Both Madrid and Vienna are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Madrid and Vienna, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
The erstwhile epicentre of the great Habsburg empire, Vienna, is just as grand and glorious as you might expect. The Hofburg palace spreads is vast Baroque wings in the heart of the town, framing manicured gardens topped with equestrian statues. There's the Belvedere, a patchwork of orangeries and old court rooms. There are opera houses and theatre rooms and the elegant façades of the Schönbrunn. It's enough to keep the camera a-clicking for several days.
But Vienna isn't only about 18th-centry grandeur. This is a lived-in European capital. It's got gritty nightlife districts that offer up beating boat bars on the Danube. It's got handsome parks packed with pine forests and duck ponds. There are vibrant markets with food from all around the globe. And you've got one of the world's most active café cultures, with coffee shops where the likes of Freud and Trotsky were once regulars.
Which city would I go to? Madrid
Which one would I recommend to my parents?Krakow
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?Madrid
Which for my food obsessed friend? Madrid
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Vienna is big and brimmingwith sights. History buffs and culture vultures will want at least three or four days to check off the bucket-list attractions. That's because the mainstay palaces and the most immersive museums each deserve at least half a day to themselves. You'll also need some time to wander the Old Town area and hop the famous Viennese cafés.
If you're eager to explore all of the facets of Vienna, then you'll certainly need much longer than just your average city break. Whole weeks can be spent enjoying the buzzy squares and the statue-filled parklands. What's more, there are day trips aplenty in the region, ranging from the pine forests of the Wienerwald to the rising foothills of the Salzburger Alps.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
Vienna in the summer can't be beaten. When the sun shines, the city's parks and bars come alive. The best weather is usually between June and August, but beware that things can get hot and humid, with temperatures cranking up over 30 Celsius. The good news is that there are some strands and swimming spots along the Danube for cooling off. If you prefer things a little milder, May and September are usually also dry and warm.
On the flip side, Vienna in winter is a real wonderland. The Austrian capital hosts some of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Europe. You'll find those brewing up hot chocolates and mulled wine on Rathausplatz and in the grounds of the Schloss Schönbrunn. They get into full swing in December, when it's common to get dustings of snow and sub-zero temperatures – boots and woollies will be required.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Packing in handsome palaces, Austrian beer houses, Alpine forests, cool cafés, art-filled galleries, and a buzzy nightlife, Vienna satisfies all sorts of travelers. You can easily fill whole trips in the museums alone. Days can be whiled away flitting between coffee shops. Nights can be spent in opera shows or glugging frothy beers in hipster bars.
Don't go thinking that Vienna is the great Austrian outdoors. This might be the country of the Alps, but the mountains are still at least an hour's train ride to the west. What's more, there's not a beach in sight. The best that landlocked Central Europe can offer in the way of sand and water is a few artificial swimming areas along the River Danube.
48hours in Vienna
So, you only have two days in the Austrian capital? Get ready for an itinerary that's packed to bursting with all sorts. From Neo-Classical Habsburg mansions to strolls on the Danube canals to mornings in buzzy market areas, there's something for a whole host of traveler types in these parts.
Day 1: Morning on the Heldenplatz. This manicured urban garden is one of the most iconic squares in Vienna. The huge equestrian statue of Archduke Charles of Austria is what will probably catch the eye but remember that the plaza was also the place where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. Nearby, the Hofburg stands proud.
On a quick, two-day itinerary, it's probably best not to delve inside. The exhibits can easily take hours on end, though it's a must if you're a lover of 18th-century European history. Take your photos of the mighty Neo-Classical exterior and then move straight to the streets to the west. They herald the Innere Stadt (the Old Town) of Vienna. Cobbled lanes and little archways form a maze here that's lovely to get lost in. A lunch stop (read: strudel stop) at Café Central is a doozy. Gold-leafed ceilings and elegant royal portraits gild the interior, though the main draw is sitting where Freud and Trotsky once sat sipping their coffees.
Later on, head north around the ring roads to the Sigmund Freud Museum. It's a fine introduction to the life and works of the founder of psychoanalysis, with the original doctor's couch that his patients would sit on. Beeline straight to Prater when the evening closes in. You can get there on the underground, emerging into Vienna's famous inner-city theme part with its twirling Ferris wheel and fairground attractions.
The Prater amusement park with its traditional rides and the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel
Day 2: The early hours on the Naschmarkt offer some of the best people watching in the city. Fruit sellers call out prices while locals chow down on pretzels and white beer in the stalls. This vibrant bazaar is also the perfect place to grab any Viennese souvenirs and foodstuffs. A ubiquitous fix of palaces comes next. We'd recommend choosing one of the big two – the Belvedere Palace or the Schönbrunn. Both are stunning but the former is the easiest to get to. Both will also likely take a couple of hours, especially if you want to explore the sprawling grounds as well as the interior court rooms of the old Habsburg elite.
That will still leave some time in the afternoon to breeze over to the Danube Canal. Abuzz with boat bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, it can help balance out the culture with a little hedonism. The district of Leopoldstadt is right behind, replete with hipster coffee joints and cocktail emporiums. An alternative way to cap off your weekend could be a jaunt to the hills of the Vienna Woods (the Wienerwald). They offer lookouts – and gorgeous sunsets – above the capital just behind the area of Hütteldorf.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
Vienna is among the safest and most liveable cities in the world – at least if the stats are to be believed. Of course, you'll need to have your wits about you as if you were traveling anywhere. Pickpocketing, fake tour guides, and taxi scams do occur, though they aren't common as in other European capitals.
The best arrival point for those flying is Vienna International Airport. It's a well-equipped, modern port on the south-eastern side of the capital. Direct S-Bahn trains link the centre to the terminals, or you can hop on the premium Railjet from Vienna Hauptbahnhof. There's also a shuttle link provided by AirportLines Bus, costing €13 per person, return.
Picking hotels in Vienna can sometimes be a tricky business. First-time visitors can't go wrong if they aim to stay in the Old Town (the Innere Stadt), but rooms there can be pricy and sell out fast. Good alternatives include the hip and happening district of Leopoldstadt (great for dining with a youthful vibe) and any of the blocks that come off Naschmarkt.