Vienna on a Budget: 20 things to do for free in Vienna
1. Walk around the Vienna Ring
As the Viennese called it, the “Ring” is the central part of Vienna where you have the chance to just emerge in the classical beauty of the city, it is like entering in a living painting that reminds you of the imperial times of Vienna’s history.
The Viennese Ring is like a giant, fancy donut - only instead of sprinkles, it's covered in grand buildings, fancy hotels, and posh cafes. And just like a donut, trying to eat your way through all of it is tempting. But with so many buildings to explore, you might want to take a break and ride the famous Ring Tram instead. Of course, the Ring Tram isn't just any old tram - it's a fancy, nostalgic ride that takes you on a tour of the city's most impressive buildings. It's like a time machine, only instead of taking you back in time, it takes you on a journey through the opulence and grandeur of Vienna's past.
The Vienna Ring has more or less 6,5 km, with a circular route resembling the city's old fortification. Consequently, you get the chance to see the most emblematic monuments and places rich in historical heritage: Rathaus, Burgtheater, Parlament, Volksgarten, Mariatheresianplatz (with the Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches museums), Burggarten, Hofburg, Stephansplatz, Staatsoper and Stadtpark.
2. Explore the Church heritage
Around the whole city, there are more than 130 churches of all different kinds and forms. The cultural heritage that can be found in Vienna is so rich that only exploring the distinct churches can take a long time. With that, we suggest some of the most known and our personal favourites so you can have a glimpse of the most impacting ones.
2.1. Stephansdom (1st district)
St. Stephan’s cathedral is widely known for its grandiosity and for its important role since the XII century is one of the most iconic landmarks of Vienna, and it is located in the city center. It has been a symbol of the city for over 700 years!) It is an amazing opportunity to explore the Stephansplatz area as well as visit the indoors of the cathedral.
The cathedral is said to have been built on a site where a Roman cemetery once stood. Legend has it that during the construction, the builders unearthed human remains, which they promptly reburied in the cathedral's foundations. So if you're walking around the cathedral, you might just be walking over some ancient bones!
2.2. Catholic Church of St. Peter (1st district)
The St. Peters Church it’s a hidden gem located in the chaotic streets near the Stephansdom (and one of my personal favorites). From the outside, it may look just like an ordinary church but once you enter, you will just open your eyes and mouth while looking up at the indoor ceiling.
Once you enter the church, you will be just mesmerized by the detailed art and the colours that spread inside the building.
2.3. Michael's Church (1st district)
Also located near Stephansplatz and heading in the direction of Hofburg, the Michaelerkirche is one of the three parish churches in Vienna is famously known for having diverse coffins and catacombs.
If you have the courage, explore this church and have the chance to see coffins that are on display so everyone can see the remaining mummified corpses. Between the 14th-18th century , over four thousand wealthy people were buried here, where several of these people were mummified due to the fact that they couldn’t rot well as a consequence of the warm air circulation in the cellars.
2.4. Greek Church of the Holy Trinity (1st district)
Another hidden gem that has a distinct architecture if we compare it to the classical imperial Viennese architecture, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is an orthodox church located in the historical greek quarter in the 1st district.
It is an interesting stop point if you have an interest in comparing the different church styles and religious environments inside the first district area.
2.5. Jesuit Church (1st district)
The Jesuitenkirche (The Jesuit Church) is one of the Roman Catholic churches in the baroque style where the inside architecture and art display are breathtaking. Inside the church, its beautiful frescoes were nearly destroyed during World War II. In the final days of the war, the church was hit by a bomb that left a gaping hole in the ceiling.
Amazingly, the frescoes survived the impact, and they were carefully restored in the years following the war. Today, visitors can still admire the stunning artwork that has adorned the church for centuries.
2.6. Votiv Church (1srt district)
The Votivkirche, located inside the Ring circle (or should we say the Viennese donut), is a special church that has a deep meaning inside Viennese history.
After the attempt to assassinate the emperor Franz Joseph, his brother Ferdinand Maximillian, created a campaign to build this church as a “thankful note” to God for saving the emperor’s life.
Once you get inside the church, you have the beautiful perspective of the neo-gothic style as well as the colourful stained glasses that bring life inside the church when sun rays fall.
2.7. Catholic Church Maria am Gestade (1st district)
The Katholische Kirche Maria am Gestade (Catholic Church Maria am Gestade) is one of the few remaining gothic-style churches in Vienna being also one the oldest churches in the city.
The stained glass windows indoors with the different sunlight rays throughout the day create a dynamic and artistic atmosphere inside the building.
2.8. St. Rupert's Church (1st district)
Claimed as the oldest church in the city, this church has roman and baroque simple architecture and is an excellent way to enter the 8th century in a brief moment.
A fun fact about St. Rupert's Church in Vienna is that its organ was once played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In fact, Mozart was so impressed with the organ's sound that he dedicated a piece of music to the church, the "Epistle Sonata in C major".
Today, the church still holds regular concerts on this historic instrument.
2.9. Karlskirche (4th district)
Now, having an outside perspective from the inner city, the Karlskirche is a must-see attraction to visit and also, if you have the opportunity, to see the sunset while the colourful sky is being reflected in front of the church. The baroque style church has outside two main pillars that can be interpreted as the Pillars of Hercules , while inside the detailed frescoed dome is breathtaking.
A fun fact about Karlskirche is that during its construction, it was customary for the builders to climb up to the top of the church to take a break and have a drink of wine. In fact, it was believed that drinking wine while working would help the builders stay healthy and energised.
To accommodate this tradition, the builders even had a special staircase built that would allow them to climb to the top of the church with their wine barrels.
2.10. Mexican or St. Francis of Assisi Church (2nd district)
Last but not least, one of my favourite churches in Vienna, also known as the Mexican or St. Francis of Assisi church (Kirche St. Franziskus von Assisi) from the 19th century, is a totally different type of church within the city. It has a very unique architecture which just catches the attention of the people that cross by it.
Near the Danube river, it is a good option to explore the inner church or only to just admire it for its outside style while also it is near one of the bridges (Reichsbrücke) that connects to the Donauinsel area (in chapter 3 you can have more information about the Donauinsel and fun and free things to do in Vienna).
The Donauinsel is one of the locals' favourite spots when warm days arrive in the city. Donauinsel, or Danube Island, is the perfect place to go if you're in the mood for some fun in the sun. But be warned - it's not your typical island paradise. For starters, there's no ocean - just the Danube River. And instead of palm trees and coconuts, you'll find plenty of trees, grass, and wildflowers.
But despite its lack of tropical flair, Donauinsel is still a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. In fact, every summer, the island plays host to the Danube Island Festival , a massive music and cultural event that attracts over 3 million visitors. It's like Woodstock, but with more sausage stands.
And if you're feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at some of the island's more extreme sports, like bungee jumping , wakeboarding , or even beach volleyball . Just don't forget the sunscreen, or you might end up looking like a lobster.
So if you're looking for a unique island adventure, Donauinsel is the place to be. Who needs palm trees and coconuts when you've got music, sports, and plenty of sausages?
4. Schönbrunner Park
Everybody that visits Vienna wishes to visit the Scönbrunner Palace, and we must say that it is an amazing experience to visit inside. Nevertheless, just sightseeing the monumentalism of the building from the outside and exploring its park is an enriching experience in itself!
You can discover the different corners of this park that, in the past, had a special place in the Sissi’s empress's heart . On the top of the vast garden of the Schönbrunner, you can find a majestic building where the famous Café Gloriette takes place.
Also, a milestone of this park it’s the maze that is located inside of it, where you can have fun while discovering the twelve symbols of the zodiac inside.
5. Hundertwasser Village
Most people associate Vienna with the classic and monumental city. Although it is true, Vienna also has a very alternative and artistic side enhancing its complex beauty of it. If you thought that Vienna has everything in line, you are mistaken! This place called “Hundertwasser” is everything but straight: the walls, the doors, the floor, … I mean everything.
The Hundertwasser Village was a project designed by the architect Friedenreisch Hundertwasser (known European green pioneer ), whose philosophy goes according to nature's visions: only on rare occasions there is perfection in nature, a straight line or circle, everything is interconnected. Consequently, his buildings reflect that same philosophy, where there is a balance between human construction and nature (like a symbiotic bond). You can find uneven floors, water courses inside the buildings, trees, and plants everywhere!
Certainly, a peculiar and somehow captivating experience if you wish to explore all sides of the city!
6. Wiener Trinkwasser
Wiener Trinkwasser, or Vienna's drinking water, is not only refreshing, but it also has some fun facts that may surprise you.
Firstly, the tap water in Vienna is actually one of the best in the world. It comes from 30 natural springs in the surrounding mountains and is treated with a special sand and gravel filtering system. As a result, the water is so clean and pure that it requires no additional treatment or filtration.
Another fun fact is that Viennese people are big fans of their drinking water. In fact, they consume over 170 liters of tap water per person every year, making it the most consumed beverage in the city.
If you're curious about the history of Wiener Trinkwasser, you can visit the First Vienna Spring Water Museum, which showcases the history of Vienna's drinking water, as well as the technical processes that are used to purify and distribute the water throughout the city.
So next time you're in Vienna, don't hesitate to fill up your water bottle with the local tap water.
Trinkwasser spots address in the city:
7. Sissi-Denkmal im Volksgarten
The Sissi-Denkmal im Volksgarten is the perfect spot for history buffs and selfie enthusiasts alike! Strike a pose with Empress Sissi and show off your best royal wave. Don't forget to bring some snacks and enjoy a picnic in the lush greenery of the Volksgarten.
And if you're feeling extra fancy, throw on a tiara and pretend you're the Empress herself! Just make sure to watch out for any sneaky paparazzi trying to snap a shot of you and your imperial entourage. So grab your camera and get ready to say "Cheese" like a true Austrian royal!
8. Naschmarkt Market
Naschmarkt is a feast for the senses, with the sights, sounds, and smells of fresh produce and exotic spices, but did you know that it's also a great place to practice your bargaining skills ? That’s what will reflect your experience in the Naschmarkt market!
Right in the city centre, you can find not only amazing products but also diverse types of restaurants if you wish to have a little taste of the multicultural world !
With over 120 market stands and a vivid Flea Market during the weekends, this is a place if you wish to be involved with the Viennese community in their daily-lives.
Naschmarkt is a popular spot for foodies, but did you know that it's also a great place to spot celebrities ? It's not uncommon to see famous actors, musicians, and politicians wandering through the market stalls. Try your luck and have an adventure in the streets of the market!
Kahlenberg is a famous hill located in the Vienna Woods of Austria, known for its stunning panoramic views of the city of Vienna and the Danube River. The hill is popular with hikers and tourists, who often visit the nearby vineyards and traditional Austrian restaurants.
Kahlenberg is steeped in history, as it played a crucial role in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Today, visitors can visit the historic Kahlenberg Church , which was built in the early 18th century to commemorate the victory of the Christian forces against the Ottoman Empire.
But enough about history - let's talk about the real reason people come to Kahlenberg: the views. From the top of the hill, you can see all of Vienna and the Danube River, which is almost as impressive as the fact that the hill has its own vineyards. You can even take a stroll through the vineyards and sample some of the local wine, or dine at one of the nearby restaurants and enjoy some traditional Austrian cuisine.
And for the hike lovers, it has the Kahlenberg Circular Trail and the Vienna Panorama Trail, which offer beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Additionally, visitors can take a scenic ride on the Kahlenbergbahn, a cog railway that runs from the city up to the top of the hill.
If you have the chance to watch the sunrise (for the early birds) or sunset (for the late birds), I totally recommend you! It is an excellent opportunity to have an overview of the city and its surroundings!
10. Hermesvilla/ Lainzer Tiergarten
Hermesvilla is like the vacation home of a royal family - if that royal family happened to have really great taste in architecture. Built for Empress Sissi of Austria, the palace is a beautiful piece of history that's been carefully preserved for visitors to enjoy.
And then there's Lainzer Tiergarten - a nature reserve that's basically a 2,450-acre playground for animals. It's like a theme park for deer, boars, and foxes, with plenty of trees, meadows, and hills to explore.
Together, Hermesvilla and Lainzer Tiergarten make for a great day trip. You can take a tour of the palace and imagine yourself as a fancy empress (tiara optional), and then head out into the park to commune with nature.
You might even catch a glimpse of some wildlife - just try not to get too close to the boars, they can be a bit grumpy!
Free things to do there:
Take a hike: is home to over 80 km of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging routes. The trails take you through forests, meadows, and hills, and offer plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife.
Visit Hermesvilla: This historic palace was once the summer residence of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and is now open to the public as a museum. Admission is free, and you can explore the rooms and gardens of this beautiful building.
Have a picnic: Lainzer Tiergarten is the perfect spot for a picnic, with plenty of green space and scenic views. Bring a blanket, some snacks, and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the great outdoors.
Go for a bike ride: it has several bike paths that take you through the park's scenic landscapes. You can rent a bike for free at several locations throughout the park;
Go bird watching: is home to over 100 species of birds, making it a paradise for bird-watchers. Bring your binoculars and see how many different species you can spot.
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