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Vienna often conjures images of men in Mozart wigs, palaces, baroque architecture, fin-de-siècle cafés, and patisseries—in short, a city frozen in time and defined by its past. Of course, the rich historical context is plain to see, but there’s also the new Vienna, creeping in around the edges in many neighborhoods, if you know where to look.
The largest metropolis in Austria is getting both younger and more diverse, giving rise to a collection of polished ethnic-inspired restaurants and avant-garde clothing, homeware designers, stunning accommodations—you can stay at sumptuous five-star luxury hotels, like the Ritz Carlton, for a fraction of what they cost in London or Paris—and recreational activities to fill your summer weekends.
Part of experiencing the shifting culture is by focusing on everything the city has to offer—such as the beaches and vineyards within the city limits. It’s no wonder that Vienna has, for the last nine years, topped global lists as the metropolis with the best quality of life.
Here’s our guide to the new Vienna: no opera, dancing Lipizzaner horses, or Wiener schnitzel required.
Where to Go
Veer off the imperial path and start at The Sigmund Freud Museum—which has a bit of a hipster vibe and is a monument to the father of psychoanalysis. In this very personal space, visitors coming to Sigmund Freud’s apartment enter by ringing a bell, just as a patient actually going to the shrink would. There’s an original waiting room as well as the largest psychoanalysis library in all of Europe. The gift shop is quirky, like the museum, and sells items like chocolate bars with a wrapper reading “chocolate therapy.” Visit soon because the museum will close in 2019 for renovations.
The World Museum, also known as the Weltmuseum, reopened in the fall of 2017 and received a rebranding from its previous incarnation as the Museum of Ethnology. One of the most important museums of ethnology in the world, The World Museum, located in Hofburg Palace, houses over 200,000 ethnographic objects, along with an extensive film collection documenting the life and practices of non-Europeans. If you're visiting, plan accordingly because the museum is closed on Wednesdays.
The Museumquartier has everything related to modern Viennese culture. Here you’ll find an entire complex dedicated to the arts, much of it contemporary. One the largest cultural quarters in the world, it houses the mumok (Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art), the Leopold Museum, which showcases the collector Dr. Rudolf Leopold’s extensive collection of Austrian Modern Art, a state of the art center for dance, new media studios, and the Architecture Center of Vienna. And if you aren’t a culture vulture, you can still soak in everything around you by lounging on the famous MQ seating—couch-like pieces that have won design awards—and have your Viennese drink of choice (coffee or wine).
Driving towards Danube Island, which is still within the Vienna city limits, you may see a sign that reads “Vienna de Jenairo – Copa Beach.” This isn’t a joke. The Danube River offers something for everyone: swimming, wakeboarding, and sailing. The Gänsehäufel area has miles of beaches, a wave, pool, and playgrounds—all great for families. (Warning: this is Europe so there’s a nudist area.) Danube Island is often referred to as the “Viennese leisure paradise” with over 20 miles of beachfront that includes ample space to sit and watch football games (there was a big screen brought out for the World Cup), run, bike, swim, eat, and boat. Even better, you can get to all of this on Vienna’s über-civilized public transportation system the U-bahn.
Another distinction of Vienna: it’s the only world capital producing significant amounts of wine—and very good vintages at that—within its city limits. (Take that, San Francisco.) So head out to some of the 1,730 acres of vineyards, which mostly produce white varieties, to drink and eat at a traditional Viennese “Heurige.” Locals recommend Heuriger Hirt and Heuriger Sirbu. Make sure to check the opening times (many don’t start serving until 3 p.m. and while food is offered, it is often cold dishes).
Where to Stay
Located right on the iconic Ringstrasse, The Ritz Carlton, which started the rise of major luxury hotel brands coming to Vienna (The Park Hyatt followed in 2014), is a bit more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city on a tree-lined street next to Stadtpark. While the hotel was constructed out of four 19th-century palaces, the property has a sleek vibe with many modern amenities, including a pool with underwater music; the only spa in Vienna that uses the Austrian beauty guru, Susanne Kaufmann products, which are all manufactured in Austria; and a 21st-century steakhousee, Dstrikt, where much of the menu is local. The service is impeccable—the former palace walls inspire a kind of royal treatment. But if you need any convincing that Vienna is young, hip, and international venture no further, on any night of the week, to the hotel’s Atmosphere Roof Bar. It offers, arguably, the best view in the city for a look at the new Vienna in action.
Housed in the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Bank, the renovation of which took several years and was completed in 2014, was the debut of the Hyatt brand in Vienna. The property has been able to mix old and new with style, sophistication, and a distinct Viennese cosmopolitan edge. The rooms are palatial by Viennese standards and no luxury has been spared. The hotel’s main restaurant, The Bank Brasserie & Bar, serves inspired cuisine but also classics in a beautiful space with soaring ceilings and intricate moldings. Downstairs, in the bank’s vault, is the Arany spa. There, guests are treated to gold-infused body treatments (gold has anti-inflammatory properties) as well as top-of-the-line deep tissue massages.
Where to Shop
On first glance, Vienna doesn’t scream hip Korean clothing, but We Bandits, which was started by Viennese fashion designer Sophie Pollak, has most of their clothes made and designed in South Korea. Pollak started with pop-up stores in Vienna, and they became so popular that three years ago she opened an airy space in one of Vienna’s main shopping areas. Most of the dresses are one size—liberation!—and are some of the most flattering garments anywhere and come at pretty reasonable price points (most of the items in the store are under 300 euros), to boot.
Downstairs from We Bandits is one of the eyeglass company Viu’s two stores in Vienna. The brand marries Swiss design and Italian manufacturing—a very good match—for a line of chic frames that do not break the bank. Viu’s handcrafted eyewear is lightweight and made from a premium-grade acetate that is 70% cotton.
Ceramic boutique feinedinge* will make you want to Instagram everything. Their vibrant palette of boundless tableware are irresistible—yes, they ship to the U.S—and is an homage to minimal design and high-intensity beauty.
Amicis Women, which opened three years ago, carries a very well-curated selection of the big league luxury brands: Chanel, Hermès, Isabel Marant, Valentino, and Lanvin, to name a few. The glistening department store has a first level devoted only to bags. There’s a separate men’s store, as well as a boutique called Amicis Deuxième that carries more street wear labels.
Lederleitner, a next-level home goods store exclusive to Vienna, focuses on high-quality French and European brands. They sell an eclectic and sophisticated mix of everything from well-made (and well-priced) leather goods to sheets and towels to understated fragrances. Started as a garden store, Lederleitner is selling the good life—something the Viennese know everything about.
Where to Eat
You could spend a lifetime exploring Vienna’s famed coffee house culture. Which is the “best” is a matter of huge debate among the Viennese (think along the lines of pizza for New Yorkers). Narrow it down, however, and head Vollpension, which has a distinct social mission. The café hires people on state pensions (which are decreasing) to make and serve those famous Viennese pastries. Added benefits: the café culture combats isolation among the older population and fosters intergenerational connection. If the social cause isn’t enough, go for their worth-every-calorie apricot cheesecake.
The best way to eat breaded, fried meat in Vienna may not be schnitzel on a plate, but rather in a bao bun—a doughy Asian bread—at figar Bao.Bun. Opened last year, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it restaurant serves everything from fried chicken to seared salmon in these fluffy buns. But you don’t have to choose just get a flight of three for 9 euros.
Modern Austrian cuisine is a term that is used a lot in Vienna. Liebsteinsky, an appealing bistro on a tree-lined street across from The Ritz Carlton, is executing this of-the-moment concept quite well. They serve everything from Wiener schnitzel to chicken liver pâté, and tuna tataki to truffle risotto with grated goose liver. With mostly locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant pulls off this wide flavor and cuisine profile quite well. Liebsteinsky is a testament to how Austrians are in close competition with the French in the bread and rosé categories.
Miznon is an Israeli street food restaurant right in the historic center of the city. The creation of Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani, the homey, open kitchen restaurant is known for its roasted cauliflower pita. But don’t miss the fava beans or the caramelized banana pita with chocolate.
Café Ansari is a buzzy Georgian restaurant with outdoor seating and a sleek bar that serves the Eastern European country’s staples. Think mouthwatering khachupuri (pastry bread with mozzarella filling) and a braised lamb. Or go for their multicultural breakfast with Oriental, Georgian, and Viennese options.