For many, Vienna and Bratislava are a pack when it comes to Central European destinations. The two capitals are separated by merely 60 km, making it a must to visit Vienna if in Bratislava, and the other way around. More often than not, the time one has for both cities is limited to a couple of days, give or take. For weekend escapers, we have put together below a time and distance optimized itinerary that allows you to make the most of Vienna in a one-day trip from Bratislava.
There are two main ways to get to Austria’s capital – by boat with the Twin City Liner and by train. The boat ride on the Danube is a unique experience in itself and we highly recommend you do it at least one way. Therefore, our itinerary starts at Schwedenplatz where the landing platform of the City Liner is, and ends at the Vienna Main Train Station (Wien Hauptbahnhof). It works as well the other way around (from Hauptbahnhof to Schwedenplatz). If you decide to travel by one means of transportation only, the two points are conveniently connected by a 10 minutes ride on the underground line number 1 (U1). In this case, at the end of your itinerary, just take the metro back to the starting point.
We suggest to include a stop at a traditional Viennese coffee house during your visit and if possible, lunch/dinner at an Austrian restaurant. As you read through the circuit below, you will find a lot of suggestions for cafés and restaurants, as well as our top picks for coffee to go and places for a quick bite. To help coordinate, we have assembled a checklist which you can print and take along. It breaks down the amount of time to be spent on each portion of the itinerary, options for food and drink so you can think ahead how you’d like to organize the day, and lists the sights that should not be missed. As we live in Vienna, you can actually contact us before your visit with any questions.
Arrive in Vienna with the Twin City Liner: enjoy some Viennese treats at the Schwedenplatz
So let’s assume you arrive in Vienna by boat on a beautiful morning. The Schwedenplatz (translated as Swedish Square) was named to thank Sweden for its help in the years after the First World War and it is famous for the ice cream salon located here.
Besides ice cream, you could make a stop for breakfast or a drink/dinner at the café and restaurant Motto am Fluss. It is among the city’s best restaurants and one of our favorites, ideally located next to the Twin City Liner landing platform.
Alternatively, as you walk along the picturesque Hafnersteig from Schwedenplatz, grab a coffee to go from Fenster Café, a specialty coffee shop that serves Vienna’s cheapest espresso (0,99 €) and original coffee cocktails, alongside classic Viennese and Italian options. The Hafnersteig takes you directly to the Griechenbeisl, Vienna’s oldest restaurant. Nowadays a high-end establishment, it used to be the preferred spot of Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Strauss, Brahms, Mark Twain, and Karl Lueger. For a more affordable traditional Viennese dinner in the area, we’ll go on record for the Zwölf Apostelkeller, but the world famous Figlmüller is an option as well if you reserve ahead.
Do not miss the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church immediately adjacent to the Griechenbeisl, as you make your way towards St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Gelateria Zanoni is on the way, in case you do need that ice cream!
Walk through Vienna’s historic center
Next on your schedule is a walking itinerary through Vienna’s historic center (see map 1).
This starts in the Stephansplatz (St. Stephen’s Square), the beating heart of Vienna. Take in the view of the majestic Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), a Romanesque and Gothic medieval masterpiece, and the symbol of the city. For a sweet memory, check-out the Manner shop on Stephansplatz – these are Neapolitan Wafers whose name is synonym with Vienna.
From the Stephansplatz two main pietonal arteries brake off and you will take the one on your right – the Graben. Here you can soak in the atmosphere of Vienna at its best. In the center of the street is the Holy Trinity Column (or Plague Column – Pestsäule), erected in Baroque style after the plague epidemic of 1679. Do not miss the beautiful Baroque church of St. Peter immediately to your right, as you pass the column. It stands on the place of the oldest church in the city. For a quick bite on the Graben, a true Viennese would stop at the sausage stand Zum Goldenen Würstel.
Turn left at the end of the Graben and walk along the posh Kohlmarkt Street, and you can already admire the cupola of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Right before the iconic St. Michael Square (Michaelerplatz), to the right, is the DEMEL confectionery and pastry shop. You can be seated upstairs if you want to enjoy the Viennese coffee house experience here, although prices are on the upper scale.
The Michaelerplatz is packed with history like no other square around. Besides the Baroque entrance to the Hofburg complex, you can see here excavations of Roman ruins, the Romanesque St. Michael’s Church (Michaelerkirche) dating back to the 13th century, as well as the controversial Loos Haus. A centerpiece of Viennese Modernism, it caused quite a stir in the city upon its completion in 1910.
Michaelerkirche / The Loos Haus at Michaelerplatz
If you are time pressed or want to spend more time somewhere else, walk ahead through the Hofburg complex all the way to the Ring Strasse and the Maria-Theresien-Platz, and catch up with the respective part in the next section of the itinerary. Otherwise, turn right on Herrengasse and be sure to stop for souvenirs or a heartily laugh at the original shop The Viennastore. We spend at least an hour in here every time we pass by, as it has simply the most original memorabilia in town! Walk on and you will soon reach Vienna’s most famous coffee house – the Café Central. It used to be a meeting place of the city’s intellectual scene in the late 19th/early 20th century, with regulars including Adolf Loos and Sigmund Freud, but also Stalin, Hitler, or Trotsky. The building in which the Café Central is located is called Palais Ferstel and it is a famous venue because of the restaurants and cafés inside its passage. Our favorite here is the artisanal coffee shop Café Couture.
Display inside The Viennastore / Ferstel Passage / Schottenkirche
As you exit on the other side of the Ferstel Passage, turn left on the Freyung Square and then right, to reach the public transport hub Schottentor. You will pass by aristocratic palaces from the golden age of the Habsburg Empire and by the Scots’ Church (Schottenkirche), a parish church attached to a monastery founded in the 12th century by Scot Benedictine monks.
Enjoy a tram ride (or a long walk) along the Ring Strasse
The Schottentor is popular with students as the University of Vienna is located here, thus it’s the perfect place to replenish your energy levels. Artisanal coffee at Jonas Reindl, Starbucks, a sausage stand, as well as a branch of the Nordsee fish restaurant are in the area. In the underground station you find branches of all famous Viennese bakeries: der Mann, Stroeck, Anker.
From Schottentor you can take tram line D all the way to the main train station (5 km), passing Vienna’s most important Ring Strasse monuments along the way (see map 2). To be able to use the public transport in a hop on hop off system, you are advised to purchase a day card, which then also gives you metro access for your visit. Most of the monuments on the Ring Strasse were erected between 1860 and 1890 in imitation of previous architectural styles, a trend known as Historicism. The construction of the 5,3 km long boulevard changed the face of Vienna forever, so much that terms such as “Ring Strasse period” and “Ring Strasse architecture” are commonly used.
At Schottentor you will see the Neo-Gothic Votive Church, built as a thanksgiving symbol for an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Josef. If you get off at the next station Rathausplatz/Burgtheater, you can check out whichever season-specific event taking place in front of the Vienna City Hall (Rathaus), and wonder at the Neo-Baroque magnificence of the largest theater in Europe across the street (Burgtheater). For a longer stay, consider the Café Landtmann for a unique coffee house experience.
Burgtheater / Cafe Landtmann
You will pass by the Austrian Parliament before your next stop called Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring. Walk to the next station (Burgring) as you will have the Maria-Theresien-Platz to your right, and the main entrance to the Hofburg Imperial Palace to your left, as you go through the Heldentor (Heroes’ Gate). On the Maria-Theresien-Platz the twin world famous museums (Art History Museum and Natural History Museum) are found, but that is a topic for a longer stay in Vienna. If you fancy some ice cream, you have another branch of Zanoni on your right after you pass the Maria-Theresien-Platz.
Hofburg Imperial Palace – view from the Ring Strasse
The next stop is the world-famous Vienna State Opera. It is not only the location of the Opera Ball, but a prime venue for opera and ballet performances, which, if you visit in April, May, June, September, or December, can be seen live on an outside screen. Take the time to walk around this building, as the view from the Ring Strasse does not do it justice. If in need for refreshments, the Opera underground station offers a wide variety of options.
Vienna State Opera
From here it is worth walking to the stop Gusshaussstrasse. As shown on the map, you will leave the Ring Strasse to reach the St. Charles Square (Karlsplatz) with the St. Charles Church (Karlskirche). This masterpiece of Baroque was built after the plague epidemic of 1713, and the inspiration for it were the dome of St. Peter and Trajan’s column in Rome. On your route is also the Musikverein, a concert venue where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra holds the traditional New Year’s Concert, broadcasted live all over the world.
The Soviet War Memorial on Schwarzenbergplatz marks a more recent chapter of Austrian history, namely the capture of Vienna by the Soviet army in 1945. Here you will take tram D to reach the Belvedere Palace, the last stop on the way to the train station.
The Belvedere Palace
One of our favorite restaurants in the area is Salm Bräu, a beer house with an 85 years old tradition. If you plan to have dinner/lunch here, it is advisable to walk from Schwarzenbergplatz to Rennweg 8, enter the Belvedere Gardens after your dinner and walk your way up towards the Palace. The Belvedere complex, consisting of the Upper and Lower Palaces separated by a Baroque garden, were originally built as residences of Prince Eugene of Savoy at the beginning of the 18th century following his resounding victory over the Ottoman armies in 1697. Today the Upper Belvedere houses an impressive collection of Austrian and world art, including the famous KISS by Gustav Klimt.
From the Belvedere Palace you can reach the Hauptbahnhof on foot in 5-10 minutes. The tram D station you need to get off at is called Quartier Belvedere. If you start the itinerary from Hauptbahnhof, we recommend you enter the Belvedere grounds, walk your way through the gardens, and exit from the Lower Belvedere next to Salm Bräu. You will see ahead the Soviet War Memorial on Schwarzenbergplatz, from where you can follow the route just described, but in the opposite direction.
At the end of a long day (refer to the checklist for time estimates), you have not only seen Vienna’s most important landmarks in a tour de force, but have also hopefully enjoyed some of its specific treats. On your next visit from Bratislava, take a different approach and rather try to get into the Viennese modus vivendi by spending a Sunday here. We are always looking forward to welcoming you!
Anca is the least better half of a Romanian-Turkish couple who are calling Vienna their home for ten years now. Dream, Book, and Travel was born out of the desire to offer personalized itineraries in Vienna and beyond, based on their extensive travels, readings and experiences. For them, every holiday/city visit/weekend escape is part of one’s personal story and should thus be made as memorable as possible. Get in touch before your next holiday and they will prove it!
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