If you have read many of our recent posts, you will know that our recent trip to Europe was a fast and furious journey through a variety of beautiful cities and iconic destinations. Given this fast pace, we were limited to the amount of time we could spend in each of our chosen ‘stopovers’, one of which was the Austrian capital, Vienna. 24 hours in Vienna? Just like any other European city, Vienna offers a myriad of historic landmarks and attractions worth experiencing and despite our time constraints, we were able to explore much of the downtown district.
Although many European cities offer guided walking tours, Vienna was one city we opted for a self-guided tour, so after checking into our hotel just north of the River Danube, we headed back to the historic center with our pocket maps in hand. Our only previous experience in Austria was a short visit to Innsbruck the previous year which was enough to suggest our time in Vienna would be enjoyable and intriguing.
24 Hours in Vienna – The City of Music
Vienna’s reputation as being the ‘City of Music’, most notably given that Mozart resided here for three years, meant that much of our focus was going to be on finding some of the historic features that made this such an attractive city for aspiring musicians. After exploring Vienna, it’s not difficult to understand why such great music was composed along the banks of the Danube in Vienna.
Depending on how much time you have to spend in Vienna, this will determine how much is a realistic amount to explore. We spent the majority of the day in Vienna’s Old Town and why not, given that the area itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site! Of course, we were eager to find Mozart’s former residence but at the same time explore some of the prestigious, Baroque inspired castles and other stunning architectural designs around the city.
24 hours isn’t very much time to try and fit everything into a schedule, but Vienna is fortunate to have a myriad of landmarks in close proximity to each other.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The focal point of Vienna’s Old Town is located right in the heart of the district. St. Stephen’s Cathedral dates back to the 13th-century and is certainly the iconic symbol of Vienna. At over 136 meters tall, the main tower overlooks the rest of the city and offers gorgeous panoramic views (though climbing the 343 steps to the summit may not be for the faint-hearted).
The Gothic design of St. Stephen’s Cathedral makes this one of the most important architectural structures throughout Austria. Today, there is very little left of the ‘original’ 13th-century structure, though the massive gate and Heathen Towers are still preserved to their original state.
Beautiful, ornate details are common throughout the design of this cathedral but perhaps the most breathtaking and memorable feature is the main entrance known locally as ‘Riesentor’ (Giant’s Door/Gate). As mentioned, this is one of the oldest standing features of the original design and emphasizes the rich, elaborate feel of Romanesque style.
One of our regrets was not taking the guided tour of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The comprehensive tour offers visitors the opportunity to explore the cathedral itself, the catacombs, north and south towers and cathedral treasure.
Are you sold yet on this tour? Don’t worry there is more! Can you imagine walking on the roof of this 13th-century cathedral? That is exactly what you can do during an evening tour between July and September on Saturday’s. I think a return trip to Vienna beckons for us in the Summer months!
A short walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral saw us pass what I would classify as the ‘ritzy’ part of the city, especially with the type of stores that could be found along this street.
From Tiffany & Co. to luxurious watchmakers Bucherer and Wagner, those that have an interest in participating in a little retail therapy (or perhaps increasing their credit card line!) would love this part of Vienna.
However, a stroll along Kohlmarkt was all about the gorgeous palace that awaits visitors at the end of this street. Hofburg Palace was once the focal point of all imperial power in Vienna. Until the early 20th century, it was home to the former kings and emperors of Austria. Today, it still serves as the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.
One of the most interesting aspects of Hofburg Palace is the design, purely because construction of all the different wings took so long to complete. As you stroll around the exterior of the palace, you will notice a variety of characteristics typical of numerous periods, ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to the more modern Classic approach.
Directly in front of Hofburg Palace is the Michaelerplatz square which divides the palace from Kohlmarkt. As we approached this square, we noticed that this was used as a location for Christmas markets, with the perfect backdrop of the palace overlooking the festivities. The Michaeler wing of Hofburg Palace is the most frequently visited spot given its location.
Let’s return to the musical legacy that helps Vienna maintain the nickname of the ‘City of Music’. Mozarthaus Vienna is the residence where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived for three years between 1784 and 1787.
This is an iconic location in Mozart’s rich history as it is here where he composed the majority of his music.
Located along the cobblestone streets of Domgasse 5 in the heart of Old Town Vienna, Mozart’s residence today is a museum, historical apartment and a presentation of a myriad of his most archetypal works.
Walking Vienna’s Historic Streets
The beauty about exploring a city like Vienna is that just strolling around the streets offers a plethora of gorgeous attractions and reasons to want to stay here for longer. Take a moment to forget about all those iconic landmarks that we have mentioned above and instead, think about allowing yourselves to get lost in Vienna’s historic districts.
This is exactly what we did as we folded our maps and let ourselves become engulfed in Vienna’s history.
Passing by gorgeous buildings such as the Peterskirche, which is a Baroque Roman Catholic parish church and experiencing the late Christmas season decorations made this a perfect city to walk around despite the cold weather.
Quaint cafes and coffee shops are waiting to entice you inside, especially when you see the sacher torte and other delicious looking desserts scattered around the shop windows. But regardless of your desire to sample Austria’s finest cuisine, the grand buildings along these back alleys will keep your attention throughout your time in the city.
A day in Vienna offered us just a brief glimpse at the rich history and culture that exists on a city sitting on the banks of the Danube River. Everywhere you look there are sounds and remnants that will remind you of Mozart’s former residence here, but perhaps the City of Music should be associated more with the gorgeous architecture that is prevalent on every street corner.
Hopefully we will have the opportunity in the near future to return to Vienna and spend some more time exploring all parts of the city. We would love to head outside the Old Town and see what other hidden gems are available here. One thing is for certain, wherever you visit in Vienna there is sacher torte waiting to be devoured…and why not!
Have you visited Vienna, and if so, what are your favorite attractions here?