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Free things to do in Vienna, Austria

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Vienna, Austria

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.

The Viennese are very proud to be home to Mozart in life and in death.

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.

Just a bit of bouldering to break up the afternoon

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

Bring your camera. You’re gonna be taking a lot of photos or gardens and architecture!

The mermen and horses at Schönbrunn Palace
 The view of the gardens from Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace: No joke, we almost didn’t go. We were bummed about our options for free entertainment and weren’t sure if we could be bothered to make the trek out there. It’s probably only a 15-20 minute bus ride, but we didn’t want to pay for that and we hadn’t yet discovered the bike share program. Fortunately, my cousin who had been before recommended we give it a go and we quite enjoyed ourselves. It’s free to walk around most of the gardens and grounds and you can get some pretty stunning views. Plus there’s a fountain with mermen riding merhorses. You know, like mermaids, but with horses…who had fins instead of hooves. That alone would have been worth the walk. Some attractions like the gallery and orange grove charge for admission.

MUSA is a small, strange art museum with changing exhibits
MUSA is a small, strange art museum with changing exhibits  

Museumsquartier: This is more of a place to just go and hang out than browse, but if you want to lounge on some funky chairs, use some wifi, drink some coffee and people-watch, thesis the place to do it. It’s pretty hip, the open courtyard surrounded by museums, and is worth a walk-through at the very least. You should be able to spot a little artwork in some of the walkways and there is always the museum gift shop. And while the museums do charge admission, on the first Sunday of the month most of them are free (the Geldmuseum, Kunsthalle am Karlsplatz, Bezirksmuseen, and MUSA, [some of which are not in Museumquartier] are always free).

St. Stephens's Cathedral (Stephansdom), Vienna, Austria
St. Stephens’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), Vienna, Austria 
The interior of St. Stephen's
The interior of St. Stephen’s

St. Stephen’s Cathedral: You can’t miss this church in the middle of the city center, not least of which because there will be hordes of tourists surrounding it constantly. It’s free to go in and appreciate the stunning architecture, so by all means do. If you want a spooky tour, that’ll cost you (but more on that below).

Rathaus, or City Hall, Vienna, Austria

City Hall (Rathaus): In the summer months you might be able to catch a free flick in the courtyard, but if not, the building is a marvel to look at. Some weekdays it’s even open to tours if you want to rent an audio guide and go exploring.

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.

Stroll the streets in and along the Ringstrasse for shopping, dining, cafes, history, you name it
Stroll the streets in and along the Ringstrasse for shopping, dining, cafes, history, you name it 
Yes, that is a fountain with a man projectile vomiting water. So glad you asked.

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

“Free” Tour: I say “free” because while guides don’t charge for their services, they do appreciate a tip at the end. So while you don’t have to drop €20 on a tour, a couple bucks at the end of the 2.5 hours is more or less expected.

Saint Stephen’s Catacombs Tour: You know us. If there’s one thing we’re going to spend our hard-earned and harder-hoarded cash on, it’s gonna be something weird and definitely not mainstream. One day it was spent on a tour of the crypts below the iconic church. And let me tell you, that 5 was totally worth it. A guide will take you down, show you where royalty (or sometimes just their innards) were interred, right next door to where thousands of black plague victims’ bones are piled to the ceiling. Creepy. Eerie. We love that stuff.

The Vienna State Opera House or Staatstoper
The Vienna State Opera House or Staatstoper 
The Staatstoper at night vienna
The Staatstoper at night 

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.

A cheap dinner at Voodies: burger, dutch fries, lemonade and mm mmm peanut sauce

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.

Look at that marzipan cake from Nom Nom Vegan Bakery

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).

Wander on!