Guide to Vienna in Winter

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Vienna is one of the world’s most beautiful and historically-rich cities. There is an incredible amount to see in the capital city of Austria. Immerse yourself in the local culture and history as you enjoy the snowy chill of Vienna in winter.

These attractions and activities are some of the best things to do in Vienna when it’s both cold and beautiful. Pack in your walking shoes and a warm jacket, and make sure you have everything on your travel checklist.

If the weather allows, you can spend much of your time on foot. You’ll see so many beautiful little details and unexpected findings. But Vienna also has excellent public transport systems, to allow you to explore in all weather conditions. 

How to get to Vienna

As Vienna is Austria’s capital city, you’ll easily get a flight or train there from most cities. To reach the city center from the airport is easy. Catch a bus, train, Uber, or taxi, and you’ll be in the city in 20 minutes.

If you’re touring Austria, it’s also easy to catch an inter-city train. They’re fast and efficient, running from early morning to midnight. They’re also safe, and you’ll find no need to rent a car if you’re looking for an inexpensive and easy Vienna vacation. Once you’re in Vienna, you’ll want to spend most of your time on foot anyway.

Winter weather in Vienna

Winter weather in Vienna varies a good deal, but you can expect chilly temperatures and cloudy days. January is the coldest month of the year. Here are the average temperatures to expect:

  • December – Average high: 3ºC, low: 0ºC (37ºF / 32ºF).
  • January – Average high: 2ºC, low: -4ºC (36ºF / 25ºF).
  • February – Average high: 4ºC, low: -1ºC (39ºF / 30ºF)

When is the best time to visit Vienna in winter?

If you’re visiting Vienna in winter, the best time is during the Christmas season. December sees the city take on an almost fairy-tale beauty, strewn with sparkling Christmas lights and a market to be found around every corner.

TIP: We’ve listed some of our favorite Christmas markets below, so you can be sure to visit the loveliest spots.

Vienna in January or February may not have that Christmas cheer, but it’s a cheaper time to visit, and remains beautiful and full of activities and attractions. So, while we love a Vienna Christmas, you can choose the time that best suits.

Where to stay in Vienna

When you’re only spending a few days in the city, it’s most convenient to stay in a central neighborhood. We found it so much easier to walk straight to our first stop when we were staying right in the thick of things. 

You can find a hotel in Innere Stadt, the city’s central district, but the convenience comes with a highehr price tag. A cheaper alternative is to stay in the suburb of Leopoldstadt, or even Landstrasse. Vienna has 23 districts, but if you're following our itinerary, these are the closest stops.

Best hotel – Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth

This 4-star hotel is situated in the heart of Vienna, only a few steps away from St Stephen’s Cathedral. It is the best place to set out on your Vienna activities, and is absolutely gorgeous. The buffet breakfast offers some of Vienna’s best cuisine, and the rooms are comfortable and beautifully decorated.

Budget hotel – B&B Hotel Wien-Hbf

A little further from the city center you’ll find this lovely hotel. The rooms have a great view of the city, so a top floor room is your best option. It’s comfortable and clean, with a great buffet breakfast. And while you may not be able to walk directly to your first stop, public transport is near and convenient – and the Vienna Card makes it free.

Airbnb – for a longer stay

AirBnB is one of the best options for those spending a longer time in Vienna. It works out a lot less expensive, and feels private and comfortable. It also allows you to experience more of the Viennese culture, visiting grocery stores and local haunts. Here’s the link to where we stayed.

City sightseeing cards: Vienna PASS vs. Vienna Card

Want to save on sightseeing? Go with a city discount card; they're available in many cities.

In Vienna, you have two choices, each with its own features. One may make more sense to you, depending on how much of your time you plan to spend sightseeing.

Vienna PASS

The Vienna PASS is available for 1, 2, 3, or 6 consecutive days.

What's included with the Vienna PASS:

  • Free access to over 60 top attractions, museums and monuments in Vienna.
  • Fast track entry
  • Unlimited travel on the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses (4 routes)
  • A mobile app that includes e-tickets and an offline map of Vienna
  • A high-quality guidebook that features insider tips and detailed city information.
  • A bonus booklet with attractive discounts at exclusive partners.

Children below the age of 6 get free admission to the all-inclusive offers if accompanied by an adult holding a Vienna PASS.

TIP: The Vienna PASS is not particularly designed for large groups. Groups of more than 10 may be refused entry at some attractions. We advise if you are in a group of over 10 that you contact each attraction in advance.

Vienna City Card

The Vienna City Card is valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours and it includes free access to public transportation. The public transit system in Vienna is fantastic. It’s a great way to get out of the elements.

What's included with the Vienna City Card:

  • Discounts for over 210 museums, exhibitions, theaters, concerts, shops, cafés, restaurants and wine taverns
  • Free travel on public transport within Vienna for 24, 48 or 72 hours
  • One child up to the age of 15 travels free on public transportation with each Vienna City Card holder.

You can also upgrade your ticket with these optional add-ons:

  • Unlimited travel on the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses (4 routes)
  • Airport transfer

The airport transfer seems a good value, as it's valid for 7 days and can be redeemed more than once. Plus, two children up to the age of 15 travel free with each City Card holder.

TIP: Use the City Check-In and travel to the airport with the CAT (City Airport Train), ÖBB Railjet (first class at no extra cost), Express train S7, or Vienna Airport Lines (operating around the clock)

Best attractions and activities for a Vienna winter

We adored Vienna in winter and put together all the best things to do in Vienna for those chilly days when all you want to do is explore. Because, in such a spectacular city, how could you do anything else?

#1 Set off on a photogenic churches walking tour

Vienna has some of the most beautiful churches in the world. They are so vastly different, we had to see all the best ones and tick them off as we went.

TIP: We’ve put together this walking itinerary map so that you can easily follow our route.

We suggest starting at the neo-Gothic church, Votivkirche. This incredibly complex masterpiece was created to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life after an attempted attack. You’ll want to stare at it for ages, as each moment reveals another detail. 

It’s located in a quiet neighborhood, and entrance is free. Making it the perfect start to your day.

Next, move onto the fascinatingly different Karlskirche, an impressive Baroque church. Stop at the small, charming Capuchin church and monastery, before moving on to the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, St Stephen’s Cathedral.

We spent about half a day touring these churches, ending at the magnificent St Francis of Assisi Church, right on the riverside. The walk itself takes 2-hours, but we recommend you spend time at each stop, exploring the churches and taking lots of photographs.

#2 Explore top Vienna’s top attractions

Some of our favorite Vienna landmarks are within a few minutes' walk of one another. So we’ve put together an easy self-guided tour, to ensure that you can spend your short stay in Vienna perfectly, and without hassle. It’s best to start off at the now-familiar St Stephen’s Cathedral, before moving onto your next stop.

Stop 1: Hofburg Palace

This imposing structure is Vienna’s imperial palace, lying at the very center of Vienna. Built in the 13th century, it’s now the home of Austria’s president. You can simply admire the beautiful architecture from the outside, or go inside and explore the decor, which we did and recommend. 

There are different ways to see the Hofburg, and while you can’t see all of it (even presidents need some private space), there are so many impressive and historic things to see here. Join a guided tour, or get the audio guide and explore it on your own.

Stop 2: Burgtheater

Less than a 10-minute walk away, you’ll find the Burgtheater. This is Austria’s National Theatre, and one of the most important theatres in the world. Created in 1741, in the Baroque Revival style, it will take your breath away. It was certainly one of the most beautiful theaters we’ve ever seen.

You can see a show here, or just join a tour and admire its history and artistry of it. So many incredible performances have taken place right here, in this exquisite space. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE SCHEDULE.

Stop 3: Rathaus

Next, stroll through the lovely Rathauspark, a public park with bare wintry trees and a peaceful atmosphere, before coming right upon Vienna’s city hall. In typical Vienna-style, the hall is absurdly beautiful and ornate, and the architecture striking and unique. 

This city hall feels like civic pride at its best – a grand statement of Vienna’s impact on the world, as well as its strength. Here, too, you can choose between touring the museum and the staterooms (much warmer), or just admiring its facade and strolling through the gardens.

#3 Be a chocolatier for a day

After seeing so many of Vienna’s sights, a delicious way to round off the day’s activities is by learning how to make chocolate as the Austrians do. Which is to say, very, very well.

You’ll join professionals at a chocolate museum and workshop. Here you’ll learn to make unique chocolate bars from scratch, using the machines and tools. All while learning about the origins of cacao and Austrian chocolate-making as you go along.

We found this delicious class super fun. You’ll get to taste, smell and enjoy everything chocolate-related. Chocolate may not be for everyone, but anyone who likes it as much as we do will adore this interactive class. 

After the workshop, take a walk through the chocolate museum, where you’ll learn more about cocoa. Or just enjoy the jungle atmosphere and the sculptures made of pure chocolate depicting famous people. It’s quirky and fun, and you certainly won’t leave hungry or unsatisfied.

#4 Jewish Quarter walking tour

A great way to spend part of the day is with a walking tour through Vienna’s Jewish Quarter. This part of the city has so much history and such a unique one to the rest of the city. It demands its own exploration. 

#5 Stroll down Vienna’s long market street

Stroll down Brunnengasse – one of Vienna’s lengthy market streets – and enjoy the open-air markets, food stalls, and boutique restaurants. 

This is a great place to relax and people-watch, observing the local culture and finding some hidden gems to take home. It is also, of course, a great place to eat.

Street foods to try in winter

These days, Vienna’s street food scene is so much more than bratwurst and apfelstrudel. You’ll want to taste them all, but these were some of our favorites:

  • Maroni – These roasted chestnuts are the perfect Vienna winter snack. They have a wonderful Christmastime aroma, and you can munch them as you walk through the markets. Just like the locals.
  • Bratkartoffeln – A wintertime treat usually available at the Maroni stands, these are Germany’s answer to French fries.
  • Schnitzelsemmel – a crusty, round bread roll (semmel) filled with Vienna’s signature schnitzel, plus your choice of lettuce, onion and tomato. (Note that the schnitzel can be anything from vegetarian to pork, so ask before you buy.) 
  • Döner – This brilliant Turkish meal has spread all over Europe, so you’ll find it  at every market in Vienna. You can’t go wrong with digging into this comfort food on a chilly winter evening. We recommend the falafel döner, with all the finishings. Just be sure to sit down while you eat it, as they can be messy.
  • Börek  – This is a heavy, crispy, cheesy Turkish pastry that, when done right, is absolutely phenomenal. It’s not for those watching calories, but it is so good. You can find börek made with spinach, meat, or just cheese.
  • Pizza – Good old classic pizza slices arrived here generations ago, and have since been a firm favorite in the city.

Try as many street foods here as you can – they are so good.

#6 Naschmarkt

This is another of Vienna’s markets, with a bustling, friendly vibe. As Vienna’s most popular outdoor market, this massive bazaar has been running since the 16th century. It looked a little different back then, though, and was primarily a milk and dairy market.

Translated, Naschmarkt means ‘nibble market’, and that’s exactly what it’s become. These days, tourists and locals mingle as they do their grocery shopping and taste the various foods. You can  find everything from humble Viennese staples to exotic fruits and unique dishes.

We thoroughly enjoyed snacking on Maroni and people-watching here – not to mention snapping shots of the colorful displays.

#7 Savor a countryside wine tour

Leave the city behind and take to the countryside on a half-day wine tour of the region. Our tour took us to three family-owned wineries near Vienna, where we learned about the history and process of winemaking in Austria.

It’s a great opportunity to explore beyond Vienna and Austria's charming rural side. And there’s lots of wine involved. 

You’ll enjoy tastings at each of the wineries, along with snacks and finger-foods. End the trip pleasantly tipsy and with a new appreciation for Austrian wines. It couldn’t be better. 

A wine-tasting tour is also a great way to get to know some new people and share stories with each other over a good few glasses of the grape.

You’ll end the day with a traditional Austrian countryside dinner, enjoying lovely views over the vineyards while you chat and relax. The wine will keep you warm and happily buzzed while you travel back home and get deposited right at your hotel.

#8 Parliament and Museum Quarter walking tour 

Vienna’s best museums are conveniently located within a few minutes’ walk from one another. This means you can easily go on a walking tour between them, without any need for public transport or weary feet.

Stop 1: Rathaus and Parliament Building

Our walking tour begins at Rathaus station. Check out Vienna’s city hall (if you haven’t already), then head to the Vienna Parliament Building.

This structure mirrors ancient Greek (and more modern Greek) governmental buildings. With Pallas Athena and other deities welcoming visitors. As well as a pediment that looks startlingly like the Athenian Parthenon’s.

The Parliament Building is under construction, so you won’t be able to tour it and get a feel for Viennese politicians at work. But be sure to get some photos, and enjoy the 1883 building’s Greek revival architecture.

Stop 2: Volkstheater

Next, stop at the Volkstheater. This theater was constructed as a popular counterweight to the older Hofburgtheater. It’s beautiful from the outside, but if you can get inside and spend a moment enjoying the traditional splendor of it, it’s well worth your time.

Check which shows are on for your dates in Vienna. The shows here are brilliant, modern and socially critical, but it’s unlikely they’ll be in English.

Stop 3: Kunsthistorisches Museum

If you’ve been wondering when you’re going to see some of Vienna’s famous artists’ works, you’ll find it all right here. Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is magnificent and absolutely massive.

If you don’t speak German, Kunsthistorisches is actually a combination of two words: kunst (“art”) and historisches (“history”). Thus, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is the Museum of Art History.

Built in the 18th-century by Emperor Franz Joseph, this museum displays art ranging from Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman times through the 18th century. Explore extensive galleries filled with classic masterpieces of famed artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rubens, Brueghel, and more.

You wouldn’t be able to see everything in this world-class art museum, even if you spent a week here. With so much to see, we suggest you read this article about the museum’s highlights ahead of time and use the museum’s website to plan your visit. Or, simply check the museum map and focus on the galleries you’re most interested in. You can easily spend the better part of a day here, exploring, admiring and taking it all in.

This is one of the top museums in the world, and we cannot express enough how special the experience is. And the building itself is so amazing that its frescoes, decor and architecture might astound you as much as the artwork.

TIP: Guided tours of the painting galleries are held in English on Tuesdays at 11am and Fridays and Saturdays at 3pm. They last about an hour and cost €2 per person.

Stop 4: Museum of Natural History

One of the most important and well-done natural history museums in the world, this is another reminder of why Vienna is such a perfect holiday destination in winter. 

The immense museum has a planetarium, virtual and interactive exhibits, and displays on prehistoric history and the development of man.

It even has a large collection of dinosaur skeletons and meteorites. This is another place you could easily spend many days in.

Scientific work is always continuing here. It really reminds us that Vienna is not only a historic wonder. It remains a leading city in scientific as well as artistic progress.

#9 Visit some of Vienna’s Christmas Markets

Christmas in Vienna is spectacular. There are a great many markets where you can find unique presents for the folks back home (and yourself). They’re one of the very best things to do in Vienna, Austria, in December.

Sip on some warming glüwein and enjoy the cheerful stalls. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Viennese waffles are also perfect Christmas fare.

Our favorite time for the Christmas markets is at twilight, when everything is lit up and that unique nighttime magic reveals itself. Winter in Vienna means shorter days and longer twilight, which is perfect for capturing amazing travel photos. Just be ready, because the sun sets early in December.

TIP: If you can put a group together (up to 10) this is the perfect private tour of Vienna's Christmas Markets for you.

Christmas Village, AKH

This is a fantastic Christmas market, both for its lovely, idyllic location and, more importantly, for its artistry. 

The stalls are packed with Viennese craftsmen demonstrating their skills and showcasing their work. It’s just the kind of thing you want to support. You’ll come away with such beautiful items to remind you of visiting Vienna at Christmas time.

Christmas Market Schönbrunn Palace  

How often can you go Christmas shopping with an actual palace as your backdrop? It’s magical, and the massive Christmas tree only adds to the effect. This is a great market for the kids, and the perfect place to find exquisite handmade Christmas decorations.

Christmas World (Wiener Weihnachtstraum)

This is one of the largest and most popular Christmas markets in Vienna. It’s right in front of the Rathaus, so again, you’ll have a gorgeous scene to enjoy with your shopping and strolling. It isn’t as unique and quaint as many of the other markets, and it can get quite crowded. But the cheer is always high, and there’s an ice rink. If it snows here, there is nothing more magical. 

There are twelve great Christmas markets in Vienna, so you’re spoilt for choice no matter what part of town you’re in. Keep in mind, most of them only run from 18 November to 26 December.

Conclusion

We’ve discovered that the best time of year to visit Vienna is in winter, and particularly at Christmas. The city is so uniquely geared for cold weather and Christmas charm, you’ll never run low on things to do, even if you’re spending weeks here.

Austria’s capital absolutely phenomenal. The architecture offers something to marvel at every few minutes. Viennese cultural, artistic, and scientific contributions to the world are momentous, and there’s evidence of this everywhere. 

So pack a snug coat or two, and a good pair of boots. An Austrian winter is cold, but it’s spectacular.

If you’re spending longer in Austria, check out our post on day trips from Vienna

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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