Vienna City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers

The first time I went to Vienna was only for a four-hour stop on a road trip through Eastern Europe, and I was completely unprepared and overwhelmed by its grandeur. Vienna seemed an intimidating city to figure out what to do and where to stay, so when we decided to go back and spend three days there recently, I had my work cut out for me.

I searched online for city guides but didn’t find anything helpful, so now that I have my own tips, I’ve put them together in a Vienna city guide to help you figure out what to do and where to stay on your next trip to beautiful Vienna.

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Vienna Main Square
Vienna’s main square

Real Vienna Impressions

Now that I’ve spent a few days there, I have my own feelings about Vienna. First of all, it is not as big as it seemed the first time I was there, in fact, it’s quite walkable. We walked everywhere, but it also has a great underground network and multi-day passes available if you’re not keen to walk.

There are a few things that are specifically charming to Viennese culture, like cake and classical music, but beyond that, for me it is just another city focused a bit too much around shopping. That is my opinion, but it shouldn’t stop you from experiencing it if you want to go.

Where to Stay in Vienna

As a “don’t blow the entire budget on accommodations,” yet “I want to sleep well in a clean and quiet environment,” type of traveler, I often have difficulty finding just the right place to stay. However, I have discovered a great spot in Vienna (don’t be fooled by its name): Wombats City Hostel: The Lounge.

This hostel is less than a 5-minute walk from Wien Westbanhof (Vienna’s west train station) and about a 25-minute walk (or 4-5 stops on the subway) from the center. The good news is that it’s a straight shot to the center and it’s along a main shopping street with street performers, coffee, and plenty of pedestrian traffic most of the way, which makes for a brilliant stroll to the center.

Here is the trick to the hostel: get a private room on the 4th floor. We had room 406, which had two twin beds, a private bathroom, plenty of space and even a view of a nearby church dome. There were plenty of people at this hostel, dorm rooms, and even a bar in the basement that was surprisingly loud, and I say that because we hardly even knew it was there until we found it.

We heard nothing on the 4th floor. The dorms, all the travelers, and the bar might as well have not even existed. The beds are super comfortable (soft), plenty of hot water, good water pressure, generally a very comfortable room for a total of about 54 euros per night or 27 each.

There is a 4 euro breakfast that includes coffees and a traditional German/Austrian spread of breads meats, cheeses, cereal, and fruit. It doesn’t get any cheaper than this, and the quality of our entire experience at Wombats was impressive. I even got to borrow a hair dryer for just a 10 euro deposit that was returned to me.

*I am not affiliated with Wombats, I just loved it enough to share the good news – click to book or read more about Wombats City Hostel: The Lounge

Hofburg Palace Vienna
Hofburg Imperial Palace Vienna

What to do in Vienna

Free walking tours are technically illegal in Vienna, but Wombats organizes one (they pay the guide and make it free for guests) at 10:30 am from the other Wombat’s location in town.

Check out the Spanish riding school, take a tour, or watch them practice. If you are interested in horses, I mean really interested, this might be for you.

Go to an opera. We didn’t do this, but our friends went and said the acoustics in the building are incredible, that it felt like the performers were right in front of them even though they were way up in their seats.

Go to the Schönbrunn Palace (the castle) for a tour of the castle, or get the whole package of the castle tour, 3-course dinner, and a concert featuring classical Mozart and Strauss music played by an 8-piece orchestra. We LOVED this and thought this package tour was the perfect addition to our stay in Vienna. Read my review about the Schönbrunn Palace tour here.

Schonbrunn Palace Vienna
Schonbrunn Palace

See a movie. I am not a movie-goer unless a new epic movie comes out, but I happened to be in Vienna when Star Wars came out, so we had to see it. Luckily there are a couple of English movie theaters in Vienna. Haydn Kino is conveniently located in the middle of Mariahilfer Strasse, the same street that connects Wombats to the city center. All the movies played there are in original English without subtitles.

If you’re there at Christmas time like I was, you’ll find several Christmas markets to drink a Glühwein (hot mulled wine) on the street while shopping for Christmas gifts. In my opinion, the Viennese Christmas markets don’t hold a candle to the ones in Munich, but they are still fun to wander through.

Try to avoid only being in Vienna on a Sunday, as most shops are closed and the streets are somewhat void of life, unlike the rest of the week.

In summer, you can also get out on the river for dinner cruises or go on wine-tasting tours outside the city. For tour inspiration, I recommend Viator.

Where to eat and drink in Vienna:

Drink coffee and eat cake, that’s what everyone does! If you don’t find any good spots down alleys or get any other recommendations, there is an easy way to experience this: just look for Aida, the pink cafes of which there are at least three in the city. The main one is right in the center platz, where you can sip a coffee while people watch from the window seats upstairs.

Try Figlmüller, close to the main square. It is always busy and has thousands of reviews on Yelp. We had a traditional Schnitzel (with pork) and I was blown away by how simple and delicious it was. It’s also huge, so you don’t need any sides when you order it!

For beer lovers: check out 1516 Brewing Company, also not far from the center. They have a selection of light, dark, and hoppy unfiltered brews, along with a full menu and a non-smoking section upstairs.

Craft Beer Vienna

For a quick snack, grab a doner kebab or a bratwurst from the street stands, there are a few in the center, and there is also one across the street from Wombats for that late arrival dinner. At 4 euros, kebabs can’t be beaten for value.

If you are looking for an American sports bar (we tried to watch a Patriots NFL game while we were there), there is one called Champions inside the Marriott, just south of the center. It has decent beer choices, a typical sports bar menu, and tons of TVs (and a really good-looking Hungarian bartender).

Getting to Vienna:

Vienna is on the Danube River and is one of the three “sister cities” along with Bratislava and Budapest. It is easily accessible by car, train, flight, or even river cruise. 

It is directly connected to Salzburg and Munich by train every hour. We had Eurail passes, so we took the train from Munich and it took four hours. You can use the DB Navigator app for help with German trains if coming to and from Germany.

Thanks to Eurail for the passes that made this visit to Vienna possible, and to Viator for the Schönbrunn Palace tour. All opinions are my own.