Travel
2 min

City Guide: Vienna

‘City of Waltzes’ retains the elegance of centuries past

Vienna skyline. Credit: DerFalk VonFreyburg

Vienna is a monumental city filled with churches, museums, concert halls, and government buildings of such a massive scale that you can’t help but recall this city was once the center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now the capital of the rather small Austria it seems a bit oversized, but has regained a part of its former importance by hosting the offices of some international organizations, such as the United Nations and OPEC.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, famous for pushing the Ottomans from the gates of Vienna and back to the Balkans during the course of several wars, was well known in his lifetime to prefer same-sex intimacies. His mark remains at his summer palace, the Schloss Belvedere — now the Austrian Gallery — with collections of paintings by Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka.

This year Vienna celebrates the 150th birthday of Gustav Klimt. A pioneer of the Modernist painting style, Klimt spent most of his life in Vienna and is best known for The Kiss, currently on display at the Belvedere. Almost 200 of his drawings are on exhibit at the Albertina museum.

Vienna flourished during the reign of Emperor Charles VI, father of Maria Theresia, who wrote of his intimate relationship of 19 years with Count Michael Johann Althan III. During these years the Church of St Charles Borromeo (Karlskirche) was built, along with numerous grandiose baroque structures by prominent architects. Schönbrunn Palace and the Hofburg were also enlarged.

The Museumsquartier (or MQ), a playground for art-lovers, is home to the Leopold Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Kunsthalle Wien exhibit center, and many artists’ residences and studios. It’s also full of restaurants, cafes and bars wiith distinctive lounge chairs.

Although not as famous as those in Berlin or Paris, the gay scene here sizzles and goes late into the night. There are dozens of major events every year, including film festivals, circuit parties, bear gatherings, and, of course, the Rainbow Parade each June.

Much of the gay scene of club, bars and restaurants, is clustered just south-west of the ring road surrounding the historic city center, around Pilgramgasse, Neubaugasse, Museumsquartier and Karlsplatz subway or U-bahn stations.

The best way to see the city is to traverse the Ringstrasse, the street that encircles the oldest part of the city. Streetcars Number 1 and Number 2 run here in opposite directions. There’s also the U-Bahn subway system that runs like clockwork.  

Make sure to see the Kunst Historisches Museum, the stately fine arts museum with its unmatched collection of pieces by Breughel, Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens. Among the best historical structures is the Schönbrunn Palace, where you can explore the history of the Habsburg rulers.

Art and culture have long traditions in Vienna, including theatre, opera, classical music and fine arts. The Burgtheater, the Akademietheater, Volkstheater Wien, and the Theater in der Josefstadt are nobtable examples. Many smaller theaters are less mainstream, with modern experimental productions and cabaret.

Vienna opera houses include the Theater an der Wien, the Staatsoper, and the Volksoper, presenting Viennese operettas. The Wiener Musikverein, home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Wiener Konzerthaus, have concerts of classical music. The works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss can be heard at various venues around town including the Liechtenstein Museum. Mozart became a celebrated composer here, with a wide circle of friends, giving concerts at the houses of the Viennese nobility. His last surviving residence (1784 to 1787) is open to the public at Domgasse 5. This grand apartment was home during his happiest years, when he wrote his most popular opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

August through November the Vienna Boys Choir sings each Friday afternoons and some Saturdays at MuTh, Vienna’s new music and theater venue; also Sundays at Hofburgkapelle, the Hofburg Chapel, during Mass at the Imperial Palace.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Vienna, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.