Vienna in January is…cold. Very cold. That shouldn’t deter you from visiting though, as flights and hotels are cheaper, and there’s plenty to do indoors. I’m from Wisconsin, I live in Chicago, and I have a habit of traveling to cold places in the coldest month of the year, yet I hate cold weather. I think being cold is the worst feeling in the entire world. If I can brave Vienna in January, so can you. Layer up in your coziest sweaters (and maybe invest in these mittens), and prepare to be surprised by this gorgeous city.
If you’ve traveled around Europe, you’ve seen grand buildings and wide promenades. You’ve taken in history and art and been awed by eras past. Vienna though, still stuns. Even after years of living in Italy and traveling all around Europe, I was not prepared for the pristine splendor of Vienna. Stepping out of the train station from the airport, my travel partner and I both stopped in our tracks and sort of gasped. We were surrounded by exquisitely detailed buildings lining wide, curved roads. As we drove through the city to our hotel (yes there is Uber!) each building seemed more beautiful than the next.
Vienna was bombed far less extensively in World War II than Berlin, London, and other major European cities, so its original magnificence remains more intact. Shimmering white limestone buildings with ornate carvings loom around every corner, interspersed with pale yellow houses, green Baroque roofs, and pale red Neoclassical architecture. And luckily for winter travelers, it all looks even prettier dusted in snow.
How to Spend a Weekend in Vienna in January
I like taking the first day on a trip to wander a bit, get my bearings, and plan for the next day. After checking into the 25 Hours Hotel around 1pm on Friday, we set out for a stroll around the neighborhood. (Ok it was a power walk. If you’ve traveled with me you know I don’t stroll, especially not when I’m cold).
Wander through the Museum Quarter, then past the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Naturhistorisches Museum, and Hofburg Palace. Stop for a snack at the Bitzinger Wurstelstand, where you can huddle under heat lamps while eating juicy sausages.
For more warmth, dip into one of Vienna’s many cafes. Some of the prettier ones are also some of the more touristy, which makes sense. They can be crowded, but still worth a stop for the high ceilings and pretty interiors. Cafe Mozart, Cafe Central, and Cafe Sacher are some of the most famous.
You could do something cultural tonight, like go to a concert or eat a lovely Austrian dinner. Or you could follow our route, which was to drink local beer and then eat Indian food. We started off on the right track at 7 Stern Brau, a beer hall/brewery. Do get the Prager Dunkel, don’t get the Chilli beer. (Just trust me). Then things took a turn. We set off in search of a traditional Austrian meal, but the wind was biting and my face quickly became numb. When we saw an Indian restaurant across the street we joked that we could go in, then joked about it again, then realized we were both serious and went for it. My travel partner lives in Turkey and doesn’t get Indian food often. I…well I have no excuse except that I love it, and it was more than worth sacrificing wienerschnitzel.
Today is the day to really explore. Wake up early and pick the museums and sights you want to visit. There are so many. Too many. You can never do it all in a weekend. We settled on sections of the Imperial Palace, including the Neue Burg, which includes the Ephesos Museum, the Collection of Ancient Instruments (you can see Beethoven’s pianos!), and the Collection of Arms and Armor.
The highlight of the day though, without question, was the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses the vast art collection of the Hapsburgs.
The museum itself is overwhelmingly beautiful, with winding staircases and blue marble columns reaching to extravagant ceilings. If there was nothing in it, it would still have been a wonderful visit, but it’s filled with some of the most celebrated paintings in the world, Greek and Roman antiquities, a large Egyptian collection, precious stones, intricate clocks, and hundreds of other fascinating pieces from gold jewelry to bronze statues to scientific contraptions. The collection is immense , so plan to spend a few hours. We kept thinking we were done, or that we would go through a section quickly. Then we would turn a corner and be amazed yet again. The cafe is also one of the prettiest we saw.
After you’ve had your fill, walk to the Naschmarket, where you can taste your way through more than 100 stands. If you really love food, stop at Julius Meinl next and stock up on more goods (we bought lots of cheese and other treats for a road trip through the Alps).
Stop for drinks and a bite to eat. We went to 1010 Bar Cafe where we ate lots of bread and cheese and some much needed warm drinks.
Make your way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is impressive day or night. After spending some time inside, wander around the area, which is full of high-end shops, nice restaurants, and glittery lights.
Don’t forget to have Sachertorte too! We headed back near the hotel to Cafe Eiles, but it’s served at almost every cafe.
End your night at the 25 Hours Hotel Bar, a rooftop bar with great views, and packed with locals and guests.
Spend the morning at the Schönbrunn Palace, a 1,441-room Baroque palace with sprawling grounds. This is one sight that is probably better in warmer months, because the gardens are a highlight. Still, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth a visit and walk around. Don’t miss the Roman Ruin (originally Ruin of Carthage), an artificial Roman ruin built in 1778 at the base of the Schönbrunn Hill.
Finish your trip with a loop around the Ring Road, another World Heritage Site. The road, which circles around the historical city center, was built to replace the city walls. You’ll see a mix of neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance, neo-Classical, and neo-Baroque architecture along the way, all built in the 1860s-1890s.
It’s impossible to take in all of Vienna’s history and culture in one weekend, but a couple of days immersed in some of the world’s most beautiful buildings or coziest cafes sounds like the perfect way to spend a chilly January weekend to me.
We stayed at the 25 Hours Hotel, a fun, youthful hotel with a great bar, photo booth downstairs, large breakfast, and circus-themed rooms. My favorite part? The giant bathtub that I could sink into and warm up in after a long day of exploring in frigid temperatures. It’s in the perfect location too!
If you’re staying at the 25 Hours Hotel or another one nearby, you can walk most places. Uber is easy for getting elsewhere, as are taxis. Vienna’s public transport covers the entire city and is meant to be user friendly. If you’re planning on visiting lots of sights, the Vienna Card, which includes museum discounts and free public transport, might be a good investment.