Vienna on a Budget: Avoid Tourist Traps
Vienna is an amazing city to visit, but it can be very expensive. I lived in Austria for a while and have been to Vienna many times. Here are my top tips for visitors on a budget, including travel options and attractions you can visit for free.
Don't Buy Discount Cards
As you research your trip to Vienna, you will find mention of cards and passes you can buy which will save you money. The main ones are the Vienna PASS and the Vienna Card. The Vienna Pass gets you free entry to many attractions for 1, 2, 3, or 6 days (€59, €87, €109 or €136), and the Vienna Card gets you discounts on entry to attractions and concerts, as well as in shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Sounds good? Well, it depends. If you are truly on a budget, you are likely to spend more than you save.
These discount cards are worth it for some tourists. If you want to visit lots of the tourist attractions, take the sightseeing bus, and go in loads of the art galleries and museums, they will save you money. For example, if you go into three or more paying tourist attractions each day, then the Vienna PASS is worth it for most visitors.
The Vienna Card will also save you money if you use it enough, but not all the discounts are that big. Unless you are smart about it, you are likely to end up spending more just to make use of your discount.
Before you buy either of these cards, think carefully about how you want to spend your time in Vienna. Remember you can do things in Vienna for free. Some of my suggestions are below.
Travelling to Vienna: Best Value Travel From the Airport
On arrival in Vienna airport, don't follow the obvious signs to get the City Airport Train, go to platforms 1 or 2 instead. Budget conscious travellers can save by getting the standard train. (either the S-Bahn 7 - which is one of the local Vienna train lines or one of the long distance trains that stops off in Vienna (Wien Hauptbahnhof) before going further out of the city).
The City Airport Train is the fastest way to Wien Mitte train station, but it only saves 9 minutes. The other trains stop at more stops, so depending where you are staying they may take you to a closer train stop, so you end up saving time.
Remember you need to buy your ticket before boarding the train.
Saving Made by Getting the Standard Train
Single ticket price
Travel time to Wien Mitte
Cost of City Airport Train
Cost of standard train
Map of the Main Train Stops You Can Reach From the Airport
One of the largest train stations in Vienna where some of the regional trains go
The S-Bahn 7 stops here
The S Bahn 7 stops here
The S-bahn 7 stops here
The S-Bahn 7 stops here
Other Options for Getting to Vienna
You could also check whether it is cheaper to fly to Bratislava instead of Vienna. Bratislava is the capital of the neighbouring country Slovakia. It is not expensive to get to Vienna from Slovakia and takes just over an hour.
If you are combining your trip to Vienna with a wider European tour, Vienna is also easily accessible by train, bus or car from other major European cities and countries.
Distances from Vienna to nearby cities by train
Distance to Vienna by train
1 hour 32 minutes
2 hours 30 minutes
2 hours 50 minutes
4 hours 25 minutes
4 hour 30 minutes
6 hours 32 minutes
7 hours 25 minutes
Getting Around: Cheapest Ways of Getting Around Vienna
The cheapest way to get around Vienna is to walk. The city is not that big, and most of the main tourist destinations are within walking distance of each other.
You may wish to plan your route well, so you don't double back on yourself. I've provided a map below showing some of the main attractions.
There are some tourist attractions which are a bit further out. For example, Schönbrunn Palace, the 18th century residence summer residence of the Austrian royal family is a few miles out of the centre of Vienna. It has beautiful gardens which are open to the public. However, if you really wanted to you could walk there- it is 6.5 kilometres from the centre. Vienna is not that big a city.
Walking around is the cheapest option, but public transport in Vienna is well organised and efficient if you prefer not to walk. Plan ahead and think about how often you will use public transport before you buy your tickets.
Transport is integrated which means that the same tickets are valid on the U-bahn (underground), S-bahn (local train services), buses and trams.
If you plan on using lots of transport every day of your ticket then consider a pass which is valid for a specific time period. These can be valid for 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, or a week.
However, if you are going to take the U-bahn or S-bahn only once or twice a day, you are will be better buying single tickets.
Beware, tickets need to be validated in a ticket machine before you get on a train, or when you board a tram or a bus. There are hefty fines if you get caught fare dodging.
Main Vienna Tourist Attractions
A selection of modern art galleries
Get a Sense of the City on the Ringstrasse (Ring Road)
A good way to get an initial sense of Vienna is to take a trip around the Ringstrasse. This is a road that goes around the centre of the old historical part of the city. When I first went to Vienna, this was a trip my Austrian host took us on. Going around the Ringstrasse gives you a very good sense of the main historic buildings in Vienna.
There are special sightseeing tours that travel the Ringstrasse, including the special Vienna sightseeing tram. The money saving version of this is to take the municipal trams 1 and 2, and change lines at the Opera House.
Saving Made by Taking the Non Official Ringstrasse Tour
Type of tour
Official tram tour ticket
Goes all the way round so you don't have to change. Audio description.
Day ticket for unlimited travel on Trams 1 and 2 and all other public transport
You can travel and see buildings at your own pace. Your ticket will be valid for any other transport you want to get in Vienna.
Single ticket for tram 1 and 2
You can also use a single ticket, but note that you cannot pause your journey.
Some of the Buildings Round the RingstrasseClick thumbnail to view full-size
Parks and Gardens
Vienna is full of beautiful parks and gardens you can walk around for free.
This beautiful garden right in the centre of Vienna has been known as the people's garden as it was the first park opened to the public in 1825. It is my favourite, and full of beautiful roses.
The Stadtpark is also in the centre of Vienna and opened in 1863. It contains the famous statue of the Austrian composer Johann Strauss. There are also many other monuments, for example, fans of classical music can find monuments to Schubert. Franz Lehár and Robert Stolz.
Another central garden in Vienna dating from the 19th century. This is one of the oldest gardens originally laid out in 1818 although it was only opened to the public 100 years later. Known for its statue of Mozart, and Palm House which now contains a cafe/restaurant.
Museums and Galleries: How to Save
There is no shortage of excellent art to see in Vienna. Unfortunately, many of the art galleries have expensive entrance fees. It sometimes costs upwards of 15 euros for a single ticket!
You can see the outside for free, and it is worth walking past to admire the architecture of many, but entrance will usually cost.
There are some exceptions though:
If you are lucky enough to be under 19 you will be able to get into many (not all) of the main art galleries and museums for free. Make sure you bring ID with proof of age and make the most of it!
Most attractions also have discounts for students under 26 years old, and those over 60 - make sure you ask for these if this applies to you.
Regular Free Days for Any Age
Some galleries have particular times when they are free. For example:
- The Wien Museum - free entry on the first Sunday of each month
- Military Museum- free on first Sunday of each month
You will find information saying that MAK - the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art has free entry on Tuesday evening, but this has changed, entry on Tuesday evenings is now just reduced to 5 euros from the normal full price 12 euros.
There are certain days of the year when you can get free or reduced admission.
Travel on the 26 October, Austria's National Day and many galleries and museums will have either free or reduced entry.
If you are travelling to Vienna near the beginning of October, check whether you can get tickets for the 'Lange Nacht der Museen' (Long night of the museums). This is a day when most of the city's museums open their doors in the evenings. This is not free - tickets are around 15 euros, but this is well worth it if you want to go to several different galleries.
Free All Year Round
- The MUSA Museum Startgalerie Artothek has free entry
- Q21 in the MuseumsQuartier puts on free exhibitions (these tend to be by upcoming modern artists)
- Outdoor art - there is plenty of art to see outside in Vienna. For example, the MuseumsQuartier is full of sculptures, and Hundertwasser village is worth walking around.
Is It Worth Paying?
I have provided information above about the free options in Vienna. However many of the paying Art Galleries and Museums in Vienna are excellent, and it is worth paying to visit some of them if you are interested in art. Some famous Austrian artists are Schiele, Klimt and Hundertwasser. You can also see works by the artists Bruegal and Albrecht Dürer.
Given the number of galleries, I recommend researching before you arrive so you can decide what you really want to go and see. Unless you are going on a long trip it will be difficult and expensive to go to all the excellent art. If you have a budget you need to prioritise.
Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was an Austrian artist and architect, famous for his eccentric style, opposition to straight lines, and liking of uneven floors. HundertwasserHaus is a block of apartments and worth going to see just because it is so different with uneven pavements and bright colours. People live in the apartments so you can't go inside. There is a shopping area called Hundertwasser village opposite in a similar style.
A few hundred yards away from this, you can find the KunstHausWien, an art gallery designed by Hundertwasser. It will cost to see the exhibitions, but you can go inside and look at the ground floor without paying. The ground floor includes a water fountain where the water goes up the way rather than down!
One of the main attractions in Vienna that you cannot miss is 'Stephansdom' or St. Stephen's Cathedral. The cathedral is hundreds of years old, dating back to the fourteenth century. In my experience, it is nearly always packed with tourists. Along with the Ringstrasse, this was somewhere I was taken by my Austrian host the first time I was in Vienna.
You can still see parts of the Cathedral for free, so you should at least pop in. There are various options for paid tours if you want to see more or go up the tower. If you are willing to spend a little, I recommend the catacombs tour. At 6 euros the price to go underground isn't bad, and when I went on the tour it was really interesting. You don't emerge where you would expect.
What Have I Missed?
Hopefully this has given you ideas for your trip. Let me know if I have missed anything in the comments.
Note: the prices and information provided are correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.