On our first visit to Vienna, we stayed around 5 days. Our second visit had only 1.5 days and after that, I think that 3 days in Vienna are enough to see the main attractions, but not enough to wander around and discover the city randomly.
You need a really good Vienna itinerary or some extra days. In 3 days you can reach only the main points of interest in Vienna, but probably you will be too tired to see other places and you will just skip some things to do in Vienna.
If you are running short on time it is important to know what to see in Vienna in 3 days and how to plan your stay in Vienna for all of them.
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What to see in Vienna in 3 days?
Once you get to Schonbrunn palace you can spend a whole day here. You have so many things to do in the area that your time will not seem enough. We started with a guided tour of the palace. You have two tour options: one with 20 rooms and one with 40 rooms.
The old furniture, the golden decorations and the opulence from the inside helped us to get an idea of how the Austrian emperors lived, the Schonbrunn Palace being the summer residence of the Habsburg family. Because every hour a limited number of people come in, you may not find tickets if you go on a busy day. The good news is that tickets can be purchased online from here or you can book a guided tour to ship the line here.
Once you visit the palace, you can go exploring the rest of the domain. We bought a one day ticket and used the train to reach different stations, but we also walked around to see the gardens.
We got lost in the maze, wandered among trees trimmed in line, rows of flowers and artesian fountains that make this park famous and we stopped at Gloriette. From there you have the most beautiful view of the Schonbrunn Palace and its gardens.
The Vienna Zoo is close to the Schonbrunn Park and the palace is within walking distance. Although recommended by many people, we didn’t stop to visit it. But for children, it is an excellent attraction! You can by tickets here. Salzburg has another interesting Zoo. Read here about it.
Vienna Technical Museum
Although not one of the main tourist attractions in Vienna, the Technical Museum was a real discovery for us. Not only can you see the history of science at a glance, but you can experience it. From simple experiments in physics to filming in a television studio and violin lessons, we didn’t miss anything it offered us. We were like kids in an amusement park. Physics and chemistry would be more attractive if you had the opportunity to learn them like this in school!
Hofburg Palace, the political center of the Habsburg dynasty, today plays a similar role for Austria, hosting ministries and other political bodies. Initially, it was a medieval castle too and various buildings were added after forming the impressive complex that stretches on 240000 m2 in the center of Vienna. Some buildings have been transformed into museums and others have a political role.
Here you can visit the imperial apartments (we skipped them after seeing Schonbrunn), the Sisi museum and the collection of objects belonging to the monarchy (silverware, crystals). Parts of this complex, but with separate entrance are also the National Library, the Spanish Riding School and the Butterfly House. At the Spanish Riding School, we did not stop, but we didn’t miss the other two.
The butterfly house in Vienna
Built-in the imperial greenhouses, the Butterfly House recreates a tropical environment in which butterflies fly free among climbing plants, palm trees, and orchids. The most interesting part here is that there are so many that they sit on your hands, on your head, and if you are not careful you can even step on them. Inside it is a humid and very warm environment, so the summer outfit is mandatory whatever the weather in Vienna!
National Library of Austria – a must-see in Vienna
National Library of Austria was the main reason why I wanted to return to this city: I had to see it! With entrance from Augustinerstrasse street, just opposite from the Pallavicini Palace, the first floor hosts Prunksaal. Built-in the 18th century as the Library of the court, the National Library of Austria houses today over 200,000 books beautifully arranged in the hall decorated with marble statues and Venetian globes.
Old book smell, cold marble floor, diffused light, impressive paintings on the dome and walnut wood that support so many volumes – all these details make you feel in another world. I found here a paper about medicinal plants written in the 6th century, maps of the world from different times and representations of the constellations.
The library is actually a museum because nobody reads. Everyone just looks amazed at the high walls, lined with books and takes pictures. After a visit here I declared myself satisfied with the whole city break in Vienna!
Vienna State Opera
One of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna is the Opera. In the evening it is spectacularly illuminated and it is impossible not to notice it in a walk through the center. If you want to visit it inside, you can go to one of the many shows. Otherwise, at least circling it is required.
Kärtner Strasse – the pedestrian street
Limited by the Vienna Opera and by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Kärtner Strasse is a pedestrian street that cuts through the center (not to be confused with the Mariahilfer Strasse the famous shopping street in Vienna).
Besides the well-known and expensive shops, I also saw here Sachen hotel, who created the famous Austrian dessert Sachen Torte. We arrived on Kärtner Strasse in the evening, but the crowds here didn’t make me love it too much.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and its crypt
The construction started in the 12th century dominates today the square with the same name. Visiting it inside is free and totally worth it. We got in during a church service and we couldn’t walk till the altar, but we could still see it.
Guided tours are organized in the crypt of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where you can see the tombs of bishops and members of the royal family.
The Church of Saint Charles (Karlkirche Vienna)
An example of Baroque architecture in Vienna is Karlkirche, the church built in the 18th century in Karlsplatz. We wanted to see the two columns similar to the Column of Trajan in Rome that frame the entrance to the church as well as the fresco in the dome.
To visit the church inside, you must pay a fee that also includes the panoramic lift up to the dome. It is not a popular destination among tourists, so we enjoyed the peace of the park with the tulips in front. Details about the visit program and rates can be found here.
Art lovers will find a second home in Vienna. The city has a lot of museums and galleries that exhibit well-known works of art. Albertina Museum is one of them and on the official site, you can find the current exhibition and you can buy tickets here.
Another stop for those interested in painting should be the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, home to the largest collection of paintings signed by Gustav Klimt. Even the Kiss (Der Kuss) can be admired here.
Vienna City Hall for the Vienna Christmas Market
Another famous building is the Vienna City Hall in front of which are organized the most important events in town. We found here a film festival, with street food from all over the world. In winter, the Vienna Christmas market is organized here, and the food trucks are replaced with little wood houses selling sweet cake and Christmas ornaments.
Considering the interesting architecture, the City Hall can be visited inside during a guided tour. Details about it can be found on the official site.
Prater Amusement Park in Vienna
In addition to a standard wheel drive, its cabins can be rented individually for parties, private events, and even weddings. If you are ready to take a ride, skip the line and buy your ticket here. My advice is to be careful about what you eat before you get here. From my own experience, I can tell you that a Viennese schnitzel is not the right choice.
Donauturm in Vienna
On the opposite bank of the Danube rises Donauturm, a tower from which you can see Vienna from above. The fast elevator took us to the top restaurant which is slightly swirling to offer a 360 view of the city while enjoying a dessert with pancakes and plum sauce.
The lift with the elevator is paid separately, and the prices at the restaurant do not differ from those in the center. But the view is worth all the money! If you don’t want to wait in line, buy your ticket here.
Haus des meeres Viena
If the Zoo was not on our list with things to see in Vienna, Haus des meeres got all our attention. The 7-story aquarium in the heart of Vienna delighted us half day. On each floor, there are aquariums with various fish and water animals, and the last floor is arranged in tropical style, with lush plants, monkeys jumping free through trees and noisy birds.
3-day Vienna itinerary
Once you have booked a place to stay in Vienna and you have decided what are the top attractions you don’t want to miss in Vienna, it is time to plan your Vienna itinerary. My proposal for a 3-day Vienna itinerary is:
Start your day with a walk in the city center, on Kärtner Strasse. Admire the beautiful Opera, go inside St Stephan’s cathedral, visit the Albertina museum if you love arts and spend the rest of the day in Hofburg palace.
See the National Library, the imperial apartments and the butterfly house in Vienna. If there is an event in front of the City Hall, you can end your day there. You book a guided tour to discover more details about this city or buy a hop-on hop-off bus ticket.
On your second day, you can combine Schoenbrunn palace, the Zoo, and the Vienna Technical Museum. In the morning visit the palace and take a walk in its huge gardens with a mandatory stop at Gloriette.
Along the way, stop in the Vienna Zoo and once you are done with the whole complex, go inside Vienna Technical Museum. It will be a fun activity for the evening!
On day 3 you can try to squeeze all the other attractions on the list. Visit Haus des meeres in the morning, continue with Karlskirche and spend your afternoon in Prater park, finishing your stay in Vienna with a dinner in Donauturm.
If you are too tired for that, just go to a park and lay on the grass. This is also an option.
Three days are enough to check these attractions. After this, you can leave the city and discover other beautiful places in Austria. And i recommend you start with Salzburg.
If you have more time, find other things to do in Vienna. I would also add to the list the Museum of natural history, a stroll through the centre, a cruise on the Danube, a tour with the tourist tram that surrounds the centre and many other things. But for now, I’m satisfied with what I visited.