aquarius

01 November 2014 Last updated
Search

Travel

Vienna: Overground shopping, underground rocking

Jazz clubs in converted subway stations and boutique fashion stores frequented by Lady Gaga. Louisa Wilkins discovers the funkier side of this European city

By Louisa Wilkins
1 Jun 2012 | 12:00 am
  • Vienna

    Vienna's new-age brand of Austrian culture is enticing a new breed of tourist to the city.

    Source:Supplied picture

The stunningly quaint Austrian capital city has a reputation for being a bit of a cultural hotspot. The Vienna State Opera is a central player on the opera circuit, with more than 50 world-class operas and ballets performed there throughout the year. There are numerous art galleries, including a permanent exhibition of work by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (most famous for his painting The Kiss), and the MuseumsQuartier (a space dedicated to museums and galleries), which hosts various multiple exhibitions every day of the year. As well as the art and opera sights, there are old baroque palaces to look around, gothic cathedrals to visit and some seriously interesting architecture to be impressed by.

However, there is another side to Vienna. A young, bustling, electric side - with a vibrant nightlife and an exciting fashion scene that is almost undetectable behind the classical cultural camouflage. It's still culture, but a different type -and this new-age brand of Austrian culture is enticing a new breed of tourist to the city, catapulting it to the number-two spot in this year's European Travellers' Choice Awards poll of the top European destinations.

Shop by day

Vienna's central shopping district offers up a feast of high-end department stores, quirky boutiques and - for the serious shoppers - obscenely expensive specialist shops.

Kärntner Straße, just off the cathedral square, is part of a shopping route known as ‘the Golden U', due to its shape. On this wide, pedestrianised cobbled street you can find everything from high-street brands, like Mango, to high-end brands, like Alexander McQueen. This side of the U also houses a huge department store, Steffl (www.steffl-vienna.at), with brands like Missoni and Michael Kors. Opposite, Swarovski's Vienna HQ (vienna.swarovski.com) dazzles with art installations and a Moët & Chandon bar.

Round the corner onto Graben (the bottom section of the U), and you're on an even wider pedestrianised zone, where you'll find endless touristy souvenirs, human statues and some traditionally Austrian stores, such as the famous Lobmeyr (lobmeyr.at) - think world-class crystal, tableware and chandeliers worth hundreds of thousands of dirhams.

At the end of the street, hang a left to go up Kohlmarkt (the second arm of the U) for Cartier, Tiffany and Burberry.

Head off the beaten track a little and you'll find row upon row of delightful boutique stores, such as Nina Peter (www.ninapeter.com), which stocks handmade gloves with studs, straps, open knuckles, the works... apparently, Lady Gaga is fond of these gloves. Nina Peter also creates covetable, unusual one-off handbags in various materials (including snakeskin and ostrich), of which Kate Moss is a fan.

Sticking to the (slightly outlandish) celeb-endorsed brands, British jewellery designer Stephen Webster, who is famous for his big, ornate rings, has a store in Vienna (www.stephenwebster.com), as does goldsmith and sculptor Andreas Eberharter (www.and-i.net), whose jewellery ranges have graced the skin of Beyoncé, Peaches Geldof and other famous types, but also offers includes ready-to-wear options for us mere mortals.

Needless to say, there's more to Vienna's shopping scene than cheap Mozart mugs and shockingly expensive lederhosen. To keep your energy levels up between splurges, the shopping districts are dotted with pavement cafés and restaurants spilling out onto the pedestrianised zones. 

Rock by night

While Vienna certainly caters to the classical music enthusiast, it also has some rare treats for other tastes. The newly opened Albertina Passage jazz and dinner club, located in a renovated subway station below the Vienna State Opera, offers a live jazz band and delicious Austrian grub, before transforming into a dance club, attracting Vienna's hip, young professionals in snazzy get-up, alongside the post-opera nightcap crowd in all their finery. For something more funky, the Rote Bar on the upper floor of the Volkstheater (volkstheater.at) has a dramatic atmosphere with red velvet curtains, chandeliers and local DJs once the theatre shows are done. For something even more grungy, award-winning club Flex (flex.at), housed in a derelict subway tunnel beside a canal, will take you back to your university days, with coat hooks on the wall, drinks in plastic cups and intense music. The music varies and you can see anything from live rock bands, to drum and bass DJs - the best advice for Flex is: don't wear heels and try not to take yourself (or your age) too seriously.

For a more chilled-out experience, Pratersauna (www.pratersauna.tv) is popular with those nostalgic for their raving roots; Auslage (auslage.co.at), which is a neon-lit haven for electro heads; or the retro-inspired Volksgarten Pavillon (www.pavillon.volksgarten.at), which is smack bang in the middle of a huge park and turns from quiet café during the day to cool, urban hang-out come nightfall. And when all else fails, the American-style Loos Bar (loosbar.at) in the centre of town is open much later than other bars.

The city's multitude of sausage stands (which serve sausages made out of chicken and veal, too) are open way past the normal bar/club closing times, and serve drinks as well as food, making them a popular after-party venue - there's something refreshing about eating a frankfurter at 3am at a street stall, surrounded by tuxedo-clad theatre-goers.

Not only is this lively city pretty safe, but it's also really convenient - within the city centre nothing is that far away that you can't walk to it. So, at the end of a long day of shopping and an even longer night of partying, a slow night-time stroll through emptied city streets - past grandiose old theatres, sleeping shopping districts, and memorial statues heavy with silence - is a perfect way to end a hectic, highly charged day on a calm, classically cultural note.

Five more things to do

1. Visit Bratislava
It's only 75 minutes by boat to the Slovakian capital and there are five trips back and forth each day. Tickets cost Dh280. www.twincityliner.com.

2. Eat ice cream
The Viennese love ice cream and there are Italian-run gelaterias all over town.

3. See the countryside
A few kilometres out of the city and you are in peaceful farming communities and vineyard country. Book a cycling tour to enjoy the pretty scenery and local delights. Visit viennaexplorer.com.

4. Visit a market
One of the best is the Naschmarkt, where you can wander through an intriguing flea market before heading to the abundant food market. Pick up gastro treats to bring home, or stop in at one of the market-side restaurants, serving everything from Vietnamese noodles to Viennese strudel.

5. Enjoy coffee culture
Take a moment to enjoy the Viennese tradition of a coffee, a cake and a glass of water, while you watch the world go by. For a list of cafés, visit www.wien.info.

Where to stay

Hotel Topazz is an old building restored into a new wonder, with a strong art deco flavour - each suite features an elipse-shaped window with cushions, a leather-padded door and other interesting design features. And it's only a two-minute stroll from the cathedral. Rooms start at Dh880 per night.
Visit www.hoteltopazz.com

Getting there

Emirates flies to Vienna twice per day. Single return tickets start at Dh2,460 for economy, or Dh11,100 for business class. Visit www.emirates.com.

By Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins