Vienna… An Alternative Guide
Austria’s largest city brings to mind grand opera houses, stately homes and traditional, hearty food. It’s not always known for its alternative scene, so knowing where to find something a bit different can be tough! But beneath the tourist traps, Alternative Vienna has loads going on to tempt the authentic traveller in search of a culture fix – we asked our friends from the city to recommend their top eating, shopping and sightseeing spots, and here’s what we found out…
People watch at Café Rüdigerhof
Located only a stone’s throw from landmark market “Naschmarkt”, but away from the swathes of shoppers, this is just the place where you’d happily spend an hour or two people-watching, reading, updating your blog…. mingling with students and retirees alike. Come here to enjoy the delicious Viennese coffee (this city is known for its coffee houses). And of course the hearty central European meals which you can sample here, such as roasted Knödel with eggs – kind of like a dumpling-based omelette. Or, you could treat yourself to a real Wiener Schnitzel. Hungover or not, both are definitely worth a try!
Celebrate canalside art at Werk
The Werk, which has been around for 11 years this summer (they celebrate every anniversary with a weekend-long open-air festival called “Kunst am Kanal” – “Art by the canal”), is an alternative cultural centre on the banks of the Danube canal, housed under the arches of a former railway station. Home to a variety of club nights, gigs, book launches, art exhibitions, film screenings, theatre productions and other performances, the Werk is known for its industrial, improvised setting which sets it apart from other more polished venues nearby. You’ll be able to catch the crème de la crème of the electronic underground scene here, as local DJs hone their skills live on the turntables.
Explore the MAK (Museum of Applied Art)
The “Museum für Angewandte Kunst” or MAK has been at forefront of the art scene ever since its inception in 1864, when it was founded as the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry. Contrary to what its old name implies, from the beginning the institution actually championed and developed an art collection made up by local people, rather than taking donations from wealthy aristocrats or the former empire. This set the gallary apart from its contemporaries, which were more closely aligned with traditional notions of art – what it was, and how it should be represented. The MAK strove to open the art world up to regular people, as well as craftspeople involved in the production of goods. It currently houses Glass, Ceramics, Textiles and Carpets collections amongst many others. It is also home to the Vienna Biennale, this year’s festival focusing on “Robots. Work. Our Future”.
Entry is free from 6-10pm every Tuesday, and on any day if you’re under 19. It’s also free on the Austrian National Day (26th October). If you’re under 19 you are actually eligible for free admission to tons of other museums including the MAK, but also the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art), the Austrian National Library, the Museum of Natural History or the Museum of Technology, just to name a few.
Take an alternative walking tour at the Academy of Fine Arts
Every year for a couple of days in January, the Academy of Fine Arts (“Akademie der Bildenden Künste”) open its doors to everyone interested in having a nosy around the interior of one of the oldest art schools in Europe (it was founded in 1692). The Academy of Fine Arts was also at the heart of the Austrian student education protests of 2009 when students and teachers alike occupied the main auditorium, campaigning against tuition fees.
During the open days you can explore the collections and galleries that belong the university, but also have the unique chance to snoop around the historical classrooms and workshops. It gives an insight into the daily goings-on and work in progress, whilst allowing you to chat with other visitors, lecturers and students (of whom about half are from abroad) and join in the dialogue. Enjoy being a fly on the wall in one of the most influential art academies of the European continent, which has been shaping generations of art movements for more than 300 years. Performances, concerts, talks, guided walks and and other entertainment are open to everyone.
Spend an afternoon wine hiking on the “Heurigenpfad”
Easily accessible via public transport, there are three main routes which you can take to explore the romantic region near the Wienerwald, famed for its local wines. Every autumn the hiking trail attracts even more city-dwellers than usual to venture out of the city to enjoy the breath-taking views over the city of Vienna, when the local winemakers open their cellars and backyard cafés to participate in the “Wiener Weinwandertage”.
With at least 17 family businesses along the path participating, there will be plenty of opportunities to try traditional delicacies and sweet desserts, and of course plenty of the noble drop of the season. Contrary to the ordinary cafés you will find all over the city centre, the people running the “Heurigen” are locals who do not own a licence to run a commercial business, but, thanks to Kaiser Joseph II, are allowed to sell home-made wine, schnapps, juices, and cold snacks to hikers and day-trippers passing their homes on the trail.
The Stammersdorfer Kellergasse (literally “cellar alley”) can be reached by taking the subway U6 or the tram to Floridsdorf, then catching the Bus 228 to Kellergasse where you can start one of the most popular sections of the wine hike trail.
Kick start your collection at Rave Up Records
You will find plenty of record stores in this city of vinyl lovers and DJs, but there’s one at Hofmühlgasse 1 (near the U-Bahn station“Pilgramgasse”) that’s particularly worthwhile – particularly if you’re only around for a short while but don’t want to miss the opportunity of stocking up your collection (or maybe now is the time to start one?!) with a couple of good finds.
Allegedly inspired by East London’s Rough Trade, this “specialist independent shop for all styles”(as it reads on the green-and-black shopfront), has been around since the late 80s and is still run by the same visionary couple, Doris and Werner “Shorty” Schartmüller. On the one hand, they’re making sure that no one’s going to forget about Iggy Pop and Co, and on the other they’re supplying Vienna’s music fanatics with all the LPs, CDs, 12 and 7inches you or your pre-digital age siblings/parents could dream of. From old-fashioned musical rarities to the hottest albums off the press, and certainly not restricting themselves to the European or North American continents, the range is impressive.
If Noisey/Vice – everyone’s favourite hipster music journalism mag – writes about this 30-year-old gem, Rave Up’s many devotees must have a point. Apparently even alternative rock giants Sonic Youth and the Melvins have paid Rave Up a visit in the past… If you’re a vinyl afficianado, it’s the perfect place to wile away a rainy afternoon.
Relax by the banks of the Danube Canal
Whether you just want to listen to that new album you just bought (…given you brought that old record player of yours with you), mingle with the city’s students between seminars, plan the next day of sightseeing with your friends or wander around discovering awesome street art (time to get your cameras out), the banks of the Danube canal linking the city to the famous river, will let you do any or all of these. Bonus: you can do so without having to purchase any hot drinks or pay an entrance fee…
Want to explore our alternative hot spots in Vienna? Why not include it in an Eastern European adventure. Many of our most popular packages hit this spectacular capital – including the Iron Curtain, the Eastern Trooper and Islandbound packages.
Words by Anna Wilts || Edits by Catherine Livesley