Vienna is a fancy place. Everything is opulent, from the cafes to the opera houses. Don’t be fooled by its appearance though, as there are also a number of free or inexpensive things to do in this city. Here are my recommendations for how to spend a few affordable days in Vienna, Austria.
First off, there are two Wombats hostels in Vienna. I have found the Wombats chain to be clean and affordable, and they usually offer some fun activities for their guests. I stayed in the Wombats City Hostel at the Naschmarkt. Though it was a 30 minute walk from the central train station, the Naschmarkt itself is a great location with seemingly endless food vendors and stalls with gifts. You can also partake in the Wombat’s breakfast buffet for 5 euros. My favorite, however, was taking part in the hostel’s wine tasting event that featured all Austrian wines and a surprise schnapps at the end.
A quintessential stop in Vienna is the State Opera House. Though a seat can cost upwards of 200 euros, there are a few significantly cheaper options that can provide a similar experience. First, during the spring and summer, the State Opera House is kind enough to show live performances on a large screen outside the theater. The downside is that you don’t get to see the inside of the theater in person, but on the other hand, you get to enjoy the performance for free and bring a picnic.
The cheapest way to see the performance inside the State Opera House is by purchasing “standing room only” tickets shortly before the show. Though you won’t get an actual seat, these tickets will only cost you about €4. For this option, show up at the standing room box office and make sure your whole party is present, as each person can only get one ticket. This box office opens 80 minutes before the performance.
Lastly, “restricted view tickets” can be bought ahead of time online. I selected this option and paid just €12 for my ticket to Cappricio by German composer Richard Strauss. When purchasing one of these tickets, the closer you are to the center, the better. Some restricted view seats will literally only allow you to see part of the stage, or even just the ceiling of the theater. I wasn’t able to see much while sitting down, but I was able to stand in front of my chair and see the stage.
Both “standing room only” and “restricted view” tickets offer individual screens with subtitles in the language of your choice. If you don’t see the screens right away, they might be on the wall of your “lug.” You’ll also want to dress up, or if you’re in a pinch you can get away with wearing black.
Volksgarten (Rose Garden)
If you’re heading to Vienna in the spring or summer, do not miss the Volksgarten. I stumbled across this gem as I was wandering around the city, and was so glad I did. This free, public park features over 3,000 rose bushes and is a photographer’s (or instagrammer’s) dream. You can easily plan on spending an hour here.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
If you’ve done much traveling around Europe, you might be getting tired of churches. Regardless, this one is definitely worth a visit. It features unique and colorful tiles on the roof, catacombs, and two towers with views of Vienna. Tours are also available.
Austrian National Library – The State Hall
This portion of the largest library in Austria isn’t free, but it is worth the €8 it costs to get in. The space features shelves of books from floor to ceiling, marble statues, and a dome with frescos. Keep in mind that the State Hall is closed on Mondays. You may also need to rely on the many signs for directions since there are 4-5 buildings in the area that look very similar.
Pretend You’re Sigmund Freud
As a psychologist, the city of Vienna and its Freud Museum have long been on my bucket list. For €12, I got to stand in Freud’s former office, view his couch and name plate, and read all about his life, including when he fled to London during WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of my trip and was excited to hear that they’re fundraising to build upon the current exhibits. The museum is also located near the University of Vienna campus, where Freud taught, if you’re up for a stroll.
I continued my nerdy psychology tour of Vienna by stopping by two of Freud’s favorite cafes: Cafe Landtmann and Cafe Central. Cafe Landtmann had an edge in that it wasn’t nearly as touristy, but Cafe Central was the more beautiful of the two. To truly experience Vienna, order an espresso & cake and take your sweet time.
Going out for nice meals can add up fast in Vienna. Grab some fresh produce, olives, and other snacks at the Naschmarkt, or head to the nearby Voodies for some affordable vegan street food. I’m currently drooling thinking about the Vienna “Not Dog” I had there. There’s also gelato and sorbeto galore, with my favorite being the lavender flavor at Veganista.
There is no shortage of palaces in Vienna, with the most popular being Schonnbrun, Belvedere, and Hofburg. Following the recommendation of another traveler, I went to Belvedere instead of Schonnbrun and was a bit disappointed. Though it was not nearly as crowded, I also guessed that it was not as impressive. My advice based on what I know now is to visit Schnonnbrun, skip the other palaces unless you have ample time, and to look at all the different ticket options ahead of time. For both Schonnbrun and Belvedere, there are different price points for tickets based on which parts you want to see (and which you don’t care about).
Looking for a day trip outside of Vienna? Check out my recent post about Bratislava, Slovakia here. Bratislava is just a quick train or boat ride away and is generally less expensive than Vienna. Grab a beer for just one euro and explore this city’s quaint old town.
Have you traveled Vienna on a budget? Share your tips in the comments below.