Alternative Vienna: What's New and Affordable in This Historic City

by  Oliver Robinson | Dec 3, 2014
Vienna / Alexpoison/iStock

There's a reason why Vienna is so often associated with greatness. It's long been a playground for leaders of all kinds -- at one point, Freud, Trotsky, Hitler, and Stalin would have all passed one another on the streets as young men -- while a host of 150-plus-year-old institutions line the grand Ringstrasse built in the second half of the 19th century.

In the past few years, though, the city's been modernizing with just as much glitz, and in the process has made space for a new breed of creativity to flourish. This is most notably characterized in the just-renovated Golden Quarter, an ambitious urban regeneration project that finished transforming the UNESCO-listed Innere Statdt into a vibrant hub just this year. In the backstreets here, you'll find a network of independent boutiques, laidback hangouts, and artist studios that are bringing a new sense of hipness to Vienna. Read on for a taste of the old and new, the ostentaious and the understated, in this city of contrasts.

In terms of gastronomy, Vienna twinkles with Michelin stars -- but for every high-end restaurant such as Konstantin FilippouRestaurant Vincent, or The Bank Restaurant at Park Hyatt Vienna, there are dozens of excellent affordable eateries tucked away in the city’s maze-like side streets. Café Drechsler boasts designer interiors courtesy of Joseph Conrad and serves up beloved breakfast and lunch specials in addition to excellent coffee (mains from €8.60 or about $11). Phil is a contemporary café, record shop, bar, and performance space all at once (breakfast around €6, some concerts free), while the buffet brunch at MiLL is a local institution (€17). Not a carnivore? Relatively affordable vegetarian restaurant Tian has recently been awarded a Michelin star.

Similarly, nightlife is no longer about the slick and sophisticated spots where Viennese Old Money sip smart cocktails. You'll find unique bars and nightclubs aplenty luring the city’s bright young things (and young at heart) -- whether it be techno club Pratersauna, brothel-turned-cocktail bar Puff, or canal-side "beach bar" Strandbar Herrmann. Or if you want to impress friends with your know-how, take them to Rote Bar, which hosts indie and electro nights behind an innocuous door on the side of the grandiose Volkstheater.

Yes, Vienna boasts some of Europe’s most revered cultural and artistic institutions, including the aforementioned Volkstheater, the Wiener Staatsoper opera house, and Augustinian Church. But it's also a thriving hub of contemporary art; aside from the fabulous Museum of Modern Art (otherwise known as "Mumok"), there are a slew of cutting-edge galleries dotted across town, featuring works by emerging and established artists from Austria and Europe as a whole. Many are based in Ankerbrotfabrik, a former bread factory now also known as "Loft City." The cavernous Gallery Ernst Hilger is one of its main attractions, as is photography gallery OstLich. Atelier 10, meanwhile, is a studio-gallery that affords those with disabilities or social disadvantages a place to develop and showcase their work. But wait, there's more -- other alternative art spaces include the Karin Maria Pfiefer- and Sula Zimmerberg-curated Flat 1, tucked away under a metro arch, and Basement, home to some of the finest Eastern European art about.

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