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Berlin or Vienna; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Berlin 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 article will provide our unbiased opinions of Vienna and Berlin, 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?)

Introduction to Berlin and Vienna

Big, bustling, boisterous Berlin. Welcome to the beating heart of modern Germany. A city at once steeped in dark histories and creative culture, it's a place to strut between the ruins of the Berlin Wall seeing subversive graffiti murals, or to sip craft beers within eyeshot of Checkpoint Charlie.

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.

High-level summary for Berlin and Vienna

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

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.

Berlin is one of those vibrant metropolises that always seems to have something extra up its sleeve. You could easily spend months here and not do everything you want. That's really a result of just how big it is – more than 3.5 million people call it home, and it's the largest city in Germany by a long shot.

That said, a weekend or a three-day break is often ample for a whirlwind tour of the capital's most iconic points of interest. Uber-efficient (no pun intended!) U-Bahn, tram, bus, and train links can help you hop from A to B with ease. But you'll also find that most of the mainstay attractions are close together, woven into the blocks of Mitte, Wedding and hipster East Central.

It's simple: Spring to summer for Berlin. From May to October, the locals of Berlin seem to come out of hibernation. The street-side cafes of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg get into full swing, with jazz evenings and long lunches fuelled by cold German beer the name of the game. What's more, this is when you'll find the lovely Tiergarten, the Mauer Park, and the Volkspark at their green and vibrant best. Those who prefer cooler days should stick to May and autumn. Those who like daytime highs in the low 30s can come in July and August.

If you prefer exploring European cities with mysterious mists and dustings of snow on the streets, not to mention way fewer tourists around, winter is also a top option. You'll need to wrap up for December, but Berlin will reward with enchanting Christmas markets at the Charlottenburg Palace and on Alexanderplatz.

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.

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.

If you're a city slicker with a soft spot for cool cafes (aka the coolest in Europe), great coffee, ethnic eateries, and urban vibes, then Berlin is arguably the place you should be for the rest of your life!

This is the epitome of a metropolis made up of individual neighbourhoods. Each has crafted its own unique character; some are hedonistic, others laid back and easy going, others packed with famous landmarks.
Those who want fresh air can escape to the Tiergarten and the beautiful Spreewald, but those are just supporting acts to the buzz of the downtown. It's not the place to be to attune yourself to nature, relax under the sun, or have swims in the sea.

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 Berlin
Does the perfect 48 hours in Berlin even exist? With so many museums and vibey neighbourhoods to get through, it's hard to pack the highlights of the German capital into just two days. Still, the Berlin itinerary below gives it a go, offering everything from ancient Greek artefacts to cool pavement drinkeries and more.

Day 1: Morning in Mitte. As its name implies (Mitte = Middle), it's the hub of Berlin. You can settle in for a refined breakfast in the hidden courtyards of the Hackescher Höfe. The area is brimming with independent boutique stores and elegant tearooms. A few steps to the south take you beneath the needle-like Berliner Fernsehturm. A relic of Communist times, it's home to the fastest elevators in the world, while the lookouts at the top have jaw-dropping panoramas of the city (tickets cost €16.50).

A quick people-watching session on bustling Alexanderplatz and then move west to Museum Island. Culture vultures should take their time here. The Pergamonmuseum is a real highlight, with its priceless Assyrian statues and even the blue-tiled gates of Babylon. A pitstop at the nearby German Historical Museum is one for those who want to unravel the tale of the nation, with particular highlights in the collections that chronicle the world wars of the 20th century.

From there, walk down Unter den Linden to encounter the main artery of Mitte. That takes you to the world-famous Brandenburg Gate, which stands next to the glass-domed Reichstag Building. A picnic lunch in the Tiergarten park can be followed by a sobering walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Past that is Checkpoint Charlie – a onetime gateway between East and West Berlin – and then the lively streets of Kreuzberg, with their ramen restaurants, jazz bars, and multicultural kitchens.

Oberbaum Bridge berlin

The mock gothic Oberbaum Bridge connects the eastern and western sides of Berlin and is prominent icon of the city’s unity.

Day 2: If you're lucky enough to escape a hangover courtesy of the Kreuzberg bars, then an early morning start in the area of Friedrichshain is in order. It's brimming with graffiti-scrawled coffee bars and breakfast joints.

On the south side of the district is the striking East Side Gallery. Once a bland concrete section of the Berlin Wall, it's now an artist's homage to the fall of the great divider in 1989. From there, go north to the green lawns of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Chilled and leafy, it's actually the oldest public garden in the capital. And it's got monuments to the Spanish Civil War next to volleyball courts and picnic tables.

Hugging that is the enchanting area of Prenzlauer Berg. This is the perfect place to end your 48 hours. It's not bursting with sights and attractions, but it's got a classic Berliner neighbourhood vibe. If you're unsure where to begin, check out Kulturbrauerei – an all-in-one complex of cinemas, theatres, clubs and beer halls.

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.

Getting around Berlin is a cinch. The capital has a super-efficient and well-linked public network of trams, trains and underground lines. You can purchase tickets at any S-Bahn or U-Bahn station, or at any establishment with a BVG sign. Daily and weekly passes for all public transportation are also available with slight reductions. A new smartphone app allows digital purchasing of tickets (search: FahrInfo Plus). All other tickets must be validated before use.

Violence of any sort in the capital is rare and police can be relied upon. Still, have your wits about you, especially if travelling through Berlin's lesser-known or rougher areas, like the ones bordering Kreuzberg, or the nightlife hubs of Alexanderplatz and Friedrichshain.

When it comes to searching for a hotel, there's a hard choice to be made. There are oodles of neighbourhoods here that are worthy of attention. It's really up to you to decide what you want. Generally speaking: Sightseers can't go wrong in Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are perfect for bar hoppers and foodies, and Neukölln offers something more local.

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