Viennese nightlife offers something for everyone. You can dance into the morning hours, hear a concert, attend an opera or festival, go to the theater, gamble, or simply sit and talk over a drink at a local tavern.
The best source of information about the cultural scene is Wien Monatsprogramm, which is distributed free at tourist information offices and at many hotel reception desks. On Thursdays, Die Presse, the Viennese daily, publishes the major cultural events for the coming week. It's in German but might still be helpful to you.
The Viennese are not known for discounting their cultural presentations. However, Wien Monatsprogramm lists outlets where you can purchase tickets in advance, cutting down the surcharge imposed by travel agencies, usually by about 22%. If you're not a student and don't want to go bankrupt to see a performance at the Staatsoper or the Burgtheater, you can purchase standing-room tickets at a cost of about 5€ ($8).
Students under 27 with valid IDs are eligible for many discounts. The Burgtheater, Akademietheater, and Staatsoper sell student tickets for just 10€ ($16) the night of the performance. Theaters routinely grant students about 20% off the regular ticket price.
Vienna is the home of four major symphony orchestras, including the world-acclaimed Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic. In addition to the ÖRF Symphony Orchestra and the Niederöster-reichische Tonkünstler, there are dozens of others, ranging from smaller orchestras to chamber orchestras.
The Performing Arts
Music is at the heart of Vienna's cultural life. This has been true for centuries, and the city continues to lure composers, librettists, musicians, and music lovers. You can find places to enjoy everything from chamber music and pop to waltzes and jazz. You'll find small discos and large concert halls, as well as musical theaters. If you tire of aural entertainment, you'll find no shortage of theater, from classical to avant-garde. We describe just a few of the better-known spots for cultural recreation; if you're in Vienna long enough, you'll find many other delights on your own.
A Note on Evening Dress -- Vienna is still not as informal as North America or the rest of Europe. Many people dress well for concerts and theaters. For especially festive occasions -- such as opera premieres, receptions, and balls -- tails or dinner jackets and evening dresses still appear. Younger people and visitors, however, no longer adhere to these customs. If you want to dress up, you can rent evening wear (as well as carnival costumes) from several places. Consult the telephone directory classified section (similar to the Yellow Pages in the United States) under "Kleiderleihanstalten."
The Toughest Ticket in Town -- Reservations and information for the Weiner Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), Volksoper, Burgtheater (National Theater), and Akademietheater can be obtained by contacting Österreichische Bundestheater (Austrian Federal Theaters), the office that coordinates reservations and information for all four state theaters (tel. 01/5144-42959; www.bundestheater.at). Call Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm. Note: The number is often busy; it's easier to get information and order tickets online. The major season is September to June, with more limited presentations in summer. Many tickets are issued to subscribers before the box office opens. For all four theaters, box-office sales are made only 1 month before each performance at the Bundestheaterkasse, Goethegasse 1 (tel. 01/51-44-40), open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 2pm, and Sunday and holidays 9am to noon. Credit card sales can be arranged by telephone within 6 days of a performance by calling tel. 01/513-1513 Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am to noon. Tickets for all performances, including the opera, are also available by writing to the Österreichischer Bundestheaterverband, Goethegasse 1, A-1010 Vienna, from points outside Vienna. Orders must be received at least 3 weeks in advance of the performance to be booked, but do not send money through the mail.
Note: The single most oft-repeated complaint of music lovers in Vienna is about the lack of available tickets to many highly desirable musical performances. If the suggestions above don't produce the desired tickets, you could consult a ticket broker. Their surcharge usually won't exceed 25%, except for exceptionally rare tickets, when that surcharge might be doubled or tripled. One of the most reputable agencies is Liener Brünn (tel. 01/533-09-61), which might make tickets available months in advance or as little as a few hours before the anticipated event.
As a final resort, remember that the concierges of virtually every upscale hotel in Vienna long ago learned sophisticated tricks for acquiring hard-to-come-by tickets. (A gratuity of at least 10€/$16 might work wonders and will be expected anyway for the phoning this task will entail. You'll pay a hefty surcharge as well.)
The Sound of Music -- Almost immediately after the orchestra of the Wiener Hofburgtheater (the Vienna court theater) began offering symphonic concerts on March 28, 1842, the Wiener Philharmoniker attracted lavish accolades. By 1845, the French composer Hector Berlioz had already declared that the orchestra "may have its equal, but it certainly has no superior." In 1863, Richard Wagner gushed, "I heard expressive and tonal beauty, which no other orchestra has offered me." Twelve years later, Verdi described the Wiener Philharmoniker as "a wonderful orchestra." Anton Bruckner, himself regarded as "God's musician," exclaimed that the musicians "played like gods;" and Leonard Bernstein thought their excellence came from the fact that "they perform totally out of love."
Vienna's Own Playwright -- If your German is passable, try to see a play by Arthur Schnitzler. The mild-mannered playwright, who died in 1931, was the quintessential Viennese writer. Through his works he gave the imperial city the charm and style more often associated with Paris. Whenever possible, we attend a revival of one of his plays, such as Einsame Weg (The Solitary Path) or Professor Bernhardi. Our favorite is Reigen, on which the film La Ronde was based. The Theater in der Josefstadt often performs Schnitzler's plays.
The Bar Scene
Vienna's blossoming bar scene centers on the Bermuda Triangle, an area roughly bordered by Judengasse, Seitenstättengasse Rabensteig, and Franz-Josefs-Kai. You'll find everything from intimate watering holes to large bars with live music, a sample of which we review. The closest U-Bahn stop is Schwedenplatz.
Beurigen, or wine taverns, on the outskirts of Vienna have long been celebrated in operetta, film, and song. Grinzing is the most-visited district; other heurigen neighborhoods include Sievering, Neustift, and Heiligenstadt.
Grinzing lies at the edge of the Vienna Woods, a short distance northwest of the center. Much of Grinzing looks the way it did when Beethoven lived nearby. It's a district of crooked old streets and houses, with thick walls surrounding inner courtyards where grape arbors shelter wine drinkers. The sound of zithers and accordions lasts long into the summer night.
If you're a motorist, don't drive to the heurigen. Police patrols are very strict, and you may not drive with more than 0.8% alcohol in your bloodstream. It's much better to take public transportation. Most heurigen are within 30 to 40 minutes of downtown.
Take tram no. 1 to Schottentor, and change there for tram no. 38 to Grinzing, no. 41 to Neustift, or no. 38 to Sievering (which is also accessible by bus no. 39A). Heiligenstadt is the last stop on U-Bahn line U4.
The Third Man Lives -- At Burg Kino, Opernring 19 (tel. 01/587-8406; www.burgkino.at), the theater marquee still features English-language presentations of The Third Man, with the names of the stars, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, in lights. When it was first released, the postwar Viennese were horrified at the depiction of their city as a "rat-infested rubble heap." Over decades, they have come to love the film, which this cinema shows twice a week. Many young Viennese, as well as visitors from abroad, flock to screenings (in English) on Friday at 10:45pm, Sunday at 3:30pm, and Tuesday 4:15pm. Tickets cost 6€ to 8€ ($9.60-$13). U-Bahn: Karlsplatz.