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Cultured, classy and cosmopolitan, Vienna boasts of a history as distinguished as almost any other major European city: It has been an imperial capital, a home to some of the world’s great thinkers and a Mecca for classical music.
Because of this illustrious past, prospective visitors might think that Austria’s largest city is too expensive for the average Cheapo. On the contrary! Vienna, while not exactly a bargain (it was BusinessWeek’s 24th-most expensive city in 2010), boasts enough free events, attractions and activities that you’ll be able to have a great time whether you’re a Habsburg or a habs-not.
Here’s our guide to free activities in Vienna:
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
An impressive structure that looms over the heart of the city, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the most important religious building in Vienna, as the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna and also as a historical site that dates back to 1147 AD. It is instantly recognizable for its multi-colored mosaic roof that features the double-headed eagle of the Habsburg dynasty.
It’s also completely free to enter! Open to the public from 6 a.m. (7 a.m. on Sundays and holidays) to 10 p.m. every day, the interior of the church is as impressive as its exterior.
The cathedral also offers guided tours to anyone interested in learning more about St. Stephen’s and its history, though these are unfortunately not free. Depending on the tour, visitors also have the option of seeing the towers of the cathedral, the catacombs and the treasury—areas off-limits to non-paying guests.
Tours range in price from €5 for just the main area to €12.90 for the all-inclusive package.
Mass at the Augustinian Church
If touring Saint Stephen’s doesn’t get you your fill of religious sights in Vienna, then head to the Augustinian Church next to Vienna’s imperial palace (Hofburg) for Sunday mass. Services begin every Sunday at 10 a.m. and feature a full orchestra and choir performing works by the likes of Mozart, Schubert and Haydn—appropriate fare for the City of Music.
Schönbrunn Palace gardens
Another one of Vienna’s signature sights is the Schönbrunn Palace. While admission to the building itself isn’t free (€11.50), the gardens are, and are equally as impressive as the palace. Featuring numerous statues, fountains and fields, the park stretches a kilometer from north to south and 1.2 km east-to-west.
Most of the complex is completely free to the public, though certain areas charge admission fees. These include the viewing terrace of the majestic Gloriette, the maze and labyrinth, and the Crown Prince Garden. Charges range from €3 to €4.50 for these attractions.
Also located on the palace grounds is the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world’s oldest zoo. Admission is €15 (€7 for children).
Summer in the MuseumsQuartier
Daily during summer
Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier is a cultural complex that features, obviously, museums, but also trendy restaurants, shops and many smaller art and culture initiatives. With over 70 cultural facilities, there’s plenty to do here throughout the year, but during the summer is when the MuseumsQuartier really picks up.
Throughout the warmer months, the many courtyards of the complex feature free, open-air entertainment, from concerts to street theater to literary readings. Public art installations and micro-museums are also installed in squares and passageways. Combined with the numerous sidewalk cafes of the MuseumsQuartier, these exhibitions make for a lively atmosphere.
Perhaps even more significantly, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., every institution in the MuseumsQuartier is available to visit free of charge. This year’s program runs until October 1st. If you’re in Vienna during the summer, this is the place to spend your evenings.
Museum of Applied Arts
Tuesday nights, year-round
If you visit Vienna in the off-season, though, you’ll have to get your free art fix somewhere other than the MuseumsQuartier. Luckily, the Museum of Applied Arts offers free evening admission on Tuesdays throughout the year. Featuring furniture and other decorative arts from around the world and from various historical periods, the museum is a great compliment to a city that values design as much as Vienna.
Free admission lasts from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Tuesday. During the rest of the week, (except Mondays, when it is closed) the Museum of Applied Arts is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Regular admission is €7.90 (€5.50 for students, seniors and military).
Anything to add?
If you know of any other free activities in Vienna, please let us know by posting in the comment box. We’re always on the lookout for Cheapo ways to save! And if you’re interested in discovering Vienna for yourself, check out our recommendations for the best budget hotels in the city.