Life’s a Ball in Vienna

by  Jim Sherman | Dec 16, 2009
Vienna / Alexpoison/iStock

As a traveler, I’m generally not drawn to events. I tend to visit places that interest me rather than look for spectacles. However, in May, at the urging of some friends, I attended Vienna’s famous Life Ball, Europe’s largest costume party. Not only did I attend, but I also dressed up in a rather creative sequined scuba outfit, in accordance with the ball’s water theme. Among the thousands of costumed revelers, I was far from the most outrageous, but we all shared an amazing Saturday evening that carried on until dawn.


Life Ball is Europe’s largest AIDS charity event, and it regularly attracts luminaries from around the world. This year former President Bill Clinton, Ivana Trump, Eva Longoria, and Katy Perry were just a few of the boldface names in attendance. And while the glamour quotient is high, what makes this event special is the combination of a striking setting at Vienna’s stately 19th-century city hall, the spectacle of a 2-hour outdoor opening ceremony and over-the-top fashion show, and elaborate costumes worn by guests. Many people have commented that this party—a fantastic blowout by any standard and, really, the antithesis of a traditional Viennese waltz ball—has taught Austrians how to loosen up and have just plain, crazy fun.

Indeed, Life Ball has become a national event in Austria, and much of the country watches the red carpet arrivals and the opening ceremony on TV.  Although it’s difficult to gain entry to the ball (regular tickets are $224 and are awarded through a cell phone lottery system), some travel agencies can procure tickets for foreigners as part of a package that also includes a hotel stay and airfare. Opt to make your entrance in costume as it’s more expensive (and less fun) to attend in black tie. If you intend to go next year (the event is taking place in July instead of May), start planning your costume and itinerary early.

From the 2009 Smart Luxury Awards issue of Sherman's Travel magazine.

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