As a student, budget is always limited, but it never discouraged me to go outside the corners of my university and explore. As much as I love exploring the nearby towns and cities of Marburg, I also enjoy crossing country borders and taking new adventures outside Germany. As many expressed appreciation on my recent post on How I Travel Cheaply Around Europe, I have decided to create a regular budget series on Free Things to Do In varied cities around the world.
The first to be featured is none other than my most favorite European capital – Vienna. Wien (in German) is the capital and largest city of the small central European country of Austria famous for its rich history, culture, and heritage. It is also worth noting that Vienna is the capital of the once Austrian Empire and then the dual monarchy of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Along with this rich history and a lot of wonderful things it brought to the now posh and classy capital, it is a known fact that Vienna is expensive compared to its Eastern neighbors, but more affordable than expensive Zurich. READ: Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna
If you are a budget traveler, backpacker, or a student like me, it is with great excitement that I share with you these free activities that you can enjoy doing without needing to pay for even a single Euro. I hope that this list of Free Things to Do in Vienna would help you appreciate the city more without breaking your bank account.
STROLL ALONG THE IMPERIAL GARDENS
The Imperial City is nothing without its majestic and gorgeous palaces and gardens. Entry to the palaces and their respective galleries and museums are mostly paid, but you can marvel at the beauty of the architecture of these century-old buildings from the outside for FREE. You can also take a leisurely walk or an afternoon jog along the imperial gardens and gloriette with no cost at all.
To visit: Schloß Schönbrunn, Schloß Belvedere
SAY HELLO TO MOZART AND STRAUSS, SMELL THE ROSES AND RELAX IN VIENNA CITY PARKS
Vienna is known as the Capital of Classical Music in Europe because of a number of best, prolific, influential and world-renowned composers the city has produced. When you are in Wien, pay tribute to the child prodigy and visit his monument at Burggarten (Castle Garden) while you can see Strauss at Stadtpark (City Park). Aside from rubbing elbows (not really) to these legends, you may also go to Volksgarten (People’s Park) and admire the different varieties of roses, enter the Greek Theseustempel (Theseus Temple), or simply sit in a bench and relax your tired traveler’s feet. And yes, you can do all of these for FREE!
To visit: Stadtpark, Volksgarten, Burggarten
ADMIRE IMPOSING ARCHITECTURE
Hofburg is the glorious Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs in Vienna while the Burgtheater once housed the imperial court theater, but is now the Austrian National Theater. Staatsoper is the famous opera, which hosts the prestigious, glamorous, and internationally well-attended annual ball. Along with the palaces mentioned earlier, you can visit and admire the neoclassical and renaissance architecture of these establishments for FREE.
There are museums and galleries to be visited inside these buildings, but if you are not a fan of artifacts or have limited budget, then it is okay to pass these. Also, I personally get a better feel of history and appreciation from seeing the place from the outside. Just walk around the exterior, watch the comings and goings of the coaches in Hofburg, and snap some photos.
Another unique and beautiful masterpiece is the Hundertwasserhaus created by an Austrian artist, Hundertwasser. The brilliantly painted building that is home to residential houses is a far contrast from the grand and classical allure of most of Vienna. Hundertwasser is known avoiding straight lines and using bright colors and organic forms. His work is even comparable to Barcelona’s Antoni Gaudi. I especially like standing in front of the colorful and quirky designed apartment block and enjoy the living harmony the environment exudes.
The historic Parliament building where the two legislative houses of Austria lies is also a beauty to behold. It shows rich history, culture and art even in its facade. I especially like the Pallas Athena fountain in the middle. Entry is free, I think because I once went to a federal session and a pity that I could not understand a thing.
To visit: Hofburg, Burgtheater, Staatsoper, Schloß Schönbrunn, Schloß Belvedere, Hundertwasserhaus, Parlament
VISIT THE CHURCHES
It is truth universally acknowledged that one could see enough churches in Europe to last a lifetime. This holds true in Vienna as well. The center of the capital is the most important religious building in the country – the 12th century old Romanesque and Gothic Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). Going inside is FREE, but climbing up to the bell tower and a guided tour aren’t. Most tourists are even satisfied by simply admiring the church from the outside and trying to get the entire height of the cathedral in photos.
Another favorite is Karlskirche (Charles Church). Like Stephansdom, the only thing paid is when you climb up. This holds true to most, but not all, of the churches in Vienna.
WALK/BIKE ALONG THE RING
The Ringstraße is the central district in Vienna where one can see almost all of the most important buildings in the capital by foot. You can basically check almost everything on top of your must-see list. When you are tired of walking, you can use Vienna City bike for FREE for an hour and explore the sights at your convenience and pace.
Vienna skyline is beautiful and I have been to several viewing decks and towers, which I would write later in this blog. However, most of them are paid. My favorite uncommon, non-touristy and FREE place to have 180-degree view of the city is at the Justizcafe (Justice Café) located at Juztiz Palast (Palace of Justice). This is not really a tourist destination and is in fact in the building of the Austrian Supreme Court. I am continuously surprised whenever I tell this “secret” location to my Viennese and Austrian friends – everyone I asked haven’t been there and do not even know it!
The view is at the 5th floor cafeteria of the government building. What I like about the view here is it is nearer and more central – I can really pinpoint and distinguish the buildings. Going here is FREE of course, but buying your lunch is also okay – the serving is generous and not pricey at all.
TIP: Strict security in the building. I read somewhere that foreigners are required to present passports, but I haven’t experienced being asked to show mine. Nope, I don’t look like an Austrian. Also, the café closes at 17:00.
GO SHOPPING (OR NOT)
My favorite go-to place for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and tea is in Naschmarkt, If you want to see what goes on in Viennese markets, this is the place. On Saturdays, there is also a flohmarkt (flea market) where you can walk around, see various trinkets, and feed your curiosity for FREE. For window-shopping, take your pick at Graben, Kärntnerstraße and Mariahilferstraße.
BE CULTURED AND INFORMED
The Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna offers FREE entrance on Tuesdays from 18:00 to 22:00. Other museums and galleries in the Museums Quartier are sometimes free as well, especially during the Summer Opening. The Rathaus (Vienna City Hall) is open for FREE entry every first Monday of the month. During April, May, June and September, the Staatsoper (State Opera) offers live first-class performance screening on a huge TV outside the building FREE of charge. There was even a Vivaldi playing last June. During summer, FREE film showing can be found outside the Rathaus and Karlskirche. Also in the same season, the Donauinselfest, the largest open-air music festival in Europe is held in Vienna every year and has FREE entry as well.
I have tried all three above, but I also heard that there is a FREE summer concert in Schloß Schönbrunn.
PLAN YOUR FREE ACTIVITIES
There are many leisure activities to have in Vienna that will not even cost a single cent. During summer, don your swimsuits and take a dip along the Danube recreational area for FREE public swimming. You will see many locals there especially in summer, so why don’t you join as well? There are areas that are paid, but there are also those that will not require you to pay for entry.
On a beautiful day, you can also take a hike and have a picnic at Kahlenberg for FREE. The view there is amazing and you can see Vienna stretched before you. For leisurely walk or jogging, you can go to Prater-Hauptallee, Schloß Belvedere, Schloß Schönbrunn, etc. all without cost. If you want to be surrounded with entertainment, go to Prater and walk around for FREE as well.
There are many several festivals in Stadtpark and in front of the Rathaus so regularly check the schedule and score free entry to these, too.
Go to: Altedonau, Kahlenberg, Prater
Date to watch out for: 26 October – Austria’s National Holiday that opens doors for almost all museums for FREE
Actually, there are tons of activities to do in Vienna for FREE and one must only be resourceful to know what and when these are. As Where Monica Goes motto says, traveling does not have to be only cheap, but must be comfortable and enriching. One can enjoy the relatively expensive Vienna wisely and without breaking one’s bank account. So far, this list reflects only what my favorites are, what I can remember and what made great impressions on me. Remember, these are Free Things To Do In Vienna, but one must be in possession of valid proof of transportation to get from one point to another.
Interested to see Vienna? READ: Step-by-step guide on Schengen Tourist Visa for Filipinos: Preparation and Application Process.
I hope this post helps you plan your upcoming trip to Vienna. More tips and guides on Vienna, Europe and Asia soon at wheremonicagoes.com.
DISCLAIMER: I do not pretend to be an expert in Vienna and everything posted here are based only on what I have experienced and may be different from what others had. The purpose of this article is to only give a brief orientation to first-time travelers in Vienna. Of course, more tips are welcome in the comments below.