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Vienna or Stockholm a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Vienna and Stockholm are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Stockholm and Vienna, hopefully making your choice that little easier.

The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
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?)

Introduction to Vienna and Stockholm

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.

Magical, mystical Stockholm spreads over a speckling of islets surrounded by the icy Baltic Sea. At its centre is the fairy-tale Gamla Stan. Cobbled lanes wiggle and writhe around medieval rowhouses in those parts, opening onto a kitschy plaza filled with gingerbread cafés and grand Neo-Classical palaces.
Next door is happening Södermalm, a lived-in quarter with hipster meatball dives and ethnic eateries. Then there are Norrmalm and Östermalm, where amazing museums meet shopping strips and food halls.

Reputation has it that Stockholm isn't cheap. And it's true, this Scandi capital will set you back a bunch. But try not to let that put you off. There are rewards for loosening the purse strings, from days of fika (cosy coffee breaks) to encounters with ABBA the band to experiencing the buzz of a city that's at once modern and historic.

Vienna vs Stockholm: City Ratings

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Vienna
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Vienna
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Vienna
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Vienna
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!

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Stockholm is a perfect city break spot. Two or three days is a great amount of time to while away between the historic Gamla Stan and the museums of Östermalm. What's more, planning a fly-in, fly-out jaunt has never been easier. There are no fewer than four airports serving the town, from big Stockholm-Arlanda to low-cost favourite Skavsta Airport. The advantage? It should be a cinch to find affordable connections in and out, say 72 hours apart.

If you've got a little more time to spare, then use it. Stockholm has secrets that aren't on the main tourist menu. For example, you could venture out to the rugged islands of the outer Stockholm Archipelago. They're for sailing, swimming, fishing, and wandering quaint villages. There are also the Viking relics of Birka and the idyllic forests and lake lands of Bornsjön. All those will require more than just a weekend.

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.

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.

Wrap up warm if you're heading north in the winter months. Stockholm is a cold capital, but it comes with hefty sides of festive charm. At Christmas, you'll find lovely markets on Stortorget square in the middle of the Gamla Stan, the scents of mulled wine and hot chocolate floating up through the pastel-painted guild mansions. On the flip side, November to March also means uber-short days (think sunset as early as 3pm!) and lots of rain and snowfall.

If you prefer a dose of Vitamin D, consider the white nights of summer. It doesn't get dark until well into the evening between June and August. What's more, the weather is usually warm and mild, with daily averages in the low 20s. Of course, this is also the most popular time to come, so expect hotel rates to be inflated.

If you're a fan of culture-brimming capitals and enchanting old towns, then Stockholm is sure to impress. Whole days of wandering between waterside parks, centuries-old terraces, cobbled squares and stooped taverns are on the menu. And so are visits to places like the Vasa Museum, with its 17th-century Swedish warship pulled up from the deep.

In addition to all that, districts like Södermalm are there to entertain the foodie and the art lover. It's a vibrant mix of multicultural cafés and restaurants. On one corner you'll see a Bahian curry stall, on the next you'll catch a Lebanese rice kitchen. And that's not even mentioning the wealth of fair-trade coffee shops and roasteries that make an appearance.
It's also quite pricy, so we'd recommend anyone on a budget to steer well clear.

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.

Prater amusement park Vienna

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.

48hours in Stockholm
Let's get stuck into Stockholm with this curated 48-hour itinerary. It whisks you from the aged heart of the town to some of its lived-in outer areas, and passes acclaimed museums and eateries as it goes…

Day 1: Hop out at Gamla Stan station in the early morning. Doing that puts you right at the meeting point of the Free Walking Tour Stockholm. Their trips typically take around two hours from start to finish, but they're a fine intro to all the secrets and monuments of the amazing district.

You'll probably encounter the bustling shopping thoroughfare of Stora Nygatan, the narrow alley of Prästgatan, and the handsome Stortorget square, all topped off with the stunning Royal Palace of Stockholm to learn about the boundary-breaking monarchy of Sweden. Once it's finished, be sure to stroll down cobbled Österlånggatan between the toyshops and Nordic taverns.

Have something to eat there and then move south across the water to Södermalm. One of the first things you'll encounter is the Katarina Elevator, with its high lookout points gazing across the old town. A few blocks to the south and you'll be in SoFo. This is the hipster hub of the city. If you can get a place, be sure to dine at quirky Meatballs for the People – expect modern twists on Scandi staples. If not, there are oodles of ramen places and Indian joints to boot.

Stockholm 5

Stockholm 5

Day 2: Breakfast at the Hötorgshallen. A colossal, two-floor food court, it's bursting with pretzels, smoked-salmon outlets, New Yorker delis, and more. It's also on the edge of Norrmalm's chic shopping area. Wander that to see designer outlets galore before emerging onto the salt-washed quays around Berzelii Park.

From there, you'll be able to see the forested island of Djurgården – your next destination. It's a short walk, with a few riverside cafes like the Sjöcafeet to enjoy en route. Then you delve straight into the Vasa Museum. Simply not to be missed, it's a chart-topper of Stockholm. The whole exhibit revolves around a mighty warship that sunk in Stockholm harbour just minutes after launching in the 17th century.

If time allows, ABBA the Museum is also next door, complete with glitzy pop paraphernalia and the piano on which some of the band's hit tracks were written. Behind all that is the vast open-air museum come park of Skansen. It's got living history that'll transport you back to medieval Sweden, along with a fun funicular train ride and even enclosures with brown bears.

Stockholm has four individual airports. Stockholm-Arlanda is the largest. That's where you're likely to land on long-haul connections. The direct Flygbussarna transfer can get you back and forth in just 45 minutes, but there's also express rail straight to the terminal.

Skavsta Airport is a hub for low-cost carriers like Ryanair and is linked to the city by private coach transfers (travel time: 1.2 hours). Bromma Airport is mainly for domestic links and also has buses straight to the city. Finally, there's Västerås Airport. Over 60 miles to the west, it's popular for Sweden-UK flights. A coach transfer there takes around 80 minutes in total.

If you're struggling on deciding where to stay in Stockholm, look no further than the northern quarters of Södermalm. That's a good balance between affordability, convenience, and proximity to the Gamla Stan. Of course, there are also hotels in the middle of the old town, but you'll usually need to fork out more for the immersion.

Stockholm is one of the safest capital cities in Europe, though problems are not unheard of. There are still pickpockets and muggings but stay sensible and calm and they are very unlikely to affect your trip. The most common places to fall victim to these sorts of crimes are on the subway, in the Gamla Stan, and in busy food halls..

Never stand on the cycle lane in Stockholm. Getting around on two wheels is an important mode of commuting for many locals. They don't take kindly to folk who get in their way!

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.

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