoldsberg and Mount Kahlenberg by bus from the city centre.

St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

St Stephen’s Cathedral

Entertainment

Vienna is a city of music, but tickets to its famous opera sell out months in advance and can set you back €150 plus. But you can get a bargain if you don’t mind standing up for the performance. Standing tickets for the State Opera House, the Staatsoper, go on sale about 80 minutes before the performance and cost €4 (in the parterre on the ground floor) or €3 (in the balcony or gallery higher up). Tickets are only available at the special ticket office on Operngasse. Get there early, be prepared to queue, and you can only buy one ticket per person so if you’re in a group you’ll all need to line up. You can also get standing tickets for the Volksoper and Burgtheater for a similar price, but you can book these online in advance.

Another popular but pricey attraction is the Spanish Riding School. Seats for the main performances cost from €50 to €217, but there are a few options to see the Lipizzaner horses for less. There are standing room tickets for the main performances costing €25–€37 (which you can book online in advance) or you can watch the horses’ morning exercise to music from 10am–12pm for €15. Over the summer months the performing horses aren’t in Vienna, but there is a special ‘Piber Meets Vienna’ show, where young horses from the stud are brought to the school, with tickets costing from €12–€45.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna

Inside Vienna’s Spanish Riding School

Eating and drinking

Restaurants in the busy central area of Vienna can be expensive, but you can save on eating out by having your main meal at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer a cheaper mittagsmenü, where you can get a two- or three-course meal from a set menu for under €10. Other ways to save on food are to eat in the cheaper studenty areas like Neubau or Josefstadt. You can also head to the Naschmarkt which has over 120 market stalls selling food and drink (open Monday–Friday from 6am–7.30pm and Saturday from 6am–5pm). And if you’re self-catering there are also several Spar supermarkets in the city centre.

You can’t leave Vienna without visiting a traditional café for a coffee and sachertorte. The most famous cafés can be expensive but there’s no hurry so you can sit there and watch the world go by afterwards. Some concert cafés also have free music performances, like Café Schwarzenberg (Thursdays and Fridays 7.30pm–11 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 5pm–8.30pm), Café Weimar (Monday–Saturday until 7.30pm and Sunday afternoons) and 1950s-style Café Prückel (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 7pm–10pm).

Viennese sachertorte

A tasty looking Viennese sachertorte

Travelling around

To get into the city from the airport, there are discounts on the City Airport Train and Airport Lines bus with a Vienna Card. But the cheapest way into the centre is on the S-Bahn train. It costs €4.40 and takes around 25 minutes from the airport to Wien Mitte station, which has underground connections across the city. For travel within the city, the Vienna Card gives unlimited free travel on the underground, trams and buses – and each pass also covers one child up to the age of 15 travelling with you. Other options are travel passes with a 24-hour one costing €7.60 or a weekly pass for €16.20 (valid Monday–Sunday).

Lots of companies in Vienna run boat trips along the Danube, but if you are travelling on to Slovakia or Hungary you can take the boat rather than the bus or train and get a cruise included. The Twin City Liner boats take 1 hour 15 minutes to travel between Vienna and Bratislava and cost €32 one way. Or there’s a hydrofoil connecting Vienna with Budapest, which takes 6 hours 30 minutes and costs €109.

The Hofburg in Vienna

Outside the Hofburg Palace buildings

So those are my tips for seeing Vienna on a budget – do you know of any more Vienna bargains or have any money-saving tips?

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Vienna on a budget – tips for saving money in Austria's fairytale city on everything from museums and music to transport and sachertorte.

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    Ellie
    September 25, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Really informative article, thanks! Especially like the sound of sachertorte……

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      You’re welcome – hope you get to go and test it out yourself sometime!

      • Reply
        Ellie
        September 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm

        I hope I get to too 🙂

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    September 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I’ve always fancied a two centre trip shuttling between Vienna and Bratislava – if I ever make it I’ll take this guide with me, and definitely try to see a music performance with my cake at a concert café!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      I really wanted to go to Bratislava too but we were a bit pushed for time and ended up having more than enough to see in Vienna (probably the fact that it was about 34 degrees slowed us down!) – all the more reason for a return trip though.

  • Reply
    Sam
    September 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    My tip is if you’re planning to use the metro a bit, but not loads, buy 4 tickets at once from the machine, rather than individually, as you get a slight discount. Also, eat all the cakes!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 25, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Good tip, thanks – and the cakes are a must-do!

  • Reply
    Darlene
    September 26, 2014 at 6:04 am

    I only spent a day in Vienna but loved it! We had apple strudel twice and sachertorte once. (all in the same day!) It was all so good. I really want to go back and spend more time and these tips will help the budget.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 26, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Sounds like you managed all the cake highlights though even with just a short trip!

  • Reply
    bevchen
    September 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Mittagstisch… they do that in Germany too 🙂

    If you go to Budapest by train, it’s cheap to get the all day ticket that includes public transport within Bratislava than just buy a single ticket from Vienna to Bratislava! We tried to buy singles because we were planning on taking the boat back and were told the return was still cheaper. Also, if you use the right boat company (which we couldn’t because we had to be back at a certain time) you get 30% off the boat ticket if you show your train ticket.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 26, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      Thanks for the train tips – I didn’t realise that Vienna and Budapest were so close and that it was so easy to combine the two. I’ve only been to Budapest briefly years ago so will have to make it back sometime.

      • Reply
        bevchen
        September 27, 2014 at 8:09 am

        The train journey was an hour. I hadn’t realised they were so close either until I started looking into boat trips on the Danube.

      • Reply
        Victoria
        September 28, 2014 at 2:09 pm

        Yes. Also, if you buy a roundtrip bus ticket to Vienna from Bratislava, your ticket includes an unlimited pass in the transport system within Vienna (trams, underground, buses).

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    September 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I just love the way that they never rush you in the cafes of Vienna – and how generous the portions are – it was so worrying how in the few days I was there last year, I regularly had a 4th meal every day in one of these cafes, indulging in one of the delicious choices of cake – such a pretty city but can be expensive so some great tips here on how to make it more cost effective!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2014 at 11:17 am

      The cafes are great for people watching, I can easily spend a couple of hours just watching the world go by (preferably with a massive portion of cake to go with it!).

  • Reply
    Tania Kanda
    September 29, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Just amazing..Very informative article. It will help us a lot whenever we’ll had a plan to go to Vienna 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Thanks – hope it will come in useful!

  • Reply
    Aggy (@dewtraveller)
    September 29, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Awesome tips Lucy! Will be bookmarking this for my trip to Vienna…someday!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Aggy, hope you do get to make the trip sometime, it’s such a pretty city and there is so much history and culture to experience.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    September 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Definitely bookmarking this for my possible upcoming trip to Vienna next May! Oh and if I haven’t said it already, I’m loving the new look of the site! 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Vlad, I still have lots of photo resizing to do for the old posts but am really happy with it so far!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    September 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    These are great tips. I’ve been to Vienna a few times and enjoyed going to the cafe, going to the opera, and general sightseeing. Once, I went on a roundabout shaped like a cup which almost turned into a disaster, as I had a fanta and lager concotion for the first time, and it didn’t agree with me. And the more we twirled around faster and faster, the greener I got. I was so concerned that I didn’t vomit while on, that as soon as we landed safely on the ground. I did. Vomit, I mean. Discreetly of course. I am British after all LOL!

    I like the tip about travelling to Slovakia or Hungary by boat rather than the bus or train. I used to live in Bratislava, a very long time ago so it’s good to know that you can cut across! Very nice. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      Haha, sounds like my huge dislike of fairground rides is justified! Vienna is definitely one of those places where you can just wander around and soak up the atmosphere and relax over coffee and cake.

  • Reply
    secretlykindoffunny
    September 30, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I’ve been a little obsessed with Vienna since 13 Going on 30 introduced me to Billy Joel’s song about the place. Thanks for showing us little ways to make a dream a reality!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 1, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      You’re welcome – hope you get to go out there and see it for yourself sometime soon!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    October 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

    What a fabulously useful post. Will definitely print this off and take with if I find myself heading to Vienna.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 3, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      Hope it comes in useful if you do (we’re already planning trip #2 for next year’s Eurovision!).

  • Reply
    Megan {Country Cleaver}
    July 20, 2015 at 3:07 am

    I can’t wait to have my husband read this – he wants to go to Vienna so badly! Thanks for all the great tips!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 11, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      You’re very welcome – and hope you have a great time if you do make it out there!

  • Reply
    southamptonoldlady
    August 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Thank you – this is so useful. I am hoping to go next January and this guide will be invaluable. Hope to report back to you too.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      Hope you have a fantastic time – hear it’s extra beautiful in winter, especially with a sprinkling of snow!

  • Reply
    Irene
    November 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I really want to visit Vienna, so I have to bookmark this post! Thanks for the info and beautiful photos:)

  • Reply
    Tanja
    December 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Great post!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    March 26, 2016 at 4:24 am

    My family and I will be going to Vienna in 2017 for 2 weeks, can anyone tell me if you prefer hotel verses renting an apartment? I can’t express enough how I need to budget this trip!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 26, 2016 at 11:14 am

      I generally prefer apartments, especially if travelling with a few people as you get a communal area to socialise in plus you can save on cooking some of your own food. We stayed in a lovely place in Vienna (details in this post http://www.ontheluce.com/2014/10/27/my-airbnb-tips-and-favourite-summer-stays/) which was really centrally located and cost just over £100 a night for the four of us.

  • Reply
    Michelle (@americanvienna)
    April 7, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Great post about my adopted city of Vienna!

    americaninvienna.com

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks so much, such a great city!

  • Reply
    Sydney
    April 25, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    This is really helpful – we are going in July and it’s so nice to have information about cheaper options for experiencing the city.

    One helpful tip – I thought we’d end up doing Airbnb but I kept on eye on Groupon and happened to find a 4* city centre hotel that had a deal for about £35 a night for two people during the summer months.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 29, 2016 at 10:04 pm

      Sounds like a good deal. It’s definitely worth checking out all the options as there are often special offers around. We were a group of four so an apartment worked out best but my next trip hotels are cheaper – keeps it interesting having a mixture!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Villegas
    October 10, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Hi Lucy,
    Well, I took your advice and I did it! I booked an apartment instead of a hotel. Now I can not believe it is only 8 moths away. In reading about Austria, I keep seeing that one should not miss going to Hallstatt. Have you been and what was your experience? what do you recommend? where did you stay? Your blog has been so helpful as I do not know anyone that has traveled to Vienna. Its a little overwhelming planning this trip. I will so be on the tightest budget ever!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 11, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Hi Elizabeth. Sounds like you have a great trip planned! I haven’t been to Hallstatt, but have seen some lovely pics of it so it’s on the list to visit someday. I believe you can get a train out there which takes about 3.5 hours each way (changing in Salzburg) so it might be do-able for a day trip even if you’re up early?

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