Austria’s cultured and charismatic capital Vienna is anything but one dimensional; the city changes with the seasons.
Winter brings jubilant Christmas markets and summer offers up delightful warm weather that entices locals to spend afternoons lounging in the city’s green spaces. An impressive array of annual events adds even more variety. Fortunately, however, some city must-dos, like whiling away an afternoon in one of town’s famed coffee houses, where everyone from Freud to Marx got their caffeine fill, can be enjoyed whatever the season.
Whether you want to see live music, sip a pint in a summer biergarten or just avoid the crowds, here’s our guide to the best time to visit Vienna.
High season: June-August; December
Best time for being outdoors
You’ll likely love summer in Vienna, seemingly everyone does – at times it can feel like the world has descended en masse on those warm days in high season. If you can put up with the crowds though, this really is a lovely time to be in the city, with the parks, vineyards, lakes and outdoor pools all perfect for a sunny afternoon. In the evening, a packed calendar of events, from film festivals to outdoor concerts, stir into life, and it feels like the whole city is out and about.
A second, shorter high season comes in December, when Christmas markets take over the city and festive holidaymakers spill in, on the hunt for (semi) unique gifts and the best gluhwein stands.
Shoulder season: September-November
Best time for taking in culture
Fall is a great time to be in the city, with less crowds, cheaper hotel prices and lingering good weather (especially in September and early October).
It’s also the time of year when the city puts on a show: the Wiesn, Vienna’s answer to Oktoberfest gets the party started in late September, Vienna Design Week brings the class in October and the city’s Comic Con, the top event for pop culture and gaming in Austria, arrives in November – expect to see a lot of impressive costumes on show.
Low season: January-May
Best time to avoid the crowds
If you want a Vienna experience that’s less chaotic, try the first part of the year. Many travelers retreat in the face of chilly temperatures, but the weather isn’t a problem in the city’s cosy coffee shops and fascinating museums, palaces and galleries. Tour the Schloss Belvedere without getting elbowed and get into any of the MuseumsQuartier’s museums without the lines. Getting a table at a restaurant of your choice is easier too (outside of Valentine's Day week, that is!).
A top tip is to remember that the always-popular Christmas markets and skating rinks continue through January, though with far fewer crowds than in December.
A new year and a new start, with few tourists. This is a time to enjoy the brisk breezes and fresh mornings of Vienna. Try ice skating on the temporary double-level(!) rink which remains standing following the festive season outside the City Hall on Rathausplatz – you can even try your hand at curling here. The city’s Christmas markets continue too, rebranded as “New Year’s Markets”, offering the same intriguing trinket stands and enticing food stalls, but without the over-the-top Christmas decorations.
Key events: New Year’s Markets, Vienna Ice Dream
Love is in the air in February, and Vienna is perfect for a romantic break. You’ll need to book restaurants well ahead of time if you want to dine with a special someone on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) because a lot of locals and visitors have the same idea.
If that meal goes well why not take your other half to the Opera Ball – one of the grandest dates of the year in Vienna. This annual ball at the Vienna State Opera opera house, which usually falls in mid-February and has been taking place for over 200 years, is a part of the city’s Carnival season, with various other parades and events taking place in the city.
Key events: Carnival, Opera Ball, Valentine’s Day, International Orchid Show
Visual arts take centre stage as winter transforms to spring in the Austrian capital and people begin to leave their heavy coats at home. Two key events are the Photo Wien show which displays the best in contemporary photography, and the noted Spark Art Fair at the Marx Halle, where you can catch the latest in modern art to purchase.
Key events: Spark Art Fair, Photo Wien
April sees a flurry of activity on the streets of Vienna as two key sporting events take over the city. In the Rathausplatz, and surrounding areas, cyclists show off their bikes as part of the Argus Bike Festival, with stalls and demos, as well as displays from BMXers and dirt bikers.
Later in the month, it’s the turn of the runners to take centre stage, as the city’s annual marathon takes place – taking part is like a sightseeing tour of the city, as runners pass all the key historic Habsburg sights on their extended circuit.
Key events: Argus Bike Festival, Vienna Marathon
Austrians love a beer and Vienna’s Bier Festival is a mainstay of the city’s events calendar. Biergardens are set up all over the city in May, and with the sun shining and temperatures rising, you’ll find much merriment taking place. For something more cultured, try the Vienna short film festival, Vienna Shorts, which has been going for two decades and provides a great platform for up-and-coming filmmakers.
Key events: Vienna Bier Festival, Vienna Shorts, Vienna Wine Festival
The first month of high season sees all kinds of cultural displays taking place, including the Vienna Festwochen, with shows covering theatre, art, dance, and everything in between, happening across the city. Also in June, the Vienna Jazz Festival provides a smooth soundtrack to the long summer nights, while street fashion lovers should check out the Fesch’Market, which gives space to new young designers in a large industrial space.
Key events: Vienna Festwochen, Vienna Jazz Festival, Danube Canal Festival, Fesch’Market
Cinema is huge in Vienna, and July’s warm evenings mean serious al fresco film festival action, with the Dotdotdot Short Film Festival, the Frame Out art film festival in MuseumsQuartier and the Town Hall Square Film Festival in Rathausplatz kicking off in July and running into September.
Cinephiles should also make time for a visit to the Austrian Film Museum, which is home to a collection of approximately 31,000 films, and hosts a handful of showings every day. Away from film, Popfest, a cool music festival, comes to town.
Key events: Frameout Film Festival, Dotdotdot Film Festival, Town Hall Square Film Festival, Popfest
In August, the hottest month in Vienna, the city can become excessively toasty and citizens cool off at the seasonal stranbads and lidos (beaches and pools) that open up from May until September. It’s a big Viennese tradition to hit the pool or river beach on hot weekends and the biggest and best is the remarkable Gansehaufel Island with mid-century architecture, space for thousands of bathers and a playpark for kids.
Key events: Seasonal Strandbads, Vienna Classic Days
By September, the students have started back at university and locals go back to work following summer vacation. Not everyone’s hard at work though: the Wiesn, Vienna’s answer to Oktoberfest, sees big-time beer drinking and oompah music round off the summer season.
Also in September is Waves, a brilliant little music festival which takes place at the WUK venue and showcases emerging talent and the best new bands from around Europe – it’s a place to discover the stars of the future.
Key events: Waves, Wiesen
History and design fans get their chance to experience the best Vienna has to offer in October with the annual Long Night of The Museums at the start of the month, with museums and galleries across the city open after dark and beckoning people in with music and other special treats. Alongside this, Vienna’s note-worthy Design Week is Europe’s largest and has been taking place since 2007. Expect talks, launches, displays and other surprises from across the worlds of graphic design, fashion, architecture and product design.
Key events: Vienna Design Week, Long Night of The Museums
November offers something for those who like their culture on the slightly nerdier end of the spectrum, with sci-fi nuts and comic fans gathering, usually in impressive costumes, at the city’s large-scale Comic Con event, where all kinds of leftfield films, TV, comics and books are celebrated. Music fans, meanwhile, will want to check out the Wien Modern Festival, where avant garde musicians and new composers are given the space to play their newest and boldest arrangements.
Key events: Comic Con, Wien Modern
Christmas time in Vienna means that Mitteleuropean staple that gets the tourists coming back every year. Yes, it’s the Christmas Market season; and Vienna has lots and lots of them, from the mainstream, like the village of stalls (lined with festive staples like wooden toys, bratwursts, gluhwein and marzipan) that takes over Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall, to the Spittelberg iteration, where stalls tend to focus on more artisan items, like jewellery. The city’s event calendar finishes with a bang as firework displays mark the coming of a new year.
Key events: Christmas Markets, New Year Fireworks
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