A youthful spirit is sweeping through Vienna, revamping its traditional pleasures and adding a whole new level of cool.

By Eimear Lynch
April 17, 2016
Credit: Gebhart de Koekkoek

Most travelers come to Vienna for its old-world architectural glories, music, and history of fin de siècle intellectualism. But there’s a bracingly young side of the city, too, particularly in the fourth district—which locals call Wieden—just a short stroll from Belvedere Castle. The newfound buzz comes largely from an influx of students, including aspiring artists and architects. “It has been a favorite of authors and intellectuals for a few years,” says Helena Hartlauer, a Vienna native who works with the tourism board. “There’s a mix of this older group and young students, which has made it dynamic, unusual, and harmonic.”

Credit: Gebhart de Koekkoek

The neighborhood’s appeal starts with its shops, a departure from normally conservative Viennese fashion. Flo Vintage sells jumpsuits and sparkly frocks, and Jutta Pregenzer’s cocoon coats and chartreuse sweaters feel like the core of a cool architect’s wardrobe. Elfenkleid carries trapeze dresses and floaty wedding gowns; Samstag stocks drapey tops, bright silk scarves, and a men’s-wear line by the store’s owners. Up the road, ceramist Sandra Haischberger fires up delicate bowls, vases, and plates at Feinedinge, her workshop-cum-store.

There’s one element of old-school Vienna that no amount of modernity can erode: the tradition of spending hours bent over a newspaper at a café. In the fourth district, Café Goldegg (dishes $2–$5) is an Art Nouveau institution with a retro haze (indoor smoking is still allowed in Austria). And the food, from cakes to cheeseburgers, is better than what you’d get at similar spots in the center of town. For the coffee and cycling fanatic, Radlager pours a strong brew and sells vintage Italian racing bikes. A few minutes away, Guerilla Bakery is a Scandi-style café that opened in January, run by three sisters who spent years selling quiches and cheesecake cupcakes around town.

Credit: Gebhart de Koekkoek

Wieden’s quotidian charm inspired Theresia Kohlmayr and a group of young architects to launch the Grätzlhotel (doubles from $131), a collection of 18 shop fronts converted into stand-alone hotel rooms. The unusual concept, which launched in this neighborhood and has since expanded to two other areas, is the best combination of a hotel and an Airbnb: you pick up keys and grab a glass of crisp Austrian white at a “reception”—which could be a café, restaurant, or Grätzlhotel office—then settle into a “room” that had a former life as a small business, perhaps a bakery or a lamp shop. “Every tourist sees the same things in the center of town,” Kohlmayr explains, “but in the fourth district you can see how Viennese really live.”