I remember my first trip to Vienna in the early-1990’s very vividly. The first word that crossed my mind was ‘grand’. Vienna is indeed a grand city. From the magnificent Hofburg to the splendorous Schönbrunn Palace, the regal Spanish Riding School and the stately Belvedere and Albertina museums, Vienna oozes grandeur and pomp. The Viennese wore that brand on their sleeves, exuding pride and deeply-rooted traditions. Walking down the streets then (as a travelling student), I felt slightly out of place as I looked around at the well-dressed Viennese. There were no signs of ‘scruffy’, well, until I passed a shop window and saw my reflection.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019. It could have been the weather – it was sweltering – but I sensed a different vibe in Vienna. The imposing monuments in the city’s historic centre still grab your attention but this time, I noticed a youthful vibrancy in the streets, especially in the neighbourhoods fringing the city centre. The hipster vibe was unmistakable. There were cool, design shops, edgy cafés, minimalist restaurants and lots of street art, from elaborate murals to colourful graffiti.
Not exactly hipster central in Vienna, the Museum Quarter is a hot-spot for the city’s youngsters who congregate here on summer evenings to laze on the enzi’s (design chaise lounges), mingle with friends and frolic in the pools. This was a world away from my original impressions of Vienna: waltzes, schnitzel, Klimt and Mozart.
I noticed the same youthful vibe along the quayside of the Danube Canal. There were numerous ‘beach’ cafés, trendy restaurants and clubs. Locals dressed in shorts and tees sat around at the quayside cafés, chilling with a beer or a cocktail, whilst others enjoyed a boisterous meal on the restaurant boats. There was a funky buzz in the air that I’d not felt during my previous visits to Vienna.
Mariahilf (6th District) and Neubau (7th District)
That funky buzz became more tangible as I strolled around Vienna’s Sixth and Seventh Districts on either side of the Mariahilferstrasse. Whereas the Mariahilferstrasse is packed with the usual European high street brands, the side streets of this main shopping boulevard are packed with hipster fashion and design stores. Colourful façades, intriguing new design concepts and a vibrant alfresco scene form a fascinating contrast to the staid atmosphere in the historic city centre.
Near Mariahilferstraase, I explored the Neubau neighbourhood (Seventh District), and discovered shops run by local designers, hip cafés and funky art galleries.
Landstrasse (3rd District)
Another trendy neighbourhood I explored was Landstrasse in the Third District. I started at the Rochusmarkt, a fresh goods market with a distinct, local vibe. The streets in this area such as Seidlgasse, Marxergasse and Löwengasse house a variety of edgy galleries, artsy coffee shops and local design stores.
Also located in this district is the Hundertwasserhaus, a colourful apartment block designed by the famous Austrian artist. There’s a little forest on the roof and an a ‘village’ of shops and cafés that’s worth a visit.
It was soon very clear to me that the contemporary urban scene in Vienna is alive and kicking, brimming with new ideas and concepts. I always thought of Vienna as a grand city with a rich cultural heritage, a city that was perhaps firmly-rooted in its glorious past. I’ve now discovered a vibrant, funky side to Vienna; one that’s characterised by youthful energy, artistic exuberance and cutting-edge concepts. Vienna has always been a city I would recommend to anyone. Now I have more reasons to do so.
Check out my walking tour of Vienna.
Note: a big thank you goes to the Vienna Tourism Board for hosting me in Vienna. As always, opinions expressed above are mine.