Vienna’s revival is magical, modern, and perfect for a queer autumn escape

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The city of Vienna is filled with art, culture, and history — including for LGBTQ travelers.
Flickr/Pedro Szekely

Autumn is the perfect time to visit Vienna. The weather is temperate, the city is surrounded by scenic foliage ideal for vineyard hikes, ball season begins, and the squares fill up with Christmas Markets.

Visitors are returning to Vienna and finding a changed city.

“Vienna is growing. We try to be more modern,” Roland Eggenhofer, a gay man who is the sales and marketing director at Hotel Motto, one of Vienna’s newest boutique hotels, told me over lunch several years ago.

Up until a decade before, Vienna was very “traditional,” he said, but during my visits to “The City of Dreams,” it was clear the city founded by the Celtics and Romans in the 5th century was undergoing a transformation.

“I think now we are really popping up to be more international,” said Eggenhofer, 38, who explained that the city was attracting younger people. “We have more international flavor and late-night dancing.”

Vintners on the outskirts of Vienna also noted in a recent New York Times article that in recent years, younger crowds have been participating in the annual wine hike day into the hills in September and hanging out at the wine taverns (known as heurigen and buschenschanken) during the harvest season.

One of the newest venues offering views of Vienna from the vineyards is Weitsicht Cobenzl, by the MOTTO Group, which has restaurants and hotels that are popular with Vienna’s LGBTQ community, opened in mid-September. The event space also features a café and wine kiosk.

Vienna is possibly the only city in the world that can boast of having 700 hectares of vineyards and about 140 vintners within the city’s limits. Viennese and visitors alike are transported from Vienna’s bustling center to a bucolic setting that feels worlds away in less than 30 minutes on public transportation or by car.

Gay Viennese Tom Bachinger, who launched his tour and travel planning business, by Tom, in August, pointed out that wine is in Vienna’s culture.

“If you take the word wine in German, wien, and Vienna, wein, there is such a big connection,” he said.

Vienna produces mostly white varietals — riesling, weissburgunder, gruener veltliner, gelber muskateller and sauvignon blanc — as well as the city’s special, Gemischter Satz, a white blend, about 80%, reported the New York Times.

Revival

The proximity to wine country is only one of Vienna’s charms. A few years and a pandemic later, Vienna’s transformation into an international city once again appears to be in full swing, with 12 new hotels (including one with a gay past) and another one on the way, new restaurants, and nightlife, all while retaining the best of its classic appeal.

Bachinger, who formerly worked for Vienna’s tourism board, offers bespoke tours in the city and inbound travel planning, He said he looks forward to sharing his city and his life in Vienna with guests. He wants to give them that “local touch” and “local experience” he’s heard repeatedly over the last few years from travel agents and travelers.

“I was born and raised here. I love it. I love talking about it. I love showing people around,” he said, adding he would like to “make [guests] feel literally like locals for the week.”

What to do

Vienna has a lively LGBTQ culture and scene in a historic setting. Its rich history includes emperors, princes, and princesses who were allegedly queer and today’s drag artists.

To get a taste of Vienna’s drag scene, watch the new short documentary, “Queens of Vienna.”

Vienna is known for its Ball Season from November to March. Viennese hit the town in their finest gowns and tuxedos or night club wear to dance the night away at more than 450 balls. There are two queer balls during Ball Season in 2023: the Rainbow Ball (January 28) and the Creative Ball (February 4).

During the rest of the year, Vienna’s queer community heads to 15 gay, four LGBTQ, and two lesbian night clubs and circuit parties, along with 12 LGBTQ bars, such as the historic Felixx’s and Mango Bar.

The city is filled with art, culture, and history.

Art lovers will be enthralled with the city’s galleries and museums, such as the Leopold Museum and the Belvedere. The Belvedere was once the summer residence of the rumored-to-be-gay general Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736). The baroque palace is now home to Gustav Klimt’s painting, “The Kiss.”

Gay-owned Samstag Shop, a fashion boutique, exhibits local queer artists’ works through the store and fashion that is worth stopping in for a browse. Fashionistas seeking luxury designs should cruise the windows at the Golden Quarter. Unique Christmas gifts can be found when Vienna’s squares are transformed into Christmas Markets.

Women travelers can get an inside look at the Viennese women who shaped the city and its feminist movement on one of Petra Unger’s Viennese Women*Walks. I enjoyed learning about the city’s amazing women along with queer women travel writers during one of Unger’s tours in 2015.

Petra Unger explains the importance of Viennese women in shaping the city during a bike ride through the Prater on her Viennese Women*Walks tour in Vienna, Austria.

Vienna is also known for its cafes. LGBTQ Viennese get their caffeine fix socializing at six queer and feminist cafés, like gay-owned Café Savoy and lesbian-owned Fett + Zucker.

For relaxing, Vienna features seven gay and gay-friendly saunas, but the most famous is the beautiful historic, Kaiserbruendl Herrensauna. The sauna has been popular among gay men for centuries, especially with Emperor Franz Joseph’s younger brother, Archduke Luziwuzi, who got in trouble hitting on a soldier during the mid-1800s.

For more recommendations about what to do in Vienna, contact Bachinger or peruse Vienna’s new LGBTQ guide or destination page.

Where to eat

Vienna is a foodie city. LGBTQ Viennese satiate their palates at markets, like the famed Naschmarkt, classic Viennese eateries like the Palmenhaus, and favorite queer spots such as Labstelle and Motto. Check out cocktail lounges like Cafe Heuer or the brewery Glacis Beisl, which serves up traditional Vienna bratwurst (sausage) and wiener schnitzel with pints of ale. Newer restaurants are bringing diversity to Vienna’s cuisine both in ethnicity and plant-based, such as Japanese vegetarian and vegan take out o.m.k. 1020.

Where to stay

During my two trips to Vienna, I stayed at the artsy Altstadt Vienna and the 25Hours Hotel Vienna at the MuseumsQuartier, both excellent hotels that are close to everything Vienna offers visitors. Vienna also boasts a dozen new hotels that opened within the past year, including The Leo Grand and Rosewood Vienna.

Gay travelers seeking luxury and a hint of a queer past might consider staying at The Leo Grand. The boutique hotel opened in the heart of Vienna in April. Its décor pays homage to Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705), who was rumored to be gay, with eccentric taste and a love of art. His spirit is present throughout the building.

Getting there & getting around

Austrian Airlines is currently offering reasonable flights from New York. However, experts are predicting a spike in price for the holidays.

Vienna has a great public transportation system and the city is very walkable.

I highly advise getting the Vienna Card for unlimited transportation and discounts into museums and sites and more than 210 restaurants and shops.

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