WARNING: This is not a lubby dubby post. I will be talking about the tourist traps in Vienna, their history and why I consider them tourist traps. It is not my intention to dissuade you from going and trying all the classic must-see and must eat in Vienna, my intention is simply to inform, so you get the more complete picture. I have some suggestions on what to do or where to go instead of these tourist traps. It would be a pity to come so far to get disappointed, ripped off or lose time on things not worth your attention.
First off, I wrote a full post on the getting to and from the Vienna airport and why the most suggested train is considered a Viennese tourist trap.
Is tourism helping develop tourist traps in Vienna?
Vienna has been a center for tourists and visitors for centuries. Because of its geographical position and political power, Vienna became a meeting melting pot of goods, cultures, ethnicities, and ideas. With trading routes between West and East, North to South of Europe meeting in Vienna and an ambitious royal family that married into all the royal families in Europe Vienna was always a host for tourists and immigrants alike.
Vienna was the capital for Croats, Slovenes, Bavarians, Austrians, Chezhs, Slovacks, Hungarians where many had to go to get educated or earn a decent living… With that and all the lavish (diplomatic) parties and many visitors year-round, Viennese have had a lot of practice in the hospitality business.
Lots of tourist traps in Vienna are about overpaying for entrance tickets, hidden costs, clever marketing tricks, and overhyped overpriced restaurants. Individuals trying to rip you off in Vienna are a bit less common.
I lived in Paris and I have to say, individual scams are easier to avoid than the ones hidden in plain sight.
- Tourists often do not file complaints when they fall into a tourist trap – since you do not know what is standard service in the country.
- Visitors normally come only once, so dishonest businesses do not lose out on future business. Good service is less relevant.
What you can always do is share your stories online, in the comments of travel blogs like this one and talk to people in the tourist office after a bad experience. They cannot fix the situation if they do not know what is happening. It is up to all of us to make the tourism industry safer and better.
Avoid money-sucking tourist traps in Vienna
Vienna City Card
Vienna City Card is heavily promoted to tourists in Vienna, however, it is very hard to justify the price tag. Most discounts are places to shop and eat, and they aren’t really the best of Vienna, that most people come to see.
It looks like this card helps you spend more money than you would have otherwise, with eating at and shopping in touristy overpriced locations. You still have to pay all entrance fees, they are just 2-3 EUR cheaper.
The biggest draw here is free public transport, which is cheaper, if you take a standard daily pass, single tickets or 24, 48h… pass.
Most of my family and friends got the standard passes that came to visit and we paid for entrance fees separately.
If your hotel is close to the city center, you will most likely not use public transport much. Why? Most of the tourist attractions are hurdled in the 1 district – city center, which is pedestrian-only and small enough that it does not have public transport (just one minibus that people do not know about and 1 underground station).
Check prices and options on the Wiener Linien page (English and German).
Vienna PASS – is it a tourist scam or not?
On the other hand, I would not quite call the Vienna Pass a tourist trap. I do think it is a good idea if you are short on time and want to visit many museums, but for some, it still not worth it. This pass does give free entrances to most museums you would consider visiting and hop on hop off bus, which can be a really nice experience.
Will you take full advantage of the pass? Probably not. Time is limited to 1, 2 or 3 days and you need quite some stamina to visit the major museums. Count at least 2-3 h per museum, and at least a half-day at the Schonbrun Palace/gardens complex.
Rude waiters in traditional coffee houses
As much as this is traditional and what most tourists want to experience when they come to Vienna, a lot of staff could be rude, especially when foreigners are around. A sure sign you are dealing with one of those is when they tell you/inform you that you need to tip them, possibly tip them very well. That this is a custom in Vienna. This is rubbish and a properly trained server will never ask for a tip. A tip is used as a sign of good service and is not required. Actually, when this happened to me (after speaking German to them) the service was meh to average.
What you need to know is that this behavior is not reserved for tourists only. With the history of Vienna being what it is, it can also come with a lot of attitude, aloofness and stiffer upper lip. Not the in bougie luxe style, just bougie and you are either in or out. Participating in the restaurant theater or not.
You could also be experiencing the “Wiener Schmäh”. It’s common especially in more traditional places and it’s described as an attitude, and form of speech which is a mix of ambivalence, crudeness, irony, resourcefulness, exaggeration, black humor and acceptance, sensibility and elegance on the other hand. It is more about how they say things vs. what is being said.
This might be especially staggering for American tourists or countries where hospitality means the customer is king, like Canada, Japan or Thailand. Customer in Austria is a customer, you will be looked after, but the role of a king was already taken.
With that said, there is plenty of kind, caring and just plain wonderful staff as well that are not tourist traps in Vienna.
Cafe Central and alike nowadays only cater to tourists and are nowadays tourist traps in Vienna.
Are Sacher Torte and Viener Schnitzel a tourist trap?
Sadly, the two most beloved tourist foods, and what most people come to try in Vienna are a bit of a tourist trap in Vienna in my books.
All the locals I have met aren’t really big fans of the famous Sacher Torte, at least not the original kind. People prefer to take an updated or modern recipe and make it themselves because this produces a moister cake.
Folks that came to visit and tried it were all disappointed. In their words: “This is it?” It really is a matter of taste, you might like it, you might not…
What to try instead
- Esterházy torte
- Linzer cookie: not a cake, obviously, but a yummy shortbread cookie, with apricot jam
- traditional and modern food in Vienna
- organic (made in Austria) ice-cream
Wiener schnitzel is in fact so famous because of the hype that tourists and one very business savvy restauranteur- Hans Figlmüller Sr. created in the 1980s. It is not that the dish didn’t exist before, it definitely did. But it wasn’t until a couple of American tourists ate at the Figlmüller restaurant in Vienna, wrote about it for the newspapers and the tourists after that kept asking for it, that the Schnitzel and the restaurant became widely popular and in demand. Read the whole story here.
For many accounts, the Figlmüller restaurant isn’t bad, but it does cater strictly to tourists (+long waiting lines).
What to try instead
- goulash: a stew
- traditional and modern food in Vienna
Imperial Treasury Vienna
In my experience, the Imperial Treasury, a part of the Habsburg Palace complex doesn’t quite live up to its name. This is mainly because there is very little there in terms of crown jewels, swords or other royal paraphernalia that is usually in Royal treasuries. I have been to the Royal treasury in the UK with gorgeous displays and rooms one could get lost in. The Habsburg doesn’t offer that and it is too small to offer value for money, compared to ether museums in Vienna.
This little royal cuisine mainly houses beautiful hand-embroidered and centuries-old Roman Catholic cloaks. There are also a couple of royal outfits and a very small number of jewels. The reason being is that the Austrian house of Habsburg took all most of the crown jewels and other valuable royal paraphernalia into their own private possession after WWI. For this reason, I consider this museum a part of tourist traps in Vienna and something to avoid if you are pressed for time.
If you are looking for exquisite hand embroidery from all over Europe, handcrafted, beautifully preserved, it is an amazing museum, better than the textile museum in Lyon, France in terms of condition and number.
Where to go instead:
- Kunsthistorisches Museum houses many ornamental objects that the royal houses collected during the centuries, as well as paintings
*A word on the horse carriage ride in Vienna
This last summer with scorching heat the horse were in bad shape. Rules and regulations for animal safety and care definitely do apply in Austria, but they were not written for 38 degrees Celsius weather, with some horses unable to hang out in the shade with the same working hours than in normal weather.
You can sign a petition for better regulations and working conditions for horses at Four Paws website. (German, English, Italian).
UPDATE: Petition is no longer available.
What to do instead
- rent a bike
- rent a scooter
Tourist trap Vienna: Heurigen
Now, to be absolutely clear, not every Heurigen is a tourist trap. The most original and authentic are the ones that open only in the early wine season, sell their new wine and close for the year. The next step up are lovely simple guesthouses, with simple hearty food and friendly service. But as with everything, there are also some places that cater to tourists only and will hire English (or Chinese, Japanese…) speaking staff, getting bus tours and such…
As a rule of thumb, if you want a less touristy destination, avoid the most convenient Heurigens around tram stops. Walk a bit farther along up or down a hill – it is a beautiful walk or try lesser know Heurigen locations in Sievering, Groß-Jedlersdorf, Stammersdorf or Perchtoldsdorf.
How tourists in Vienna are making themselves a disservice
What I see most commonly is visitors coming for a short time, hitting all the major tourist spots in Vienna, looking around, being in awe of the baroque architecture, take some photos, eat cake… And they do not really go inside the buildings, except in Cafe Central and Figlmüller (after a long wait).
There are a lot of things to see and learn, and experience in Vienna, but most people do not even scratch the surface.
To avoid tourist traps in Vienna try to let go of the romanticized ideas of Austria promoted by movies like Sound of Music and alike… There are tours and places catering to exactly these ideas and were purposefully created to fulfill this expectation.
Read more: Holistic facts about Vienna and 10 off the beaten path gems in Vienna.
Also, avoid all the classic tourist traps in Vienna, like scammy taxis or shady bars. For a more authentic experience of a market, avoid Naschmarkt (unless you are heading for the Saturday Naschmarkt flea market). If you are attending a concert or opera, I prefer Volkoper to Stadtoper, since the Stadtoper becomes a selfie stage in the breaks plus the atmosphere is much nicer. I often get a better deal on tickets for Vienna opera houses, without standing in line or standing the whole show. There aren’t many farmers markets left in Vienna, even for the locals.
Join any of these offbeat tours in Vienna. It will give you a more holistic image of the place.