Home to some of Europe’s most stunning imperial wonders and the birthplace of world-famous musical prodigies, Vienna is Austria’s intellectual and artistic eye. Whether you’re visiting on a port day on a family cruise holiday or spending a few nights solo in this glossy capital, there’s plenty of cultural heritage to unearth and architectural delights to discover that won’t cost you a cent.
Top free things to do in Vienna
Browse the food stalls at Naschmarkt
Pottering around a food market is a great way to learn all about Austrian cuisine. Vienna’s famous food market, Naschmarkt, has a whole host of food stalls to browse that are brimming with Viennese delicacies. Of course, any purchases you decide to make won’t be free, but it doesn’t cost anything to browse the market and there are plenty of free samples to try that will give you a little taste of Austrian gastronomy.
“If you're a foodie planning a trip to Vienna, Naschmarkt should be at the top of your itinerary,” says Audrey, travel blogger at That Backpacker. “Originally a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, Naschmarkt has grown to become Vienna’s largest and most beloved outdoor market with over 120 fixed stalls where you can try all sorts of wines, meats, cheeses, pastries and spices. If you visit on a Saturday, you can also hit up the flea market which takes place in the area and is chock-full of little gems and unusual trinkets.”
Charlie and Lauren from Wanderers and Warriors also enjoyed visiting Naschmarkt during their time in Vienna. “Visiting Naschmarkt was one of the highlights of our trip! This traditional farmers market, which has been operating since the 1780s, is one of the most popular free tourist attractions in the city.
“The majority of stalls found at Naschmarkt sell incredible local produce. Whether it be herbs and spices, freshly picked fruit and vegetables, or locally sourced cheeses and olives. There are also a few clothing and souvenir stands too.”
Charlie and Lauren particularly recommend trying a traditional Sachertorte while at the market. “It’s one of the most famous Viennese desserts! A Sachertorte is a specific type of chocolate cake, held together with apricot jam, and is an absolute must-try whilst exploring the Austrian capital.”
If you don’t mind spending a little bit of money, Audrey highly recommends dining al fresco in one of the market’s restaurants. “Another reason to visit Naschmarkt is that it's a great meeting place for a nice meal out with friends. The market has numerous restaurants to choose from, so whether you're craving spicy Indian food, fresh seafood, hearty pasta, Turkish home cooking, or a drink at a wine bar, you can find it here in a lively environment that's great for people watching.”
Explore Vienna’s rich culture at its grand museums
With such an exuberantly rich history to its name, you’ll certainly want to learn all about Vienna’s cultural heritage during your visit. But for those who believe you can’t put a price on history, there are myriad museums in the capital that are free to enter. If that’s not enough, on the first Sunday of every month, all of Vienna’s museums open their doors to culture-hungry visitors free of charge.
Gabrielle, travel and lifestyle blogger at Up and Gone, recommends visiting two palace museums and their gardens for a taste of regal life.
“It can be hard to find free things to do in Vienna, but there are two gems you can’t miss: the gardens around two of Vienna’s most famous palaces, Schönbrunn Palace and Belvedere Palace. Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs for hundreds of years, and the Palace Park, which is free to enter, is extensive. The highlight is a lengthy baroque garden that stretches from the back of the palace to the foot of the Gloriette, the park’s spectacular viewpoint. I like the gardens so much that I recommend spending less time in the Schönbrunn interior (unless you’re deeply interested in imperial history) and devoting your time to exploring the park - especially if you’re visiting in the summer months.
“Similarly, the gardens at the Belvedere Palace, which is now an art museum, are free to enter. The gardens are sandwiched between the Upper and Lower Belvedere, and are, in my opinion, even nicer. There are small reflecting pools and ornate ornamental plantings, as well as wildflower hedges and fountains; it’s hard not to feel like a member of the old royal courts as you stroll the gravel paths!”
For a list of some of Vienna’s other museums, both free and ticketed, check out Gabrielle’s Vienna museum guide.
Admire the architecture of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
With opulent monuments and eccentric buildings around every corner, Vienna is an architectural melting pot teeming with various styles and inspirations that tell a story about the city’s complex and intricate history. It’s a true gem of European architecture.
One of the most well-regarded structures in Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a 12th-century Gothic church known as the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The cathedral holds great significance to the city, surviving both a fire during its initial construction as well as WWII aerial bombings.
“St. Stephen’s Cathedral or Stephensdom is one of the iconic landmarks in Vienna.” Says travel blogger Mayuri from To Some Place New. “The cathedral is conveniently located in the heart of the city and the cathedral towers soar and grace the skyline of Vienna. Admire the colourful tiles (especially after rainfall) and examine the North and South Towers from outside – it is sure to prompt you inside.
“The cathedral’s beautifully decorated roof sparkled with colour as it greeted us when we visited the imperial city. The interiors are stunning yet calming and full of intricate details. There are also numerous altars inside the church with the High Altar being the focal point.”
Travel blogger Lucy from Far Away Lucy was taken aback by the picturesque vistas from the cathedral’s towers. “The views from the top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral warrant a visit alone. They were certainly my favourite thing about visiting the cathedral! Travel up either the North Tower or the South Tower (the former by lift and the latter by 343 steps) and you will be rewarded with unparalleled panoramic views of Vienna. I personally went up the North Tower as it gave me a chance to also see the Boomer Bell, the largest bell in Austria."
As well as having majestic interiors and heart-stirring views, Mayuri says the cathedral has a pretty fascinating history you can explore, too. “The cathedral has an interesting past. The area where the cathedral is built, Stephanplatz, is said to be surrounded by cemeteries. So, within the cathedral walls, you will be able to find catacombs that have many notable Viennese personalities buried there.”
See a world-class Vienna State Opera performance
Seeing the Vienna State Opera is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But if you’re looking for a more cost-effective way of seeing a world-class performance live, they are screened outside the theatre on a video wall for free (Oper live am Platz performances).
“Opera means something to everyone in Vienna,” says the Vienna Tourist Board website. “You don't need an admission ticket to the Vienna State Opera to experience a great evening full of music and song. Oper live am Platz (‘Opera live on the Square’) is held in April, May, June and September as well as around New Year's Eve - from December 27th to January 1st.
If you’d like to get closer to the action, for a mere €3, you can purchase an indoor standing ticket and see one of these exceptional performances with your own eyes.
Other free things to do in Vienna
Explore the city on two wheels with Citybike
What better way to see the city than on two wheels? Perfect for exploring Vienna in a short space of time, the capital’s Citybike rental service offers one hour free for those looking to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible.
Take a load off at Danube island
A fantastic 42 kilometres of beach and nature reserve in the centre of the city, Danube Island is perfect for whiling the afternoon away in the sunshine playing beach volleyball, sailing, cycling or enjoying a stroll in nature.
Visit the graves of legends in St. Marx Cemetery
Do you consider yourself to be a dark tourist? If seeing where some of Vienna’s most famous legends are laid to rest sounds right up your street, you’ll certainly want to visit St. Marx Cemetery. See the grave of Mozart as well as other world-renowned composers such as Antonio Diabelli, Josef Strauss and many more.
Marvel at urban artworks in the Street Art Passage
Although a sophisticated city with a clean-cut image, Vienna is home to a wealth of urban street art as well as a dedicated Street Art Passage. Wander between the walls marvelling at the various artworks and murals in this fantastic free exhibition.
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