The Art Historian’s Guide to Vienna on a Budget

My blog has a very strong niche and I’ve never been vague what it is about: Cultural travel.

As you know, this means museums, churches, and all the geeky stuff mixed with the personal musings of an art historian who spends most of her time with her head stuck in the middle ages. If you ever read anything about white water rafting or bungee jumping on this blog it would mean that either a) the blog was hacked or b) my body was taken over by aliens. Seriously — I’m the cultural travel girl, and I always will be.

And I want cultural travel to be what Sateless Suitcase is known for, but nonetheless: Narrow niches are tricky.

I was told that if I want to focus on cultural travel, I should leave all aspects of budget travel behind, because cultural travelers don’t necessarily care for budget travel. Readers of cultural travel blogs apparently want to see me as this nerd (preferably with sexy secretary glasses, what’s up with that?) who climbs around ruins and doesn’t worry about travel budgets.

The thing is though: Money (or the lack thereof) plays a role in my life, because — big surprise here — art history does sadly not make you rich! I’m not bitter about this, I chose this and I’m loving it, but when it comes to travel I have to be smart with money.

I’ve written about saving money when traveling in Europe quite a bit, and since my budget travel posts are actually doing pretty well I’m a little torn: Should I still write about cultural travel on a budget? Or should I try to reach a broader audience of cultural travelers?

Just because I’m broke sometimes, it doesn’t mean than I can’t travel to Europe’s expensive cities — and I really want to show my readers how affordable cultural travel can be done. There is so much free cultural entertainment to be found in every European city I visited so far, so I had my hopes up for Vienna as well — even though I’ve been warned that the Austrian capital was going to be crazy expensive.

True cost of a Vienna getaway

Vienna is the kind of city that feels like you can’t afford it at first sight: I didn’t see any buskers, or people sleeping in the subway stations. Everyone looked wealthy and well-dressed; the old coffee houses looked all glamorous with their art deco furniture and chandeliers. Even my guide book recommend doing fancy things like seeing the Spanish Riding School and operas, and dining in chic cafés.

Coffee house in Vienna, Austria

But I knew I wanted to do Vienna a little differently — less glamorous, more on a budget if you will. There had to be a way to visit Vienna as a culturally interested traveler without being too much of a broke backpacker stereotype!

I don’t exactly know how much money I actually spend in Vienna, because there are a few things I’m not too proud to admit: I had McDonald’s fries three times on this trip and a take-away box of fried Asian noodles once. I splurged on a proper sit-down meal one time, but really couldn’t do it more than that one time (partly because I was really struggling with solo dining). Besides my fast food slips, I do know what I spent and I don’t think it’s too bad considering Vienna’s reputation.

In the following Vienna budgeting guide, I won’t include the 92,98 Euros that my return flight from Hannover, Germany, cost me. Just so much: I refuse to fly those really cheap budget airlines like Ryanair, because I do not want to fly with companies who treat their employees like shit and I also don’t want to be a passenger on a flight of a pilot who hates his job, because he didn’t sleep for the last 28 hours and he can’t save enough kerosene to make it to the top of the pilot ranking. Sorry for the rant here, but this company is not worth your money — even you feel like their flights are cheaper than other airlines.

Flying to Vienna, Austria

Back in June though, I discovered that Germanwings had a weekend deal for flights in Europe: 33 Euros per flight! I adjusted my times a little so my flight became a little more expensive than the promised 66 Euros, but I consider flying for under 100 Euros for a longer European distance quite a good deal (especially in August!). And obviously, bringing a carry-on and a purse carrying my valuables and camera gear was also not a problem when not flying Ryanair.

But now to the aspects of saving money in Vienna that apply to a budget-conscious traveler flying in from wherever — Here’s how much money you really will need in Vienna for transportation, accommodation, food and sightseeing:

Guide to Vienna on a Budget

TRANSPORTATION 

Vienna Airport Shuttle Bus: 2 x 8 = 16 Euros

Vienna’s airport is a bit further away from the city and there sadly is no public transportation hack to get you into the city on the cheap, but you still don’t have to pay for a taxi, because luckily, the airport shuttle bus is not too expensive with 8 Euros per trip.

48 Hour Subway Ticket: 13.30 Euros

Vienna is very walkable and I was planning on walking a lot, because I wanted to see a lot of the little things and not spend money on public transportation. After my first days though, my stupid heel spur couldn’t take that much walking anymore and when I was caught in the craziest downpour without my umbrella (which would have been useless anyways), I decided it was time to figure out public transport in Vienna. I was glad I did, because it saved me quite a bit of time and it wasn’t too expensive after all.

Return train ticket to Bratislava: 15 Euros

Spending one day in Bratislava was actually the smartest thing I could have done: Not only did I get to see a pretty glimpse of a new country, but I also drank a lot of fabulous coffee there that I could never have afforded in Vienna. I paid less than 4 Euros for a pastry and coffee, and less than 7 Euros for a lunch with hummus, bread and olives in the most prominent touristy places!

Lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia

(Probably my best budgeting tip for Vienna: Save your coffee house trips and sit-down meals for a day trip to Bratislava. Or if you’re on a real strict budget: Stay in Bratislava and just go to Vienna for the day.)

ACCOMMODATION

3 Night at Hostel Ruthensteiner: 70.47 Euros

I never considered staying anywhere else than a hostel in Vienna. As I was traveling by myself I was looking to meet other travelers, but staying in a hostel also definitely seemed to be cheapest accommodation option. Hostel Ruthensteiner was a great choice, because its location was perfect: Right in-between the Schönbrunn Palace and Vienna’s most famous shopping street leading to the old city center. (I opted for the 8 bed girls dorm where the only problem was that was only one en-suite shower — for eight girls!)

Hostel Ruthensteiner, Vienna, Austria

FOOD

Breakfast at the hostel: 3 x 2.70 = 8.10 Euros

I usually try to book hostels that have a free breakfast included, but I couldn’t find something suitable in Vienna and I didn’t mind paying a little extra for my breakfast of unlimited yogurt, cereal and coffee at Hostel Ruthensteiner. This little extra was still cheaper than anything I could have bought while sightseeing, and let’s be honest here, I’m not a nice person when I haven’t had my coffee before leaving the house.

Lunch in a restaurant: 22.50 Euros

I wanted to have one real sit-down meal and try something typically Austrian, which admittedly wasn’t any easy task as a vegetarian. I stumbled upon a cute little restaurant tucked away in a narrow street a little off the most touristy tracks and found a veggie dish that seemed typical enough: Schwammerlragout mit Knödel — a ragout of mushrooms (called “little sponges” in Austrian) with dumpling for 9.50 Euros. I wondered if the menu had a typo here, but indeed, it was just one single dumpling.

Schwammerlragout, Vienna, Austria

As it was already in the afternoon and I had been walking around like a crazy person since 9 am in the morning, I needed a little more than just one dumpling though. Luckily, the waiter had placed a cute basket with deliciously looking fresh-baked rolls on my table.

Now, I have traveled in Europe long enough to know that there was going to be a catch, but I was too hungry to think about it for too long. In the end, I paid 4.20 Euros extra for the bread. What annoyed me the most about it: I ate only two rolls, but was charged for all three I was originally served — I should have stuffed that other roll into my purse!

G'spritzer, Vienna, Austria

I was in a bit of a decadent mood so I ordered the afternoon-adequate version of a white wine: Weiß G’spritzer, white whine with bubbly water, which was a drink I found on most menus all over town and assumed to be a rather authentic and also a quite affordable drink. The double espresso I had after was way pricier (4.80 Euros!).

I’m not sure if this restaurant visit is representative for eating out Vienna, but I felt like the dishes and prices probably were Vienna average. I don’t think I paid irresponsibly much for a meal with a glass of wine, a starter, and a large coffee, but I definitely couldn’t have afforded to eat out like this twice a day.

Keep in mind: If you plan on buying most of your food in supermarkets beware that Austria has crazy opening hours: Shops are closed on Sundays and I couldn’t even find an open supermarket on a Saturday night at 7 pm!

Sachertorte and coffee at Café Sacher: 5.30 + 4.90 = 10.20 Euros

I don’t know why the Sachertorte is so famous, but it’s the one sweet dish every Vienna first timer should try — or so they say. To be honest, the cake was too sweet and somewhat dry, the piece was about the size of my index finger, and I really don’t like cocoa on my cappuccino. I obviously skipped lunch to indulge in Vienna’s most famous chocolate cake (to save money and calories), but I sadly didn’t really find it worth it. Maybe I’m too much of a salty-greasy-savory kind of girl too really appreciate the Sachertorte, but most of all, I just found this piece of cake to be outrageously expensive considering it was not the life-changing chocolate cake I was expecting.

Sachertorte in Vienna, Austria

Cappuccino: Less than 3 Euros

I was surprised that coffee in the non-famous cafés wasn’t nearly as expensive as in the fancy-shmancy old coffee houses in the city center. Around 3 Euros is what a coffee would usually cost in certain coffee shop chains as well, so I really didn’t mind paying this price — especially since I sat in the sun and watched students from the old university hurry past me.

Coffee in Vienna, Austria

CULTURAL ENTERTAINMENT & SIGHTSEEING

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien: 14 Euros

Honestly, it was a museum that had been calling me to Vienna. I had always wanted to see Vienna one day, but the city itself wasn’t the primary reason I ended up going after all: It was the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, short KHM. I knew, no matter what I decided to see in Vienna, this museum had to be on my itinerary. And yes, it was absolutely worth it. The KHM is has an amazing collection and it feels like one giant cozy living room full of art — basically, my happy place.

KHM, Vienna, Austria

KHM, Vienna, Austria

… and all the FREE SIGHTS!

Other than my obligatory visit to the KHM, I chose to do exclusively free sightseeing in Vienna. I know I probably missed a few things worth paying for, but ultimately, I loved my walk-by sightseeing style in Vienna, because there are so many beautiful parks, great architecture and several churches that can be seen for free. These places were my favorites:

Palace Schönbrunn (from the outside)

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Imperial Gardens

Schönbrunn Gardens, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Imperial Gardens, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Park in Vienna

Schönbrunn Imperial Gardens, Vienna, Austria

The view from the Gloriette

Gloriette, Vienna, Austria

View from the Gloriette, Vienna, Austria

The Hofburg (from the outside)

Hofburg, Vienna, Austria

Hofburg, Vienna, Austria

St.Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

The Karlsplatz

Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria

Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria

St. Rupert’s Church (Vienna’s oldest church!)

St. Rupert's Church, Vienna, Austria

The Rathaus (Town Hall, from the outside)

Rathaus, Vienna, Austria

Belvedere Palace (from the outside) and Belvedere Gardens 

Belvedere Gardens, Vienna, Austria

Belvedere Gardens, Vienna, Austria

In the end, my trip to Vienna and Bratislava cost me approximately 300 Euros including my flight. I know, that’s not exactly cheap considering it was only a trip of three and a half days. Next time though, I’d skip the famous Sachertorte and buy more groceries from local supermarkets so I can stick to a budget of 40 Euros per day, which I honestly don’t find too much for one of Europe’s expensive capitals — especially when it offers so much great architecture and beautiful parks for free!

Have you been to Vienna? Did you find it too expensive?

And one important question for me:
Do like me writing about cultural travel on a budget,
or would you prefer me to shut up about money already?

PS: If you want to know more about European budget travel — I have already written about budget sightseeing in London and the best free geeky sights in Dublin and also shared tips on how to do Paris on a super low budget and how to save money while traveling in Europe in general.