Almost every major European city has some sort of visitor pass scheme. Half the time these passes are worth every penny, and the other half of the time they give you minor discounts to an array of sub par museums and one free fanny pack stuffed with useless coupons. So if you’re a budget traveler who also likes to pack a lot of sightseeing into each day, the most difficult part of any trip is figuring out whether or not to buy your destination’s golden ticket to tourist bliss. Well, I am happy to report that the Vienna Pass is one visitor pass that is well worth the price. Here’s how to make the best use of it.
My husband and I visited during the first week of February, not exactly the most scenic time to visit Vienna, but at least we got a 10% winter discount on our Vienna cards. We bought the 3 day pass for 80€ (regular: 89€). The Vienna Pass is a relatively new tourist card that offers free entrance to over 60 major Viennese attractions, be sure not to confuse it with its forbearer, the Vienna Card, which is a 72 hour unlimited metro pass with some minor discounts to attractions (for 21.90€ it is certainly not the best deal in the city.) For a quick summary of what the Vienna Pass can do for you check out: http://www.visitingvienna.com/sights/vienna-pass-review/. For a more personalized experience-based review of the Vienna Pass continue reading…
First of all, you should know that my husband and I couldn’t be more different in our sightseeing interests—He is a car salesman, with a love for photography, music, and anything adrenaline inducing and I am a historian, with a keen interest in anything royal or renaissance. So finding sights that keep us both captivated can be like making grilled cheese out of waffles and cream cheese…not easy, but probably do able.
Day 1: Museum Blitz
10:00 – Pick-up Vienna Card from office at Karlsplatz metro station. It was a bit tricky to find because it is actually underground in the station and we definitely wasted some time wandering around the Opera area trying to dodge costumed dudes selling over priced concert tickets.
10:30 – Time Travel Vienna (regular price: 19.50€). The show covered 2000 years of Viennese history using a 5D theatre and several historical reenactments. There were cheesey moments for sure, but it was a fun and super entertaining way to get some context for the city’s history.
11:45 – Albertina (regular price: 14€). This museum has a bit of everything including: twenty-one authentically restored 18th century state rooms, an impressive collection of art from Monet-Picasso (I am no art historian, but even I could understand that the exhibit showed the progression of styles from Impressionism to Cubism, or something like that. Also soooo many iconic works!), and a bizarre exhibit of film stills (photos taken during the production of iconic films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
1:30 – Lunch on the balcony overlooking a square where we heckled people for paying 8€ for a wiener while we munched on our delicious packed lunch of gouda, prosciutto-like-meat, and crackers.
2:00 – Haus der Musik (regular price: 13€). I have never seen a more interactive museum. There was a room that mimicked the sounds and sensations of being in a womb (eerie), an orchestra conducting simulator (at which Jakob was a master), a piano staircase, and endless stations with digitized sound and hearing games. There was also a series of expertly curated rooms dedicated to each of Austria’s big-name composers (made my classical-music loving husband happy and we didn’t have to go to each of the composers residences scattered through out the city).
4:00 – Break time!!
7:00 – Vienna Museum of Modern Art (regular price: 11€). After getting a glimpse of some modern art at the Albertina, I was intrigued. We loved making fun of some of the more pretentious stuff and pondering some of the more social activist type stuff. We found the Július Koller exhibit especially interesting. It started with a massive room of ping pong tables (yes of course we played a game). Nothing feels quite so rebellious as smacking a little white ball back and forth while a bunch of serious-looking people dressed in all black stand around pensively.
Day 2: Palaces and Panda Bears
10:00 – Spanish Riding School morning exercise (regular 15€). Unfortunately, since we visited during the off season, we didn’t get to see the stunning Lipizzaner horses in one of their choreographed performances, but we did get to watch a training session. I love horses, but the training was honestly pretty boring. This is the first thing we did in Vienna that seemed a bit overrated, and certainly over priced. But since we got in for free with our Vienna passes we had no qualms about slipping out the back door early.
11:30 – Scholoss Schönbrunn (regular 16.40€). Austria’s top tourist attraction is big yellow palace. Definitely grab the free audio guide, it had a pretty good balance between fun facts and real historical information. This Habsburg palace has some similarities to Versailles: freaking long line to get in, overly ornate interior, and the best part is the animals in the back. Yes this Palace has it’s own zoo!
12:30 – Lunch and snow ball fight in the garden.
1:00 – Struddle Show (regular 6€). What’s not to like? An unbelievably adorable and talented chef teaches you how to make Austrian pastries while you munch on free samples? Yes please!
2:00 – Schönbrunn Zoo (regular 18.50€). We showed up thinking: We are adults, how cool can a zoo be? An hour later we couldn’t decide whether we loved the polar bears, penguins, or elephants more…until Jakob saw the cheetahs, then he was all like “Cheetahs are my favourite, cuz I’m fast, I’m like a cheetah!” Alright babe, do you see a beer belly on any of those cats? Even if you’ve been to plenty of zoos, the Schönbrunn Zoo has a unique vibe since it claims the title of “World’s Oldest Zoo” and dates back to 1540.
6:00 – The best stew of my life at Schöne Perle! I will now ALWAYS put avocado on stew/chilli.
Day 3 – River Ride and Riesenrad
11:00 – Danube River cruise (regular 22.50€). Ok this is a recommended DO NOT DO. There was little to see along the 1.5 hour cruise and the route doubled back on its self so we had a second chance to double check…yup still nothing to see. The highlights were endless kilometers of graffiti and an architecturally creative waste incineration plant. PLEASE spend your previous Vienna Pass time on one of the other sixty attractions.
1:00 – Madame Tussaud’s (regular 20.50€). This was our first wax museum experience, so I can’t compare it, but we had a great time taking photos with Karl Marx, Johnny Depp, and Julie Andrews. So if that’s your sort of thing, definitely check it out!
2:30 – There’s certainly time here to visit another attraction…but the sudden onset of Vienna spring weather meant that I was stuck with a bad cough and the sniffles and needed a nap…so we whipped back to our hostel for a siesta before the evening activities.
6:00 – Wiener Riesenrad (aka Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel, regular 9.50€). A scenic way to end a great 72 hours of sightseeing. Some of the carriages are set up for dinners, so if you’re lucky like us, you may even witness a proposal!
There you have it! That’s how we did 165.90€ worth of activities (for better or for worse) for only 80€! To summarize, here’s a few quick Dos and Don’ts of thrifty touring:
- Do pack lunches. No one wants to waste precious daylight searching for an interesting yet affordable place to eat lunch. The pass will take you to the city’s more touristy areas, that means you’ll have to sell your first born if you want someone to make you a sandwich.
- Do wake up around 8 am. Most sites in Vienna open pretty early, especially Austria’s #1 tourist destination the Schönbrunn palace which opens at 8:30 am!! An early start time means you’ll avoid the long mid-day lines full of hung over 18 year-olds.
- Do buy a 24, 48 or 72 hour transit pass AT a metro kiosk, NOT WITH the Vienna Pass office. These passes are between 40-70 euro cents cheaper if you buy them from the metro kiosk. The Vienna Pass office must round up the price when they sell them so that they can get a little cut out of the deal. Every penny counts in a city as pricy as Vienna!
- Disclaimer: Do your math. The transit passes cost 7.60 € (24-hour pass), 13.30€ (48-hour pass), and 16.50€ (72-hour pass). A single ride on Vienna transit (metro, trams, busses) costs 2.20€ so it’s definitely more cost effective the longer you’re staying. Also if you will be staying between Monday-Sunday of a week then the 16.20€ week pass (attn: it’s not a 7 day pass, it is for a calendar week) may be your best bet. See for yourself: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/horst.prillinger/ubahn/english/fares.html.
- Don’t use the HOP ON HOP OFF busses. The Vienna pass comes with free access to these tour busses, but they are slow and inefficient. Why sit in traffic when you can whip around underneath Vienna’s bustling streets for only a few extra Euros? Also keep in mind that using the HOP ON HOP OFF busses takes some planning since there are six different tour lines, and the places you want to visit may not all be on the same line.
- Don’t visit the remote attractions. As much as I was tempted to check out the winery-monastery to the north or some of the baroque palaces to the south, these excursions would have required bus travel and taken a sizeable chunk out of each day. If you’re using a tourist pass, every moment counts, and you can always get more bang for your buck in the city center than in the outskirts. If these are a must see, consider buying a pass that covers one less day of your stay and visit these locations at a relaxed pace on your own dime, rather than on the Vienna pass.
- Don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself. Rushing around to make the most of your Vienna Pass will leave you exhausted and hating everything Baroque. Even after taking an afternoon off, we still felt like the pass was well worth our time and money. Happy sightseeing!