Not many European destinations have as much to offer as Vienna. From cocktails to coffee houses, karaoke to opera, the imperial city has something for everyone – including a growing number of gay and lesbian visitors.
In fact, few other cities can claim to have Vienna’s rich queer history. The city has been home to gay architects, composers and even Emperors over the centuries, leaving behind a legacy of open-mindedness and acceptance. Today visitors will find a diverse cultural capital, with a thriving LGBT scene. And to help you out, we’ve put together the ultimate guide.
Gay life in Vienna
Last year, Conchita Wurst (currently the most famous Austrian in the world – probably) took Europe by storm when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, throwing the spotlight on gay life in Vienna in the process.
But the publicity was welcome, thanks to the city’s tradition of tolerance as an open-minded, liberal capital. Vienna has long been an established destination for gay and lesbian travellers, with an active LGBT community and night-life. (However it’s worth noting that many establishments remain welcoming for non-queer patrons too: think gay-friendly, instead of gay-exclusive.)
Austria’s legal system has been making strides towards equality as well – registered partnerships were introduced in 2010, step-child adoption in 2013 and full joint co-adoption in January 2015. Gay marriage, however, is not currently recognised.
As in most European cities, Vienna’s gay scene is relatively decentralised and spread-out among different neighbourhoods. However, there are certain places most gay and lesbian Wieners (no giggles please, that’s the technical term) tend to gravitate towards.
Naschmarkt is probably the closest thing Vienna has to a gay quarter. Found on the banks of the Wien River, close to the famous Museums Quarter, Naschmarkt is a bustling fresh fruit and vegetable market dating back to the 16th century. Several gay bars and cafes are found close by, including the well-known Café Savoy (see below).
A stone’s throw from Naschmarkt, you’ll find Gumpendorferstraße (Gumpendorf Street), known for its lively restaurants and bars – several of which are popular amongst the city’s gay residents, while the area around Linke Weinzeile, just down the river from Naschmarkt, has historic ties to Vienna’s LGBT community and is still home to several cafes.
There’s no doubt about it: Vienna is a cultural hub. Centuries at the forefront of modern European art and science have left the city with more than its fair share of jewels – everyone will find something to their taste. However, if you are specifically interested in exploring the city’s queer connections and homosexual heritage, here are a few places to check out.
An important stop for many when visiting Austria is the Vienna State Opera, one the world’s premier destinations for opera lovers. While the exterior is classic and elegant, the interior is nothing short of incredible, with sweeping marble staircases, gold guilding and richly-decorated ceilings. The building itself was designed and built by two gay architects: Sicardsburg and van der Nüll.
Schloss Belvedere is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Vienna. Consisting of two palaces and expansive gardens, the beautiful complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy, a celebrated military strategist and closeted gay man. Today, the Belvedere is open to the public as a museum, hosting a range of exhibitions throughout the year.
Another famous son of Vienna is of course, Sigmund Freud. Found in his former office and apartments, the Sigmund Freud Museum is well-visited destination for many visitors to the city. While his famous sofa is actually found in London, the museum in Vienna still has a number of exhibits on his life and work. While Freud never carried on research expressly on homosexuality, he was an early defender of gay rights.
Finally, all LGBT visitors to Vienna should stop by Löwenherz, the largest gay and lesbian bookstore in Europe. Stocking an incredible 12,000 titles, including a large English section, the shop is an important part of the local scene and hosts a number of events, including talks and forums from members of the global LGBT community.
Nowhere does coffee quite like Vienna. Forget soulless chains serving up weak cappuccinos with dodgy wi-fi – Vienna’s coffee shops are elegant escapes from hectic city life and a real bastion of Viennese heritage. Historically, the city’s coffee houses were the focal point of cultural life in Vienna, attracting the brightest minds and most creative artists. Coffee remains a huge part of the city culture to this day.
Café Savoy describes itself as ‘one of the most beautiful coffee houses in Vienna – and one of the gayest, too.’ No one is really sure why, but the café has a long history as a gay favourite, possibly thanks to its designer – a student of gay architect Sicardsburg. Inside, guests will find ornate decorations and frescoes, traditional high ceilings and of course – great coffee.
Café Berg in Alservorstadt is another LGBT-mainstay in Vienna, with a proud queer history going back 19 years. The café is a lively and active part of the community, hosting special events to coincide with the city’s Life Ball (see below) and the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. Patrons will find an ever-changing menu with great breakfast and brunch options.
Another option with historic routes is Café Willendorf – a safe and common hangout for gays, lesbians and trans people. The modern, stylish café is found on the ground floor of Rosa Lilla Villa (see below), an important building for Vienna’s gay rights movements. The café is popular for both food and evening drinks. (Website in German only).
Café Bar BaKul is another queer haunt in Vienna. Far less traditional than other coffee houses in Vienna, BaKul nevertheless attracts a regular crowd searching for a low-key coffee, chat or simply a dose of people watching.
Vienna has plenty of bars, clubs and theme-nights that cater to the LGBT community. Here are a handful of our favourites.
Photo credit: Matthias Rohmberg
Felixx Bar is a chilled-out cocktail bar, with an impressive décor – check out the elaborate chandelier above the bar. The bar has a very great ambience and is a popular spot for catching up with friends.
The oldest gay club in Vienna, Why Not is a bit of an institution, attracting a mixed young clientele of gay men and lesbians. The club has a dance floor and two separate bars catering to different types of music – so everyone is bound to find something they like.
A proud queer bar, rather than a gay bar, Marea Alta is a popular cocktail bar on Gumpendorferstraße. Originally founded as a centre for lesbian immigrants, the bar is well-known for hosting regular events, including theme nights, drag shows and live screenings of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Falling into the category of gay-friendly is Cuban Mojito Bar, a chic and stylish hangout at the heart of the city centre. The bar offers a fully authentic experience with Cuban staff, Cuban music, Cuban cigars and the best mojitos in town. Cuban Mojito Bar is also home to a part of gay history, as it was here that legendary Austrian Conchita Wurst chose her stage name.
Vienna is also home to several LGBT events throughout the year. The most prolific of which is the Life Ball, one of the most high-profile celebrations of the year. The biggest charity event in Europe supporting people with HIV or AIDS, Life Ball began in 1993 and now occurs annually every May. Having grown from a small campaign within the gay community, the ball is now known for its extravagant staging and larger-than-life scale, featuring countless celebrity guests, a fashion show and an annual official song. The next event takes place in the Vienna city hall on 16 May 2015.
This year, Vienna will welcome everyone’s guilty pleasure, the 60th Eurovision Song Contest, in the Wiener Stadthalle. Thanks to Conchita’s historic victory in Copenhagen last year, the city will now play host to 40 nations battling it out for her crown. The semi-finals will take place on 19 and 21 May, the final will be held on 23 May.
For fun facts on the Eurovision Song Contest, click here.
Another important event for the LGBT community in Vienna is the Regenbogenparade (rainbow parade), held annually as part of the city’s gay pride celebrations. This year, the parade will take place on 20 June 2015, with the motto of visibility – an important message of solidarity, acceptance and equality.
Vienna will also welcome back Identities Queer Film Festival this summer. The popular bi-annual festival will be showcasing the best in Queer Cinema in three cinemas, including the beautiful Film Casino cinema – a vintage jewel from the 1950s. The festival will take place 11 – 21 June, with the full line-up announced in May.
HOSI, the homosexual initiative of Vienna, was the first lesbian and gay union to be founded in the city and still functions as a hub of LGBT life and a source of advice, support and entertainment. The association also organises several events.
The Rose Lila Villa is a historic institution for gay rights in Vienna and has been a safe haven since it was occupied by queer activists in the late 1980s. Today the centre is a source of advice for members of the LGBT community and spearheads several projects involving gay youths. (Website in German only).
In addition, Vienna tourism has plenty of advice for gay and lesbian travellers visiting the city.
Vienna’s only hotel dedicated to the LGBT community is Hotel-Pension Wild, located in Josefstadt, close to the city hall. The hotel itself is found in a fully-renovated historic building dating to 1904. With a variety of rooms and apartments, Wild offers guests a comfortable and enjoyable stay in a friendly atmosphere. The hotel also has a popular gay sauna located in the basement.
Another option for gay and lesbian travellers is the Boutiquehotel Stadthalle, just a short distance from the Wiener Stadthalle. Placing a big focus on design, the hotel features 79 individually-decorated rooms, all incorporating bright bursts of colour for a refreshing aesthetic. There’s an emphasis on nature too, with lavender growing on the roof and décor inspired by Austria’s green scenery.
If you’re looking for a hotel that recreates the splendour of Vienna’s grand architecture, look no further than Sans Souci Wien. The hotel’s range of opulent suites are sumptuously and carefully decorated, combining a classic style with modern flourishes. Luxurious features include walk-in wardrobes, parquet flooring and high-quality mattresses for ultimate comfort. The hotel is located close to Vienna Town Hall, location of the Life Ball.