The magnificent past as the capital of the Empire comes alive in Vienna in a myriad of events where classical music takes centre stage. The year begins in luxury and romance with the ball season, a still-living tradition involving the crème de la société and all those who wish to be part of it.
But not all Viennese take part in princely balls and concerts of the highest artistic quality: the elegant Austrian capital shows its playful and fun-loving streak with large open-air parties, festivals of theatre, dance, contemporary music and visual arts that bring new cultural ferments to the fore and extravagant LGBT festivals and events that add a touch of colour and a message of tolerance and freedom.
The location of the city’s most important events is often the beautiful Rathausplatz, with the neo-Gothic City Hall as an atmospheric backdrop, but the city is peppered with smaller venues waiting to be discovered.
Here is the annual calendar of events in Vienna: take a look and start dreaming of your holiday in one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals.
To say Vienna and immediately think of the New Year’s Concert is an immediate association: it is the world’s most famous classical music concert, broadcast live on more than 90 television channels and capable of thrilling millions of viewers around the world with its music that is at times upbeat, at times intimate and meditative, but always 100% Austrian.
Attending the traditional New Year’s Eve concert played live by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein is no easy feat: the very expensive tickets are awarded through a lottery that must be registered for by February of the previous year.
At the same time as the peak of the ball season, another, much more popular and affordable event is held in Vienna: Fasching, the Viennese carnival. If the official balls are the image of elegant Vienna, somewhat reminiscent of the pageantry of the Austrian courts in the 19th century, Fasching is the expression of the crazy soul of today’s Viennese.
It is a festival of merriment with extravagant costumes and festivities not only for children, but also for adults, who on these days indulge in uninhibited fun. The highlight of the Viennese carnival is Faschingdienstag (Shrove Tuesday); the typical dessert is Faschingskrapfen, a krapfen filled with jam.
Among the major classical music festivals in Vienna, the first in chronological order is Heidelberger Frühling or Spring Festival: a prestigious festival with concerts in the Musikveiren and Konzerthaus usually held from late March to early April.
Osterklang is a historic festival of orchestral and chamber music, joined in more recent years by ballet, which has already passed the twenty-year mark. Theater an der Wien is the main festival venue, but some performances are held at the Konzerthaus and the Hofburg Chapel.
The highlight of the festival is the closing concert Springtime in Vienna by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Vienna Festival is not just a popular cultural festival: it is the cultural event that changed the image of the city. Founded in the 1950s to bring a Vienna shattered by years of Nazism and war back to the forefront of the cultural scene, it was immediately characterised as a festival open to avant-garde and new cultural ferments.
Today, this multidisciplinary festival of music, theatre, dance and art is one of the leading events in the Viennese cultural scene where ‘high’ culture coexists with countercultures and subcultures.
Vienna celebrates men’s burlesque with this young festival that has gathered a large following in just a few years. Unique in its kind, the Vienna Boylesque Festival offers a mix of glamorous shows, vaudeville theatre, cabaret, sensual and humorous performances that tantalize and surprise.
The programme includes boylesque and burlesque, acrobatic aerial dancing, pole dancing and live music.
Donauinsselfest is a huge open-air festival on a Danube island, with more than 200 live acts of rock, indie, pop, alternative, punk, hip hop, electronic, folk and revival music on 11 stages, all with free admission! Music is undoubtedly the star, but the programme also includes readings, cabaret shows, sports events and children’s activities.
Founded more than 30 years ago, the party on the Danube Island is now the top event of the Viennese summer, for young people and not only: in the last editions more than three million people attended this mega open-air party. If you are in Vienna during the three days of the festival, you can’t miss it!
Vienna’s Life Ball is one of the most important AIDS charity events in the world. For the Viennese, however, it is also a great occasion for entertainment: the opening gala is a party in the central Rathaus with performances by VIPs and celebrities from all over the world.
The red carpet is reserved for holders of the coveted ticket who agree to dress according to the dress code of the party, which has a different theme each year. The Great Gatsby could not have planned a better party.
In addition to the main event in the Rathaus, side events are organised on the days preceding or following it, all with the aim of raising funds and spreading awareness about AIDS and HIV.
Founded in 1994, Identities is Vienna’s Queer Film Festival, ten days of film screenings, meetings with authors, parties and free popcorn!
The festival’s speed of growth is impressive: the first editions each year registered 25% more spectators than the previous year. No wonder that today Identities is one of Austria’s most important film festivals.
The festival’s main venue is the splendid Filmcasino, considered the best arthouse cinema in Vienna and characterised by its 1950s-style architecture.
The Viennese Gay Pride is a 10-day festival that includes original and entertaining events such as guided tours of the Kunstistorischen Museum by drag queens ‘Tiefe Kümmernis’, a gay and lesbian brunch, film screenings, a gay party with traditional Austrian costumes, a parade of Austria’s best drag queens and the university’s Rainbow Tour.
The highlight of the event is the colourful Regenbogen Parade (Rainbow Parade) along the Ringstrasse, which ends with the ‘Pride Celebration’, a big party in the central Rathaus square, Vienna’s City Hall. The fun continues late into the night with numerous after parties dotted around the city.
Vienna, too, has its own major sporting event: the Vienna Marathon has been held every year since 1984 and in recent editions the number of runners from 125 different countries and a million spectators has risen to more than 40,000.
Everyone, regardless of their fitness level, can take part in this joyful event and experience an unforgettable day: in addition to the classic 42 km competitive marathon, one can register for a half marathon, a team marathon or a 10 km mini marathon.
Running events for children and young people aged 6 to 18 are also organised, as well as a rich programme of side events in the days leading up to the marathon.
Vienna’s ImPulTanz is one of the best international contemporary dance festivals. It is a must for all dance enthusiasts, but also highly recommended for those who want to approach this fascinating and difficult artistic discipline for the first time.
The five weeks of the festival are packed with events, including over 100 performances and 200 workshops, art installations, meetings, book presentations and other events dedicated to dance. No less interesting is the social party programme, with theme parties and DJ evenings to round off the festival days in style.
An important musical event of the summer is the Jazz Fest Wien, a festival dedicated to jazz, blues and soul sounds that does not disdain funk, pop, electronic or ethnic music. Performances are held at various venues around the city, including historic jazz clubs, prestigious theatres and open-air venues.
In Vienna in July and August, operas and operettas are not only performed in the theatre, but also on a big screen set up in the city’s liveliest square, the Rathausplatz.
The MusikFilm Festival is one of the most eagerly awaited events of the Viennese summer: large crowds gather on the square to watch performances by top singers and conductors, occasionally joined by performances by international rock, pop and jazz stars.
Adding to the conviviality of the event is the gastronomic offer, with stalls serving local and international delicacies.
The last big party of the Viennese summer is the Vienna Summerbreak Fest, a three-day celebration of club culture in the Austrian capital.
You can enter Vienna’s best clubs for free, ride the nightride, take part in the street parade and a trendy pool party.
It is rare for a festival organised by a political party to be highlighted in travel guides: one exception is the Volksstimmefest in Vienna, the summer festival of the Communist Party, which has invaded the Prater with music and art every year since 1945 between late August and early September.
In October, Lange Nacht der Museen, the white night of museums, takes place all over Austria. In Vienna, too, the city’s museums, from the most prestigious cultural institutions to small, little-known museums, stay open from late afternoon until one o’clock in the morning.
It is a unique opportunity to enjoy Vienna’s immense artistic heritage in a more festive atmosphere and perhaps discover some of the city’s hidden treasures. With a single ticket you can enter all the museums.
The Viennale is to Vienna what the Biennale is to Venice: it is the most important film event in Austria and one of the most important in German-speaking countries.
The programme includes more than 300 screenings over two weeks: the focus is on national and international premieres, but there are also retrospectives, documentaries and short films. More than 90,000 spectators, with a predominance of young people, attend the screenings each year, which are held in the most beautiful cinemas in the city centre.
The event that marks the Viennese music autumn is the Wien Modern Festival, a festival that starts at the end of October and continues uninterruptedly until the beginning of December. It is a very special festival, founded in the 1980s by the famous conductor Claudio Abbado, at that time music director of the Vienna State Opera, with the aim of revitalising the traditional music scene.
The first editions focused on the great composers of the 20th century, presenting the works of 36 composers from totally different cultural, geographical and political backgrounds. In the 2000s, the festival opened up to new disciplines, integrating music with visual installations, dance performances, film and video.
The temperatures drop and the days become shorter, but Vienna’s charm is not affected. In fact, the closer Christmas approaches, the more the city is at its best: it is Christkindlmarkt season.
Vienna’s most famous Christmas market is in the Rathausplatz: the square that all year round is in the spotlight of the most diverse events in December is festively illuminated and decorated with a Christmas theme. Traditional stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts and steaming mulled wine, perfect to warm up after a day of visiting museums and monuments.
The atmosphere is magical, but many tourists flock to the Rathausplatz market. If you are looking for a more intimate atmosphere or if you like the markets so much that you want to do an encore, explore the other Christmas markets scattered around the city.
For something fairytale-like, or for particularly important gifts, you can do your shopping at the Schönbrunn Palace Christmas market; if you want to mingle with the locals, browse the stalls of the Heiligenkreuzenhof market, located in a courtyard in Vienna’s old town.
Vienna is one of the best cities in Europe to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The centre of the capital becomes a huge party area where anyone can experience an unforgettable night.
You can join the crowds celebrating in the open air, on the Rathausplatz star of so many events or in front of St Stephen’s Cathedral, and wait for midnight and the inevitable fireworks display with dancing, singing and punch. Or you can enter the chic rooms and experience a New Year’s Eve like a prince by dancing in an elegant salon, just like the nobles of the 19th century. Or board a cruise ship and spend the hours until midnight admiring a splendid view.
Young people and party animals can continue the celebrations late into the night in one of the capital’s trendy clubs.
Here is the calendar of public holidays in Austria: