Vienna for FREE

Written by  larapiegeler

It's more possible than you might expect to live a life of selective refinement in Vienna just as long as you know where to look. This city sits easily within the historical fantasy genre but blends in modern attitudes considerately, offering exquisite music, architecture and art (and even more perfect cake and coffee) in formats that are free or low-budget enough for everyone to explore. The best approach for those with limited funds, then, is to pick one or two staples to splash out on – a good hotel room, for example – and then let the best things in life fill your time.

Approaching transport costs cleverly is a good beginning: note that if you buy a Wien Karte (Vienna Card), which costs less than €20, you'll automatically receive a coupon book which entitles you to discounted entrance fees for some two hundred attractions, plus money off guided tours, shopping, restaurant bills and theatre and concert tickets – almost worth it even without its main purpose of providing full 72-hour access to the various public transport services.

If the weather's good, though, the alternative plan of renting a bicycle comes highly recommended. Numerous companies offer the first hour for free and subsequent hours for no more than around €3. There's arguably more romance in exploring a city via a method that allows for capricious detours, picnic stops and even a little conversation en route – and if you really love it, you can extend the idea all the way to Prague along the beautiful Greenways Cycle Path Network.

If over-indulging in strudel leaves you wracked with guilt and in need of exercise, there's a free hiking program based in nearby Innsbruck, operational from June to October. Sign up and your appetite will come flooding back with a vengeance as you undertake mountain tours led by certified guides from the Alpine School (ASI), where you'll be able to borrow equipment and ride the Hiking Bus for free.

Of course, some of us don't consider self-powered transport a freebie worth celebrating, but we can hardly fail to be charmed by the other low-budget essentials waiting to be appreciated in Vienna. The Nashcmarkt, which originated in the 16th century, is a 1.5 kilometre-long stretch of shops and outdoor stalls selling more food than you could experiment with if you lived in Vienna forever (which is how long it would take to get bored of Sachertorte, anyhow). If you don't mind crowds, come on a Saturday and browse the flea market whilst snacking.

Those on the hunt for all things cheap and tasty will also be pleased to discover the food stalls in the Rathauspark, particularly at Christmas – but in warmer weather, the lack of gingerbread and mulled wine is easily compensated for by the free, outdoor-screened Sunday night classical concerts.

For the price of a Melange (Viennese coffee) you can just as easily relax indoors and watch a free piano recital. Often full of tourists but rightfully famous is the 17th century Café Central, with its vaulted ceilings, life-altering cakes and long-departed patrons, who included Leon Trotski and Sigmund Freud.

Just steps away from the Central is the imposing Stephansdom – Vienna's oldest church, with its legendary crying Madonna icon and Mozart connections. Entrance is free, as is the case for all the city's churches – even the Hofburg Imperial Chapel, where the Vienna Boys' Choir and State Orchestra sing an internationally feted Mass every Sunday morning for most of the year, and standing room is free. The standing tickets at the Staatsoper itself are incongruously cheap, too, and the experience is well worth a little backache.

You can also browse era-spanning, world-famous art for nothing on Saturdays at the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts).

Art is easily balanced with nature for free in Vienna's beautifully kept green spaces. The Wiener Prater, for example, is a strikingly elegant location for a nap in the summer sun or a wander through snowy, tree-lined avenues – and entrance to the adjacent amusement park (where you'll find Harry Lime's Ferris Wheel) is also free. You can meander through the gardens of the Schloss Schonbrunn at no cost, too.

Lastly, if you can manage a gentle hike uphill through picturesque lanes to the top of the Kahlenberg, pay a visit to the woods there, which are carpeted with wild violets in the Spring, and are part of the larger Wienerwald from which hoards of fairy tales have sprung. The view of the Danube winding its way through the city is not one you'll forget in a hurry.

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