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Cultural Sites in Vienna: Must-Sees and Hidden Gems


TK
Hi, I'm Claire!

Claire Bullen is an award-winning food, drinks, and travel writer and editor who has lived and worked in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and London. She is the author of The Beer Lover's Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, and the editor at GoodBeerHunting.com. Her writing has also appeared in Time Out New York, The Daily Meal, Pellicle Magazine, and beyond.

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Hi, I'm Claire!

Claire Bullen is an award-winning food, drinks, and travel writer and editor who has lived and worked in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and London. She is the author of The Beer Lover's Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, and the editor at GoodBeerHunting.com. Her writing has also appeared in Time Out New York, The Daily Meal, Pellicle Magazine, and beyond.

see more

Few cities can match Vienna when it comes to high culture. In between Hapsburg palaces and music venues once frequented by Mozart, the Austrian capital offers up world-class museums, art nouveau masterworks, and baroque cathedrals. Discover its most famous landmarks and its lesser-known (but no less essential) hidden gems.

Classical music venues

A must for Mozart fans.

The must-see: Vienna Musikverein

Home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and boasting lavish decor, the Vienna Musikverein is the city’s most celebrated classical music destination. Its superb acoustics mean it ranks among the top such concert halls in the world, and its reputation for hosting some of the city’s most high-profile performances make it a must for visiting music lovers.

Don’t miss: In addition to its great Golden Hall, the Musikverein hosts the Glass Hall, the Metal Hall, the Stone Hall and the Wood Hall; jazz concerts, spoken-word events, and performances across a variety of musical genres are held in these smaller spaces.

The hidden gem: Karlskirche

Vienna is a city of music, and the Austrian capital abounds with concert halls. In addition to other heavy-hitters such as the Vienna State Opera, head to the baroque Karlskirche (St. Charles’ Church) for a traditional experience. Designed by the same architect behind the city’s lavish Schönbrunn Palace, the church’s resident Orchestra 1756 performs using historical baroque instruments.

Don’t miss: Pick your preferred program: Karlskirche hosts regular performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as well as Mozart’s Requiem.

Vienna Musikverein
The Vienna Musikverein is one of the city's top musical destinations. Photo: Ungvari Attila / Shutterstock

Palaces

Feel like a Hapsburg for the day.

The must-see: Schönbrunn Palace

Vienna’s answer to Versailles, the sprawling Schönbrunn Palace is both the city’s most popular attraction (it welcomes upwards of 8 million visitors annually) as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built beginning in the 17th century and home to over 1,400 rooms, this icon of rococo design was used as the Hapsburgs’ summer palace, and its lavish interiors and exteriors are still beautifully maintained today.

Don’t miss: After venturing within the palace, continue to the Schönbrunn Palace Park, which has been open to the public since the 18th century. The park boasts everything from fountains and formal gardens to greenhouses and sculptures, as well as a vineyard.

The hidden gem: Palais Liechtenstein

Though Vienna’s trio of world-renowned palaces—the Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace, and the Hofburg—gets the lion’s share of the attention, the city is also dotted with other regal, baroque addresses. Take the Palais Liechtenstein: built over 300 years ago, this jewel-box of a palace features its own art museum, ornate frescoes, and a charming garden, and is still owned by the Liechtenstein family today.

Don’t miss: The palace’s on-site galleries can be visited on twice-monthly guided tours, and hold masterworks once owned by the Prince von und zu Liechtenstein. Look for canvases by Raphael, Van Dyck, Rubens, and more.

Palais Liechtenstein
The Palais Liechtenstein is one of Vienna's more underrated palatial attractions. Photo: Mistervlad / Shutterstock

Museums

From timeless artworks to cutting-edge culture.

The must-see: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

True to reputation, culture-rich Vienna boasts dozens of exemplary museums. But if there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest, it’s the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Housed in a palatial, neoclassical building that’s a destination in its own right, the opulent institution features thousands of works and rarities collected by the Hapsburgs that span from ancient Egypt and Rome through the Renaissance—Caravaggio, Bruegel, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and more are all represented.

Don’t miss: In addition to its main museum building, the Kunsthistorisches Museum also maintains several other major collections in the city, including the Imperial Armory, Ephesos Museum, and Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.

The hidden gem: MUMOK

Vienna isn’t all centuries-old palaces—it also has a cutting-edge side. For a taste of the city’s more contemporary art scene, head to the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK), part of Vienna’s dynamic Museumsquartier district. Housed in a striking stone building, the museum’s vast collection of 10,000-plus pieces includes 20th-century highlights by Warhol, Picasso, Richter, and more.

Don’t miss: In addition to its expansive permanent collection, look for MUMOK’s temporary exhibitions, which typically focus on contemporary and emerging artists.

Kunsthistorisches, Vienna, interior.
Vienna's opulent Kunsthistorisches is a must-visit for culture fiends. Photo: marcobrivio.photo / Shutterstock

Churches

Religious and architectural icons.

The must-see: St. Stephen's Cathedral

One of Vienna’s top landmarks, the instantly recognizable St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) is situated in the heart of the city—and can be seen from far and wide, thanks to its 446-foot (136-meter) tower. Built in the 14th century and a survivor of bombings during World War II, the religious landmark boasts colorful, ceramic roof tiles; ornate Gothic stonework; and many historical altars.

Don’t miss: Keep an eye out for the cathedral’s sandstone pulpit—with its lavish level of detail, it’s considered one of Europe’s key masterpieces of Gothic sculpture.

The hidden gem: Church of St. Leopold

Vienna is full of Gothic and baroque churches, but the Church of St. Leopold (also known as the Kirche am Steinhof) stands apart. Designed by architect Otto Wagner as part of a psychiatric hospital complex, and built between 1904 and 1907, it’s considered the world’s first modernist church. With its turquoise and gold dome, its white interior, and its art nouveau accents and light fixtures, it’s one of the city’s most unusual architectural icons.

Don’t miss: Wagner collaborated with other leading artists of the day on the church. Don’t miss the angel statues atop the church’s pillars (designed by Othmar Schimkowitz) and the stained glass and mosaics (made by Koloman Moser).

St. Stephen's Church, Vienna
St. Stephen's Church's ornate tiled rooftop is a beautiful Vienna highlight. Photo: Katvic / Shutterstock

Vienna Secession landmarks

Discover the art movement that changed Vienna.

The must-see: The Secession Building

Speaking of modernism: one of this cultural capital’s most influential 20th-century art movements was the Vienna Secession. Closely aligned with art nouveau, the movement was led by luminaries like Wagner, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Joseph Hoffman. Architecture buffs can head to the Secession Building to see one of its major landmarks.

Don’t miss: The Beethoven Frieze, which Klimt painted in 1902, is considered one of his masterworks—head to the Secession Building’s lower level to discover it.

The hidden gem: Linke Wienzeile Buildings

Evidence of the Vienna Secession movement (also known as the Jugendstil) can still be seen all over Vienna today, from the city’s U-Bahn to the Leopold Museum. To discover a lesser-known—but no less architecturally adventurous—landmark, continue to the Linke Wienzeile Buildings. Both designed by Otto Wagner, the Majolica House features a vibrant floral facade, and the Medallion House boasts golden decorations.

Don’t miss: Wagner’s own former residence is just around the corner from these two highlights—head to 3 Köstlergasse to see where he lived.

Secession Building
Don't miss the striking Secession Building, a landmark of the city's art movement. Photo: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

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Ways to Celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve in Vienna
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