Why You'll Want to Visit Vienna Right Now
Vienna’s breathtaking beauty, delicious cakes and rich cultural legacy make it an ideal European travel destination.
While sipping on a mélange (Vienna’s version of the cappuccino) and nibbling on sacher-torte at Café Sacher, a visit to see Gustav Klimt’s the “Kiss” at the Belvedere, and a night at the famed Vienna State Opera and a nightcap at Loos Bar are all good ways to see the Austrian capital, there’s also an emerging scene filled with food, fun, fashion, and art.
“It’s not only living on its past glory, but actually representing what the city stands for now,” said Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, artistic director of the international art fair viennacontemporary.
For eight years in a row, the Austrian capital — known as Wien in the local German — earned the top spot on the Annual Mercer Quality of Life Survey. Although the city of 1.8 million people is no longer the glimmering cultural capital that it was in the early 1900s, creatives are flocking there now thanks to its high quality of life, abundance of culture, carefully manicured cityscape, and low cost of living.
“It’s a really crucial point,” said Marianne Dobner, who recently returned to Vienna to serve as a curator at the Museum Moderner Art (Mumok). “More young artists are coming back. It’s cheaper.”
Alongside the requisite Vienna tourist stops, get a taste of the new Vienna through its people and places. Take in a cup of artisanal coffee while experiencing modern Viennese café culture at rien, catch one of the city’s many rising artists at its new galleries, and find items in its boutiques by one of the young fashion designers from the city. Maybe you’ll catch the next Klimt or listen to the next Mozart.
The New Café Culture
In its heyday, Viennese coffee house culture offered space — for those who had time to sip coffee — to socialize, read newspapers, and work. The likes of Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt were among the patrons of Vienna’s coffee houses. Rien, creative director’s Philipp Haufler's modern take on Viennese café culture located in Michaelerplatz in the former Café Griensteidl offers new renditions of traditional items like the Sachertorte, which is shaped like a rectangle and more moist than the original, as well as artisanal cocktails made with foraged finds — all with views of Hofburg Palace.
“You can come Tuesday through Sunday and get coffee, cake, and at the evening, there's a restaurant and a bar, and then we are open for everything like reading, discussions, music, concerts,” said Haufler. Jonas Reindl and Café Le Marché are among the other modern-day Vienna coffee houses.
They say that Alpine cows produce the best milk, and that means amazing ice cream. An ice cream renaissance is taking place in Vienna: Eis Greissler, which features odd flavors like asparagus alongside typical ones like chocolate and hazelnut, likes to say that its ice cream goes from “cow to cone.” For vegans, there’s the organic Veganista, with sorbets like raspberry and calamansi, a small citrus fruit from Asia, as well as carrot cake and the more traditional cookies and cream.
Habibi & Hawara
Habibi & Hawara isn’t just a tasty restaurant that serves up sumptuous shawarma and flavorful falafel. The eatery treats both its guests and employees with respect, no matter what their race, religion or gender and it employs approximately a dozen Syrian refugees.
Stefanie Herkner, the daughter of one of Austria’s most famous chefs in the 1970s and ‘80s, Heinz Herkner decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. The younger Herkner is the chef and restaurateur behind the charming 4th District eatery Zur Herknerin, which serves up authentic Austrian home cooking and attracts local artists, musicians and art dealers. For a main course or dessert, in the warmer months try the marillenknödel (apricot dumplings), and when the weather cools, go for the zwetschgenknödel (plum dumplings).
Krypt isn’t actually a burial place or a chapel, as its name would imply, but it is Vienna’s hottest lounge of the moment, where design and art fuse together. Venture down the stairs and see artwork by a range of Austrian artists including Alex Ruthner, who has a large-scale abstract painting behind the bar, and Constantin Luser, whose delicate wire sculptures adorn a corridor. Mingle with Viennese creatives while sipping on cocktails like the Bunny Daiquiri, made with Bacardi, fresh lime, sugar and organic carrot juice, and the Salty Boulevard Sour, a mix of Orange Bourbon Four Roses, a chianti reduction, fresh lemon and saltwater.
When it comes to the coolest nightclubs, Berlin has Berghain, and Vienna has Grelle Forelle. “Any party is only as much fun as the people that attend,” said a spokesperson for the club. “We have no reservations, no bottle service, no VIP treatment for anyone. We tolerate no intolerance of any kind.” Dance all night to sets by the likes of renowned DJs like techno legend Richie Hawtin and performances by edgy acts such as Mykki Blanco.
Vienna is the capital of cake, and no trip to Vienna is complete without indulging in one of the confections at Demel. Try the Punschkrapfen, a small cube with nougat, rum and apricot jam coated with pink icing, or the Annatorte, a chocolate and nougat delight. For something a little more modern, pay a visit to Guerilla Bakery, where the three Vorarlberg sisters make lemon cake, brownies, oreo balls and more from their own Austrian wheat flour.
Although Vienna isn’t a fashion capital like London, Milan or Paris, there's no lack of design talent in the city. Fashion bigwigs like Karl Lagerfeld, Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Vivienne Westwood gravitated towards Vienna for teaching gigs at the University of Applied Arts. Emerging fashion designers from the city include Mira Rosenhek, the designer behind the handbag line R.Verve, the Milan-based Arthur Arbesser, and the Berlin-based Marina Hoermanseder, and the established Helga Schania and Hermann Fankhauser of Wendy&Jim.
Named after a now-shuttered indie fashion magazine, Peng! is a carefully curated retail shop-cum-fashion archive that carries a range of clothing from vintage Raf Simons to last season’s Arthur Arbesser to 1990s 8-ball leather jackets. Looking for a unique Vienna souvenir? Go for one of Peng!’s Wien sweatshirts, which displays the city’s German name in the front, and a map on the back.
Carmen & Antonia
Graphic designer and interior designer Kornelija Ersoy and Andrea von Bonin partnered up to open Carmen & Antonia, a concept store in the 8th District that features everything from jewelry to dog toys to home accessories.
St. Charles Apotheke
While the pharmacy of St. Charles Apotheke opened in 1886, in recent years this famous beauty and grooming destination has also added Saint Charles Cosmothecary across the street, selling organic cosmetics, and an Alimentary (inn) with a spa on the first floor. Discover the house line’s natural herbal remedies — which treat everything from fatigue to depression to insomnia, as well as its own soaps and moisturizers.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s artists like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele cemented Vienna’s prominent place in art history. Today, an emerging scene continues Vienna’s artistic tradition. Among the artists to watch are Bernhard Buhmann, whose bright paintings fuse abstraction and surrealism; Philip Mueller, who paints fantastical scenarios and imagery; Constantin Luser, whose work ranges from intricate drawings to large interactive sculptures made with musical instruments; Charlotte Klobassa, who experiments with linear abstraction; and Flora Hauser, who uses pencil on canvas in her monochromatic works.
Nearly a dozen art galleries have popped up in Vienna over the past two years, including Galerie Nathalie Halgand, located across from the famous Naschmarkt; One Work Gallery, which actually displays one piece at a time; and Galerie Lisa Kandlhofer. To see them all at one place, pay a visit to the city’s annual art fair, viennacontemporary, which takes place every September.
Art in the Park
The Theseus Temple, a 19th-century structure modeled after Greek temples, tucked away in the middle of the rose garden the Volksgarten park, features an annual exhibition by a contemporary artist — Kathleen Ryan, Ugo Rondinone, and Susan Philipsz have all installed work there in the past — that’s part of the city’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Reaktor, located in a former turn-of-the-century ballroom in the 17th District, offers a multidisciplinary stage for art, music, film, literature and dance. Expect to see a smorgasbord of cultural offerings, from contemporary classical music concerts to festivals and indie films.