“How beautiful Vienna would be without all those Viennese,” quipped Austrian cabarettist Georg Kreisler. Today he would no doubt be pleased to know that his wish comes true every year when, for about two months, the Viennese escape the city for a Sommerfrische (vacation) in the Waldviertel or Salzkammergut. Or perhaps they disappear to some sun-bleached Italian or Croatian beach, desperate for a spot to spread their towel without encroaching on the family from Simmering lying next to them. All the while, their genial, leafy hometown is enjoyed to the fullest by appreciative tourists and the few locals who are smart enough to realize that summer is by far the best time of the year to be in Vienna.
Think of it: All the museums, restaurants and cafés you usually need to queue up for are deserted; finding a parking spot (even in the city center) is a piece of cake, and let’s be honest: Who needs a Greek sunset when you can sit out on the Gänsehäufel with a pint of Ottakringer in one hand and a greasy Käsekrainer in the other, watching the orb go down behind the magical scenery of the DC Tower? Bonus points for those who skip the paid (and usually more crowded) beaches and instead take the U-Bahn to Donauinsel, where you can enjoy a whole island free of charge – big enough that everyone can find their own Robinson Crusoe spot. Just be aware that some of the more remote parts of the island are FKK areas (Freikörperkultur, that is, nudist) and you might see things you’ll never forget.
Another still somewhat secret spot where you can leave your wallet at home is the Wienerberg: Hidden right next to busy Triester Straße lies a green paradise that many Viennese don’t know about. Next to strolling between trees and meadows there is even a not so small pond in the center of the area that is great for swimming on hot days. Please note that there is absolutely no infrastructure, so if you are planning a lazy day at the pond bring your own drinks and food.
You can also escape the heat at any of the countless Heurige in and around the city. Vienna is the only metropolis in the world that produces wine in quantities worth mentioning – there are 1,730 acres (about 600 hectares) of vineyards within the city limits – and every Viennese has their own favorite Heuriger to try this year’s selection. But best avoid the tourist traps where you’ll spend a small fortune for a cold schnitzel from the buffet. Two fantastic choices are Hengl-Haselbrunner and Obermann – the latter grows organic wine and had their moment of fame recently when Prince Charles dropped in for a weisser Spritzer.
Skinny jeans and sunglasses
But let’s face it: None of that will make your hipster heart rejoice, so let’s take a look at where the cool kids will be hanging out this summer. The epicenter of beards and skinny jeans will once again be the storied MQ (Museumsquartier), the enormous museum and cultural complex built in and around the former imperial stables. The main square will make you feel you’re on a town square in southern Italy, packed with young people from near and far, playing guitars and drinking cheap wine straight from the bottle next to little kids running through the fountains. If you want to listen to some great Austrian newcomer bands, don’t miss out on Popfest in late July (see below). But even if you don’t care much about the music, go for the scene: Buy a drink from one of the many stands and just enjoy the spectacle.
The Rathausplatz is a little more mainstream, and with a festival almost every week during the warm weather, you can’t really go wrong. Especially great is the open-air music film festival that runs from late June until September and is free of charge (as are all events on Rathausplatz). Also make sure to check out the various other open-air cinemas screening after dusk throughout the city.
But the list is endless: Eating ice cream on Schwedenplatz or drinking an Aperolspritz on the Donaukanal. Taking the last U-Bahn packed with people who, like you, don’t want to go home yet – even on a weekday. Talking to complete strangers and smiling – actually smiling! – at them. Whatever you end up doing and wherever your Jahreskarte (annual pass) takes you, step back, relax and relish the fact that you didn’t spend hours in a traffic jam to get here. And all the money you saved on flights and hotels, invested instead in a Gastgarten of your choice.
Vienna isn’t Madrid or Athens, where summer lasts forever and is taken for granted. Summer in Vienna is fragile, and we have to hold on to its beauty every precious day. While it can seem endless on a warm night overlooking the city, when light cotton and sandals are enough, and the drink in your hand is the perfect celebration of the moment, it can vanish again so quickly, into a gray mist of rain and cloud. These days are ours, and not to be missed.
Originally published in July 2017, updated in July 2019.
Summer in the City
The dog days are never dull in Vienna
Free of charge music festival dedicated to local bands in front of the spectacular Karlskirche. Highlights of this year’s line up will be performances by Vienna’s answer to Bob Dylan, Der Nino aus Wien, as well as Kaiser Franz Josef and Gustav. Next to the 60 bands, don’t miss out on the side program at Wien Museum.
July 25-28, Karlsplatz.
This large recreation area and nature preserve in the 10th district just off Triester Straße boasts 14 km of footpaths, numerous playgrounds and a large pond for swimming.
One of the few organic wine producers in Vienna, located far away from the city center. Due to the high altitude, Obermann is especially great for a visit on hot summer days when the air is much cooler up there.
19., Cobenzlgasse 102.
This family business has been serving wine for generations – stop by on Tuesdays for live musical performances.
19., Iglaseegasse 10
Filmfestival am Rathausplatz
The most spectacular spot to watch a movie in summer. Come early and/or bring a chair – seating is free of charge but limited. Also come hungry and taste your way through the countless food stands on the square.
June 29-September 1, Rathausplatz.