In a parade of silks, jewels and political intrigue, the courts of the Habsburg monarchy in Vienna have lately made their way out of the textbooks and onto our screens—and thus, back into the discussion of the day. Centered around the intriguing figure of Empress Elisabeth, also known as “Sisi”—the second-to-last empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire*—three major film and television productions depicting the period have been released over just the past year alone: Sisi (on Disney Plus), The Empress (on Netflix) and Corsage, which premieres in theaters this Friday, December 23. But this resurgence in pop culture is just one of many harbingers of a greater promise that the Austrian capital is poised to claim our attention in the coming year. Vienna again made recent headlines when it was crowned the “Most Livable City of 2022” by The Economist’s Global Liveability Index, which ranks the quality of life in 173 cities across the world. Having held the title in the two years prior to the pandemic, the city is likely to maintain its reign into 2023, when Vienna will also welcome a new, year-long series of cultural and artistic events in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Vienna’s World’s Fair in 1873. Many consider this milestone the turning point that set the foundation for modern Vienna’s beauty and global renown (and, yes, this turning point occurred under the rule of Empress Sisi).With two of my Indagare colleagues, I ventured to Vienna late this November to get a first look at the excitement to come. With winter snows on the horizon, the days were cold, grey and hazy—a set that somehow made the gilded curls and spires of the city’s Baroque and Gothic architecture all the more imposing and entrancing. Even the chill was made romantic, thanks to the warm glow of the Christmas markets, a tradition that begins in mid-November and draws tourists and locals alike to stroll along stands of handmade ornaments, crafts and gifts while sipping mulled wine and hot chocolate and nibbling on roasted chestnuts, sugared pastries and, of course, salty-sweet sausages with mustard. After two years of intense pandemic policies, this holiday marks the official return of the markets—and of Vienna’s equally famed ball season, which kicks off in the new year with two of the biggest events, the Vienna Philharmonic Ball and the Vienna Opera Ball (celebrating their 80th and 65th anniversaries, respectively), and which concludes with over 400 fêtes in total.Alongside these revitalized classics, there is a host of new delights to discover, from a landmark luxury hotel arrival to innovative restaurants and soon-to-open exhibitions that are worth planning a trip around. Ask any Vienna local, and they will assure you that novelty is a rarity in this town—which makes the vigor of the present moment, intensified by the World’s Fair anniversary, all the more seductive. Read on for my report of the places and people to have on your radar—and the establishments in Vienna that are standing the test of time.Contact your Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to Vienna and further afield in Austria. Our team can match you with the itineraries, accommodations, reservations and guides that are right for you.Plus: We're currently creating a special Insider Journeys trip to Vienna for 2023, featuring behind-the-scenes access to the city's cultural highlights and the chance to meet with some of the creatives and families at the heart of the scene. Sign up here to be the first to receive the itinerary when it is released.Related: The 26 Best Christmas Markets in Europe
The 1873 World’s Fair triggered a tourism and, therefore, hotel boom in Vienna—and in 1876, the city’s most iconic property, the Hotel Sacher, was born (a few decades after the eponymous cake, which began it all). The hotel became a staple of Viennese society under the groundbreaking ownership of Anna Sacher (another fascinating Austrian woman worth learning about), and, today, it continues to be one of the oldest and most respected family-run luxury hotels in Europe. 150 years later, history seems to be repeating itself, with a new surge of hotel developments—and one property appears to have already made an impact on the Old Guard scene. Opened August 1 in a restored 19th-century Neoclassical bank building (which also contains an apartment formerly occupied by Mozart), on the centrally-located, high-end Petersplatz square, the Rosewood Vienna offers a fresh, stylish take on classic Austrian glamour. The building has remained entirely Austrian, with the original design from 1835 by Alois Pichl being brought into the 21st-century by two Vienna-based firms, A2K and BEHF. The 71 guestrooms and 28 suites—including four singular “House” suites, each ranging from 995 to 1,916 square feet in size—were designed by the London interiors studio Alexander Waterworth to feel residential, yet still impeccable (your own idealized pied-à-terre). Well-considered and highly-functional pieces give shape to the handsome and otherwise understated rooms—with plum, sage, ruby and amber velvet headboards and sofas, wood-paneled walls and casement windows, patterned fabrics by Backhausen (a legendary house that decorated the homes of the Habsburgs, among others), handcrafted brass light fixtures, and brass-accented marble- and leather-clad minibars and vanities. An edited selection of objets celebrate local makers (like ceramicists and glassblowers), with a standout being the unique galleries of art that were curated by Atelier27 and include specially commissioned works. Indeed, the importance of Vienna’s artistic heritage is prominent throughout the entire property—and the creative staging of playful contemporary paintings alongside black-and-white photographs of the city’s most storied monuments will have you wandering past your own door through the halls for a closer look.For an ultra-luxe escape, the presidential suite, Hoffmann House (named for the visionary Viennese modernist architect and designer), stands at an impressive 1,916 square feet, with a private entrance, and it includes a master bedroom, a living room and entertainment area, a French balcony with prime views over Petersplatz, a dining room with seating for eight guests, and a kitchen—as well as a commissioned chandelier by the famed firm J.L. Lobmeyr. For a larger party, Hoffmann House can be connected to up to seven additional guestrooms.
A zen-like, adults-only boutique property with 24 rooms and suites in the Second District has a bohemian-chic vibe and a creative international restaurant, Zazatam.
The Leo Grand (Opened Spring 2022): Just steps from the Rosewood, The Leo Grand is a playful, vaguely Baroque boutique property. The Leopold Suite offers unique penthouse views (which can also be enjoyed in the standalone soaking tub, lofted above the bedroom). You can’t miss the bright-red lacquered façade when passing by.
The Almanac Palais (Opening February 2023): An anticipated addition to the grandeur of the Ringstrasse, the Almanac will be located within the restored Henckel-Donnersmarck palace, offering five-star luxury, a sprawling spa and interiors by Jaime Beriestain.
The Hoxton (Opening Late 2023): This trendy brand is set to arrive in the Stadtpark later this year within the former headquarters of Austria's Chamber of Commerce. In addition to a coffee bar and speakeasy, the hotel will also house an auditorium and cultural space for live performances and events.
Mandarian Oriental Vienna (Opening Late 2023): This top-notch group will also join Vienna’s new wave of hospitality in a restored heritage building in the First District. It will also include private residences along with the usual Mandarin Oriental amenities.
Plus: This December, the iconic Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express launched a new winter route for the very first time between Paris and Vienna, which departed December 17 and 18. If you missed this dream voyage, we recommend marking your calendar now for 2023—or 2024!
Related: Upon Arrival: Vienna
In tandem with the 150th anniversary of the World’s Fair, an abundance of openings and special exhibitions are accentuating Vienna’s already overwhelming offerings across fine arts, fashion, design, music and dance—a legacy that remains from the Austrian Empire’s peak (and its fruitful competition with France). Centered around the theme of “Visions and New Beginnings,” the 2023 culture calendar is a celebration of these deep foundations—with a few twists.At the Belvedere, one of Vienna’s two must-visit palace-museums (the other being Schönbrunn), the 300-year anniversary of the palace’s construction will be honored in 2023 with a new year-long exhibition that explores the museum’s impact on Viennese art and architecture, and its changing roles throughout history, from a royal summer residence to an agent of the Nazi state’s art looting in the ‘40s—to a symbol of preservation and progress (“The Belvedere: 300 Years a Venue for Art,” on through January 7, 2024).Today, the Belvedere displays many of Gustav Klimt’s most important works—including The Kiss—and this year will also present a special exhibition born from a collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: “Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse…” This examination of the icons who influenced the master of Viennese Modernism, and of the master himself, will be on display from February 3 to May 29, 2023. It promises to be an exhibition worth planning around.
Studio Palatin:Discover Barbara Doyle’s one-of-a-kind, handcrafted lamps and candlesticks (made from porcelain, bronze, gold, silver and glass) at her new workshop in the First District (Kleeblattgasse 9). If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to meet the artist herself: a Vienna native and longtime New York City resident, she is also a docent for the Decorative Arts Department at the Met and splits her time between the cities. You can also find Studio Palatin at the Augarten Vienna Porcelain Manufactory, a spectacular site both for shopping and historical touring. Founded in 1718, the manufactory is the second-oldest porcelain producer in Europe. Every piece is made on site, by hand, by a team of less than 30 (a behind-the-scenes tour will truly blow you away). For a unique souvenir, take home one of the manufactory’s signature gilded Champagne bowls—a design that was commissioned by Louis XVI to mimic the exact size and shape of the bosom of his wife, Marie Antoinette (who, you may remember, was in fact Austrian).Studio Comploj:The Tyrol-born craftsman Robert Comploj produces and displays his contemporary, colorful blown glass pieces in a studio in the Seventh District (and you’ll also find his gorgeous work throughout the new Rosewood).Vienna Unique by Astrid Zinniel: Right next to the Rosewood, this fabulous boutique curated by Astrid Zinniel features art, décor and antiques (including Lobmeyr glassware—and Studio Palatin lamps!).Felicitas Home Stories: A delightful boutique packed with charming décor and vintage finds, particularly Italian glassware.SKREIN*: Handcrafted, structural jewelry—and sparkling gems.For Fashion: Schella Kann, Anton Meyer, Henryks, Spodd, Inouïtoosh, Amicis Deuxieme, Ferrari Zochling, Eigensinnig, Sagan, Schau Raum and Ina Kent. Many of these are located on a wonderful shopping street, Spiegelgasse. In general, the First, Sixth and Seventh Districts are known for their boutiques.For Décor and Gifts: Stillsegler, Tessuti, Palais Interiors, Die Sellerie.Top Christmas Markets:Rathausplatz, Spittelberg, Maria-Theresien-Platz, Karlsplatz, Schönbrunn, Belvedere, Stephansplatz.Related: What’s New in Paris: What to See & Do, Where to Eat, Stay — Fall 2022
Discover the Indagare Guide to Salzburg.
Lech, Austria: Learn more about our upcoming ski-focused Insider Journey to Lech with SNOW Magazine this March.
Kitzbühel, Austria: Learn more about this lively ski town in our article What to Know – Kitzbühel.
Munich, Germany: Discover the Indagare Guide to Munich.
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Contact your Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to Vienna and further afield in Austria. Our team can match you with the itineraries, accommodations, reservations and guides that are right for you.
Plus: We're currently creating a special Insider Journeys trip to Vienna for 2023, featuring behind-the-scenes access to the city's cultural highlights and the chance to meet with some of the creatives and families at the heart of the scene. Sign up here to be the first to receive the itinerary when it is released.
* An Austrian History Refresher: Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) and Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Habsburgs (1830-1916) ruled over the Austrian and then Austro-Hungarian Empire during the latter half of the 19th century, including Vienna’s Belle Époque period (which saw the creation of the famous Ringstrasse and gave us Klimt, Wagner and Brahms, among others). In 1914, the emperor’s indicated heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo, provoking the outbreak of World War I. Emperor Franz Joseph I died in 1916 (Elisabeth had been assassinated prior to the war, in 1898) and was succeeded by Charles I, who was dethroned and exiled just two years later, upon the 1918 armistice—marking the dissolution of the empire, the end of Habsburg rule and the establishment of Austria’s first modern republic.
This article was created in partnership with the Vienna Tourist Board and published by Indagare Travel.
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