How I Spent My 12 Hours In Vienna

By guest blogger Samantha Wilson. Photos Copyright © Samantha Wilson.

ON A RECENT trip to Europe, I had a layover in Vienna, Austria. I must say that I wish I had included the city on my holiday’s itinerary. Vienna is absolutely gorgeous and offers so many wonderful sights and attractions. Though twelve hours was way too short, it was well worth doing a stopover there.

Before I left the airport I made sure to do a few key things to ensure that my return would be smooth:

1. Verified that my bags were being checked through to my final destination

I had checked with the airline before I booked my tickets—but you never know what’s going to happen on the ground. It’s worth taking an extra ten minutes to double-check with the airline that your bags are indeed going on to your final destination.

2. Got water

One of the most annoying things about the heightened security checks is that I never have water with me to tour. To me, buying water is a waste of money. Why pay for something you can get for free? A trick I have picked up is to travel with a Source Liquitainer. These fold up to nothing when they’re empty and can be whipped out and filled before you leave the airport.

3. Figured out train schedules for my return

The airport has a tourist information desk by the exit, so while I was picking up brochures about the top sights I got a return train schedule. The worst end to the day would be missing my flight!

To get to the city, I opted to buy an all-day transportation pass, which cost about 5 Euro (approx. $6.75 USD). There is an express option that will take you to the city center in twelve minutes, but it costs more than double the all-day pass! Deciding on transportation to the city before landing saved me time and money. The pass included the train to the city center and the ring trolley (more below), which I wanted to do.

The first place I went, and the most important sight for me to see, was the Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg Palace, home to the Hapsburg royal family, is also called the Imperial Palace and can easily fill three hours.

Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Hofburg Palace, Vienna

The Palace is a self-guided audio tour, perfect for people short on time. I skipped the things that didn’t interest me, such as some of the china descriptions. The silver collection is a must-see (the tour starts here) but I don’t need to hear every plate described in detail.

Statues at the gate

Statues at the gate

The next exhibit was “Sissy’s Life Story.” Being an American I had never even heard of this ruler, so the poignant descriptions following her from childhood to death were incredibly interesting.

After hearing about Sissy it was on to the Imperial Apartments. Personally, I love seeing palace rooms as they once were and hearing about the entertaining and lifestyle of the royals. For me this was the highlight of the morning. The audio guide provided details about the lovely, fully-decorated rooms with original furnishings and tapestries. History buffs will find appreciation at every turn in the Palace.

Fountain in the palace courtyard

Fountain in the palace courtyard

After finishing with the inside it was time to move on to the cemetery. Admittedly, I love old cemeteries but you don’t have to be a fanatic like I am to enjoy the Central Cemetery. It’s Europe’s second-largest final resting place and is the eternal home of Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and Brahms as well as a too-large number of people that died in the Holocaust. The grounds are lovely and well-maintained and the huge monuments are impressive, to say the least.

Before hopping on the trolley, I stopped in the gardens next to the Palace for some lunch. The grounds are beautiful and the atmosphere very relaxing.

The Rathaus (Town Hall)

The Rathaus (Town Hall) and another beautiful city park, the Rathauspark

Off to the city center! The ring trolley is an amazing way to get a feel for all there is to see, and a great way to see sights without walking too much. I did most of the ring using a guidebook “tour.” I didn’t actually get off but saw all the sights from the window and then got off in the city center.

Trolley lines overhead

Trolley lines overhead

Inside the trolley

Inside the trolley

The city center is like many city centers in Europe. I strolled past the various coffee shops, diners and stores that line the streets . . . but the best part was the people-watching. This is a popular gathering place for locals as well as street performers and artists. The spray paint artist was there for the day—I passed him in the early afternoon and he was still there when I headed back in the early evening.

Performers on the pedestrian walk

Performers on the pedestrian walk

Street performers and spray paint artist

Left: More street performers | Right: Spray paint artist

Also located in this area is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The largest church in the city, St. Stephen’s is a grand sight to behold. I was too tired to climb the 343 steps of the North Tower to take in the view from the top (I blame jet-lag). I am sure the view from there is incredible but I had spent the night traveling and decided to conserve my strength.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The spire of the North Tower is too tall to fit in the photo.

In the cathedral, two of the most interesting features were the pipe organ and the catacombs underneath the church. Perhaps I should warn you that the catacombs are home to the internal organs of the royal family (in urns) and the bones of plague victims. If those thoughts make you a bit weak in the knees, skip the catacombs!

A mural I saw on the pedestrian walk

A mural I saw on the pedestrian walk

After walking around a bit, I again hopped on a trolley and headed for the Danube River. You can’t visit Vienna without seeing Europe’s longest river. I found a coffee shop/bar overlooking the river and right near the train stop back to the airport. I spent a while there until it was time to head back.

The Danube

The Danube

The Danube beach

The Danube beach

My brief stop in Vienna only whet my appetite for more. I plan on returning some day and making it the central part of my holiday. Number one on my packing list will be a good night’s sleep—so I can climb those 343 steps!


Blogger Samantha Wilson's cat Patches

My cat Patches keeps hold of my cell phone so that work can go uninterrupted

Samantha Wilson has been to many exciting places, including New York, Niagara Falls, Texas, Arizona, Ireland, England, Spain, Hungary, Austria, Cyprus and more. Her friends describe her as adventurous yet responsible. She travels a lot—and often “last minute”—but her trips are always researched and planned out. She also enjoys helping other people plan their trips and get ideas of things to do that are good deals or off the beaten path. Samantha likes writing about her travels because it helps her relive the great memories.

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  1. That is SO cool! I wouldn’t have seen half of what you did in 12 hours. What an adventurous spirit you have!

    • Samantha says:

      Thanks, Ann. I am glad I pushed myself to do it. You never regret having done something like this- only not doing it 😉


  2. Wow! You packed a lot into your 12 hours! Beautiful pics. I SO want to visit Vienna. Thank you for sharing!

    • Samantha says:

      The great public transportation is what allowed me to see so much. Everything was see easy to get to!

      Hope you get to visit soon!


  3. Samantha,
    What a great day you just took us through in Vienna. Seeing your pictures made me want this to be my next destination. (Although, where don’t I want to go to next?! hee hee) We actually have friends who are living in Vienna and have been inviting us to come visit. It’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up and your post has spurred me on to plan how to make that happen.
    I hope you’ll write about where you were actually headed in Europe and what you did there!

  4. Samantha says:


    Wow, if you have a place to stay you have to take advantage! I try to stay by friends or family as often as I can to keep costs down.

    I have so many stories about Europe, I can write for years 😉 I just have to find the time to actually write it up!

    Thanks for the comments.

  5. Oooo! Catacombs and cemeteries! My kind of exploring 🙂

    Sounds like you managed to pack a nice little adventure into your stop-over, I envy those that can plan their travels, I just tend to turn up and hope I see something cool 😉

    Lovely post, thanks Samantha.

    • Samantha says:

      You are not alone. I think Tourist Information exists for people who “show up and hope to see something cool”!


  6. Thank you so much dear Samantha….I am going to spend 12 hours there soon, and I did not have any idea of Vienna and how easy it would be to make the most of your 12 hours layover time in Vienna…thanks again .

  7. Hi Samantha,
    How easy was it to leave the airport and go back through security the next day? Do you have to go through immigration?
    We have a 18 hour layover (overnight) in Vienna from Varna (Bulgaria) to Toronto.

  8. Ashley Becker says:

    How much time did you leave to get back to the airport? We have a 12 hour layover and our flight is leaving out at 8:30pm so we are trying to guage what time we need to start meandering back

    • Hi Ashley, have you travelled yet? I’m looking at what is probably the same layover in Vienna, and also wondering the same thing. Also, am wondering if jet lag will make the day very difficult.

      • Ashley says:


        We haven’t traveled yet. We leave next week. Hope your trip was fantastic!


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