As far as European cities go, Vienna is definitely up there on the pricey list. The Viennese are known for their extravagant taste when it comes to fine dining, brilliant artwork, and classical music.
Having been ruled by the Habsburgs royal family from 1278 to 1918, and being home to Mozart, Beethoven, and the Strauss family at various points in history, it’s no wonder Vienna prefers a refined lifestyle.
The great news is that you don’t have to shell out a fortune to participate (well, at least not in all of it!). Here are some tips for living the Viennese high life on a lower budget.
Before you start
Before you arrive, here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re sorting your budget.
If you need to get a little oriented in the city, you can opt for a free walking tour where the admission cost is usually just a tip for the guides at the end. It’s a great way to meet the city and some interesting people in the process.
For a more specific tour, the Vienna Tourism website offers tours in the form of free downloads, like musicians’ walks. As the website says, “Almost every street in Vienna city center can recount stories of famous composers.” You can do a Mozart Walk, Haydn Walk, Johann Strauss Walk, or a Beethoven Walk. Get cultured!
Vienna’s main tourist office is located at Am Albertinaplatz 1, and is open seven days a week. Go there to pick up some pamphlets to navigate your way around town, and ask them about special events going on. They’ll likely know where all the free concerts and art festivals are.
If you can’t make it to tourist information, be sure to check your hotel/hostel for free city maps.
Students, get your International Student Identity Card (ISIC) before you go, and you could get savings up to 50% on many attractions. Finally, pick up your Vienna card for discounts, reductions, and deals at 190 museums, theaters, concerts, shops, and more.
The opera, classical music, and other shows
You pretty much have to see an opera show while you’re here, even if you have to sacrifice good seats for a cheaper ticket. Nosebleed seats can run you between €10-€30, or you can stand throughout the whole thing for just €3.50.
Yes, you can even do this at the Staatsoper (State Opera), if you get there at least 90 minutes before the show and prepare to wait in line (or to possibly be disappointed if you can’t get a ticket). You can only buy one ticket per person, so make sure you entire party is with you. Opt for the “Parterre” (floor level) if you can, as it often has the best view.
Concerts, like the opera, often also have standing room. Again, plan ahead! You can order standing room tickets on the venues’ websites for Staatsoper, Konzerthaus, and Musikverein, or simply show up to buy them when you arrive. Also, if you’re a student, you can often get admission for as little as €15.
If you have a little extra room to splurge, the Schoenbrunn Palace Orchestra has one of the city’s best Mozart concerts, and tickets start at €40. Just watch out for tickets sold on the street (generally by a costumed Mozart) as these tend to be touristy shows and are often overpriced.
If you dream of seeing the famous white stallions at the Spanish Riding School perform their intricate movements, consider skipping the real show and going for the morning exercises instead. You’ll still see the horses perform their dance-like moves, but admission is as low as €14.
Seeing as how Vienna is the birthplace of the strudel and the world renowned Sacher-Torte, you can bet there’s a few good cafes around.
Let’s start with the Torte. Unfortunately, there’s only one place you can get the original version–at Café Sacher, naturally. If you only have enough money to splurge on one fancy café experience, we recommend that one. If you limit your feasting to experiencing just the famous chocolate cake with apricot filling, you can pull it all off for about €6 (although we have to admit, the coffee is fantastic too). It’s still a bit pricey for a piece of cake, but it’s a real Viennese experience with a long history.
An alternative to Café Sacher, however, is the pink-infused Aida Café. Despite being a chain throughout Vienna, locals love coming here for a cheaper alternative to Sacher-Torte. It also has delicious strudel.
Do those numbers seem a bit much? Well, once you shop around, you’ll find bakery/café prices more than reasonable. In fact, even a strudel demonstration at the Schonbrunn Palace’s Café Residenz costs less than €10. You’ll watch a professional pastry chef hand-bake an apple strudel, and you’ll get to sample said strudel, drink some coffee, and take home the recipe. That’s a good deal!
Even if all-of-the-above is too expensive, there are a number of freebies around town to give you some cultural highlights of Vienna.
You can wander the Hapsburg grounds at leisure, in the center of town and even at Schoenbrunn Palace. You might want to see the Augustinian Church, of Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture.
Head over to Prater amusement park, where you don’t have to pay an admission fee, but you do have to pay for games and rides. The area around Prater has been used for public entertainment for hundreds of years, so you might say it’s a significant part of Vienna history. Even just walking through and taking in the lights, sights, and sounds is worth the effort, and you’ll leave feeling like you’re a little bit closer to being Viennese.
- Candice Walsh