Austria’s not like a lot of other European cities. I mean, there are still tourists everywhere, that’s a given, but they’re mostly concentrated in one general area and the city itself has a very different vibe from party cities like Berlin, historical sites like Bruges, and outdoor adventure capitals like Reykjavik. Vienna is classy. Real classy.
I’m talking opera and immaculate streets and shiny new buildings. I think Vienna might be the only city we visited during our two-month European tour where we never saw anyone urinating in the street. Not a single time! It was amazing! And while it’s certainly a clean and modern place to be, that comes with its own set of complications, i.e. it’s not cheap. In fact, we were a bit surprised at the lack of free things to do during our stay. But in order that that not happen to you, we’ve compiled a list of the best free and super cheap things to do to keep you occupied for a few days in this mecca of music.
Getting Around Vienna
Buses, trains and trams: The public transport in Vienna is pretty good, but it’s not the cheapest in Europe at €2.20 per trip. There are electronic ticket kiosks at all underground stations and major hubs, but you can also get tickets at newsstands and similar outlets. Buying the ticket on the tram or bus will cost .10 extra. Don’t forget to stamp-validate them before you board. You can also get a 24-hour, 48-hour or 72-hour pass for €7.60, €13.30 and €16.50. Not including the airport, of course. That would be too easy.
From the Airport: There are several ways to get into the city from the airport. A 16-minute ride on the City Airport Train (CAT) is €11 and takes you to Mitte station. The Railjet takes a little longer at 26 minutes but only costs €3.90 and goes to a few different stations or the bus, which goes straight downtown to several stops but costs €8.
Bike Share: Too far to walk but don’t want to take the bus? No problem. Just pick up a Citybike from one of the dozens of stations in and outside the city. Vienna’s bike share is actually one of the best we used as it was only €1 to register and then free to use a bike for 30 minutes as many times as you want. The kiosks do make you swipe a card and put a monetary “hold” on it in case you never bring the bike back, but you can basically ride around the city for free! As long as you do it in 30-minute bursts, of course.
Walk: The city is totally walkable. Take a stroll to get from point A to point B and you might stumble upon a fun surprise. We decided to walk to Schönbrunn Palace and end up passing a little playground with a pretty legit bouldering setup where we killed some time climbing on rocks. Fun!
Free things to do in Vienna
The view of the gardens from Schönbrunn Palace
Markets: Whether you want fresh produce, tchotchkes, souvenirs, or to be bombarded by servers begging you to come eat at their restaurant, there’s a market for that. Naschmarkt is the biggest, but everything from Turkish specialties to flea market finds abound from one market to another.
Ringstrasse: Just start walking and marvel at the parks, statues (maybe of the city’s beloved Mozart), and architecture in this historic district. It’s called Ring Road because on a map it’s actually a ring around the city that contains everything from the ritzy shopping area to St. Stephen’s to Hoffburg Palace and more. Just take your time and take it all in.
Cheap things to do in Vienna
The State Opera (Wiener Staatstoper): You might not think a budget trip to Vienna would include a visit to the famous opera house, but it most certainly could. The venue isn’t the only one that lets lowly backpackers enjoy a show, either. We saw the ballet Giselle for only €4 per person. And that was a splurge. We could have gotten tickets for €3. Here’s how: 80 minutes before each performance you can enter at the “Wiener Staatstoper Stehplatz-Kasse” sign at the rear of the building. Inside, line up in the hallway to get your tickets (one per person). A limited but hefty number of tickets are handed out (don’t worry, we got there just after they opened for sales and still got some, as did everyone behind us in line) and you can decide which balcony you want to be on. Full disclosure: You will be standing for the duration of the performance, but there are rails to lean on. Just bring a scarf or sweater to claim your spot so you can come and go as you please before the show starts.
Cheap eats in Vienna
Der Wiener Dewan: This is a pay-what-you-like all-you-can-eat buffet. Like that sound of that? It’s all Pakistani food and plenty of it is vegetarian and vegan. It’s pretty popular with the backpacker crowd, so don’t be surprised if you run into half the residents of your hostel during dinner.
Voodies: Besides cheap vegan burgers and killer dutch fries, they have some tasty house-made lemonades (because man do the Germans and Viennese like their lemonade)! You can get just a burger or a burger, fries with dipping sauce and lemonade for just around €11.50. There are wraps, not-dogs and salads, too, of course.
Nom Nom Vegan Bakery: We don’t usually go for the fru-fru girly stuff, but despite the very cutesy tea-and-cupcakes interior of this shop, these sweets deserve mad respect. They have cupcakes and pie and macaroons and marzipan and you name it. Wash it down with a coffee if you like, but get thee across the river for some sugar.
Swing Kitchen: Vegan burgers and desserts like cheesecake and tarts that’ll make your mouth water. While not as cheap as Voodies, they have some impressive options and a few things that are worth spending a few bucks more (like €7-€9 for a burger).
Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com