As the imperial center of the Habsburg dynasty, Vienna has a fascinating and layered architectural past. The city center (District 1) is best known for its Gothic churches and Baroque winter palaces, while much of the outer districts obtained their current look in the second half of the 19th century, when thousands of Renaissance Revival buildings appeared to accommodate the fast-rising population.
As an antidote to this historicist style, the Vienna Secession group produced some of the most original architecture and furniture design of the early 20th century. Closer to the current day, Vienna has several globally renowned buildings, especially from the postmodern period of the 1970s and 1980s. This map shows the locations of all places featured below.
#1 - St. Rupert's Church (12-13th centuries)
Vienna’s oldest church still in existence is tucked away on a charming square, Ruprechtsplatz, on the north side of the city center. This is also where the Roman military camp (Vindobona) was once based. The church more or less retained its Romanesque look for more than a thousand years, although parts of it date from Gothic and Baroque additions. The nave and the lower floors of the tower were built in the 12th century, and two of the stained glass windows – in the middle of the apse – are from the 13th (the others were installed in 1993). Free entry, but opening hours vary. Location.
#2 - Minoritenkirche (13-14th centuries)
The original details of this Gothic church near the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) are still discernible despite myriad additions and alterations throughout the centuries that give its stacked, blocky look. The church spire was destroyed twice during Ottoman Turkey’s siege of Vienna in the 16-17th centuries and ultimately rebuilt with a flat top. Interestingly, a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper decorates the side altar – it was commissioned by Napoleon in 1809, later intended for the Belvedere but being too big for it, ended up here. Free entry. Location.
#3 - Augustinian Church (14th century)
Located right by the Imperial Palace (Hofburg), the solemn Augustinian Church was, ironically, the scene of Habsburg weddings, including that between Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, and Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi). Little of the Gothic structure is seen from the outside because the 18th century expansion of the nearby Court Library enveloped the church. Inside, there’s a striking marble funerary monument for Duchess Maria Christina, the Empress’ favorite daughter, completed in 1805 by the Italian neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova. The crypt behind the Loreto Chapel, to the right of the nave, holds 54 urns with the embalmed hearts of deceased members of the Habsburg family. Free entry (the Loreto Chapel is usually closed). Location.
#4 - St. Stephen's Cathedral (12-15th centuries)
St. Stephen’s is Vienna’s biggest, most famous church and the city's main symbol. Built on the ruins of two medieval churches, the Gothic building’s ever-expanding size symbolized Vienna’s rising imperial ambitions under the Habsburgs in the 14-15th centuries (the old Romanesque front is still the main entrance). While the south tower, completed in 1433, marks the highest point in Vienna, the northern one has never been finished. Highlights of the dim inside include the wraparound Gothic pulpit pictured above, the exuberant Baroque high altar at the end of the nave, the winged side altar (Wiener Neustädter) in the left aisle, and the striking red-stone tomb of Emperor Frederick III in the right aisle. The colorful roof tiles, similar to Budapest’s Matthias Church, are a 19th century addition. Free entry. Location.
#5 - Eugene Savoy’s Winter Palace (1695-1724)
After the final defeat of Ottoman Turkey in 1683, a sense of optimism filled Viennese society, resulting in a frenzy of building activity. The go-to architect of the Habsburg Court and the aristocracy was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), an Austrian who spent 16 years in Rome at the workshop of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the great Baroque master behind the St. Peter’s Basilica. Fischer von Erlach designed the winter palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the famous military general who routed the Ottoman army. Note the enormous size of the building tucked away on this side street, and the elaborate reliefs flanking the three giant entrance portals. The inside can’t be visited; the building has long been home to the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Location.
#6 - Karlskirche (1716-37)
Dominating Karlsplatz, Vienna’s main Baroque church was also designed by Court Architect and Bernini-pupil, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. His years spent in Italy show through the two giant Tranjanesque columns outside the entrance portico (the carvings show scenes from the life of Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of the reigning Emperor, Charles VI). The inside features typical Baroque ebullience where everything seems to be in motion. The undulating gilded and marble surfaces culminate in a dramatic high altar depicting the ascension of Saint Charles amid cloud motifs and sun rays. €9.50 admission, which provides access to the lookout point from the top of the church. Location.
#7 - Belvedere Palace (1712-1723)
This immense two-part Baroque palace – Lower and Upper Belvedere – was built as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Apart from being a great military leader, the Prince was also a patron of the arts and sciences and liked to lavishly entertain his famous friends, including Voltaire, inside the gilded halls packed with books and paintings. The ceiling frescoes of the Upper Belvedere draw parallels between the Prince and Apollo and Alexander the Great. The Baroque terraced garden with clipped hedges offers panoramic views of the city all the way to the Vienna Woods and beyond. Lucas von Hildebrandt’s masterpiece functions as a museum today, known for its Gustav Klimt paintings. €16 admission (advance ticket purchase). Location.
#8 - Court Library (1723-26)
No Baroque building in Vienna can rival the Habsburg Imperial Palace (Hofburg), and no part of it is more striking than the Court Library on Josefsplatz, designed, as usual, by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The staircase, lined with Roman-era inscriptions, leads to two marble and wood-encased halls filled with 200,000 books, ranging in time from 1503 to 1820. In between is a sweeping frescoed dome under which stands proudly the marble statue of the library's founder, Emperor Charles VI. Unlike the new wing of the library on Heldenplatz, this one (Prunksaal) is open to visitors with a €10 admission. Location.
#9 - Schönbrunn Palace (1696-1880)
No building symbolized Habsburg power more than the family’s enormous summer palace, also known as “Vienna’s Versailles.” Much of it was erected during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780), who lived here, in an exuberant Rococo style. Most memorable are the two rooms with black lacquer panels and an elaborate inlaid floor (Chinese Cabinet), and the relatively spartan study of Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916), where he toiled daily from five in the morning. Parts of the vast Baroque garden include the “Roman Ruins” and the Gloriette pavilion, typical decorative elements in the late 18th century meant to evoke the great ancient empire. There’s a €20-26 admission to see the inside, but the garden is open to the public. Location.
#10 - Ringstrasse (1860s-1890s)
Much of Vienna’s current housing stock sprung up in the second half of the 19th century, when the city’s population rapidly increased during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916). Most notable was the construction of the horseshoe-shaped Ringstrasse, replacing the old city walls and glacis, lined with eye-catching revival buildings such as the neo-Renaissance Court Opera, the neo-Greek House of Parliament, and the neo-Gothic City Hall. There were also multi-story private apartment buildings commissioned by wealthy industrialists and aristocrats. As the period drew to a close, these historicist buildings were increasingly mocked as being out of date. Still, there's a striking elegance to them. A leisurely stroll or a ride on tram line #1, which goes through the Ringstrasse, is a good way to take it all in. Location.
#11 - Otto Wagner Villa I and II (1886-88; 1912-13)
Otto Wagner was the father of Viennese modernism, but his early works were still historicist. His own villa, located on the outskirts of town in Hütteldorf (District 14), brings to mind a Renaissance palazzo with its giant Ionic columns, coffered ceilings, and perfectly symmetrical layout. The inside shows Art Nouveau inspirations, especially the room with a Tiffany stained glass window by Adolf Böhm, which was installed there in 1900. Today, the building is home to the Ernst Fuchs Museum. Fuchs was an extravagant Austrian painter who bought the villa in 1972 and furnished it with his own slightly kitsch paintings and furniture. Otto Wagner spent his final years in the neighboring villa at 28 Hüttelbergstrasse – known as Wagner Villa II – which he designed decades later in his late Art Nouveau style (it isn’t open to the public). The villas are reachable in 25 minutes by train and bus from Westbahnhof. Location.
#12 - Secession Building (1897-98)
What’s this severe, windowless, Mesopotamian-inspired strange white structure topped with a gold dome doing in the heart of Vienna? It’s the exhibition hall of Secessionist artists, the group that struck out on its own in 1897, leaving behind the conservative confines of the Association of Austrian Artists. Here, they were free to showcase their own and other contemporary European artworks that would shock the uptight Viennese society. This was the case with Gustav Klimt’s now-famous Beethoven Frieze, still on display. The building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, was mocked as the “cabbage head” because of the dome’s gilded bronze leaves that were meant to symbolize the crown of a laurel tree. “To every age its art, and to that art its freedom,” says the inscription on the facade. The building functions as a museum currently. Location.
#13 - Majolica and Medallion Houses (1898)
Otto Wagner’s architecture was shaped by the Europe-wide Art Nouveau and its local variant, the Viennese Secession. The movement was formed in 1897 by a group that included Wagner’s former students – Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann – who broke away from the rigid state-directed historicist style. Wagner soon joined them, and the rich floral patterns adorning his Majolica House show the typical features of the early Viennese Secession. The building next door (38 Linke Wienzeile), also by Wagner, is known as the Medallion House because of the decorative motifs on its facade. Wagner himself at this time lived in a third building he designed, around the corner at 3 Köstlergasse. Location.
#14 - Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station (1899)
In the 1890s, Wagner was tasked with designing the Viennese railway network (Stadtbahn), a commission that showcased his engineering prowess and technical precision through elevated bridges, embankments, and tunnels. But best known are his beautiful Art Nouveau (Secessionist) stations, most famously those at Karlsplatz and the Hofpavillion at Hietzing. The Karlsplatz pavilions’ marble cladding, floral motifs, gilded ornamentation, and adorable barrel vault make them a true crowd pleaser. One of the buildings houses a cafe, the other an exhibition space. Location.
#15 - Post Office Savings Bank (1904)
After 1898, Otto Wagner moved away from the cheerful Art Nouveau of unbridled curvilinear shapes toward a more austere and geometrical architecture. Instead of pink floral decorations (see Majolica House above), the facade of the Post Office Savings Banks consists of plain white marble slabs “anchored” to the walls by simple decorative aluminum rivets. The impressive hall inside is lit by sky windows and the floor is made from glass tiles to provide daylight to the sorting room downstairs. The building, which influenced many architects and anticipated the Art Deco, is currently home to the University of Applied Arts and can be visited. Location.
#16 - Purkersdorf Sanatorium (1904-06)
Josef Hoffmann is best known as the founder of the Austrian Art Nouveau furniture workshop, the Wiener Werkstätte, but he was also a prolific architect. His most notable work – besides the Stoclet Palace in Brussels – is the upscale sanatorium in Purkersdorf, a quaint Viennese suburb reachable within twenty minutes from Westbahnhof (#S50 train). The outside is classically restrained, with only a black-and-white checkered decorative pattern running around the window frames. In line with Hoffmann’s idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk,” he and his colleagues designed all of the interior details too, some of which have since become celebrated design pieces, including Koloman Moser’s Purkersdorf Armchair. Today, the building is part of a public nursing home, but visitors can walk around the premises and catch glimpses of the inside, still furnished with Wiener Werkstätte objects. Location.
#17 - American/Kärntner/Loos Bar (1907)
Architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) famously railed against the use of ornaments – his polemic is titled “Ornament and Crime” – but he had a penchant for cladding his buildings in rich, expensive materials. This tiny cocktail bar located off Kärntner Strasse is a study in Loos’s “less is more” approach: coffered marble ceiling, mahogany wall panels, and the backlit alabaster lend the dark and atmospheric space a festive vibe without the typical decorative elements of the time. In the evenings, the place gets crowded, but during the day they will allow you to linger over a drink and take in the interior details. Location.
#18 - Looshaus (1910-12)
Today, Adolf Loos is regarded as one of the most important figures of modern architecture, but when his decor-deprived building for the Goldman & Salatsch men’s clothing company opened in 1912, right across the glitzy Imperial Palace (Hofburg) where Emperor Franz Joseph lived, he was ridiculed by the public. (No elaborate window frames? Travesty!) According to local lore, the Emperor never again used the entrance facing Loos’s building. Loos actually did dress up the ground floor with expensive marble and Tuscan columns. Unfortunately, the inside can’t be visited currently. Location.
#19 - Scheu House (1912-13)
Designed for a well-to-do and progressive lawyer and his wife, the Scheu House is a good example of the blunt residential architecture Adolf Loos pioneered years before it became the norm: plaster-covered concrete frame, spare facade, terraced and flat roof, free floor plan. All of these features anticipated modern architecture of the 1920s. Lined with classical villas, the Scheu House stands out from its upscale residential neighborhood of Hitzing in District 13 (near the Schönbrunn Palace). The building is privately owned and can only be viewed from the street. Location.
#20 - Karl-Marx-Hof (1927-30)
With the 1918 collapse of the Habsburg House and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the newly formed Austrian Republic was much reduced in size. Vienna drew tens of thousands of people from territories that fell outside the country’s new borders. This created a critical need for new housing, especially for workers, which the city’s Socialist government – during the “Red Vienna” period of 1918-34 – addressed with huge public housing and infrastructure projects. Most famous is the monumental Karl-Marx-Hof, a socialist utopian city within the city, complete with 1,400 apartments, kindergartens, communal washing rooms, playgrounds, and green spaces. By today’s standards, the apartments are small but many come with sizable balconies and the area is lively and well maintained. It takes twenty minutes to reach the Karl-Marx-Hof from the city center with the U4 subway line. Location.
#21 - Vienna Werkbund Estate (1929-32)
Inspired by the famous 1927 Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, this modern housing exhibit was built in the well-off Viennese suburb of Hietzing in District 13. Consisting of 70 small standalone residential homes designed by leading modern architects such as Josef Frank, Josef Hoffmann, Gerrit Rietveld, and Richard Neutra, the purpose of the exhibit was to promote the modern way of life in Austria. When the exhibit ended in August 1932, the houses were sold to middle and lower-middle-class buyers (unlike the Karl-Marx-Hof, above, these houses weren’t targeted to workers). The City of Vienna, which owns the estate today, has a helpful online tour of the most interesting buildings. By public transport, the Werkbund estate is reachable within thirty minutes from downtown. Location.
#22 - Hochhaus Herrengasse (1931-32)
Known as Vienna’s first skyscraper, the luxury building occupies the upscale Herrengasse, where the Liechtenstein Palace once stood. Similar to the New York skyscrapers that sprung up around this time, the Hochhaus has a stepped-back structure, so the 16-story tower is only visible from certain angles at the street level. A long list of celebrities have lived here over the years, including the actor Christoph Waltz. Unfortunately, the inside, which is occupied by offices and private apartments, can’t be visited, but the marble-clad reception area is open to visitors. There, encased in glass, you’ll find two detailed paper models of the whole building. Location.
#23 - Esterházypark Flak Tower (1943-44)
During WWII, Nazi-ruled Vienna erected three pairs of enormous air-defense towers to protect the city from Allied bombings. Forced laborers and prisoners of war built these reinforced concrete structures that were also used as air-raid shelters for the civilian population. The 11-story control tower in Esterházypark is home to a popular aquarium today, the House of the Sea, featuring sharks, turtles, and other maritime creatures. The top floor, accessible for free, provides stunning 360-views. The sister tower is located in nearby Stiftgasse, but that one can't be visited. Location.
#24 - Wotruba Church (1974-76)
It takes a bit of a trek to reach this unusually shaped Brutalist church by the Vienna Woods in District 23. The designer, Fritz Wotruba (1907-1975), was a prominent sculptor known for his blocklike, cubic statues, and this building, too, feels like a giant sculpture. The church consists of 152 slabs of rough-hewn concrete arranged like Jenga blocks with glass panels filling the gaps and admitting daylight. The siting is perfect: the church sits atop a small hill surrounded by nature, so nothing detracts from the visual experience. Location.
#25 - Vienna International Center & UN Headquarters (1973-79)
Austria was a neutral country during the Cold War, and the country's famous Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, lobbied hard to reinforce this status by bringing prominent international organizations to Vienna. In 1979, the United Nation's third headquarters opened in a far-flung part of the city, between the Danube River and a onetime branch called Old Danube, an area known as Vienna International Center. Six imposing and rather generic-looking Y-shaped office towers anchor the UN institutions based here. The area, which is also home to a business district and several skyscrapers, can be accessed easily by the U1 subway line. Location.
#26 - Domenig-Haus (1975-79)
Günther Domenig (1934-2012) was a well-known and protean architect in Austria. His most famous work, the former Z-Bank building on Vienna’s Favoritenstrasse in District 10, blends brutalist, high-tech, and postmodern elements. The exposed concrete skeleton and structural parts are clad in an expressive facade of stainless steel plates that evoke a human face. "Long before the convoluted computer architects started using parametric tools to give their lame design a boost, Domenig had not only designed the first three dimensional facade, but actually built it, too," wrote his famous contemporary, Wolf D. Prix, upon Domenig's death. The lower floors are occupied by a restaurant today and can be visited. Location.
#27 - Hans Hollein designs in the City Center (1960s-90s)
Austria’s foremost postmodern architect, Hans Hollein (1934-2014) won the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel, in 1985. For his “wit and eclectic gusto that draws upon the traditions of the New World as readily as upon those of the Old,” argued the committee. To unpack the meaning of this, visit Hollein’s works near one another in Vienna’s city center. The futuristic storefront of the small Retti candle store (1965), located on the upscale Kohlmarkt shopping street (#12), consists of a shiny aluminum cover juxtaposed against an opening shaped like an Ionic column. Find more storefronts along these lines at #7 Kohlmarkt, and #26 and #31 Graben. Hollein’s most controversial work is the Haas House (1990), a strangely shaped commercial building covered in reflective glass and trying to outdo the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral across from it. Location.
#28 - Hundertwasser House (1983-85)
A favorite of tourists, the Hundertwasserhaus is a bombastic block of public housing in Vienna’s District 3. The designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), belonged to the generation that was disillusioned by modernist architecture and its predictably clean, rational, geometric, standardized, sleek shapes (“the straight line is godless,” he said). The Hundertwasser House is none of those things. This idiosyncratic building with 52 residential apartments consists of irregular shapes, harsh colors, undulating floors, distorted decorations. Trees are everywhere; they grow on the roof and stick out of the apartments (Hundertwasser was an early proponent of environmentalism). The building is often criticized for being kitsch, but you should be the judge of that. A few blocks away there’s a Hundertwasser Museum inside the Kunst Haus Wien, which was also designed by him. Location.
#29 - Rooftop Remodeling Falkestrasse (1987-88)
This strange object on the rooftop of a historical building in Vienna’s city center is one for true architecture geeks: in 1988, Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelblau designed what was among the first completed works of the deconstructivist style. This type of architecture became popular with the buildings of Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry and is known for its strangely angular shapes, as if built from fragments and made to be intentionally uncomfortable. This is the case with Prix’s steel-and-glass rooftop extension, made for the offices of a local law firm. Unfortunately, not much of it can be seen from the street level, but at least you know it’s up there. More photos. Location.
#30 - Collegium Hungaricum (1996-98)
László Rajk was a leading postmodern architect in Hungary, best known for designing the wild and weird Lehet Market in Budapest. His building for the Hungarian Institute of Culture, located in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt (District 2), is another eccentric and playful work. Rajk was primarily a set designer and the building looks as if it belongs to the theater stage: The squashed windows, the impossibly curving facade, the overblown shapes, the bright red, and those strange metal objects exude a sense of impermanence. Location.
#31 - Museums Quarter (1998-2001)
Vienna’s Museums Quarter is an exemplary case of giving new meaning to a historical building complex that has lost its original purpose. In 2001, the Baroque imperial horse stable was transformed into a cultural hub of modern museums, with two newly erected buildings, one for the Leopold, the other for the mumok. In addition to these anchor institutions, the area also features cafes, a bookstore, a children’s museum, an architecture center, and artists’ residencies. It’s a popular hangout of local residents. Location.
#32 - Sofitel Vienna (2010)
A work by a Pritzker-winning architect always merits attention, but Jean Nouvel’s glass-walled skyscraper in Vienna looks more generic than some of the French master’s other buildings. Located in Leopoldstadt (District 2), right on the bank of the Danube canal, the structure is home to the 182-room, five-star Sofitel (SO/ Vienna). The most striking feature of the hotel is the jaw-dropping 360-degree views from Das Loft, the restaurant and bar perched on its top floor. Location.
#33 - Library and Learning Center – Vienna University of Economics (2008-13)
The new campus of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, located in District 2 next to the Prater park, was commissioned by six prominent international architecture firms. At the heart of it stands Zaha Hadid’s Library and Learning Center. Fans will quickly recognize her effortlessly fluid, dynamic shapes, especially that of the tilted black concrete box that cantilevers over the public plaza and contains the library. The inside – sleek and white and curvilinear – brings to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim and a luxury cruise ship. Hadid was no stranger to Vienna: for years, she taught an architecture masterclass at the University of Applied Arts. Location.